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Kobe and the Lakers Will Win Tonight, Bring Home Another Title

Come on, it was destined to go seven games. The Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics will battle to become the newest NBA champion when they square off in Game 7 tonight. Every game of this series has felt like a Game 7 and there is no reason to believe tonight will be any different, but at the same time it’s hard to imagine the Lakers not pulling this one out when it’s all said and done.

After the Celtics took a commanding 3-2 lead following a Game 5 win, it was strange to see how calm the Lakers were and how the momentum, that should have been in Boston’s favor, was still even at best. With the Lakers going back home for the next game and a potential Game 7, many assumed the Lakers still had the advantage. One game later, that assumption is now fact.

A Game 6 blowout win for the Lakers, led by Kobe Bryant’s 29 points and Pau Gasol’s near triple-double, has them feeling extremely confident as they prepare for the series finale at home. No one in the Western Conference had a better home record (34-7) than the Lakers this season, and they are 10-1 in the playoffs when playing at the Staples Center.

The personnel factor is also in the Lakers’ favor, as Boston’s Kendrick Perkins has been ruled out of tonight’s game after tearing knee ligaments early in Game 6, while LA’s Andrew Bynum is expected to play through a sore knee. Perkins hadn’t made much of a dent in the box score this series (averaging 5.8 points and 5.8 rebounds), but his defensive impact in the paint was something the Celtics will not be able to replicate. The team that has won the rebounding stat is 6-0 in the series, meaning Boston could be in deep trouble.

The Celtics have been great this season, but it's hard to bet against Kobe Bryant in a Game 7 at home. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Instead, Doc Rivers and the Celtics will counter with a combination of Rasheed Wallace, Glen “Big Baby” Davis, and Shelden Williams. What was once considered to be an advantage for the Celtics in the series, their bench disappeared in Game 6 and will have to be expanded further tonight with the loss of Perkins. On the other hand, the Lakers bench combined for 25 points and stifling defense that contributed to the win. With the crowd behind them and the Celtics now being forced to jumble rotations up after 90+ games, the tides have turned in the bench department.

For as much as an NBA title would mean to each franchise, with the Lakers looking for back-to-back titles and the Celtics looking for title No. 18, there are also personal accomplishments and even legacies on the line. Phil Jackson looks for his 11th NBA title in the last 20 years (he’ll also receive a $2 million bonus from the Lakers) and Adam Morrison will attempt to bring home his second title in as many years. OK, that was a joke.

But when it’s all said and done, the spotlight will be on one player and one player only: Kobe Bryant. It’s near impossible for a player with four titles, an MVP trophy, and a Finals MVP to have his legacy determined by one game, and tonight will be no exception. Bryant and the Lakers had the most talented roster from top to bottom, but the Celtics are competing closely to be considered the league’s best unit. A loss by the Lakers won’t ruin __ incredible seasons from Bryant, but at the same time a win could make his legacy that much stronger.

With a win tonight, Bryant would rack up his fifth NBA title as well as his second NBA Finals MVP (which he might do even if the Lakers lose). It would put him that much closer in the debate over best ever and put him one more Finals closer to Michael Jordan. He hasn’t reached Jordan by any means just yet, but a win tonight puts him that much closer to one day doing so.

This game could go down to the wire, and each team will make their respective runs in the game, but it’s awfully hard to imagine Bryant walking off his home court as the Celtics celebrate an NBA title. He hasn’t been spectacular in the Finals and he’s got one heck of a supporting cast around him, but tonight’s game will be won or lost by Kobe Bryant. I won’t be betting against him when the lights go on.

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June 17, 2010 Posted by | Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA, NBA Finals | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Jeronne Maymon Should Have Learned More From Lazar Hayward

For those waiting to hear why Marquette freshman Jeronne Maymon quit the basketball team Monday, some of their questions were answered Wednesday when his father, Tim Maymon, was reached via telephone.  He spoke of reasons that included his son “not being used the way he needs to be used” as well as Marquette failing to “run the offense for him”.

The words spoken by the Madison native’s father are, to put it lightly, ridiculous.  Known to speak his mind whenever he is given the opportunity, it seems as though Maymon’s father is telling the truth and that most of the reason his son is not at Marquette is because of their own personal choice.

While the words are disappointing to hear for Marquette fans, that one of their players would feel so out of place just 10 games into their career, the news is in a way good because it appears as though head coach Buzz Williams was not at fault and that nothing ended on specifically bad terms.

The wonder of the internet allowed for tens of rumors to circulate about why Maymon had decided to quit the team, ranging from a verbal altercation between Williams and Maymon’s father to Maymon freaking out during finals week (which Marquette students are currently in).  If there can ever be a “good” reason for why a player leaves a team, it would be this.

While Maymon leaving on his own terms is good for Marquette basketball’s image, the ultimate decision and reasons behind it are head scratching and disheartening to say the least.  From what I got out of the comments from Maymon’s father, Jeronne felt like he should have been a bigger part of the offense while playing a different position, at one point saying “they’ve got him playing center and that ain’t what he does.”

