After the Ohio State matchup aboard the Carrier Classic in Charleston, S.C. was cancelled, Marquette began its season at home with wins over Colgate and Southeast Louisiana. Buzz Williams’ group then traveled to Hawaii to take part in the Maui Invitational, where a last second buzzer-beater from Rotnei Clarke helped Butler to a 72-71 win over Marquette.
But the Golden Eagles responded with convincing wins over Mississippi State and Southern Cal, taking home fifth-place honors in the eight-team tournament earlier this week.
So where does Marquette stand after five games? We would have had a somewhat better gauge for where the team stood had the Ohio State game taken place, and while it’s still quite early in the season, players’ roles and the style of play is beginning to take shape.
1. Who has been Marquette’s best player?
Mark Strotman, Paint Touches: It has been Davante Gardner offensively, and Vander Blue deserves credit for his improved jump shot, but Jamil Wilson is Marquette’s best player and is showing it on both ends. The Butler game was an embarrassing 40 minutes for him, but outside of that lone loss he has been stellar. His numbers are up in every category from last season except blocks, and you can start to see the killer instinct he’s developing on both ends. Marquette goes as Jamil Wilson goes.
Matt Trebby, ESPNWisconsin.com: Their best player has been Davante Gardner. Offensively, he has saved them in the second half with his incredible efficiency. While his defense is still a work in progress, Gardner’s ability to score and get to the free throw line is invaluable, and Marquette might not be 4-1 without “the Ox.”
Andy Fleck, AnonymousEagle.com: While Vander Blue and Davante Gardner are probably the most obvious possible answers, I’m going to go a little off the page here: Chris Otule. He’s currently ranked 236th in the country in Offensive Rating on KenPom.com, and he’s boosted his rating by nearly 24 points over his rating from 2010-11. I would have given this to Jamil Wilson, who’s got the best ORtg on the team, but his disappearing act in two games disqualifies him.
Andrei Greska, Paint Touches: This is difficult because the easy answer would be Davante Gardner. Dede is averaging 14.2 points and 7.4 rebounds per game and has been the go-to player when Marquette needed a bucket. However, the rise of Vander as a scoring threat in Maui has me leaning towards him, as he completely took over against Butler when the team needed him most. For now, Gardner is my choice though.
Michael LoCicero, Marquette Tribune: I think Vander Blue has played the best against tougher competition. He struggled in MU’s first two games, but really turned it on against Butler and Mississippi State before coming back to earth a bit against USC. However, he seems to be playing with confidence and isn’t afraid to take outside shots for the first time in his career. Aside from Jake Thomas, MU has shown it has few outside threats and Blue’s development in that regard will be critical to this team’s success.
2. Who has been Marquette’s biggest disappointment?
Mark Strotman, Paint Touches: It’s tough to discern “disappointment,” because on one hand outside expectations can’t determine everything. Trent Lockett was supposed to be the go-to scorer, and while he seems to have provided nice leadership, he still looks lost on offense and hasn’t played all that great defense. Lockett was expected to do these things well from the start, but he’s in a new system so there’s a bit of leeway. All that being said, I expected more from him as a crisp, efficient player right away. He’ll get there.
Matt Trebby, ESPNWisconsin.com: They haven’t necessarily played too badly as a team in regard to the circumstances (having Todd Mayo suspended four days before their first game). I’d say Junior Cadougan, but it’s not really because he’s played poorly. There are a lot of reasons Cadougan should have a great senior season, and I think the best is yet to come. He’s been fine, but he can be great.
Andy Fleck, AnonymousEagle.com: I’m tempted to say Trent Lockett, but since he played the Southeast Louisiana game after breaking his face and played in Maui without a mask to protect said broken face, I’m going to cut him some slack. So that means I have to go with Steve Taylor. Buzz called him the most talented freshman that he’s had at Marquette, but so far it’s not translating to production in what little time he’s getting on the floor.
Andrei Greska, Paint Touches: Many fans will say Lockett, but I didn’t think he would adjust overnight. Seeing that it took Jamil Wilson about 10 games to get a hang of the offense, I expected a similar learning curve. Junior Cadougan, though, has no excuses. He is turning the ball over way too much recently and the free-throw he missed against Butler would have iced the game. He needs to step it up.
Michael LoCicero, Marquette Tribune: It’s hard to pinpoint a big disappointment, because I think this team has been more of a collective unit than we’ve seen in awhile. When six players average at least 8.4 points per game, that’s a good sign. However, if I had to choose a disappointment, I’d say it’s been Jamil Wilson’s consistency. Through five games, he’s MU’s third leading scorer at 10.2 per game, but didn’t score a point against Butler and had just six against Southeastern Louisiana. He needs to stay in that 10-15 points range every night.
3. 1-10, how much does Marquette’s offense miss Todd Mayo?
Mark Strotman, Paint Touches: It’s hard to tell because Marquette still has not played the kind of competition where a slasher and outside shooter like Mayo will be at its peak value. I still have my concerns relying on Jake Thomas and Jamal Ferguson a combined 19+ minutes per game, so right now the offense misses Mayo around a 4, but I see that number trending upwards toward an 8 when Marquette travels to Gainesville and then home to play Wisconsin, and potentially when the Big East season begins.
