Marquette received some bad news on the eve of their game against South Dakota when they learned that sophomore center Chris Otule will likely miss the remainder of the season with a broken foot he suffered in practice Monday. In three games where Otule had been used sparingly against smaller competition, he was averaging 3.7 points and 2.2 rebounds to go along with 1.7 blocks per game. He had played just 25 total minutes in the first three games due to the lack of height of the opponents Marquette faced, but was expected to get a heavy dose of minutes in the Old Spice Classic Tournament coming up later this week in Orlando.
This is not Otule’s first time suffering from a foot injury, as last season the 6’10″ center from Texas was lost for six weeks after injuring his foot early in November. As a freshman on a senior-laced team, the injury set him back and he saw minimal minutes the rest of the year.
Despite the lack of production, Otule was expected to fill in for the graduating Dwight Burke as Marquette’s “big man”, and he had been preparing accordingly. Daily workouts with trainer Todd Smith and a trip to Germany over the summer that helped him gain confidence and skill as well had Otule pegged as a breakout candidate for Marquette’s young team.
The Golden Eagles will be able to redshirt Otule if they choose to, but that is about the only positive that comes out of the injury. This newest injury to Otule will surely set him back but the hope is that he can come back with a positive attitude and is chomping at the bit to get back on the court.
For the here and now, Marquette will need to continue on with their season down a man, and a big man at that. While the loss of Otule will not hurt the Golden Eagles much in the box score or on the offensive end, Otule’s presence on defense and the fact that he was another body coming off the bench will. Without Otule, Marquette has just one player over 6’7″, Youssoupha Mbao, who is more of a project than anything.
Because of this, Marquette will more than likely go back to the small lineup that they implemented last year and try to out-run teams on offense while playing aggressive defense to make up for the lack of size. This will mean an instant increase in the minutes of freshman Jeronne Maymon and junior Joe Fulce, who is also battling a knee injury of his own.
In particular, the young Golden Eagles will have to grow up even faster than they once thought, now done one more man on the bench. Just as it was last season, the guards will need to step up big and carry the team on both ends of the court while the front court will need to play out of position and compete while being undersized the majority of the time.
The injury to Otule probably shifts Maymon over to the 5 spot, while Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler could see some time there as well. The guard rotation of Maurice Acker, David Cubillan, Dwight Buycks, and Darius Johnson-Odom helps, but expect to see some more of Buycks playing the three spot if Marquette finds themselves in foul trouble.
Even freshman Erik Williams will need to pick up the slack for a Marquette team that currently has ten healthy players on their roster, including the less-than 100 percent Fulce.
The Golden Eagles have suffered a slough of injuries over the past year and a half that have really cut into the depth of the team, including Otule, Fulce, and Dominic James last season and Junior Cadougan, Darius Johnson-Odom, Fulce, and Otule this season. Then-freshman Liam McMorrow also left the team for medical reasons after last season.
As little silver lining as their could be to having your best big man go down for the season, at the same time it will help the young guns progress even quicker. While throwing them into the fire right away wasn’t the game plan, things change over the course of the year and coach Buzz Williams will have to make those adjustments.
Williams recruits players who are going to fight for their team because they want to win and they want to be here, and with Marquette’s back against the wall right now after Otule’s injury, it’s time to fight.