On the heels of back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances, Marquette enters the season with an uncharacteristic dark cloud hovering overhead. The preseason is usually a time for unwarranted optimism and strikingly homeristic predictions, yet, for the Golden Eagles, any positive news has been either overshadowed or clouded by other negative news. Whether it be the Buzz departure rumors, the Monarch firing, the T.J. Taylor transfer, or the Mayo suspensions, gloom has been the name of the game.
That’s over now. Come Friday, the debate will once again be focused on the game itself, as a bit of sanity will be injected into the program. Not a moment too soon, either.
Here at Paint Touches, we have looked into our crystal basketball and have arrived at our predictions for the 2012′-13 college basketball season, as follows.
Coach: Buzz Williams
Career record: 110-60 at Marquette and New Orleans
Years at Marquette: 5
Last season: Advanced to Sweet 16, lost to Florida 68-58
Returning: Guards Junior Cadougan, Derrick Wilson, Vander Blue, Todd Mayo (academically ineligible for first semester), Juan Anderson, Jamil Wilson, Davante Gardner, Chris Otule, Jake Thomas
Losses from last year: Darius Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder
Newcomers: Trent Lockett (senior, Arizona state transfer), freshmen Steve Taylor and Jamal Ferguson, Garrett Swanson (transfer, will sit out 2012-’13), Dylan Flood (walk-on)
Projected starters: PG: Junior Cadougan, SG: Vander Blue, SF: Trent Lockett, PF: Jamil Wilson, C: Chris Otule
Best Case: The ceiling for this Marquette team is much lower than that of last season’s squad that finished 2nd in the Big East. The lack of a “go-to” guy prevents even the most optimistic of prognosticators from saying this team has Final Four potential. Realistically, a best case scenario is capped with another top-3 conference finish and a third-straight trip to the Sweet 16. It is important to not simply rely on NCAA Tournament results to determine the worth of a season though, as this Big East conference, though not the best in its recent history, is still heavily loaded at the top wit two national title hopefuls in Louisville and Syracuse.
For that to happen though, a repeat of last year’s breakout performance from one of the Marquette players is a must. Someone will have to pull a “mini-Crowder” and take control of the team both on the court and off of it. As it stands right now, no one knows who will be the go-to go in late game situations or when momentum needs to be flipped. You simply can’t get to the Sweet 16 with out that. Our prediction for who “the guy” will be is none other than Vander Blue. With the loss of Mayo for an indefinite period of time, Blue will see more than his fair share of time on the court and average close to 34 minutes. His offseason work will shine through early on, and his shot, while not pure by any stretch of the imagination, will be much more consistent, adding a new dimension to his game. He will limit his sloppy turnovers, particularly when driving the lane and continue showing that confidence at the free throw line that made the team’s most reliable shooter by the end of last season.
Worst Case: We believe the floor for this Marquette team is to once again reclaim Andy Glockner’s heart as Team Bubble Watch, a borderline NCAA team that will have to play its way into the tournament in the final few games, including the Big East Tournament. In this scenario, Chris Otule never regains his 2011 form and his impact and minutes are limited. This decreases the defense’s effectiveness, and without a Jae Crowder type to pick up the slack, proves a burden to an offensively limited team.
Furthermore, Mayo’s suspension extends throughout the season, and he fails to see the court this year, taking a huge toll on the depth of this team. While Blue and Lockett see an increase in minutes, foul trouble places Marquette in precarious situations and slows down the offense.
X-Factor: The x-factor is a bit different than the most valuable, as it is someone whose full impact a bit unexpected and difficult to measure in purely statistical terms. What an x-factor brings to the team is an adhesive that connects units both on and off the court. This season, Lockett will take on this mantle. He will clean up a lot of mistakes on the defensive end and be responsible for some of the little plays that turns the momentum of a game around. It is difficult to predict how he will fare statistically in Buzz system, but what is known is that he is a fantastic rebounder on both ends and can extend possessions. Lockett may struggle early in the conference season, but his impact may be the difference between a play-in Tourney game and a middle-of-the-pack seed.
