5 Reasons Marquette Won't Miss a Beat Despite Losing Crowder and Johnson-Odom

Ryan Curi@rcuri1Featured ColumnistAugust 26, 2012

5 Reasons Marquette Won't Miss a Beat Despite Losing Crowder and Johnson-Odom

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    Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom were without a doubt the best duo in the Big East last season, but were also one of the top duos in the entire nation. Crowder was the Big East Player of the Year, while Johnson-Odom was also included on the First Team All-Big East.

    Neither Crowder and Johnson-Odom are replaceable with just one player, but with other returning talent, a few newcomers, and Buzz Williams on the bench, this year's version of Marquette basketball can still replicate the success that the Golden Eagles had behind these two fantastic players.

    Both players are now a part of NBA rosters and were the main reasons behind Marquette's second place finish in the Big East and Sweet 16 appearance during the 2011-12 season. However, don't be surprised to see the team formerly known as the Warriors have any less success in 2012-13 and here's why.

Trent Lockett

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    Lockett, a transfer from Arizona State, is immediately eligible to play for Marquette because of his graduation in three years at ASU. Lockett's reason for leaving the Sun Devils is because his mother has cancer, so being in Milwaukee will be much closer to his home in Golden Valley, MN.

    As a junior, Lockett averaged 13.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.5 steals while playing 34.9 minutes. Lockett is a complete player who was also efficient by shooting nearly 50 percent from the field, 41 percent from behind the arc and 71 percent from the charity stripe.

    The only gripe about Lockett's game may be that he turns the ball over too much, as his 3.2 turnover average a year ago shows. At 6'4", Lockett should primarily play either the small forward or shooting guard positions, so his ball-handling may be at a minimum.

    Lockett is the most accomplished collegiate player on the Golden Eagle roster, leading me to believe that he could be the team's best player in 2012-13. Lockett won't need to be a volume shooter either, whereas Crowder and Johnson-Odom were at times as seniors.

Better Frontcourt

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    Last season, Marquette lived and died with smaller lineups. This season, though, it should have the luxury of a much stronger frontcourt, assuming all three players highlighted here can stay healthy. Those three players are Chris Otule, Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson.

    Otule injured himself at Madison Square Garden against Washington early last season and never returned. Otule is not a threat offensively, but he is an imposing force on the inside and is a natural shot-blocker.

    Gardner is the best natural scorer of the three, but also battled injuries as a sophomore. Gardner ended the season averaging 9.5 points and 5.3 rebounds. At 6'8" and 290 pounds, Gardner has a nice stroke for someone his size and shot 76 percent from the free-throw line.

    Wilson played sparingly to start last year, but when both Otule and Gardner went down with injuries simultaneously, Wilson was the only option to start at center. Wilson should expect to see more time at his natural positions of small or power forward this year.

    Each of these three players bring something different to the floor. Otule's defensive ability, Gardner's offensive prowess and Wilson's energy and athleticism should all help contribute to a bigger and stronger lineup this season.

More Favorable Conference Schedule

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    In 2011-12, Marquette finished second in the Big East season with an impressive 14-4 conference record. The team went 9-0 in Big East home games and still managed to go 5-4 on the road. Those four losses came against Syracuse, Notre Dame, Georgetown and Cincinnati, who happened to finished first, third, fourth and fifth in the league.

    Other than Cincinnati, Marquette hosts the other three Big East foes that it lost to last season. With West Virginia's departure from the Big East, each squad now plays four of the other 14 teams in the league twice.

    Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Seton Hall and South Florida are those four teams for Marquette, which I believe could be pretty favorable for it. If Marquette can manage to go unblemished at home again in Big East play, I don't think 14-4 is out of the question, although 12-6 may be more realistic.

    Playing on the road at Louisville stands out as the toughest game in the conference slate, while games at Rutgers, St. John's, Cincinnati and Villanova are certainly all opportunities to pick up rare road wins. Both Syracuse and Notre Dame must play Louisville twice, while the Eagles do not.  

More Depth

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    Last season, only Crowder and Johnson-Odom averaged double-figure scoring for Marquette, leaving the team without a "Big Three" despite having this deadly duo. Expect more balanced scoring from this year's team. 

    Lockett, Gardner, Wilson, Junior Cadougan, Vander Blue and Todd Mayo all have the ability to score in double figures on any given night. As mentioned before, Otule will be the team's defensive stopper and should serve as the starting center.

    In addition to these seven players, Derrick Wilson will serve as the backup point guard, Jake Thomas will be an instant offense guy off the bench and Steve Taylor (pictured here) could be a versatile freshman option for Williams.

    A starting lineup of Cadougan, Blue, Lockett, Wilson and Otule seems like the most likely option at this point. However, I believe Gardner will be one of the team's top three scorers, along with Lockett and Blue.

    Although Williams may not elect to play 10 guys each game, knowing that they are all capable in different aspects of the game is a relief as a head coach.

Buzz Williams

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    In four seasons as the head coach of Marquette, Williams has led the Golden Eagles to four NCAA Tournament appearances, including two Sweet 16's. Marquette has a 96-44 record under Williams and is 46-26 in Big East contests during his tenure.

    The energy and enthusiasm that Williams expresses to his team is unmatched in this profession, and his attitude truly feeds off on his players. This was best portrayed when Williams danced at half court following a win at West Virginia last season.

    Due to recent self-imposed sanctions, Williams must sit out one game during the 2012-13 season, which, at the end of the day, is only a slight slap on the wrist. Williams' ability to recruit at the junior college level has certainly served him well since becoming the coach at MU. 

    Both Crowder and Johnson-Odom played at the JUCO ranks before coming to play in Milwaukee. Williams gives opportunities to players that other coaches may have given up on or have been overlooked in regards to recruiting. As long as Williams remains the coach at Marquette, the Golden Eagles will be in good shape.