Mark Strotman: Marquette had the luxury of one of the premier players in the Big East last season in Jae Crowder, who averaged 8.4 rebounds per game. That ranked eighth in the conference, and while he’s since graduated there are plenty of rebounds to go around this year. The early favorite this year is Davante Gardner, the leading returner in rebounds per game (5.2). While Buzz Williams doesn’t count players grabbing their own misses as rebounds, the NCAA does. And no one does that better than Gardner, who averaged 2.6 offensive boards in just over 19 minutes per game.
We talked about how 2012 will be a year of players stepping up, and Gardner stands to see a real uptick in minutes if his conditioning allows it. If he can average anywhere close to 25 minutes per game, 7.0 rebounds is not out of the question for the 6-foot-8 junior. Had he qualified, Gardner would have ranked 15th in the country in offensive rebounding percentage (15.9 percent). I won’t lie and make a direct correlation, but I doubt Marquette matches their 45.2 field goal percentage from a year ago. That should mean more chances for offensive rebounds, where Gardner will be sitting in the paint to grab them up. Getting Chris Otule back will hurt his minutes, but not enough to keep him from leading the Golden Eagles in rebounds.
Andrei Greska: The most impressive stat regarding the Mavericks’ newest signing wasn’t the total number of rebounds hauled in as an undersized big. No, Crowder’s most astounding feat was the rate in which he grabbed them. According to KenPom, Jae grabbed 20.7 percent of available defensive rebounds. That means one in five misses ended up in his hands. Who picks up the slack? I’m hesitant to peg it to Gardner simply because he does not get boards outside of his zone. Granted, he is tremendous in carving out good position down-low and uses his big body well to shield defenders, negating his athletic limitations. However, I still don’t think he will average 25 minutes or more because that would theoretically limit Chris Otule to 15 minutes a game. I think Gardner does get a bulk of the plying time, but it won’t be a 10-minute disparity.
More important, Marquette will have one of its best rebounding teams in Buzz’s tenure. Gardner and Otule combine to average about 10 rebounds, Jamil Wilson improved tremendously as the season wore on, Vander Blue may be the best pure rebounder, with Todd Mayo not far behind. When you add Trent Lockett and, even to some extent, Steve Taylor, you get a host of good-to-very good rebounders on the court at all times. Much like the scoring situation, I don’t foresee any one player averaging more than six boards per game.
MS: Wilson is an intriguing player as it pertains to the boards. For his height, athleticism and minutes he was underwhelming as a rebounder. His 4.1 rebounds per game were fourth on the team (fifth, including Otule), and while he averaged 5.5 rebounds in the last 11 games (against some steep competition), there’s a lot to be desired. He’s the most talented athlete on the team, and could make a serious jump from role player to star, but he needs to become more physical and, as former assistant Aki Collins told Paint Touches, he needs to realize how good he can be.
I think Gardner leads the team in rebounds, but Wilson’s ceiling leaves room for him to be a candidate. It was tougher for Wilson to grab boards given Crowder’s impressive numbers, but there are no excuses this year. Steve Taylor’s production may take away from Wilson, but Wilson is going to be called upon to step up. As important as his scoring may be, he could be equally as important on the glass.
AG: I think if we are honest, Wilson was missing some aggressiveness when it came to attacking the boards last season. It seemed like he deferred way too much to Crowder at times, and simply didn’t win many battles for positioning. To put things in perspective, Jamail Jones, a player without Wilson’s height or length, grabbed 14.0 percent of defensive rebounds compared to Wilson’s 10.8. His height is good for three rebounds every single game, so there is no reason why, with a year under the tutelage of a player like Crowder, Wilson can’t close in on six rebounds per game.
One player who will be a welcome “addition” is Chris Otule. Should he get back to the form he was in before his ACL injury last season, he will work wonders on the boards. His presence isn’t always felt in raw numbers, though. His well-documented vision problems prevent him from averaging high single-digit numbers, but his size and physicality sets the table for others to come in and grab them. My question is this then, Mark: Would you agree with that assessment, or are you of the opinion that Otule’s presence won’t do much on the boards?
MS: It’s easy to forget about just how far Otule had come over the last year and eight games, but he truly was becoming one of the premier interior defenders in the Big East. He peaked at the Paradise Jam, grabbing nine rebounds and blocking four shots in Marquette’s 59-57 win over Norfolk State. He matched up against current Orlando Magic center Kyle O’Quinn, who had just 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting. The obvious question is how he returns from surgery on his torn ACL, which I won’t even attempt to guess. IF, and it’s a big if, he returns to where he was pre-ACL injury, Otule is certainly a real player in Marquette’s defense rather than a plug-and-play.
And whether fans want to use it as an excuse or not, his hand-eye coordination limits him. He has had the eye condition his whole life, and he claims it doesn’t affect him in terms of catching the ball (or rebounding), but his hands are below-average, simply put. That being said, he’s Marquette’s strongest player (again, pre-surgery) and his 6-foot-10 body will be out there. There’s definitely a cap there, where his minutes could be limited all year (remember, he’s injury-prone), but a healthy Otule can average somewhere in between 4-to-5 rebounds and a block per game.
As seen by last year’s production without him, I don’t know how important he is to Marquette’s success, but he’s a major addition if he can go. I still want to see a 2-3 zone set with Otule, Steve Taylor and Jamil Wilson in the front court. Now we’re talking rebounding.
AG: My how things have changed. Remember when Marquette was throwing Lazar Hayward out there as a 6-foot-6 center in 2009-’10? Now if Buzz was to play the lineup you just described with Blue at the point and Mayo at shooting guard, you’d have a legitimate size advantage at four of the five positions against almost any team in the country. Not to mention that, as far as rebounding goes, that lineup would completely lock up the glass. It goes without saying that height alone does not lead to high rebounding numbers, but as the coaching staff has instilled a never-say-die attitude when it comes to hustle plays, I think my imagination is not simply running wild on me. (While we’re at it, would there be a better blocking lineup in the Big East than having Otule, Wilson and Taylor on the interior?)
Marquette had five players tally triple-digit rebounding numbers last season, and six players did so the year before that. What this tells me is that rebounding is emphasized as a team stat over an individual accomplishment by Buzz and co. Every player, no matter the position, has a role to play and should be ready to grab the rock. That mentality has kept Marquette in the top-50 in terms of rebounding totals the past two seasons. I can’t tell you if Gardner can double his output, or if Wilson can be more aggressive. However, I can guarantee that as a team, Marquette will be in the upper echelons of Division I basketball when it comes to cleaning up the glass.