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Summer fun: Where each player can improve this off-season

The 2011-12 Marquette season has come and gone, but players have already begun their open practices and individual workouts on the court and in the weight room. Here’s a look at what each player can improve on most as they prepare for the 2012-13 season.

Junior Cadougan: As the lone player with one year remaining at Marquette, Cadougan will be called upon to be more of a leader in 2012. Leadership isn’t required to come from seniors, but it makes life easier on a team when it does.

He was lucky enough to have Lazar Hayward, Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder as teammates his first three seasons, but as Marquette’s court general he must lead the team in difficult times. Leadership comes naturally, but Cadougan being more vocal and producing on the court will make it happen.

Vander Blue: For all the improvements Blue made from his freshman to sophomore season, his outside shooting was not one of them. His importance to Marquette’s style, pace and defense cannot be understated, but 26 percent from beyond the arc is still holding him back from being a great player. His form isn’t going to change, so it seems to be a matter of confidence and repetitions for Blue this off-season.

As Aki Collins said, his free throw percentage improved exponentially after he gained confidence at the line, so there’s reason to believe he can do the same from the outside. With a larger role on offense coming, Blue will get his chance.

Todd Mayo: The biggest surprise from the 2011-2012 season, Mayo has the potential to be Marquette’s best player next year. He should make a smooth transition to the “DJO role” in the offense, and as difficult as it may be to quantify, Mayo must work on keeping his consistent jumper while taking a higher percentage of shots. It would also be nice to see Mayo become more aggressive driving to the basket. He didn’t have to do it much last year, but Marquette will be looking for scorers, so Mayo will need to score in a variety of ways to be a dominant scorer at the Division I level.

Todd Mayo will be asked to take on a larger role in his sophomore season. (Marquette Tribune photo)

It will also be a test for Mayo to be a high volume shooter while keeping up his intensity on defense. He was one of Marquette’s most underrated defenders last year, so consistency again will be the key while keeping up last year’s efficiency.

Jamil Wilson: Playing in the front court shadow of Jae Crowder, Wilson has a chance to become a lottery pick next year if he can make the jump from good to great. He showed flashes of greatness last year, but his offensive role was limited because of Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. He has shown he can score from mid-range and beyond the arc, and as the true “switchable” in Buzz Williams’ offense, there’s no telling how good Wilson can become once he finds that killer instinct.

Defensively, Wilson’s rebounding numbers weren’t all that great. His defensive rebounding rate (10.5) and defensive rebounds per game (2.4) were both fifth on the team, which shouldn’t happen given Wilson’s length and athleticism. Again, it’s about the 6-foot-7 Wilson playing more aggressive. Losing Crowder will hurt Marquette on the glass, but Wilson’s play could ease those concerns.

Juan Anderson: Strength and Conditioning coach Todd Smith has to be salivating at the prospects of working with Anderson. Listed at 210 pounds, Anderson added muscle last year but will have another chance to do it this summer. Thrust into a larger role due to front court injuries, Anderson struggled inside at times.

Outside of that, it would be nice to see Anderson improve his range. He did not have many chances to shoot when inserted into the lineup, but if he wants to move into a rotation and see constant minutes next year he’ll have to prove he can shoot at the next level. He did it in high school, so the ability is there.

Davante Gardner: Of all the improvements players made last season, Gardner’s defense may have made the biggest jump. Granted, he had plenty of room to improve, but his coverage of pick-and-roll help drastically improved Marquette’s defense. Gardner will always be a dominant offensive threat, and rumors of an outside jumper may never come to fruition, but if he can continue his work defensively Gardner could be looking at all-Big East accolades in 2012.

The question of conditioning and weight loss will always be a conversation with Gardner. He has cut his weight from 303 to 276 pounds, a clear testament to his hard work since he arrived at Marquette. Michigan State’s Derrick Nix went from 314 to 267 pounds, and Buzz Williams has said Gardner’s goal is 265 pounds. If he can get there, the sky’s the limit for Marquette’s best post player.

Chris Otule: Conditioning will be important for the fifth year senior Otule, who will be about 10 months removed from knee surgery. Depending on what he can or cannot do over the summer, continued work on strengthening his knee and doing as much as he can with the basketball will be important. The coaching staff will not rush him back again, but it will be crucial for him to do as much as he can to be prepared for the start of the season, which isn’t a stretch at this point.

Derrick Wilson:Strictly a defensive stopper his freshman year, Wilson will be called upon to be more of a scorer in his second year. His calling card will be on the defensive end, but with Todd Mayo likely moving to the starting lineup, the second unit will need a scoring punch outside of Davante Gardner.

Can Derrick Wilson become more aggressive on the offensive end in 2012-13? (Marquette Tribune Photo)

Wilson could be that player, as he averaged 23 and 17 points his junior and senior seasons of high school, respectively. Wilson admitted he looked to pass because of the offensive firepower around him. But the Golden Eagles lose more than 68 percent of their 3-point makes and more than 46 percent of their shooting. Wilson could be an under-the-radar pick to provide scoring off the bench in 2012.

Steve Taylor: This author believes Taylor could be a special player at Marquette. Following in the footsteps of Lazar Hayward and Jae Crowder as a trailing, perimeter-oriented forward, Taylor gets after it on the glass and has range to the 3-point line. He has a great body, but could make a significant jump if he works with Todd Smith and his the weight room hard. He has the potential, but seems raw. His post-game will improve as a direct result of playing against Chris Otule, Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner, and repetitions from beyond the arc could make him an inside-out threat with immediate impact.

T.J. Taylor: Like Derrick Wilson last year, Taylor will be the most “Big East-ready” newcomer. After a highly successful freshman season at Paris Junior College, Taylor has the potential to be the first guard off the bench next year. It will be important for him to adapt to a Division I pace, something many of Marquette’s junior college players have voiced in the past. If he is ready by Opening Night, Taylor has a chance to make a real impact next year.

Jamal Ferguson: The most athletic of the three incoming recruits, Ferguson’s length makes him an excellent “switchable” for Williams and Marquette. It may be difficult for him to crack the rotation his freshman year, but he can make his mark through his versatility. He is really the prime candidate who, if he can get after it defensively, will see playing time. Like Anderson and Jamail Jones a year ago, one of those two players will see minutes. May the best man win.

Jake Thomas: From all accounts, Thomas could be a legitimate outside shooter next year. The key, of course, is being able to do more than just that. His 3-point shooting will get him on the court, but defense and smart decision-making will keep him there. He seems to be a hard worker and has good athleticism, so this will be an important summer for Thomas to earn his spot in the rotation. Thomas’ outside shooting could be a vital aspect to Marquette.

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