Jeronne Maymon and his father never got things straight while at Marquette. (Mike DeVries/The Capital Times)

Apparently being a team player “ain’t what he does” either.  Losing Dwight Burke, Pat Hazel, Chris Otule to graduation, transfer, and injury in the span of less than a year made Marquette’s front court a carousel this season.  With Lazar Hayward holding down the same power forward position he excelled at last season and Jimmy Butler coming out of the gates firing, the two forward spots seemed all but locked down as the season began.

With Hayward and Butler expected to average close to 30 minutes per game, the only position left on the court was at center where Maymon was expected to use his big 6’6″, 250-pound frame to battle against the Big East’s best inside every night.

Forget the fact that next year a healthy Chris Otule and a more experienced Youssoupha Mbao would be back to take over center duties while Maymon moved back to his traditional power forward role.  Remember, that “ain’t what he does”.

It’s true that Maymon was playing out of position by playing center and that his 16.3 minutes a game didn’t have him as a projected lottery pick, hurting his chances at being a one-and-done college player like his father expected him to be.  But as mad as Maymon was, he would have done himself some good by looking around the locker room and finding Lazar Hayward to ask him about playing out of position at Marquette, and seeing where it got him.

Much like Maymon, Hayward was a four-star prospect out of high school and was ranked in the same 60-80 range by most college recruiting experts.  At 6’5″ and weighing just over 200 pounds (think a shorter Joe Fulce), Hayward was considered a typical tweener between shooting guard and small forward.  His inside skills outweighed his ball handling and outside shooting, so many expected him to stay at small forward during his time at Marquette.

In his freshman season, Hayward averaged 16.3 minutes per game (sound familiar?), while posting 6.6 points and 3.3 rebounds.  Because some sophomore named Wes Matthews had supplanted himself as the starting small forward, Hayward saw most of his time at power forward despite being greatly undersized for the position.

The next season, junior Wes Matthews (who was also playing out of position as a 6’4″ small forward) improved even more and so did Hayward, again at the power forward spot.  By Matthews’ senior season, Hayward was dubbed the “big man” inside for Marquette, who ran a four-guard offense for the majority of the game.  The 6’5″, now-225 pound Hayward had played out of position for three years while standing in the shadows of the Three Amigos’ spotlight and never made a peep, instead choosing to accept his role and make the most out of it.

Lazar Hayward never thought he'd play power forward at Marquette. He ended up playing there the majority of his career. (Rivals.com)

Make the most out of it he did as Hayward was awarded a First Team All-Big East selection before the start of his senior season.  Not only has Hayward become a great player on the court, but he is an even better one off it.  His passion for the game and unselfish attitude are main reasons he is loved by all his teammates, who admittedly are playing for him this season as the power forward in a small forward’s body goes for his fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.

And to think that Hayward would not have accomplished any of this had he told Marquette “that ain’t what he does”.  No Jeronne, what Hayward does is go out and fight for his team on the front of the jersey, not the back, regardless of where or how much he is playing.

It’s easy to say that Marquette and its fans wish Maymon the best, but if his attitude is the same wherever he winds up, our wishes will mean very little.  Did the Maymon family really believe that their freshman son would come in and have the offense run through him?  If Maymon was really the next coming of Michael Beasley like his father thinks he is, wouldn’t Buzz Williams, a great talent evaluator, have seen it by now?

What exactly is Maymon’s father teaching his 19-year-old son if every time things get hard and he isn’t satisfied with a certain situation, that he should “just kind of move on and regroup”?  It’s a shame that his father has been (seemingly) the one calling the shots throughout this whole process and that Jeronne has suffered because of it.

It’s not even as if Maymon was sitting on the bench this season.  Instead, injuries and a lack of size gave Maymon more playing time than he deserved based on his previous performances.  The true story may never come out about what Buzz Williams promised Maymon or if Maymon’s father and Buzz got into an altercation, but one thing is clear: on the list of traits that defined Jeronne Maymon, “team player” was not one of them.

Clearly, “that ain’t what he does”.

December 16, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , , | 5 Comments

The Current State of Marquette Basketball

Marquette Basketball head coach Buzz Williams announced Monday evening that freshman forward Jeronne Maymon had quit the team, effective immediately.  Maymon appeared in nine games for the Golden Eagles, averaging 4.0 points and 4.2 rebounds.  The loss comes as a shock to the majority of Marquette fans as Maymon, after a slow start, had seemed to be coming around and feeling more comfortable in the offense.

Now that the logistical stuff is out of the way, it’s time for an opinion piece because to be completely honest, for the first time since becoming a Marquette Golden Eagles basketball fan, I am worried about the current state of the program.  Through thick and thin, I have looked the other way and not made a big deal about the mishaps that have occurred, but enough is enough and it needs to be addressed.

For starters, let’s take a look at how the loss of Maymon is going to affect the 2009-2010 Golden Eagles.  If anyone had any hope of making the NCAA Tournament, you may kindly stop talking and realize that this team would have to pull off a miracle to make the NIT.

