If there has been one constant during Buzz Williams’ tenure as Marquette’s head coach, it’s been that the Golden Eagles exceed expectations.
At least the expectations of the national pundits.
Take last year for example. Everyone in the national media knew that MU would finish near the bottom of the Big East.
They had just lost their three best players in Jerel McNeal, Wes Matthews and Dominic James. They had lost their best recruit, Junior Cadougan, to an injury that would keep him out for the majority of the season.
Players that were coming in to replace these guys—dudes like Darius Johnson-Odom, Jimmy Butler and Maurice Acker—were complete question marks. Acker wasn’t even supposed to be on the team.
But on top of all that, Buzz Williams found a way. He led the Golden Eagles to the big dance, took them deep into the Big East Conference tourney (semifinals) and finished with 22 regular season wins.
This year is similar.
Lazar Hayward, an NBA first-round pick and unquestioned senior leader of the team, is gone. There are some apparent holes to fill in the low post and at point guard.
And once again, the national media isn’t giving the Golden Eagles a lot of respect. Most publications are picking MU to finish No. 8 or No. 9 in the loaded Big East (which may not be good enough for the tournament).
But there is still reason to be optimistic about this squad. There is reason to think that MU will, once again, exceed expectations.
Take a look at this team.
The two returning stars are Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom. These guys were integral parts of last year’s success.
The team brought in junior conference player of the year, Jae Crowder, who appears to be a Lazar Hayward clone.
This freshman class is also one of the best MU has had in years, too. The state’s best player, Vander Blue, signed on and figures to be a big part of the rotation.
The same can be said for highly-touted recruits Reggie Smith, big man Davante Gardner and Jamail Jones. Senior Dwight Buycks figures to play big minutes at point guard.
At center, 6'11" Chris Otule, who has been hit by injury the last few years, is set to see more time and make a contribution.
DJO and Butler will be fixtures in the starting lineup, and Jae Crowder will most likely be a major player at power forward. If Buzz Williams can get big contribution from two or three of the aforementioned freshmen, and holdovers as well like Joe Fulce, Erik Williams and Junior Cadougan, this team will be good.
A big positional battle will be for the point guard, where Buycks is holding off newcomers Reggie Smith, Cadougan and Vander Blue (who is really more of a shooting guard). It should be interesting to see how that shakes out, as Buzz Williams has lots of options.
In the low post, expect Crowder to be a big rebounder and a scrappy player in the paint. Wide-bodied, Davante Gardner has also been very impressive so far with his ability to both shoot and bang down low.
If Otule can come in and get some rebounds and blocked shots, it would be huge for the Golden Eagles, who last year lacked a tall player in the middle.
The regular season starts off with some tough competition with nonconference games against the likes of Wisconsin, Vanderbilt. Then they play in a mini-tournament in Kansas City where the team plays defending national-champ Duke and either Gonzaga or No. 3 Kansas State.
Then the real fun begins when Big East season basketball opens up on Jan. 1 vs. West Virginia.
Look for this team to lose some disappointing games like they did last year, but also hang tough against the elites (like Duke, Villanova, etc.). They will be playing in, and most likely winning, some big games this year.
My prediction is that they exceed expectations and finish better than No. 8 or No. 9 in the conference.
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