Five Point Play: First Edition

This is the first installment of the “Five Point Play.” The premise of this piece is to take five questions related to Marquette men’s basketball and have five different media members answer each question.

Many of the writers will be from the Marquette Tribune but we’ve gone outside of our own organization and sought out Marquette Radio, MUTV, Cracked Sidewalks, Anonymous Eagle, and other Marquette basketball outlets to aid us so we can have a variety of voices throughout the year.

Some pieces will have themes, like if Marquette will play Connecticut that week will feature a “Five Point Play” relative to that game, others will be very general and open-ended.

Without further adieu, here’s our first “Five Point Play” of the season, looking at questions relative to the off-season and preseason.

Which player improved the most this offseason?

Mark Strotman, Marquette Tribune: Junior guard Junior Cadougan. We all saw what he was capable of the second half of the season and his Milwaukee Pro-Am performance was phenomenal. With Dwight Buycks out of the picture, Cadougan knows that this is his team and he is already acting like it. With his torn Achilles’ heel a thing of the past, it is Cadougan’s time to shine.

Matt Trebby, Marquette Radio: After the end of the season Junior Cadougan had, it’s tough to say his confidence shouldn’t be running high, especially after his performance in the Milwaukee Pro-Am. Early in the year, all he was missing was that confidence and aggressiveness in his game, and hopefully he has found it for good.

Cracked Sidewalks: Sophomore guard Vander Blue.  I’ll swim up-stream on this one, realizing that Blue struggled as a freshman last season.  With a full-season under his belt, Blue’s game will undoubtedly improve and with Buycks’ departure the sophomore will have a greater opportunity to contribute.  I still contend that last season Vander was not used properly — he is not a shooting guard, but rather, an “Alpha guard” who plays better with the ball in his hands.  This season we’ll see much more of the Vander Blue we’ve all been expecting.

Mike Nelson, Marquette Tribune: Marquette fans hope that junior guard Junior Cadougan improved the most this offseason as he should be the team’s starting point guard. Cadougan showed glimpses of brilliance last season, like his 15 point and five assist performance against West Virginia and when he drilled a 3-pointer against Connecticut that put Marquette up one with 3:04 left in regulation before Marquette won 74-67 in overtime.

Anonymous Eagle: We have no idea.  We haven’t been privy to any of the offseason workouts or anything like that.  Who do we hope improved the most this offseason? Vander Blue.  The kid’s got immense talent and hopefully a summer of refinement will help him elevate things.  Someone needs to be that third scorer behind senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom and senior forward Jae Crowder, and we have to think that Blue is going to get every chance to be that guy.

Will Marquette be ranked in the top 15 in preseason polls? If so, are the Golden Eagles worthy of it?

Mark Strotman, Marquette Tribune: Yes. A Sweet 16 team that returns four of its five best players and brings in an impressive recruiting class plus forward Jamil Wilson is worthy of that ranking. Gone are the days of Marquette flying under the radar as the little school from Milwaukee that keeps its head above the water in the Big East. Marquette has finally arrived.

Matt Trebby, Marquette Radio: The early indications say they will. I think it will be very interesting how the team will replace Jimmy Butler, so I don’t know if they’re worthy of a top 15 ranking until that is figured out. They are definitely a top-25 team, but top-15 may be a bit high, just for the moment.

Cracked Sidewalks: Yes.  Many pre-season rankings will look at last season’s team and see that the program lost a handful of seniors and will mistakenly underestimate the Warriors.  However,  last year the team only had one senior contributor of consequence, and with a more veteran roster and high-ceiling talent arriving, the team figures to be stronger than last season’s vintage.  With Jamil Wilson slotting in as a natural replacement for the graduated Jimmy Butler, few teams in the Big East can offer the roster continuity Buzz Williams will enjoy this season.

Mike Nelson, Marquette Tribune: A top-25 team is definitely warranted, but top-15 is a stretch. Marquette lost its best player from last season, forward Jimmy Butler, and still lacks a consistent interior presence.  We don’t know if Cadougan can be the type of point guard that can start in the Big East, let alone be the point guard on a top-15 team.

