The Marquette Golden Eagles came to Orlando for the Old Spice Classic in hopes of preparing themselves for the Big East schedule by playing against some of the better teams in the country. What the Golden Eagles got was a boatload of confidence and two wins that are sure to look good on their tournament resume come March.
They ended the tournament Sunday night with a heart-breaking loss to Florida State 57-56 in the Championship game. Senior Lazar Hayward, who finished the game with 19 points and 10 rebounds, hit a jump shot from the free throw line with 32 seconds left to give Marquette the lead before Solomon Alibi returned the favor with a baseline floater of his own. Hayward averaged 22.6 points and 7.3 rebounds over the course of the tournament and was named to the All-Tournament team.
Jimmy Butler continued his excellent play and has joined Hayward as the forwards who will battle against bigger forwards night in and night out and grab boards with hustle and fundamentals rather than size. Big men like Jason Love (21 points, 19 rebounds) and Chris Singelton (18 points, 10 rebounds) were able to get their stats in the paint, but never took over the game.
The tournament also saw a coming out party of sorts for combo guard Darius Johnson-Odom, who finished the tournament averaging 13 points and two three-pointers per game. He hit big shot after big shot and showed a nice combination of outside shots as well as the ability to drive to the hoop with both hand. His big frame and high hops allow him to hang in the air and complete shots, even with contact.
Marquette’s biggest improvement came from the overall defense and, as a team, the Golden Eagles held their opponents to under 44 percent shooting from the field and forced 48 turnovers. Constant ball pressure and quickness on the outside made it tough for opponents to get the ball in the paint and forced bad shots. Attribute a lot of that pressure to David Cubillan and Maurice Acker, the two senior point guards who really made the ship sail on the defensive end. While he struggled offensively, Acker had eight steals in the tournament and did a great job turning those steals into transition offense.
A big part of that transition offense was Dwight Buycks, who seemed to be in the right spot at the right time for Marquette on the break and finished very strong at the basket when he got the ball. Buycks is turning into the “duct tape” role for the Golden Eagles, giving them a little bit everything in the scoring, passing, and rebounding department as well as solid help defense.
Overall, the tournament has to be looked at as a major success for head coach Buzz Williams and the Golden Eagles. Basically left for dead two games in a row, first against a taller Xavier team and then a more fundamentally sound Michigan team, Marquette proved they can hang with the big dogs and use their aggressive nature into forcing teams to make bad decisions. Late in the championship game, Florida State switched to a four-guard offense and took their best player, Alibi, out of the game for a large chunk of the second half. Marquette’s match-up problems on offense let them dictate what the other team did, and the results showed.
As much as Marquette gained from this experience as a team, they also have an early headliner for their tournament resume with wins over Xavier and 15th ranked Michigan. Both of Marquette’s victories came against teams that will be in the NCAA Tournament come March and Florida State should fight towards the top of the ACC standings, meaning Marquette’s RPI will benefit greatly from playing three potential tournament teams.
The future looks a whole lot brighter for Marquette than it did a week ago. Not to say that anyone was doubting that Marquette had talent, but the early returns are showing that not only do they have talent, but coach Buzz Williams is using it perfectly and the result is wins over some of the best teams in the country. For a team that has not even peaked, early confidence can only help the ceiling grow even more as to how good the team can be.
That confidence is coming around at a perfect time as Marquette will take on North Carolina State and in-state rival Wisconsin over the course of the next two weeks in what will also be huge games that could boost Marquette’s standing even more. A win over Florida State might have pushed Marquette into the top 25, and while they should receive some votes on Monday, that’s not what the Golden Eagles are focused on.
Rather, the bigger picture of racking up wins before the brutal Big East schedule begins will be the focus of the Golden Eagles and they picked up two big ones in Orlando over the weekend.
MILWAUKEE- The Marquette Golden Eagles (3-0) used a great defensive effort and balanced attack on offense to defeat the Grambling State Tigers (1-2), 87-41 Saturday night.
Defensively, the Golden Eagles forced 22 turnovers that led to 28 points and held the Tigers to 29.1 percent shooting from the field (14-of-48). They also won the battle of the boards, out-rebounding the Tigers 43-28 and limiting them to just four offensive rebounds and six second chance points.
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A New Era
One era of Marquette Golden Eagles’ basketball ended in Boise last March, while another will take flight Friday at the Bradley Center. Six newcomers will take the court Friday night along with the rest of Buzz Williams’ roster as they get ready for a season full of mystery that will be solved as the season progresses.
Any talk of Marquette playing basketball past the first week of March is due to senior Lazar Hayward. Playing outside the spotlight for his first three years, the senior from Buffalo will finally get his chance to show off his talents as Marquette’s go-to player. At 6’6″, Hayward will see playing time at both forward positions and get touches on offense everywhere on the court. With an unmeasurable heart, one can expect to see Hayward guarding the opponent’s best big man night in and night out.
