In a season such as this — Marquette is 2-2 in Big East play and faces as close to murderer’s row as a team can find in this conference — it’s easy to focus on where the Golden Eagles have gone wrong. Pick your poison, close your eyes and put your finger down on any rostered player or statistic and you probably can make an argument that it’s the reason Marquette has struggled.
That is, unless you come across Chris Otule.
In his sixth and final season, the redshirted redshirt senior has been the foundation of one of the country’s best defenses, has continued his efficient offensive play and, though not vocally, has done a solid job leading the Golden Eagles. The rest of the senior class largely has struggled — Jamil Wilson isn’t living up to expectations, Davante Gardner has been inconsistent and Jake Thomas has provided 3-point output and not much else — but Otule has trudged along, doing his part on both ends of the court.
As is always the case, Otule has been a rock defensively.
Opponents are shooting just 33 percent on post-ups and scoring 0.519 points per possession against the 6-foot-11 senior, placing him in the 91st percentile among Division I players, per Synergy. Opponents have attempted just 46 field goals against Otule in 309 minutes this season, perhaps a result of him positioning himself where opposing centers haven’t even attempted shots in 1-on-1 situations.
Consider that Davante Gardner has allowed 50 percent shooting and 0.88 points per possession this season and it’s apparent why Williams has started Otule and subbed him in defensively late in game. As improved as Gardner has been defensively he’s still a liability, whereas it’s Otule’s strong suit.
As good as Otule was last year, he’s taken his defensive play to another level this season. He’s added some additional bulk, is timing his jumps better and is playing good help-defense. His 7.9 block percentage is 78th best in the country, per Ken Pom. He has blocked a shot in nine of his last 10 games, missing out only in 21 minutes against jump-shot-happy Creighton.
It’s not surprising that Otule has struggled on opposing jump shots, as closing out has never been his calling card (like most 6-foot-11 centers). Opponents have made 6 of 13 jumpers and 1.385 points per possession on jump shots, putting him in the 6th percentile among Division I players. Nothing to see here, but it’s worth noting nonetheless. CO2 isn’t a close-out specialist. If you’re surprised, watch more Marquette games.
Otule’s defensive worth has never been in question. He was Marquette’s best post defender last season, too, and has only improved those numbers while staying strong into the early portions of the conference season.
Maybe just as impressive has been his steadiness on offense. Rarely has Otule ever created his own shot, and you can probably count his number of dribbles on two hands, but Buzz Williams has always preached players playing according to the scouting report, something he noted earlier this week on his radio show.
Otule does this almost flawlessly. He’s shooting a team-best 64 percent from the field, and has made 50 percent or better in 13 of 17 games. He’s been smart as always, and he’s also been aggressive.
In four Big East games, Otule has been to the free throw line eight times. Last year it took him nine games to get there, including six games without an attempt; this year he’s been to the line in three of four contests. He’s drawing 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes, a top-130 mark in the country. He’s even hitting on better than 57 percent of his attempts at the line, almost eight percentage points better than his mark of 46.9 percent a year ago.
Those charity-stripe attempts have helped him average a career-best 6.9 points per game. In four Big East contests he has averaged 6.0 points per game; at this point last season he was averaging 3.2 points in conference play. Otule’s raw numbers are improving while his stellar efficiency remains.
Lastly, his hands have always been a subject of criticism. Perhaps it’s his eye condition, his knee injuries, whatever, Otule’s hands aren’t all that great. It’s one of the reasons his rebounding numbers have never been what they probably should be for a player of his stature.
But this season he’s been a beast on the boards. His totals won’t blow anyone away — 4.9 rebounds per game; 15.3 percent rebounding rate — but in one area in particular, offensive rebounds, he’s been masterful. Consider that Otule’s 14.7 percent rate (meaning Otule has grabbed nearly 15 percent of all Marquette’s misses while he’s on the court) is 37th best in the country. Prior to this season his best mark was 12.2 percent a year ago, a solid number that he’s topped this season. In four Big East games he has totaled 11 offensive rebounds, so he wasn’t just beating up on cupcakes.
Of those 38 offensive rebounds, he’s hit on 9-for-18 shots and turned it over three times. Those numbers aren’t great, but with an offense as average as Marquette’s, maintaining possession has been vital.
Apologies for the surplus of numbers, but it’s not often (six years’ worth of play) we get to talk about Otule in such a way. In his final season, Otule has been a model of consistency, led a sparkling defense and held his own on offense. The other two frontcourt seniors — Gardner and Wilson — will seem like bigger losses after this season, but it’s hard to deny what the Golden Eagles will lose in Otule. For now, he’s doing exactly what he needs to do for Marquette to be successful. If only he could get some help.