Marquette currently has nine healthy scholarship players.  Yes, you read that correctly.  NINE.  That means junior walk-on Rob Frozena will need to participate if Marquette wants to run 5-on-5 scrimmages in practice.  Remember when we were joking before the season started because we couldn’t field a scrimmage with Joe Fulce, Darius Johnson-Odom, and Junior Cadougan all out ?  Yeah, not so funny anymore.

Maymon averaged just over 16 minutes per game and those numbers are going to have to be made up for somewhere.  While many are dubbing the move by Maymon as the coming out party for freshman Erik Williams, the more likely event is a boost in minutes for Joe Fulce and Lazar Hayward.  Even Jimmy Butler and Hayward will now be asked to play Three Amigos-like minutes (in the 33-34 minute range instead of 28-30 minute range).  That means Hayward MUST stay out of foul trouble.  Oh boy…

It appeared that Maymon was destined to take over the starting forward role for Joe Fulce soon enough, but now that clearly will not happen.  This means Fulce will stay in the starting lineup for the remainder of the season and the bench loses yet another player.  With complaints about Buzz Williams only going with an 8-man rotation, now that’s about all he can do.

It only seems fitting that Marquette would lose a big man in this whole process.  With more guards than we know what to do with, they now go from five true big men to four with the loss of Maymon.  Already undersized, losing a 6’6″ body in the paint only has Big East opponents salivating even more.

The loss of Jeronne Maymon (L) hurts Marquette more than just losing a body off the bench. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

As bad as it hurts to lose Maymon for the 2009 season, which all but sealed the fate for Hayward, David Cubillan, and Mo Acker’s senior year, the real story is an ugly trend that is occurring within the walls of Marquette basketball.

Since Buzz Williams has taken over for Tom Crean as head coach of the Golden Eagles, he has seen Pat Hazel, Scott Christopherson, Brett Rosebro, Aaron Bowen, and now Jeronne Maymon all head elsewhere after deciding on Marquette.  One could even throw Trevor Mbakwe into the mix of players that have left Marquette on less than stellar terms.

One has to wonder if Buzz’s theory of recruiting as many good players as you can isn’t the best idea in the world.  Is it really the best option to have your current recruits looking over their shoulder at any moment, knowing one day they could be logging over 15 minutes per game, while the next day you are on the bench being ridden off the team because you were recruited over?  Competition is one thing and making players earn minutes by beating out teammates is one thing, but to openly admit that you will recruit as many good players that will fit the system is interesting to say the least.

I will not mention my personal opinion of what I believe led to Maymon leaving Marquette’s basketball team.  There would be no point to it. Rumors are being thrown all over the place, all the way from Maymon’s father getting into an shouting match with Buzz to Maymon’s father not even knowing about his son leaving the team.  The truth is no one knows what happened but that facts will surface soon enough.

Brett Rosebro, now playing for St. Bonaventure, had a well documented falling out from Marquette in which he claimed Buzz promised him things that he did not keep to.  Some even speculate that Buzz promised Maymon a starting spot on the team this season and that is one of the main reasons he was unhappy.

The point is that, as far as we know, Maymon has quit the team and while it might not say something negative about MU basketball, it surely does not say anything positive.  Throw in speculations (and mostly facts) about the reasons Hazel transferred to Boston University and why Acker left the team to “focus on studies” before joining the team, combined with 2010 recruit Monterale Clark’s sexual assault charge in Texas, and the whole Jesuit lifestyle is kind of looking like an afterthought lately.

Another issue is that of the injuries that have hit Marquette in the last year and a half.  Injuries this season to Darius Johnson-Odom, Chris Otule, and Junior Cadougan have all occurred in practice and were all foot/ankle injuries to some extent.  Last season, Joe Fulce, Otule, and Dominic James all went down with injuries as well.  While bad luck undoubtedly played a role, one has to wonder if some of the injuries were caused by overworking the players early in the season.

Realize that I am not standing at the edge of the “Marquette basketball bridge” just because one player decided to transfer from the school.  Marquette plays a different kind of basketball that clearly is not for everyone.  I’m more worried about what the program is doing as a whole and where it’s headed.

The positives are there and they easily outweigh the negatives, no matter how bad the situation is.  Marquette plays in the Big East, has the full support of the students at the school, has a great leader and will be around for a long time.  But if Buzz Williams wants to take this program from good to great, or from great to elite, little things like the situations you have just read about can not happen.

Recruits will come and go and Buzz will continue to bring in the best players, but at what point is that not enough?

December 15, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , , , , | 3 Comments

2010 NBA Mock Draft 2.0

Back in late June, I created the first version of my 2010 NBA Mock Draft.  It has been almost six months since my last mock and I felt that, fresh off a John Wall monster performance at Madison Square Garden, now would be the perfect time to put out another draft.  Draft order is based on current records.

1. New Jersey Nets (2-20): John Wall, PG, Kentucky

While it’s true the Nets’ best player is also a point guard in Devin Harris, Wall is way too good of a prospect to pass on here.  Kentucky head coach John Calipari dubbed John Wall the real deal, saying he was farther along in his progression than Derrick Rose or Tyreke Evans were when he coached them at Memphis.  Simply put, Wall is the total package.  His jump shot is above average and his speed and athleticism combination remind me a lot of Ty Lawson.  Throw on the five inches that Wall has over Lawson and you have a perfect pro prospect.  Wall is a future All Star.

