Predicting the Marquette season

Predictions are always fun because they stir up controversy, yield discussion and, if you’re wrong, people rarely take the time to go find a post from six months ago and tell you where you messed up. In all seriousness, though, what Buzz Williams plans to do this season is becoming clearer and there’s a heap of talent sitting in the Marquette locker room. Who fills certain roles, which player makes a leap from role player to star and projecting how well freshmen will do (and how much they’ll play) is part of the preseason fun. So let’s get to it.

Team leader in points per game: Davante Gardner

We know all about Gardner’s special skill set, incredible efficiency and guard-like touch at the free-throw line. What we don’t know is how many minutes per game Ox will play. Even if he stays at his number from last season (21.5 minutes), his improved conditioning and another year of progress make him the most likely candidate to lead Marquette in scoring. Assuming he’ll average more than 6.2 field-goal attempts and 5.0 free-throw attempts, it’s safe to predict Gardner will average at least 13 points per game, with room to improve depending on how many minutes he plays. Runners-up: Jamil Wilson, Todd Mayol; Wild card: Jajuan Johnson

Team leader in rebounds per game: Jamil Wilson

Wilson grabbed one more rebound than Gardner did last year, thanks in part to the latter’s stellar job on the offensive glass. Now in his fifth season, Wilson projects to make a jump in this category. He’s the Golden Eagles’ most talented player and came on strong in the second half of the season. If he’s able to see more time on the perimeter, that will only open up more space for him to overpower a weaker matchup, and on the offensive end he’ll have room to maneuver inside off missed shots. Runners-up: Davante Gardner, Chris Otule; Wild card: Juan Anderson

Team leader in assists per game: Derrick Wilson

Not much of a shock here, but Marquette’s new starting point guard is going to rack up assists on entry passes inside to Gardner, Chris Otule and Jamil Wilson. He’s an excellent decision-maker on the fast break and, if Todd Mayo and Jajuan Johnson can hit outside shots, this one will be a no-brainer. It’s tough to look past Jamil Wilson, who actually averaged more assists per game last year than Derrick, and Jamil will also see some time as the team’s back-up point guard/ball handler (think Lamar Odom with the Lakers). Still, Derrick will see upwards of 26 minutes per game, giving him ample opportunities to hand out helpers. Runners-up: Jamil Wilson, Duane Wilson; Wild card: Todd Mayo

Team leader in steals per game: Todd Mayo

After a disappointing sophomore campaign, it can be tough to think back to Mayo’s phenomenal freshman season. Buzz Williams said it was Mayo, not Vander Blue or Darius Johnson-Odom, who was Marquette’s best perimeter defender two years ago. We see that continuing this season, as Mayo is sure to improve on his 0.5 steals per game from a year ago — he averaged 0.6 as a freshman. If he’s given the minutes, Mayo will be a pest for opposing offenses. Runners-up: Derrick Wilson, Jamil Wilson; Wild card: Jajuan Johnson

Player who will surprise most: Jajuan Johnson

We’ve been pretty complimentary of the impact freshman, but he really could do some damage in his first season. Not since Vander Blue has Williams had a rookie he can rely on night in and night out; not since Blue has Williams had a player of Johnson’s ability. With a smooth outside shot, quick first step and solid length, Johnson is going to impress. You know him now because of his high-school ranking. Soon you’ll know him because of his numbers. Runners-up: Juan Anderson, Derrick Wilson; Wild card: Deonte Burton

Player who will disappoint most: Steve Taylor

This is always a tough name to pick because we don’t know roles of many of these players, and best-case scenarios are all extremely positive in the preseason. Still, we’re going with Taylor because he’s stuck behind one of the most talented frontcourts in the country. Jameel McKay transferring to Iowa State opened some playing time for the athletic sophomore, but coming off knee surgery and having to work in minutes behind Jamil Wilson isn’t a great scenario. Taylor has a bright, bright future at Marquette, but he may have to wait one more year to see it through. Runners-up: Duane Wilson (injury), Deonte Burton (lack of a true role); Wild card: Jamil Wilson (if he can’t make “the jump”)

Most likely all-Big East member: Davante Gardner

Everybody loves a story line, and Gardner’s unique skill set, body type and role as a sixth man will give him the nod as an all-Big East member. He’s in line for a huge season as Marquette runs the offense through him, and he’s going to put up some monster lines that will attract the attention of everyone in the conference. Runners-up: Jamil Wilson, Todd Mayo; Wild card: Chris Otule

Marquette’s win total and Tournament success: The Golden Eagles currently have 31 games scheduled on their regular-season schedule. Assuming there’s no condensation issues, a 23-win regular season seems accurate. Projected non-conference losses include New Mexico and Wisconsin; in the Big East, losses against Creighton, Georgetown, St. John’s and Providence are penciled in for now. Then there’s always the one “bad loss,” which we project coming against Southern, Xavier or Miami. Yes, that means the Golden Eagles should win against Ohio State. Don’t yell too loud at us.

In terms of NCAA Tournament success – the Golden Eagles will fight with Creighton and Georgetown for the Big East Tournament crown, but that’s not worth projecting — 24 wins + whatever they do in the Big East Tournament should earn Marquette a No. 4 or No. 5 seed. That means a Sweet 16 appearance against a No. 1 seed, which will knock Marquette out of March Madness. So putting that all together, we project a 28-win season and a Sweet 16 appearance.

Too aggressive? Not enough? Let us know in the comments below. Happy Opening Night, Marquette fans.

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