Most important: Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Junior Cadougan is the most important player on this team. Gardner may lead the team in scoring, while Wilson might do so in rebounds and blocks, however, there is no one with the talent and ability to replace what Cadougan brings to the table. Derrick Wilson plays his part of a game manger admirably, but he is not ready to handle the rock for 30 minutes a game.
If you’re not convinced, go back and watch Marquette’s last two losses. Cadougan could barely get the ball across half court in the Big East Tournament against Louisville and Marquette was blown out of the water. Against Florida, Cadougan was forced to watch from the bench most of the game due to foul trouble, and Marquette’s offense never got in a groove. Cadougan may not be the best player on the team, and he definitely doesn’t have the most NBA potential, but this team is in his hands. It will only go as far as Junior can carry them.
Most improved: Juan Anderson is a different man. He is still on the skinny side and still far behind Jamil Wilson on the switchable depth chart, but Anderson is light years ahead of where he stood 365 days ago. Anderson was forced to sit out of the first three cupcakes and then sat out yet again in the non-conference season due to an injury. This severely hampered his progression as he never seemed to have any confidence on the court, averaging 0.7 points per game last season.
That was last year though. As Al McGuire famously said, “The best thing about freshman is that they become sophomores.” Anderson was limited this summer due to yet another injury that forced him to have surgery on his shoulder, but the physical aspect is much easier to improve during the season than the mental one. Expect Anderson to see regular minutes in light of the Mayo suspension, and to actually be productive this time around.
Biggest Upset: It’s difficult enough to call games hour before the fact, try doing it weeks or months. However, after poring over the schedule two games stand out as potential upsets victories for Marquette.
The Golden Eagles visit Florida on Nov. 29 in a revenge game of last season’s Sweet 16 battle. Florida is ranked No. 10 going into the season and will be a heavy favorite. However, Buzz will have his team more than motivated to avenge the defeat. toppling the SEC power.
The other game which we foresee may provide a plethora of upset alerts is the Syracuse visit to the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Feb. 25. This will mark the last Big East trip to Milwaukee as Syracuse leaves for the ACC, making it a situation ripe for an upset. Marquette said goodbye to West Virginia with a two-step, expect a more subdued, yet just as meaningful adios to the Orange.
Worst Loss: Rutgers has not appeared on any early brackets, but they have a team that thrives on winning games they have no business winning. Ask Florida how their trip to New Jersey went last December. Ask Louisville while you’re at it. Rutgers will fight for a top-8 seed in the Big East, don’t be surprised if they topple Marquette.
We hesitated throwing this in there because it wouldn’t be a huge upset, but should it come to pass, don’t be surprised if Green Bay takes down the Golden Eagles. Green Bay’s Alec Brown is on the fringe of most NBA radars and abused a shorthanded Marquette last season. The Phoenix took down Wisconsin two years ago up in Green Bay and are in a good position to take out the state’s other powerhouse.
Prediction: Our official prediction for this season is that Marquette will barely top 20 wins, reaching 21, and get bounced out of the NCAA Tournament in the round of 32.
Losing Mayo is a big factor in this forecast, as he provided proven experience and an ability to create his own shot. Replacing Darius Johnson-Odom’s 17 points is not as easy without Mayo’s aggressive scoring nature. Jake Thomas may be able to surprise the world and prove to be a reliable substitute for Mayo, but until e proves he can do it night in and night out at this level, it is too difficult to slide him in seamlessly.
Surprisingly, the frontcourt will provide the most stability for this team. Davante Gardner will not only lead the team in scoring, he will also be named to the All-Big East team as an honorable mention. Cadougan will lead the team in assists and be in the top-5 in the conference yet again, while Jamil Wilson will take another step forward and lead the team in rebounding.
Vander Blue will make a substantial improvement and will make him the “go-to” guy heading into his senior season next year. Steve Taylor will also surprise many with his defense and barely miss the Big East All-Freshman team.
Marquette will continue its streak of NCAA appearances, paving the way for an even better team in 2013.