2. Minnesota Timberwolves (3-19): Wesley Johnson, SG/SF, Syracuse

Just as Wall performed outstanding at MSG, Johnson had a coming out party of his own in New York, scoring 25 points against North Carolina in the 2K Sports Coaches Classic.  A transfer from Iowa State, Johnson has the Orange out to an 8-0 start and a top ten ranking.  If you look above the rim, there’s a good chance you will find Johnson there.  He already has an NBA body and his athleticism screams top five pick.  His all-around game is still a work in progress but you wouldn’t know it based on his numbers this season as he is shooting 59 percent from the field and 53 percent from downtown.  The Timberwolves are set in the front court and drafted Johnny Flynn to manage the point guard duties for the future.  The versatile, lockdown defender in Johnson seems like a good fit here.

3. Philadelphia 76ers (5-17): Derrick Favors, PF, Georgia Tech

Elton Brand’s time in Philadelphia is all but over and the Sixers could use a new post man on the inside.  Marreese Speights has proved that he will be a solid frontline player, but they need a presence in the lane that they thought Brand would be.  Favors has the most raw talent of any big man in the draft and, while the Sixers could use a shooting guard, Favors is too good of talent to pass on here.

4. Utah Jazz (from New York): Greg Monroe, PF, Georgetown

Carlos Boozer is more than likely out of Utah next season and the power forward position will need to be addressed.  Paul Millsap should be a fine replacement in the mean time, but Monroe can add another dimension to the Jazz’s offense.  Much like Mehmet Okur, Monroe has range that extends out to the three point line and should work well with Deron Williams in Jerry Sloan’s offense.  The dubbed “project” from last season, Monroe has started to show some of that potential, averaging 15 points and 11 rebounds thus far with the Hoyas.

5. Golden State Warriors (7-14): Ed Davis, PF, North Carolina

Anthony Randolph is proving to be a solid contributor for the Warriors but they still need a post player outside of center Andris Biedrins.  At 6’10”, Davis runs the floor exceptionally well and is building an NBA frame that should make him a top five pick next season.  His impressive wingspan also makes him a solid defender, something the Warriors could use.  He is just tapping into his potential and could be a very impressive player for the Warriors.

While some might think Wesley Johnson going number two overall is a little high, make no mistake: he's the real deal. (AP Photo/Kevin Rivoli)

6. Indiana Pacers (6-13): Evan Turner, SF, Ohio State

The Pacers are in dire need of a shooting guard/small forward outside of Danny Granger and Dahntay Jones, and Turner certainly fits the bill.  A broken back will keep him out for the next two months but that should not affect his draft status.  Much like Granger, he fills the box score on a nightly basis (two triple-doubles this season) and can play multiple positions.  The status of Mike Dunleavy is in question and Granger plays more of  a forward role than anything, so Turner should be able to start at shooting guard right away.

7. Washington Wizards (7-13): Willie Warren, G, Oklahoma

The Wizards are closing in on a state of rebuilding with injuries and age plaguing them, so taking the best player available would be in their best interest.  Warren burst on to the scene last season as a freshman but was overshadowed by some guy named Blake Griffin.  Now in the spotlight, Warren has not disappointed for the Sooners, averaging over 18 points and five assists per game.  The best part of Warren’s game is his ability to shoot the ball and has the potential to play both guard positions.  His size could be an issue but he does an excellent job creating his own shot, so it shouldn’t be an issue.

8. Chicago Bulls (7-13): Xavier Henry, SG, Kansas

The season from hell can only get better for the Bulls in the Draft (assuming they fire Vinny Del Negro), and Henry should help ease the pain.  It should be a very interesting off-season for the Bulls, but assuming they can not land Dwyane Wade, Henry would be a great fit in Chicago.  The lefty freshman has played outstanding for Kansas thus far and would add a pure shooter to the Bulls lineup.  He needs to work on creating his own shot but all the talent is there for Henry to succeed at the next level.

9. Memphis Grizzles (9-12): Devin Ebanks, SF, West Virginia

The status of Rudy Gay going forward is in question and if he decides to leave town, the Grizzlies have very little depth at small forward.  Ebanks has literally been a mystery this season, playing in just three games this season, but has boatloads of potential.  He has a long ways to go, but many compare him to Atlanta Hawks small forward Josh Smith.  He’ll need to gain some weight and become more of a basketball player than an athlete, but his skill set sets him up nicely for the future.

10. Sacramento Kings (9-12): Cole Aldrich, C, Kansas

The Kings seem to have a nice core in Tyreke Evans, Kevin Martin, and Jason Thompson, but outside of those three the depth of the team is really lacking.  Aldrich is the second Jayhawk to come off the board, and rightfully so.  An outstanding sophomore season put him into the national spotlight and he has all the tools to succeed in the NBA.  He is a great passing big man and shows soft touch in the paint.  Spencer Hawes and Thompson give the Kings a different, more finesse look and Aldrich would compliment them well.