Two other key pieces to Marquette’s puzzle this season are the oft-forgotten about seniors, Maurice Acker and David Cubillan. With Marquette sporting one of the youngest teams in the Big East, the two-experienced filled guards will surely carry the load early on while the youngsters get their feet wet. At the very least, the two senior guards give Buzz Williams some depth on an injury-plagued team.
One of last year’s biggest surprises was then-sophomore Jimmy Butler and the energy he provided off the bench. A summer full of jump shot practice with Hayward and maturing has Butler geared up for a leadership role on and off the court. As one of the most efficient players in the country last season, Butler will need to be even more aggressive on the offensive end and continue his stellar defense. Buzz Williams has praised Butler, calling him the team’s best defender, but he will have to improve even more if Marquette is going to shut opponent’s big men down.
While it’s true that the injury bug strikes just about every team at some point in the season, it could not have happened at a worse time for then-freshman Chris Otule and then-sophomore Joe Fulce. The pair of 2008 newcomers missed significant action last season with injuries and, now fully healthy, are primed for comeback seasons.
Otule took a trip to Germany this summer where he improved his confidence and postgame while Fulce rehabbed his knee and showed off his health with a stunning dunk contest performance in front of Vander Blue, Tarik Black, and the Marquette faithful at Marquette Madness. Depth is the key to Marquette’s success this season and both Otule and Fulce have the potential to start and, at the very least, be contributors off the bench.
Marquette has a core of returning players that will keep Marquette in games early in the season, but the buzz on the Golden Eagles has been the arrival of six newcomers, five of whom will get their feet wet in Divison One Basketball for the first time on Friday.
Leading the way is junior Dwight Buycks who is expected to take on a major scoring role and log major minutes. The 6’2″ combo guard has impressed just about everyone who has seen him play and should start out of the gates for Marquette. With a pretty jump shot and a knack for getting to the basket, it would not come as a surprise to see Buycks rank second in scoring this season behind Hayward. In Marquette’s exhibition blowout over MSOE Saturday, Buycks poured in 15 points and played solid defense.
Right behind Buycks in terms of importance this season is true freshman Jeronne Maymon, a local product from Madison Memorial High School. The 6’7″ power forward is sure to see big minutes as part of a frontcourt rotation, and the DeJuan Blair look-a-like is hoping to crash the boards at all costs. His range extends out to the three point line, but look for Maymon to do his damage inside, bullying the opposition to get rebounds.
Darius Johnson-Odom, DJO, has struggled with a nagging foot injury that kept him out about six weeks early in the fall. After being deemed ready for action, he re-aggravated the injury against MSOE, leaving a big question mark next to his name as to when he will be caught up. As Marquette’s best athlete available, the combo guard will be sorely missed if he is not healthy to start the year.
Erik Williams and Youssoupha Mbao are two projects that will see the court this season but not make a huge impact. Mbao, the 7’2″ center from Senegal will have to put on weight (215 pounds) and is still raw in talent. Williams, a Buzz Williams dream at 6’6″ and able to handle the ball, will struggle to see minutes with a frontcourt rotation including Butler, Maymon, Fulce, and Hayward. However, he was arguably Marquette’s best recruit from last season and has the potential to bust out in the next couple of years.
Marquette has dropped off from last season, and as talented and as full of potential as the new recruits can be, it will be a struggle this year. Growing pains will happen and players will hit mental and physical walls at some point during the season. However, the unknown can be a good thing when gauging the ceiling that some of the newcomers have.
Combined with the senior leadership and talent of Hayward, and it’s anyone’s guess as to how Marquette could finish this season. Early predictions have them ranked 12th in the Big East, but it’s hard to tell when no one has seen almost half the roster play a D-1 game.
One thing is for sure: Marquette basketball has turned over a new leaf and the future looks bright for Buzz Williams and the Golden Eagles.
November 26th, vs. Xavier (Old Spice Classic in Orlando)
Marquette’ s first true test of the season will come over Thanksgiving weekend when the team travels to Orlando to play in the Old Spice Classic. They meet up with Xavier in the first round, who received some votes close to the top 25 in preseason polls. By the time this game comes around, they could very well be in the top 25. Xavier returns just one starter, Jason Love, and lost Sean Miller to Arizona last off-season, but their talent will probably be too much for Marquette early in the season.
December 12th, @ Wisconsin
The annual in-state rivalry game will be that much bigger now that Vander Blue has committed to Marquette. As for the game itself, Wisconsin seems to be the exact same every year. They put together a solid roster full of players perfect for their offense and make the NCAA Tournament. However, their style of play also allows for potential upsets. Last year’s 1-3-1 zone look from Marquette really messed the Badgers up. Trevon Hughes leads a talented group of players up against the Golden Eagles, and the Kohl Center is one of the toughest places to get a win.