Matt Trebby, ESPNWisconsin.com: I will say 7, just because they are 4-1, and even with Mayo winning all three games in Maui would be difficult. They clearly miss him, and are learning to play without him. His skills are unique, especially to this Marquette team. That number may be greater going forward, but so far the Golden Eagles have done pretty well without him in regards to their record.
Andy Fleck, AnonymousEagle.com: Which Todd Mayo are we talking about? The one who shot 60% behind the arc in the NCAA Tournament or the one that went 2-19 from distance in MU’s last 11 regular season games and the disaster against Louisville in the Big East Tournament? Because they don’t miss the second one AT ALL.
Andrei Greska, Paint Touches: If you asked me before Maui I would have said 11. Today I will go with 4. Vander’s scoring improvement mitigated a lot of that, while the team is figuring out how to play with a dominant frontcourt instead of backcourt. I also have been happy with Jake Thomas, who hasn’t been shooting great yet, but has spaced the floor well. When he gains confidence to shoot a bit more, I can see this dropping to a 2.
Michael LoCicero, Marquette Tribune: I’ll go with a 6, but I think that is still hard to say because the competition hasn’t been great besides Butler. I really thought MU struggled against SE Louisiana and I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect in Maui. But scoring 77.3 points per game against tougher competition is a positive. Eventually teams are going to frustrate Chris Otule and Davante Gardner enough where MU will start needing to make more outside shots, which is an area it could really use Mayo.
4. Which player do you expect to take on a larger role as the season goes on who isn’t at that level after five games?
Mark Strotman, Paint Touches: Steve Taylor. This is no time to jump off the bandwagon if you followed my advice and jumped on early. Taylor has really struggled defensively in the early going as he attempts to figure out the lay of the land, but the talent is there. He’s taking high-percentage shots, is taking care of the ball and should see his role expand and his comfort level increases.
Matt Trebby, ESPNWisconsin.com: I think Trent Lockett is still figuring out how to play with his teammates, and the other way around, too. Lockett is all over the court, grabbing rebounds, playing tough defense, and cutting all over the place on offense. I expect him to average double-digit points, and be a go-to-guy for Marquette as the season progresses.
Andy Fleck, AnonymousEagle.com: Juan Anderson is my guy. He’s clearly comfortable out there right now, and he’s earning Buzz’s trust bit by bit. I don’t think he’s going to quite get to the point where he’s getting his number called on the offensive end, but I think we’ll see a lot of games where he does everything Marquette’s not getting from other sources.
Andrei Greska, Paint Touches: Jamil Wilson. He can’t have games scoring 0 points as he did against Butler. He also got abused on the defensive end, showing he still doesn’t have Jimmy Butler’s physicality. I think he has shown enough in the other games where he will burst out at some point and claim this team as his.
Michael LoCicero, Marquette Tribune: I think if Steve Taylor can figure things out on defense to the point where he isn’t a liability, his offensive game will develop even more. He has the length on defense to stretch an offense and force turnovers, but is taking his lumps so far. He reminds me of Juan Anderson last year, but appears as talented or even more talented than Anderson, so if he can figure things out mentally, he’ll be a factor all year.
5. Assuming Vander Blue sits against UMBC and plays against Wisconsin and Florida, what is Marquette’s record after 8 games?
Mark Strotman, Paint Touches: I think with our without Vander Blue, at Florida could wind up being Marquette’s toughest game all season. I’ll chalk that up as a loss, and UMBC as a win (though Brett Rosebro in a revenge game is scary…). That leaves Bucky, who will visit the Bradley Center to play a Marquette team that will have had more than a week of rest and time to prepare. This rivalry game could go either way, so I’ll give the edge to Marquette playing at home, just as I would Wisconsin at the Kohl Center.
Matt Trebby, ESPNWisconsin.com: They would be 6-2, and the loss against Florida will be one that could go either way (they beat UMBC and Wisconsin). The game in Gainesville will depends solely on how well the Gators are shooting. If they’re hot, then Marquette loses, and if they’re not, then Marquette wins. I think the Golden Eagles are too athletic for Wisconsin, and can match the Badgers down low (their strength).
Andy Fleck, AnonymousEagle.com: 6-2. Marquette’s got enough weapons and defense to get through UMBC, even after factoring in Roseboro’s Revenge. Florida didn’t lose nearly as much as Marquette did in the offseason, so the outlook on that one is not optimistic. As for Wisconsin, MU beat them last year in their building without Junior Cadougan and (mostly) without Jae Crowder. It’ll be hair-pullingly slow, but I’ll take Marquette in that one.
Andrei Greska, Paint Touches: 5-3. They handle UMBC but get blown out at Florida and lose a heartbreaker to the Badgers. Unlike last year where any deficit under 20 seemed surmountable, this Marquette team needs leads or a close game throughout to win. I expect a slow start against Florida will doom them, while Wisconsin’s three-point shooting will ultimately undermine Marquette as the Badgers exact revenge.
Michael LoCicero, Marquette Tribune: I think it’s easy to see MU at 6-2 after the next three games. Nobody outside of the UMBC program expects MU to lose that game, but this team isn’t good enough to beat Florida right now, especially on the road. Buzz will have the guys ready for Gainesville and some of the players will be looking for revenge after that stinker in the Sweet 16 last year, but this Gator team is loaded. Before the season, I thought Josh Gasser would be enough to get UW past MU, but without him, this team is average. MU will frustrate redshirt freshman George Marshall into turnovers all night and the Golden Eagles will take down Bucky again.