11. Los Angeles Clippers (9-12): Donatas Motiejunas, C, Lithuania

Based solely on scouting reports, Motiejunas’s game is much like Toronto’s Andrea Bargnani.  He needs to add some weight and strength, but his speed and aggressiveness make him a very intriguing prospect that the Clippers could take a chance on.  Marcus Camby is a free agent next season and the Clips will have to replace him somehow.

Xavier Henry has one of the sweetest strokes in the NCAA. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

12. Toronto Raptors (10-14): Patrick Patterson, PF, Kentucky

Chris Bosh’s performance over the last two seasons has all but written his ticket out of Toronto next year when he becomes a free agent.  Taking his place will be Patrick Patterson, who is sure to garner some major looks as he takes Kentucky deep into the NCAA Tournament this season.  Alongside John Wall, the 6’8″ power forward has showed great potential and has been on NBA scout’s radar since he joined Wildcats.  He is undersized but his long wingspan and tough play will allow him to have success on the defensive end.

13. New Orleans Hornets (10-11): Solomon Alibi, C, Florida State

Don’t be surprised to see the Hornets in the playoffs by year’s end, but as it stands they are on the outside looking in.  They have plenty of money invested for the next couple of years so they might trade this pick, but for now Alibi looks like a fine fit.  Past Emeka Okafor, the Hornets have little at center as Hilton Armstrong has failed to live up to expectations.  Alibi is a polished post man with excellent size that can make contributions right away.

14. San Antonio Spurs (10-9): Avery Bradley, SG, Texas

As weird as it may seem to see the Spurs picking in the lottery, they currently sit a half a game out of the playoffs.  If they do end up picking here, Bradley could be the answer to free agent Manu Ginobili.  While there’s still a chance Ginobili re-signs, Aminu would be the best pick in this spot to replace him and great value as well.  With budding star George Hill ready to take over the shooting guard role, Aminu could learn behind the best as he becomes more of an all-around player.  He plays outstanding defense and could shoot up the draft board as the season goes along.

December 11, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Chicago Bulls, College Basketball, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA, New York Knicks | , , , , , | 10 Comments

Marquette’s Individual PER’s

A few years back, John Hollinger of ESPN invented a formula to determine a player’s efficiency on the court.  It takes all of a player’s positive stats, subtracted by his negative stats, multiplied by his minutes played. He calls it the Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and it’s defined as such:

“PER takes into account positive accomplishments, such as field goals, free throws, 3-pointers, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals, and negative ones, such as missed shots, turnovers and personal fouls. The formula adds positive stats and subtracts negative ones through a statistical point value system. The rating for each player is then adjusted to a per-minute basis so that, for example, substitutes can be compared with starters in playing time debates. It is also adjusted for the team’s pace. In the end, one number sums up the players’ statistical accomplishments for that season.”

However, Hollinger’s formula is complicated, so I used another formula that I found discovered that was much simpler and in the end, when compared to Hollinger’s numbers, were all within 1.00 of the actual formula used. The formula is as follows:

[(FGM x 85.910) + (Steals x 53.897) + (3PTM x 51.757) + (FTM x 46.845) + (Blocks x 39.190) + (Offensive_Reb x 39.190) + (Assists x 34.677) + (Defensive_Reb x 14.707) – (Foul x 17.174) – (FT_Miss x 20.091) – (FG_Miss x 39.190) – (TO x 53.897) ] x (1 / Minutes).

1. Jimmy Butler, 27.32

Just like it was last year, Butler has been Marquette’s most efficient player on the court this season.  Making it more impressive is the fact that Butler has played the most minutes of any Golden Eagle at 251. He leads Marquette in rebounds, free throws made, free throws attempted, and has turned the ball over just eight times.  His development of an outside shot extending past the three point line has made Butler a threat from anywhere on the court.  His ability to get to the paint and get to the free throw line has made Butler Marquette’s best player so far.

Jimmy Butler has been Marquette's best player this season, scoring in double digits in all of Marquette's games. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

2. Lazar Hayward, 21.23

Expected to be Marquette’s go-to guy this season, foul trouble and inconsistency from the outside has limited Hayward.  Still, his numbers speak for themselves and he has done a fantastic job in the minutes he has been on the court.  He leads the Golden Eagles in points and as Hayward goes, so do the Golden Eagles.  Constantly guarding the opponent’s biggest player, he works his tail off on every offensive possession and is the most important player on the team.

3. Maurice Acker, 18.83

It may be a surprise to see Acker so high on this list, but the senior from Chicago has canceled out his early season turnovers with 32 assists and 17 steals, which lead the team.  When freshman Junior Cadougan went down for the year with a torn Achilles heel, Acker’s role drastically increased and he has picked up the slack.  A career 36 percent shooter, Acker is shooting a ridiculous 51 percent from the field (26-for-51) and has been Marquette’s floor leader.  He presses at times but also runs the break better than anyone.

4. Erik Williams, 18.28

The freshman from Texas’s numbers are a little tainted as he has played just 22 minutes all season and appeared in just three games, but he has produced when in.  Questions have arisen as to why the athletic forward has yet to play much this season, but work ethic and failing to pick up the offense might have something to do with it.  He should see more minutes as the season goes along.

