Burning Question: Todd Mayo or Vander Blue?

For the next five weeks, Paint Touches will ask five burning questions leading up to Marquette Madness. This week asks whether Todd Mayo or Vander Blue is more valuable to the Golden Eagles.

Week 1: Marquette’s leading scorer?

Mark Strotman: It’s almost a certainty that seniors Junior Cadougan and Trent Lockett will play significant minutes in Marquette’s back court this year and be valuable assets on both ends of the floor. With that out of the way, the question becomes whether sophomore Todd Mayo or junior Vander Blue will have a bigger impact on this year’s team. You may disagree, but I don’t think it matters who starts the majority of games at the “two-guard.” Both players are somewhat interchangeable, but I’m interested to see who ends games instead.

 And while I do think it’s close as to who is more valuable (both are), I think Blue’s completeness gives him the slight edge. We looked last year at how Blue is successful in almost every aspect of the game, and he was one of three players to average 8.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists in Big East play. I don’t know that he ever becomes a 17-point-per-game player like Mayo has the potential to become, but Blue is an underrated passer, hits the boards well and has great length and athleticism to boot. I’ll leave the definition of “valuable” open for you, but to me value is who can have the biggest effect on a game by themselves, and to me that’s Blue.

Vander Blue will be expected to carry a bigger load on both ends of the floor this year (Marquette Tribune).

Andrei Greska: To me, the term “valuable” takes on a different meaning in each unique situation presented during the season. Using the win at Wisconsin last year as an example, the case can easily be made for Blue as most valuable, as he scored 9 points and grabbed 8 rebounds while playing stifling defense on a pre-season All-American Jordan Taylor. Yet, it was Mayo who put up the second-most points (14) and scored the biggest basket of the game with his floater late in the second half. Without Mayo’s contribution, Marquette may not have been able to hold off the Badgers late. Then again, what’s to say Marquette is even in a position to win late without the stellar all-around game from Blue, hence the confusion.
In an attempt to be concrete, though, I will phrase it like this, if you had to take one of them away from the team, which would be a bigger loss. I honestly believe that losing Mayo would hurt more. That’s not to say he is a much better player or he has higher potential, I just think the way this Marquette team is made up, losing Mayo would be more detrimental. At the same stage of Blue’s career, Blue played 20 minutes or less 13 times, seeing single digit minutes in five games and averaging 12.5 minutes in that span. Comparatively, Mayo averaged 20.0 minutes in the final 13 contests last season, seeing double-digit playing time in every game. This is a roundabout way of saying, it was much easier to take Blue out as a freshman than it was Mayo. Assuming Todd progresses at the same rate as Vander did, the same will be true this upcoming season.
MS: I would take Mayo’s freshman season over Blue’s as well, but Mayo, a sophomore, is nine months OLDER than Blue, a junior. When each made their freshman debuts, Blue was 18 years, 4 months old. Mayo was 20 years, 8 months old. So when comparing freshman seasons, remember Mayo was more than two years older than Blue was, respectively. Still, your argument still holds weight if Mayo does progress; I just don’t expect it to be as significant an improvement as Blue did from freshman to sophomore year.And as much value as Mayo’s outside shot holds, it’s impossible to overlook what Blue provides defensively. Perhaps Marquette’s best perimeter defender since Jerel McNeal, Blue took nightly assignments against some of the conference’s best guards last year and, entering his third season, is bordering on elite defensively.
Mayo did an impressive job on the other side of the ball when his shot disappeared, but Blue’s superior length and athleticism gives him the nod here. Consider it a plus for Blue rather than a negative for Mayo.Mayo is the more efficient and versatile scorer–perhaps the most versatile on Marquette now that Jae Crowder is gone–, but Blue is by no means a non-factor when Marquette has the ball. So because Blue can initiate offense and get to the basket, his defensive value puts him over the top. It’s close, but Blue had a better steal rate, defensive rebounding percentage and committed less fouls per 40 minutes. Marquette needs scoring next year, but a lockdown defender is irreplaceable.
AG: Had you made the irreplaceable ‘D’ argument last season to me I would have agreed wholeheartedly. I still remember our debate on a podcast after Otule went down as I was trying to persuade you that his defense was, for lack of a better word, irreplaceable. I believed MU would struggle keeping teams out of the lane without its man in the middle. As it turned out though, you were right and I was wrong. Marquette adapted its schemes and was able to thrive at times, even with Gardner, slow defensively, and Crowder, mismatched size-wise, taking a bulk of the minutes guarding opposing fives.I bring this up because I believe as good as Blue may be as a lockdown defender, Marquette would not see a big drop-off should he get injured. In fact, Buzz called Mayo the “best defender at denying passes to his assigned matchup.” Aside from Mayo though, having Lockett in the back court will also negate Blue’s singular defensive advantage, as his size and experience are valuable assets.
In fact, according to Ken Pom’s stats, Lockett had a higher steal, block and defensive rebounding percentage than Blue.These stats show that Blue’s most valuable trait is not unique to this upcoming team. Shooting, however, is. Marquette’s biggest hole going into the season is its weak 3-point and perimeter shooting. The difference between Mayo and blue in this regard is staggering. Even after a severe midseason slump saw Mayo miss 17 of 19 threes in the final 11 Big East games, his 3-point percentage was seven points better (33% to 26%). Mayo also made almost four times as many shots from beyond the arc than Vander. Todd’s shooting is much more irreplaceable than Blue’s defense.
MS: A few things on the Blue defense front. Lockett put up more impressive KenPom numbers, but did so playing primarily a zone defense and against a historically weak Pac-12. I’ll be interested to see how he plays in a man-to-man setting against Big East foes. I’m not saying he won’t be a solid defender, but it’ll be different to put up the same stats as he did in a more freed up zone setting against weaker opponents. And I really do like Mayo defensively. He gets after it more than I thought he would, and he has athleticism to back up his effort. But right now, Blue’s defense is superior to anyone on the roster. Mayo is a better outside shooter; I can’t and won’t argue that. But Marquette will find scoring, and the depth of scorers on the team means 3-point shooting isn’t a necessity. Lockdown defense that Blue brings, that’s a necessity for a Buzz Williams team.And I am glad you brought up consistency. Mayo, who I’ll continue to remind is older than Blue, disappeared for a good stretch of the Big East season last year. Blue only had a few games (Winthrop, Seton Hall, at Villanova) where he really lit up the box score, but part of that will always be quasi-unfair expectations thrown on him. He always seemed to realize early what kind of night he was having, whether that meant being more aggressive on the boards, getting out in transition or focusing on defense. Blue is a much more mature player at this point, and I’d feel a lot more comfortable relying on Blue’s consistency if Mayo went down than if the opposite occurred.