Anonymous Eagle: They finished last year ranked 20th.  We can easily see five teams ranked ahead of them in last year’s final poll falling below them when the first polls come out.  So we’ll say yes, they’ll be in the top 15. Will they be worthy? Yes. Marquette is fresh off a Sweet 16 appearance and returns a supermajority of last year’s major contributors. Mix in Jamil Wilson, who has been practicing with the team for a year and a highly touted recruiting class, and it’s hard to say they’re not worthy.

True or false: Darius Johnson-Odom will be a preseason first team All-Big East selection.

Mark Strotman, Marquette Tribune: True. Preseason rankings consist of two things: Prior year’s production and publicity. Johnson-Odom showed off his skills at North Carolina’s Pro-Am and worked out with LeBron James and Kevin Durant this summer and, as a second team All-Big East selection in 2010, everything is there for Johnson-Odom to be a first team All-Big East choice. It’s not unfathomable to think he could even be the Big East Preseason Player of the Year.

Matt Trebby, Marquette Radio: True. Johnson-Odom was a second-team Big East player last year, and wasn’t nearly as good as he could have been. This year, he’ll have to do much more for the team and will probably have a much better season statistically. I think he will, as this looks like it just might be DJO’s year in the Big East.

Cracked Sidewalks: True. He was a second team All-Big East selection last year — the only surprise would be if he was not selected to the first team. In fact, Jae Crowder should also be a pre-season first-team All-Big East selection. Simply put, two of the 10 best players in the league will suit up for Marquette this winter.

Mike Nelson, Marquette Tribune: True. Johnson-Odom was the seventh leading scorer in the conference in 2010-2011 (15.8 points per game), a second-team All Big East selection and will be Marquette’s go-to option offensively throughout the 2011-2012 season. The only returning Big East player that was a bigger offensive threat than Johnson-Odom is Pittsburgh guard Ashton Gibbs, who finished sixth (16.8 points per game).

Anonymous Eagle: True. He and Pittsburgh senior guard Ashton Gibbs are the only two returning players on both the first and second All Big East teams from the end of last season. He’s gotten a lot of publicity over the summer as a player to watch and that kind of buzz is needed for a preseason nod, particularly a preseason player of the year nod, like MSG’s Jon Rothstein heard over the summer.

What did we learn, if anything, from Marquette players playing in Pro Ams this summer?

Mark Strotman, Marquette Tribune: Nothing serious, but we learned that this year’s Marquette team is going to be one of the most athletic in recent memory. From Johnson-Odom’s thunderous dunks to sophomore forward Davante Gardner showing off his three-point skills to Cadougan racking up assists on fast breaks, it will be hard for any team to compete with Marquette in terms of athleticism.

Matt Trebby, Marquette Radio: It’s entertaining, defenseless basketball most of the time. When Davante Gardner drops 55 points and 22 boards, something is up (especially when he’s shooting the ball from beyond the arc). It’s fun to watch, but is really just a fun way to stay in shape for the players.

Cracked Sidewalks: We learned that Davante Gardner lost weight and that none of the players were hurt. Both are good developments and the latter is the best news any fan should hope for from any summer league.  The games are terrific in enabling the players to compete against a high-level of competition, but remember, last year Dwight Buycks dominated the Pro-Am and then delivered an uneven, ultimately disappointing senior season.

Mike Nelson, Marquette Tribune: The league adopts NBA rules (farther out three-point line, 24-second shot clock, and four 12 minute quarters) meaning it demands players to be more offensive. And the Marquette players who played lived up to that hype. We learned in that in a system that asks for offense, Marquette players can deliver. I wouldn’t read too much into anything that happened there.

Anonymous Eagle: Zilch. As Mr. Kensington wrote this summer, there isn’t much you can take away from the play in the Pro-Am. But we did get to see that freshman forward Juan Anderson looks a little taller than the 6’6″ he’s been listed at and improved physiques for both Davante Gardner and Junior Cadougan.

True or False: Marquette will finish in the top four of the Big East this season.

Mark Strotman, Marquette Tribune: False. There’s no denying that Marquette will be a force in the Big East this year, but there is so much talent at the top of the conference that fourth place seems like a lofty expectation. I expect Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Louisville and Connecticut to finish first through fourth, with Marquette and Cincinnati close behind at fifth and sixth. Hopefully coach Buzz Williams proves me wrong.

Matt Trebby, Marquette Radio: True. Last year was a down year record wise for Marquette, which is overshadowed by the Sweet 16 run. This year, they’re one of the Big East

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