5. Darius Johnson-Odom, 14.69

Marquette’s biggest early season surprise has been “DJO”, the sophomore junior college recruit from North Carolina.  His most important characteristic is his outside shooting, something the Golden Eagles lacked for the most part last season.  Johnson-Odom has connected on 18 of 34 three-point attempts and has a long ball in each of Marquette’s first seven games.  He has also shown flashes of getting to the basket with either hand, and his huge upper body allows him to draw fouls and finish at the rim.  His defense is still coming along, but all signs point to DJO being Marquette’s third go-to guy this season.

6. Joe Fulce, 12.12

Fulce’s numbers are also somewhat inflated as he has played just 95 minutes this season but he has started a couple of games for the Golden Eagles and, like Hayward, is matched up on a bigger man on most nights.  As Marquette’s “center”, Fulce plays with high energy and has shown an ability to hit the outside shot.  He isn’t going to win Marquette any games but he isn’t going to lose them any either.

7. Dwight Buycks, 10.50

It might be surprising to see Buycks so low on the list, but his offense has come to a screeching halt and he seems to have lost some of the aggressiveness he showed earlier in the season.  Coming into the season, Buycks was expected to start at shooting guard and replace some of the offense lost by the graduations of the Big Three.  However, he has failed to light it up offensively, averaging just 8.6 points per game and leads the team with 22 turnovers.  As one of Marquette’s quickest players, his defense has been superb on the outside and is one of the main reasons Marquette’s perimeter defense has been one of the best in the conference.

8. David Cubillan, 10.45

9. Jeronne Maymon, 7.14

10. Youssoupha Mbao, 0.32

December 5, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , , , | 1 Comment

Bulls-Knicks Talks: Thomas for Harrington Makes Sense on Both Sides

Yahoo! Sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski reported tonight that there are “serious” talks happening between the Chicago Bulls and the New York Knicks that would send Tyrus Thomas and Jerome James to the Knicks in exchange for Al Harrington.  As trade talks begin to heat up around the NBA, the first real proposal of the season seems to make sense for both parties.

Thomas is currently recovering from a broken forearm that has kept him out of action for the last month and a half.  Since he was drafted by the Bulls in 2006, Thomas has been somewhat of a project that has improved every year, increasing his statistical performances in just about every category.  At just 23 years old he still has plenty of gas left in the tank but his high energy, athletic game could surely improve if he was put into a higher tempo offense.  His 6’10”, 225-pound body slots him at the power forward position, but in the Bulls half court offense he is undersized and can not be a full-time post player.

Al Harrington would provide offense this season and cap space next season for the Bulls. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

On the other hand, Harrington has done well for the Knicks, averaging over 20 points per game since he arrived in New York.  The 12-year veteran has exploded for two 40-point games this season and would surely add instant offense to a Bulls team that ranks 28th in the NBA, scoring just 91.4 points per game.  The bigger Harrington would take over the Bulls power forward spot and give Derrick Rose another offensive weapon to go along with Luol Deng and Joakim Noah.

From a money perspective, the Bulls would be wise to make this move as Harrington’s contract expires after this season.  General Manager John Paxson is clearly looking to the 2010 “Free Agent Sweepstakes”, where he and the Bulls are expected to make plays for free agents Chris Bosh and hometown hero Dwyane Wade.  With Harrington’s contract going off the books after the season, more cap space will be available for the Bulls to go after those free agents.  Letting go of Thomas would save the Bulls approximately $13 million.

The Knicks currently have the most cap space allotted for 2010 of any NBA team with players like Larry Hughes ($13.65 million), Darko Milicic ($7.5 million), Cuttino Mobley ($9.5 million), David Lee ($7 million), Chris Duhon ($6 million), and Nate Robinson ($4 million) all coming off the books after this season.  The Knicks have made it all but public that they will pursue LeBron James next summer, the clear prized possession of the free agent class.

However, one issue that has been talked about is that the Knicks will have to show James that they still have a foundation and that they will not sacrifice the rest of the team just so they have the money to offer him a maximum contract.  Adding Thomas to the Knicks, who is under contract until 2011, along with up-and-coming second year forward Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and rookies Jordan Hill and Toney Douglas would be a start in showing James that a young core of players are ready to succeed under the leadership of James if he comes to New York.

As it goes for the 2009 season, Harrington would improve the Bulls’ front court immediately alongside the fully improved Joakim Noah.  Last June, the Bulls drafted Wake Forest’s James Johnson and Taj Gibson from USC.  While Johnson is more of a project, just as Thomas was coming out of college, Gibson has established himself as a contributor and has the potential to start for the Bulls in 2010.  Despite being a fan favorite, the early emergence of Gibson makes Thomas expendable and also frees up the power forward position for Chris Bosh in 2010, presuming he decides on Chicago next summer.

December 4, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Chicago Bulls, LeBron James, NBA, New York Knicks | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Old Spice Classic Roundup: Marquette Surprises Doubters, Wins Two

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.

Darius Johnson-Odom has solidified his spot as Marquette's third go-to option on offense. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

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.

