Marquette preseason primer: Guards

Todd Mayo is an x-factor for the Marquette backcourt this season. (USA Today)

Todd Mayo is an x-factor for the Marquette backcourt this season. (USA Today)

Marquette is officially in game week, which means we’ll  be previewing this year’s roster and schedule throughout the week up until Friday night’s game against Southern. Today we look at Marquette’s guards, followed by its wings, forwards and finally the non-conference schedule. On Friday we’ll make our predictions for the 2013-14 Golden Eagles.

Monday: Guards
Tuesday: Wings
Wednesday: Forwards/centers
Thursday: Non-conference schedule
Friday: Predictions

It’s been well-documented, but it’s worth repeating that this year’s Marquette team will look unlike any we’ve seen in five years under Buzz Williams. It’s more a testament to just how loaded the frontcourt is, but for the first time in Williams’ tenure the backcourt is more of a question mark than a sure thing. That’s not to say there isn’t talent, though Vander Blue’s departure, coupled with Junior Cadougan’s graduation means an entirely new point guard/shooting guard combination.

That will happen for only the second time under Williams, the last time coming after Dominic James, Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal all graduated following the 2008-09 season. The year after Marquette still had seniors Mo Acker and David Cubillan to go with incoming junior Dwight Buycks and sophomore Darius Johnson-Odom. Simply put, they had experienced depth and talent to go with an above-average frontcourt.

Mayo is looking to bounce back after a rough sophomore season. (Photo by Ryan Messier)

Mayo is looking to bounce back after a rough sophomore season. (Photo by Ryan Messier)

That isn’t necessarily the case this time around. Still, that doesn’t mean that same depth and talent isn’t there.

The biggest news from the preseason came when Marquette announced that freshman point guard Duane Wilson would miss “multiple weeks” with a stress fracture in his left leg. Projected to be part of the rotation from Day 1, Wilson is not expected to be ready for the start of the season and, at the time of the injury, a source indicated to Paint Touches that redshirting the 6-foot-3 combo guard was still a possibility.

Whenever he does return — we’ll predict that Wilson returns sometime before conference play — he’ll be able to work his way into the Golden Eagles rotation. Ranked No. 51 in the 2013 class by Rivals.com, Wilson was Marquette’s most accomplished recruit in high school and is arguably the most Big East-ready recruit. He shot a blistering 55 percent from beyond the arc as a senior at Dominican H.S. and really thrived as a shoot-first point guard. He’s a perfect complement to Derrick Wilson and has the ability to play off the ball, too. Williams wants as many ball handlers on the court at one time as he can, meaning Wilson has a spot in the rotation whenever he returns. Like Juan Anderson two years ago, Wilson must acclimate himself once he’s back on the practice floor, but there’s optimism that he’ll be able to do just that.

Wilson’s injury puts fellow freshman John Dawson in an interesting position. The only freshman not ranked by recruiting outlets — take that for what you will — the 6-foot-4 point guard didn’t show much in the Marquette Madness scrimmage — again, take that for what you will. What makes him such an intriguing prospect, however, is that he’s more of a pass-first player, and that could fit in well with Marquette’s surplus of frontcourt firepower.

Assistant Jerry Wainwright has really taken the Clovis, N.M., native under his wing and helped with his acclimation to the collegiate atmosphere. And with Wilson out, he may take on an expanded role early on. Marquette may use the likes of Todd Mayo or even Jamil Wilson as a ball handler, and if Dawson can prove his defensive worth it wouldn’t be out of the question for him to see spot duty throughout the season.

It seems almost unfair that we haven’t gotten to him yet, but if you aren’t on the Derrick Wilson bandwagon yet, spots are filling up quickly…and for good reason. We profiled at length just how much he’ll do for the Golden Eagles this season, following in Cadougan’s footsteps, and really he’s exactly what the team needs. He may not top 15 points in any game, but he also isn’t likely to top more than three turnovers in any game while playing close to 30 minutes per game.

And really, whatever he contributes offensively is just an added bonus to what he’ll add on the defensive end. He could be one of the top rebounding guards in the country and one of the best defenders in the Big East. His biggest statistical jump from Year 1 to Year 2 was his fouls per 40 minutes, which dropped from 7.0 to 3.6. If that number remains — and it will need to considering how much he’ll play — he could be in line for an ultra efficient year.

