Al McGuire said it perfectly, that “the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores.” McGuire’s quote likely could have extended to sophomores becoming juniors, and juniors becoming seniors. There’s a natural progression that all Division I basketball players go through, and coaching staffs do their best to move that along as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Right now Marquette isn’t seeing that progression from his 2011 and 2012 recruiting classes.
Buzz Williams’ 2010 recruiting class was outstanding and became one of the most accomplished classes in recent memory. Future Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder, eventual Sixth Man of the year Davante Gardner and March Madness hero Vander Blue headlined a class ranked 14th in the country by Rivals. Williams also brought in former top-30 recruit Jamil Wilson from Oregon, as well as top-100 freshmen Jamail Jones and Reggie Smith.
That class, coupled with an impressive 2009 recruiting class, brought Marquette to its first Sweet 16 since 2003 and won a share of the Big East regular-season championship for the first time. The Golden Eagles were on the up-and-up, and recruiting classes the next two seasons should have reflected that.
Unfortunately, the 2011 and 2012 classes have lacked success and put Marquette into a bind this season as it searches for answers behind its frontcourt leaders.
True, that 2011 recruiting class has produced three starters in Derrick Wilson, Jake Thomas (transfer) and Juan Anderson, with Todd Mayo a significant contributor off the bench,. But in their respective third seasons in Milwaukee, that trio has averaged 16.4 points on 36.3 percent shooting, 11.2 rebounds and 6.4 assists in a combined 73 minutes per game. Mayo, who was suspended Saturday against Wisconsin for a violation of team rules, has averaged 10.0 points on 40 percent shooting in 20.4 minutes per game.
Yet for the struggles the 2011 class has faced, 2012 has been far worse. Aaron Durley never made it to campus, junior-college guard TJ Taylor left the program after just two weeks, Jamal Ferguson transferred to North Carolina Central after one season and, though Steve Taylor has shown flashes of potential, offseason knee surgery has forced him to play just 12 minutes per game; his knee is still bothering him, and it forced him out of Saturday’s contest.
The 2012 class also included Arizona State transfer Trent Lockett, whose senior presence provided much more in terms of intangibles than in the box score as a key part of the Golden Eagles’ Elite Eight run last season.
Say what you will about recruiting rankings and those who decide which program compiled the best group of players who have yet to play a college basketball game, but neither the 2011 nor 2012 classes were nationally ranked by Rivals or ESPN. Davante Gardner, Jimmy Butler and Mayo alike proved that the rankings aren’t gospel, but they mean something.
Past the rankings — which have no bearing on how players will perform — the bigger disappointment has been a lack of progression. As graduations and transfers occur, players from both classes were going to see more minutes, and statistical averages increased.
But the per-40 minute statistics haven’t been much better from players in either class. Yes, three starters have come about from the 2011 class and Taylor has tons of potential, but Marquette’s biggest problem in 2013 is that role players past Gardner and Jamil Wilson — two players from the 2010 class — haven’t formed into reliable scorers and defenders.
Mayo is being asked to act as a third scoring option, yet he’s playing like a No. 4 or 5; Derrick Wilson has the defensive intensity and ball security of a premier backup, something he did perfectly as a freshman and sophomore, but he hasn’t shown the scoring or playmaking ability asked of Williams’ starting point guards; Anderson is an active defender and above-average rebounder, though his offense has left plenty to be desired; and Taylor’s defensive struggles and injury setbacks have limited him to more than 10 minutes in just four games.
Put simply, Marquette has a group of role players from the 2011 and 2012 class playing one or two slots above their current playing level. They will continue to progress as all collegiate players do, but outside of Mayo their respective ceilings seem capped. Williams undoubtedly will find the answers to a rotation that has been shaky, at best, thus far. A solid freshman class, topped by Deonte Burton and Jajuan Johnson, has helped that cause and may be a saving grace if/when Duane Wilson returns from a stress fracture.
The future is bright in Milwaukee, as that 2013 class is blossoming behind increased minutes, and the 2014 class could wind up being Williams’ most versatile and important following the graduation of Otule, Jamil Wilson and Gardner this season.
Until then, having only Mayo “pan out” as a plus-contributor has crippled Marquette’s depth and rotation. There’s only 13 scholarships to go around, making it crucial to hit on certain recruits and find the right combinations of size, skill and position to round out classes when those players are underclassmen.
That hasn’t happened thus far, and it’s the key to righting the ship on an otherwise uninspiring start to the 2013 season.