What he did well: Where to begin? Vander Blue was spectacular in 2012-’13, improving on his jump shot, continuing to provide lock-down defense and taking on a leadership role for a Marquette team that desperately needed one following the losses of seniors Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom.
Improvement from just anyone would have been impressive by itself, but consider that Blue did it with countless critics breathing down his neck, waiting for his top-30 expectations as a high school prospect to come to fruition. Simply put, Blue’s play this season was nothing short of remarkable.
His scoring totals show 14.5 points per game, but he scored 19 or more points nine different times and totaled 30 points, something neither Crowder nor Johnson-Odom did, in a home win against South Florida. He shot better than 45 percent from the field, increased his 3-point total from eight to 40 and made nearly 76 percent of his 127 free throw attempts. For a team that lacked scoring at times, Blue was a pleasant surprise for Buzz Williams’ offense.
Aside from Blue’s transition offense, which ranked nationally in the country, his biggest improvement was on his jump shot. His 3-point numbers (30.3 percent) were improved from the past two years (21.4 percent) but, better than that, he shot nearly 46.8 percent on 2-point jump shots, one of the best marks in the country. His pump fake won’t make anyone forget about Johnson-Odom’s magic, but he was stellar off the dribble on jumpers.
What he could have done better: It’s getting picky when trying to break down what Blue could have done better this past year (though not as tough as finding things wrong with Crowder a year ago), but we found a few things.
Blue’s scoring went up more than six points from his sophomore year, but at the same time his rebounds and assists dropped while playing more than eight minutes per game (4.5 to 3.2 rebounds; 2.6 to 1.8 assists). Buzz Williams is the first to challenge Blue to improve his rebounding numbers and it didn’t happen, even with Crowder out of the picture.
It didn’t hurt Marquette, but Blue could have done more in these two areas to become a complete all-around star. His rebounds and assists weren’t bad by any stretch, but they weren’t solid, either.
Best performance: Look no further than two weeks ago for Blue’s best performance of the year. With Marquette’s back against the wall in the third round of the NCAA Tournament, facing an eight-point deficit to sixth-seeded Butler, Blue took over the game in dominating fashion.
After a respectable 10-point effort in the first half–one that was overshadowed by Rotnei Clarke’s 18–Blue injected life into the Golden Eagles with five points in the first two minutes post-halftime. He added another layup two minutes later to get Marquette within three, and a minute after that his 3-pointer moved Marquette within two, 46-44. Yet another minute after that, his steal led to two free throws to move Marquette within one, 49-48.
As consistent as Blue was up until that point to keep Marquette close, he made his serious run with a pair of back-to-back fast-break buckets at the 7-minute mark to give Marquette its first lead since early in the first half. If that weren’t enough, his 3-pointer at the 1:29 mark tied the game at 69 to stop a 7-2 Bulldogs run. From there Marquette went on a 5-3 run to end the game, pushing the Golden Eagles to their third straight Sweet 16.
Blue’s final tallies included 29 points, four steals, three 3-pointers and a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line. To do that in a Tournament game is one thing; to do it against a Brad Stevens-led team was another. Not only was it Blue’s best performance, it was the Golden Eagles’ top outing all year.
Worst performance: It’s hard to fault anyone for Marquette’s embarrassing loss to Green Bay in December, but part of Blue’s increased expectations to that point included helping the Golden Eagles get over the hump on the road.
Blue was coming off three straight performances where he shot better than 50 percent from the field, but he made just 2-of-10 shots in Marquette’s 49-47 loss. That included a season-low six points, two turnover and three personal fouls in 33 minutes.
Worse, Blue was shut out the final 19 minutes of the game (0-for-4), picked up a technical foul midway through and missed a free throw with 35 seconds left and Marquette down a point, 48-47. The whole game was a mess, and unfortunately Blue led the way.
2013-14 outlook: There’s still a chance Blue tests NBA waters (better than most believe), but if he makes the decision to return for his senior season he will be a preseason All-Big East player and the go-to guy for Williams.
Incredibly he’s the only player who essentially is guaranteed a starting spot in next year’s lineup. He has improved all three seasons since he arrived on campus and his senior season would include more of the same. There’s still room for him to increase his scoring with a better free throw rate and more 3-point attempts at the same or higher clip, and he should get that opportunity.
As was mentioned in the areas Blue could have done better as a junior, his rebounding and assist totals have a chance to go up as he continues to improve his handle, bulks up in the weight room and generally progresses.
The sky really is the limit for a shooting guard in Buzz Williams’ offense, and numbers that mirror Johnson-Odom’s senior year–with fewer 3-pointers and a better field goal percentage–wouldn’t be out of the question.