Derrick Wilson must become more aggressive while staying efficient. (USA Today)

Derrick Wilson must become more aggressive while staying efficient. (USA Today)

Williams made some waves by telling the Journal-Sentinel that senior Jake Thomas is currently the team’s starter at shooting guard, but that shouldn’t last long. If we’re being completely honest, Thomas is a 3-point specialist who needs to have a hot hand in order to justify his place on the court. Very few, if any, redshirt juniors make one basket in conference play and turn out to be that much better as seniors. It just doesn’t happen. Still, there’s something to be said for having senior leadership, and Thomas earned himself a scholarship yet again, so he’s not just a typical walk-on. His defensive numbers weren’t terrible last year but he’s not going to be more athletic than many of his opponents — yes, he did win the dunk contest last year.

The more likely candidate to start at shooting guard, or in Williams’ style, the player to see the majority of minutes and play in crunch time, is freshman Jajuan Johnson. It seems that every year there’s a fancy new freshman with incredible YouTube videos who gets unfair expectations attached to him, but the ones Johnson now has seem warranted.

Williams is never quick to applaud his freshmen, yet he did so at media day, noting that Johnson had been the Golden Eagles’ most impressive performer — not just first-year player — in Boot Camp. Of all the players Paint Touches spoke to, each and every one said Johnson had shown the most skill in workouts, practices and conditioning drills. Chris Otule, who two years ago said Todd Mayo had impressed him the most, had rave reviews for Johnson. He’ll need some time to get used to the Division I game speed — like all Division I freshmen — and when it comes down to crunch time late in the season, expect to see Johnson on the court more times than not.

The term “x-factor” is played out, especially in previews, so forgive us for dubbing Todd Mayo as exactly that. As a freshman, the Memphis native was as good as Marquette has had under Williams. He followed it up with half a season of really nothing, at one point being passed up in favor of Jamal Ferguson off the bench. So now he returns for his junior season, coming off knee surgery, and it’s anyone’s guess as to how he’ll play. The talent is undoubtedly there (see: Seton Hall game last year) but he has to put the shooting, the decision making and the off-court accountability together, all in an increased role.

Maybe that’s what he needs. For being such a pure scorer whose game flows so well when he gets in a groove, more consistent minutes may be the remedy for a player who has all the talent in the world. For a team that will lack outside shooters, Mayo is probably Marquette’s best bet which will make him a contributor from Day 1. Health is somewhat of a concern (Williams said his junior guard was 85 percent at media day) and odds are he won’t have any restrictions when Marquette begins playing for keeps on Friday.

PROJECTED LINEUP

PG: Derrick Wilson, Duane Wilson*, Todd Mayo, John Dawson
SG: Jajuan Johnson, Todd Mayo, Jake Thomas

STAT TO KNOW

Derrick Wilson’s last 15 games: 4 turnovers in 158 minutes

In the first 20 games of the season, Wilson committed a turnover once every 19.9 minutes. Not bad for the game manager/reserve point guard. But consider this: In the last 15 games of the season, he turned the ball over once every 39.5 minutes, and 0.26 per game. It’s no secret Wilson was solid all year at keeping the possession; against Big East/NCAA Tournament foes? He was stellar.

BIGGEST QUESTION MARK

What does Marquette get from Mayo? True, Marquette needs to find its back-up point guard, even if Duane Wilson comes back. And yes, with three freshmen in the backcourt someone will need to step up. But Mayo’s performance could turn Marquette from a very good team to a great one. If he becomes the freshman version, the one who played with confidence going at the basket and was a stout defender, then Johnson and Duane Wilson becomes house money. If Mayo struggles, all of a sudden freshmen are thrust into bigger roles. Mayo could make this relatively unproven group into a strong unit.

ONE WORD, ONE SENTENCE

Derrick Wilson: Efficiency — The junior isn’t going to put up huge numbers, but he’ll be among the most efficient point guards in the Big East in terms of assist rate and turnover rate.

Duane Wilson: Combo — Mayo can handle the ball some, but Wilson is Marquette’s only true combo guard and that will be a valuable asset when Williams needs to rotate lineups.

John Dawson: Project — Though he may see an uptick in minutes, Year 1 likely will be a learning year for a player who has great size, speed and basketball IQ.

Todd Mayo: Scorer — As good as the frontcourt will be in putting up points, with Derrick Wilson running the point Mayo will be expected to score to help the backcourt out.

Jajuan Johnson: Ready — Believe the hype; Johnson is going to make real noise in his first season.

Jake Thomas: Sharpshooter — His shot against Syracuse last season was a big one, and he may have another chance this year to do something like it again.

Categories: Analysis

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