And lest we forget the trouble Mayo has caused this off-season with his suspension. It’s easy to point the finger at Blue for his early mishaps (I don’t count the West Va. suspensions against Blue nor Mayo), and they can’t be forgotten, but he’ll be one of the leaders this year. Multiple players, notably Derrick Wilson and Juan Anderson, have told me how they look up to him, and I believe he will make significant strides as an upperclassman while following in the steps of his good friends Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder. They’re similar players on the court, but Blue’s maturity and consistency is as valuable as anything he or Mayo can bring on the court.

Todd Mayo is back from suspension, and could be Marquette’s best outside scoring option in 2012-13. (Marquette Tribune)

AG: I’m surprised you didn’t mention one of Blue’s biggest positives last year, something no one would have guessed even a few games into the season: his clutch free-throw shooting. Starting with the trip to Villanova, something clicked and Blue transformed from a shaky shot at the line into a player whose hands you want the ball in during late game situations. I think that attests to his maturity more than any suspension because Vander had issues of his own freshman year. Confidence is a sure sign of maturity and I’m glad to have seen it develop for Blue.

At the end of the day, Marquette is lucky to have both players on the squad. There is no Team Blue or Team Mayo, there is simple one Golden Eagle squad all working for the same goal. The point of these arguments is not to villainize any one player, but rather predict how this season will shake out and who will step up when. I was going to argue that I’d rather have Mayo take the last shot of a game, but that still wouldn’t prove that he’s more valuable, just that he might be a more reliable scorer in late game situations.

Heck, for all we know Jake Thomas will be the reincarnation of John Paxon and deliver the late-game heroics. What we do know is that Marquette has two athletic guards that play fierce defense and can get to the line. The team is much better off having both in uniform.

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