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Confirmed, disproved and learned: Marquette through 12 games

Marquette completed its non-conference schedule Saturday with a 75-66 win over North Carolina Central, moving the Golden Eagles to 9-3. With the Big East season around 48 hours away, it’s time to look back on the first two months of the season and see, in no particular order, which general preseason thoughts were confirmed, which were disproved and what was learned.

1. Expectation: Trent Lockett wouldn’t suffer a drop-off in production

Reality: Trent Lockett isn’t the player he was at Arizona State

Everyone had their own expectations for Trent Lockett, but no one — likely not even Buzz Williams — saw these kinds of struggles coming. This is not to say Lockett has been bad or can’t turn things around (we showed where he can improve here), but he hasn’t made the transition to Marquette’s up-tempo offense and hasn’t stood out as anything more than a role player. Again, that may not be a bad thing, but it’s less than we thought when he committed to Marquette in the summer. DISPROVED

2. Expectation: With another year under his belt, Davante Gardner could be Marquette’s best player

Reality: Davante Gardner is quickly becoming Marquette’s best player

It’s beginning to look like Davante Gardner just may not have a ceiling. He continues to improve at a significant rate, and while he may never play 30 minutes on a constant basis, he may be the best player in the Big East who plays half the game. His defense is improved, his offensive numbers are where they always are (the top of the Big East statsheet) and he has slimmed down. Gardner is an example of “best case scenario” from preseason projections. LEARNED

Davante Gardner has been Marquette's first half MVP.

Davante Gardner (12.5 points, 5.0 rebs) has been Marquette’s first half MVP.

3. Expectation: Junior Cadougan is Marquette’s most important player

Reality: As it was last year, Marquette will go as far as Junior Cadougan allows

The win-loss splits don’t tell the story, but Junior Cadougan is Marquette’s most valuable asset toward beating an opponent. His second halves have carried the team against Wisconsin and LSU, and a group without a go-to scorer needs its distributor to be on top of his game. He’ll need to shave off some of his turnovers, but we’re finally seeing the aggressive scorer in Cadougan and his defensive numbers are up. CONFIRMED

4. Expectation: Marquette will struggle from the perimeter

Reality: Outside shooting is a major concern

Marquette’s biggest question mark entering the season was how to help lessen the blow lost on the outside from Jae Crowder’s and Darius Johnson-Odom’s departure. There weren’t many answers for who would help make up for those shots, but it has been worse than expected. The Golden Eagles have made just 45 3-pointers (319th in the NCAA) and are shooting 31 percent (260th) through 12 games. Todd Mayo’s return will help on the perimeter, but there won’t be any miracles between now and March. CONFIRMED

5. Expectation: Jamil Wilson makes “the jump” to stardom in a leading role

Reality: Jamil Wilson still hasn’t found his “killer instinct”

An ugly non-conference season hit rock bottom Saturday when Wilson went scoreless in 19 minutes against NC Central. He committed six turnovers, grabbed three rebounds…and nothing else. He’s fourth on the team is scoring, third in rebounding and first in blocks, so it’s not as if he’s been a non-factor. He’s shooting better than 50 percent from the field on 6.6 attempts per game, but Marquette needs Wilson to average around 45 percent on 12-13 shots per game. That killer instinct Aki Collins mentioned last season, when he said Wilson needs to know how good he really is, has been non-existent, and it’s hurting Marquette on both ends. DISPROVED

6. Expectation: Juan Anderson’s role will expand in his sophomore year

Reality: Juan Anderson is the team’s “glue guy,” and he’s a good one

Crowder’s departure to the NBA opened 32 minutes a night on the wing, and Anderson has been one of the most pleasant surprises in 15 minutes per game. He has started eight games to help Jamil Wilson stay out of foul trouble, but his interior defense and scrappy offensive game have done more than what his box score numbers suggest. His block on Sam Dekker late in the second half to seal a victory over Wisconsin is one of the top plays of the year to date. LEARNED

7. Expectation: Marquette will have a deep bench

Reality: Marquette is deeper from a year ago

Few teams in the country can boast that its reserves would give its starters a close run in a hypothetical game, but Marquette can. Granted, Jamil Wilson comes off the bench to stay out of foul trouble, but having him Derrick Wilson, Davante Garder and Todd Mayo as “back-ups” gives Marquette nearly a full second unit of players who have arguments to start. Even Jake Thomas has been a valuable asset, and Steve Taylor is polished offensively inside. CONFIRMED

8. Marquette is two shots away from being 11-1

What-ifs aren’t really fair or an excuse to paint a brighter picture, but had Butler’s Rotnei Clarke not made a 1-in-1,000 prayer, and had Jake Thomas connected on a great look in the corner against Green Bay, Marquette is sitting at 11-1, with a sole loss on the road against Florida. Those two shots, of course, did not go Marquette’s way, but it could be a lot worse than 9-3. LEARNED

9. Expectation: Derrick Wilson fills his individual role as well as anyone

Reality: Derrick Wilson continues to be a player making “winning plays”

Buzz Williams put it perfect earlier this month when he said Wilson simply makes “winning plays.” His numbers won’t jump out in the box score, but he’s playing the role of defensive specialist/game manager as well as he could be. His advanced statistics are stellar, and he’s even shooting an impressive 46 percent clip, scoring 2.6 points on 2.1 shots per game. Williams is correct in saying Wilson should be starting, but for now Marquette has the caveat of a “starting” point guard playing 40 minutes each game. CONFIRMED

10. Expectation: Without Jae Crowder, Marquette’s defense will take a hit

Reality: The Golden Eagles’ team defense is a work in progress

Losing Jae Crowder, and even the solid work of Darius Johnson-Odom, meant Marquette’s defense was bound to take a hit. The numbers haven’t been great lately, specifically in wins over LSU and NC Central, but Jamil Wilson is bound to play better and Todd Mayo will help hold down the perimeter. A deep roster, combined with x-factors in Juan Anderson and Derrick Wilson, should help the process — even Davante Gardner is better from a year ago. Marquette won’t be what they were a year ago, but give this team defense approach a chance; numbers will improve. LEARNED

Vander Blue's jumper is improved from a year ago, finally making him a threat on offense.

Vander Blue’s jumper is improved from a year ago, finally making him a threat on offense.

11. Expectation: Todd Mayo will provide a lift for Marquette’s outside shooting

Reality: Todd Mayo won’t answer everything, but his return could be huge

The easy answer for Marquette’s non-conference struggles was that Todd Mayo’s return would fix an offense lacking scoring output and a defense allowing too many 3-pointers. Mayo isn’t Darius Johnson-Odom, but his return helps for a number of reasons. First, it bumps everyone in the rotation “under” Mayo down a spot, giving a deeper and more talented group up-top. Second, Mayo is the purest perimeter scorer — not just shooter — who, somewhat like Saturday, can take over a game and score when Marquette needs a basket. He’s an underrated defender and will get better as he shakes off the rust.  CONFIRMED

12. Expectation: Vander Blue needs to improve his outside shot

Reality: Vander Blue is a different player from the perimeter

The one area Vander Blue needed to improve to become a complete player was outside shooting, and he’s proved last offseason’s extra work to do so paid off. Shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc (35 attempts in 11 games), Blue is a threat from all spots on the floor and has even slowed down around the rim. He’s Marquette’s most versatile scorer and it’s a pleasant surprise to see him grow into the player he was expected to one day be. LEARNED

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