November 29, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Five Things Marquette Must Do To Defeat Florida State

After two upset victories over Xavier and Michigan, the Marquette Golden Eagles find themselves in position to take the Old Spice Classic tomorrow in Orlando.  It would be quite the turn of events for a team that lost just about everything that won them 25 games last season and an eight-man rotation that features one player that scored more than six points last season as well as three newcomers.

Standing between them and the Old Spice Classic champion title are the Florida State Seminoles, who defeated Iona and Alabama on their path to the title game.  The Seminoles are as close to a different team from Marquette as one will find, featuring a whopping ten players over 6’4″ and getting their best looks from down on the block from big men Solomon Alabi and Chris Singelton.  For a full preview of Florida State, check out MUHoops.com’s take.

If Marquette wants to hoist the trophy tomorrow, here are five things they must do to take down the Seminoles.

1. Continue to pressure outside shots well

One of Marquette’s best stats in the Old Spice Classic has been holding their two opponents to 32 percent shooting from three point range and pressuring guards as soon as they receive the ball.  Against Florida State, this will be even more important because the Seminoles lack a true point guard and are prone to turning the ball over, committing 40 turnovers in their first two games of the tournament.

Florida State will look inside to their two big men to start the offense, but pressuring the ball from the outside as soon as the possession starts will mess things up as well.  Their backcourt tandem of Derwin Kitchen and Deividas Dulkys are much bigger than anything Marquette will throw on the court, so if they do not receive pressure they will shoot all day. Dulkys loves the trey ball as 15 of his 18 field goals this season have come from behind the arc, so look for major pressure on him.  Jimmy Butler has been as lockdown of a defender as possible and will need to use his height to guard the much bigger Seminoles.

2. Rotate big men early and often

As freshman Jeronne Maymon continues to get his feet under him and pick up the pace of the game, the quality of opponents that he faces every night will continue to increase as well.  Tomorrow night, Maymon will play a key role off the bench in battling with Florida State’s bigs.  If Marquette chooses to stay with a 4-guard lineup including Acker/Cubillan, Johnson-Odom, Buycks, and Butler, then Maymon will have to rotate in when they start getting beat up inside.

Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler will be the reason Marquette hoists the trophy tomorrow in Orlando. (AP Photo)

Joe Fulce has seen his minutes decrease lately as he tries to battle back from a bruised knee and might get his name called against a taller, more physical Seminole team.  Fulce played 10 minutes against Xavier but just three minutes against the smaller Michigan team, so look for those numbers to go back up tomorrow.  Keeping big men fresh will be key to Marquette’s success in keeping out, or limiting, Florida State in the paint.

3. Allow Darius Johnson-Odom to drive at will

This might seem like a narrow goal to set but Florida State lives and dies with their defense.  With such a tall, athletic team that is still trying to figure out its identity on offense, they must be solid on defense.  The Seminoles are giving up just under 53 points per game and are very long on defense, meaning those open shots Marquette saw against Xavier and especially Michigan are likely not going to be there.  The answer?  Darius Johnson-Odom.

In the Old Spice Classic, Johnson-Odom showed his ability to get to the hole against Xavier despite not finishing on a few of the drives. Against Michigan, he went wild in the paint and showed glimpses of the agility Dominic James had and the toughness of Jerel McNeal.  While those comparisons might be pre-mature, getting Johnson-Odom the ball in the paint will be key.  If Marquette goes small, FSU might switch to a zone that will create lanes for Johnson-Odom and he is a fantastic passer off the dribble.

4. Start small and stay small

The story of the Golden Eagles last season was that they were going to be small on defense but they were almost impossible to match up with when on offense.  Against Florida State, Marquette is clearly out-sized but is also in a position to out-hustle and run past them.  They will need to rotate their big men as seen in point number two, but going with four guards will force Florida State’s hand on defense and they will need to decide if sacrificing size is worth slowing the Golden Eagles down.  Players like Maurice Acker and Dwight Buycks will be key in transition, so look for Marquette to push the ball off missed shots to free up open jumpers on the run.

5. Keep doing what you’re doing

With the exception of Youssoupha Mbao potentially seeing extra minutes when Alabi is in the game, keeping the gameplan the same is key for Marquette.  He never has so don’t expect him to, but Buzz Williams shouldn’t switch the plan up and go with something different just because the Seminoles are much taller.  Last season, teams like Georgetown and Notre Dame had size advantages, but Marquette played within their game and came out on top.  Hustling to the boards on defense will make up for the lack of size and quickness on offense will cancel out Marquette’s inability to get open jumpers against a tall back court.

Lazar Hayward needs to stay out of foul trouble and continue to dominate when he is in.  Jimmy Butler needs to be the second man to Hayward and clean up messes inside as well as box out.  Johnson-Odom and Buycks need to continue to be cogs in the offensive gameplan, using their athleticism and smarts to take care of the ball and find open buckets.  Maurice Acker and David Cubillan need to keep doing what they are doing in taking care of the ball and hitting clutch shots.  Like Michigan coach John Beilein said, “Marquette is short.  They’re not small.”