January 6th, vs. Georgetown
Georgetown, currently ranked 21st, will be better than they were last year…or at least one would think. Ranked in the top ten at one point last season, the Hoyas failed to make the NCAA Tournament with freshman phenom Greg Monroe. One year later, Monroe is back with a stacked class and looking for revenge on the Golden Eagles. However, the Hoyas will have to travel to the Bradley Center and with a showdown on national television just three days later against UConn, don’t be surprised to see Marquette catch the Hoyas looking ahead. This could be a huge win for Marquette in the eyes of the selection committee come March.
February 18th, vs. Pittsburgh
Outside of Providence and Marquette, no team in the Big East lost more talent than the Panthers of Pitt. Levance Fields, Sam Young, and DeJuan Blair are all gone and Pittsburgh is in re-building mode. They compare to Marquette in a lot of ways, with a fantastic recruiting class coming in and a few veteran pieces still in tact. Marquette and Pitt should end the Big East season in roughly the same area, so the winner of this game could leapfrog the other in the standings by year’s end.
March 6th, vs. Notre Dame
Not only will this game be senior night for Hayward, Cubillan, and Acker, but it will also mark a rivalry game against a potential Player of the Year candidate in Luke Harangody. You can bet the whole team will pour out their heart and soul for the seniors, just like they did against Syracuse last season. Just like the Georgetown game, Notre Dame should be ranked at this point and this game could go a long way to determining Marquette’s fate in potential post-season play.
*Note* Starters indicate who I believe will start for the majority of the season
PG: Dwight Buycks- 25 minutes per game, 12.3 points per game, 4 rebounds per game, 3 assists per game
Buycks will be asked to do a lot this season and, while it may not always be pretty, he should get the job done.
SG: Darius Johnson-Odom- 18 mpg, 8.3 ppg, 2 rpg, 4 apg
DJO will start the year off slow as he becomes acclamated to the speed of the game, but once he’s there he will be special.
F: Jeronne Maymon- 25 mpg, 12.2 ppg, 7 rpg, 1 apg
Maymon will be a vacuum on the boards and play a lot like Jimmy Butler did last season, expect with more looks at the basket.
F: Lazar Hayward- 35 mpg, 22 ppg, 8 rpg, 2 apg
He will have to be Mr. Everything this season and if you know him, there isn’t a better guy equipped for that job.
C: Chris Otule- 17 mpg, 4.5 ppg, 4 rpg, 0.5 apg
He will start the majority of the games, but look for him to rotate just like Dwight Burke did last season.
Jimmy Butler: 30 mpg, 12 ppg, 8 rpg, 2 apg
Butler will be the glue that keeps the team together and be Marquette’s defensive MVP by year’s end.
Maurice Acker: 15 mpg, 4.5 ppg, 1 rpg, 1 apg
Acker will begin the year in the starting lineup but be taken over by the more talented newcomers soon enough.
Joe Fulce: 15 mpg, 3.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2 apg
Fulce is the biggest mystery this season as he could play well enough to start, but could struggle enough to never see the court.
David Cubillan: 10 mpg, 3 ppg, 1 rpg, 1 apg
A strong outing against MSOE has some people excited, but this team has too much talent for Cubi to get big minutes.
Erik Williams: 5 mpg, 2.5 ppg, 2 rpg, 0.5 apg
He just doesn’t seem up to speed quite yet and is more of a project for next year once Hayward is gone.
Youssoupha Mbao: 5 mpg, 1.0 ppg, 2 rpg, 0.5 apg
He is too raw and not strong enough at this point, and will probably only be used when the frontcourt is in foul trouble.
Junior Cadougan: Medically redshirted, will be healthy next season and have four years of eligibility remaining
Marquette’s team will have five new faces take the court Friday night against Centenary, and it’s anyone’s guess as to how they will fare. On one hand, Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler could take hold of the reigns and guide this young team to an NCAA Tournament bid. On the other hand, inexperience could overwhelm the Golden Eagles and the NCAA Tournament could be an afterthought. Here’s how I see it playing out.
Marquette should wind up in the 17-19 win total this season, but the big question is who those wins will come against. If Marquette fails to pull any upsets and just beats who they are supposed to beat, then the NIT would be a gift. If Marquette can have their hiccups early in the season and beat a team like Georgetown, Lousiville, or Notre Dame, it will go a long way. Throw in more than one win the Big East Tournament and they would be sitting pretty.
Lazar Hayward will be a first-team All Big East Team selection at the power forward position and garner All America votes as well. He’s going to be that good. Jeronne Maymon is going to give us a sneak peak of what to expect for the next four years as he bangs inside with the best of the best. Dwight Buycks and Darius Johnson-Odom will need to learn to play well with each other because they will be on the court together a lot. Jimmy Butler seems like a different person this season and knows his role is to be a scorer and a leader on the court. I have faith he will succeed on both fronts. Chris Otule will show flashes of greatness at times and also struggle at times, and when he does people will need to remember he is just a sophomore. At season’s end, the Marquette Golden Eagles will be 17-13 and headed for the NIT due to a lack of big wins.
We are Marquette!