7. Lazar Hayward (2009-2010) vs. 10. Travis Diener (2003-2004)
The case for Hayward: The more you look back on Hayward’s senior campaign the more astounding it becomes. Yes, he ended up playing with two future NBA players on that team (Butler, Johnson-Odom), but this was his team hands down. Lazar did it all, averaging 18.1 pts, 7.5 reb and 1.5 ast while playing the five on defense as the teams strongest player and leading the Golden Eagles to its 5th straight NCCA Tournament appearance in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Marquette.
Rob Frozena, on Hayward: Lazar’s senior year was special for one reason: we were “supposed to” be terrible. After losing a great group of seniors the year before, we had a bunch of guys no one had ever heard of, and I believe we were picked 12th in the Big East pre-season. Zar was not going to let this happen. I knew how good we could be during the Old Spice Classic. Even though we lost in the championship, it showed that we were a bunch of “junk yard dogs” who were going to scratch and claw for every possession. However, I think the turning point for me was during Big East play, when we started out conference going 1-3.
Lazar put us on his shoulders, and was one of the most consistent basketball players that year in the country. When we needed a big free throw, shot, or rebound, Lazar made sure he would get it done. One of the highlights of my career to this day, is our three straight overtime victories on the road at Cincinnati, St. Johns, and Seton Hall. Lazar’s leadership throughout that stretch is one of the key reasons we won all of those games (and Jimmy’s fade-away buzzer beater).
Finally, one of the most memorable moments of Lazar’s senior year was the game against Villanova in the Big East Tournament. Villanova beat us the previous year, and returned virtually every player. We, on the other hand, had four new starters in our line-up, and according to Mr. Doug Gottlieb, didn’t have the experience to compete with Villanova. Even though DJO had an incredible game, Lazar was Mr. Clutch the whole contest, and made sure Gottlieb ate his words. For these reasons, Lazar’s senior year were among the top in Marquette history. Not because of his 18.1 ppg or 7.5 rpg, but because he did the little things right, and his determination to make sure Marquette would not have a poor season under his watch.
The case for Diener: Marquette’s point guard took a major step from role player on a Final Four team to star in his junior year. He led C-USA in points and assists, was second in assist-to-turnover ratio and 3-point field goal percentage, and likely would have led Marquette deeper into the NIT had it not been for a rolled ankle in the second half against Iowa State. Diener helped win 19 games with a rather marginal Marquette team, and his statistics backed it up.