The case for Wade: Fresh of defeating the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats to book a trip to the Final Four in New Orleans, Wade remarked, ”I wanted to take Marquette to the next level, the same level as Al McGuire did.” That he did. This medium sized fella’ was all kinds of good in 2002-’03, submitting arguably the best single season in Marquette history. Wade scored 710 points, (averaging 21.5 per game) a single season record for an MU player, and became the first AP first team All-American since Butch Lee in 1978. As if being named Conference USA Player of the Year wasn’t enough, Wade was also named Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year, putting up 6.3 rebounds and 2.2 steals a game.
The case for McNeal: The senior’s Second Team All-American season was slightly overshadowed by the other two of the “Big Three” and Lazar Hayward, but McNeal was superb. He was third in the Big East in points, scoring 20 or more points in 11 of 12 games during one stretch, and played arguably the best defense of anyone in the league. If it weren’t for Luke Harangody, McNeal would have been Big East Player of the Year, and he saved his best performance for last, scoring 30 points in an NCAA Tournament loss to Missouri. He was Marquette’s first All-American since Dwyane Wade, earning Second Team honors. It was also in this season that McNeal passed George Thompson to become the school’s all-time leading scorer.
3. Steve Novak (2005-2006) vs. 2. Jae Crowder (2011-2012)
The case for Novak: Welcome to the Big East. Novak poured in 41 points in Marquette’s first game as a Big East member, upsetting No. 2 Connecticut, and that was only the start. Novak finished his senior season with the best offensive rating in the country, according to KenPom. He shot 46.4 percent from beyond the arc, made an astonishing 74-of-76 free throws and got Marquette back into the NCAA Tournament. His 5.9 rebounds per game were an added bonus, as well. Here’s some perspective: Novak made four or more 3-pointers 17 times that season. Darius Johnson-Odom? Just five times his senior year.
The case for Crowder: It’s not fair to say he came out of nowhere, seeing as his father was a pretty good basketball player himself, but who would have thought a junior-college transfer would dominate the premier conference in the country and put in one of the greatest statistical seasons of the past six year in all of college basketball (No. 7 in John Pudner’s Value Add metric)? The Villa Rica, Georgia, native averaged 17.5 points, 8.4 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 2.1 assists this past season, helping to lead the Golden Eagles to their second consecutive Sweet 16 appearance. Basketball-Reference gave Crowder 8.1 Win Shares for this past season, sixth best in the country and the best mark in Marquette history since the statistic was tracked, besting Dwyane Wade’s 2001-’02 mark of 6.8.