November 28, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , , , , | 1 Comment

Marquette’s Otule Breaks Foot, Likely Out For the Year

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.

Losing center Chris Otule will hurt Marquette on the defensive end as well as putting a dent in the team's depth. (MU Athletics)

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.

November 24, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , | 1 Comment

Marquette Gets Defensive In Win Over Grambling State

Dwight Buycks had his best game as a Golden Eagle, almost recording a triple-double.

 

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.

To read the rest of this article, click here for a link to MarquetteHoops.com.

November 22, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , , , | 1 Comment

Marquette Gets Last Minute Signing From PG Reggie Smith

Buzz Williams and received some great news at the end of Wednesday night’s early signing period, as Illinois point guard Reggie Smith signed his Letter of Intent to play for the Golden Eagles.  The signing came  unexpectedly to most despite Marquette’s involvement with Smith in the recruiting process.

The 6’1″ point guard seems to fit the mold exactly for what Williams is looking in a point guard.  Smith’s speed sets him apart and his ability to play in transition will get him on the court sooner than later.  In terms of offensive sets, Smith lives off driving to the basket to get his shots.  He is still raw and has to work better at getting his teammates the ball off the dribble, but the talent is there for him to do that.

If you were on the fence on whether or not to go to Marquette Madness in 2010, Smith’s signing alone should push you over the edge.  Why?  Smith is one of the best dunkers in the 2010 class and has a knack to flush it home when he gets to the rim.  He takes his fair share of layups, but any chance he gets to throw one down, he does.

Defensively, Smith has good size for a point guard “6’1”, 175 lbs.) and uses it very well against defenders.  A high-end motor keeps him on his man and he has room to grow with the speed that he has.  That energy will get him on the court and if he continues to work hard, he could be a steal.

Overall, Smith’s game is very raw and he needs to hone in his athleticism.  Sometimes Smith’s athleticism gets him in trouble by playing out of control and trying to force things.  As he slows down his game and becomes more of a true point guard, his natural position, his value will become even greater.  If it’s not too bold to say, Smith looks a lot like Dominic James with his athleticism and ability to drive.  Like James, Smith can struggle with his outside shot at times but the talent and potential is there for him to improve on that part of his game.

Smith will play his senior year for Thornton High School in Harvey, IL.  His AAU team, Mac Irvin Fire, was considered one of the best in Illinois last year with Smith and University of Illinois recruits Crandall Head and Jerome Richmond.

Reggie Smith plays great in transition and is a huge get for Buzz Williams and Marquette.

Looking to the 2010 back court, Smith is a great compliment to redshirted freshman Junior Cadougan.  More of a pass first point guard, Cadougan will rotate with Smith at the point guard spot and create a great mismatch with the two different styles of play.  The signing of Smith most likely moves 2010 recruit Vander Blue to shooting guard, although his versatility will also allow him to handle the ball.

Ranked 105th according to Rivals.com and the 35th best point guard according to Scout.com, Smith isn’t a top-tier recruit that pushes Marquette’s recruiting class into the top five for 2010.  However, another top 100 recruit that has the potential to blossom as he molds into a point guard is exactly what Williams was looking for to fill one of the two roster spots for next year.  As usual, Williams and the Marquette staff semi-flew under the radar with the recruiting of Smith as many expected he was leaning towards USC.

After losing out on power forward Tarik Black, who ended up at Memphis, it was good to see Buzz and the staff pull out a third recruit before the early signing period was over.

With one scholarship remaining, expect Williams the Marquette staff to go hard after a big man to solidify their 2010 class.  Rumors of a junior college forward have circulated to balance out the class and avoid having four freshman on the roster.

Buzz Williams has shown again that he is a great recruiter that can bring in top-100 talent and has done it again for 2010.  Last season it was easier for Buzz to bring in the talent that he did because he had so much playing time to offer, but now the recruits are coming in packs and giving great depth to a Marquette team that should compete for a Big East title in the next couple of years.

November 19, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , , , | 1 Comment

Ten Things to Look For When Marquette Takes on UM-ES

Trying to stay unbiased, it”s still easy for me to say that the Marquette Golden Eagles should have no problem handling the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore tonight at the Bradley Center.  Here are ten things to watch for as the Golden Eagles look to improve on their 85-62 win over Centenary last Friday.

1. Lazar Hayward staying out of foul trouble

Buzz Williams was not all too happy about Lazar Hayward’s foul trouble on Friday, as the senior picked up four fouls in 18 minutes of play and finished the game with just nine points and five rebounds.  Foul trouble against Centenary is fine as Hayward’s teammate were able to pick him up, but once the Big East season rolls around, the Golden Eagles will go as far as Hayward goes.  He can’t try to do too much and pick early fouls because it throws the whole rhythm off on offense.

2. Jimmy Butler’s response to his 27-point, 13-rebound performance

Butler was the unheralded MVP against Centenary and it will be interesting to see how he comes back against UM-ES.  Last year it seemed as though Butler was his best in spurts when his confidence would pick up, and one has to think his  confidence is soaring right now.  His tenacity on the boards makes up for his size when he plays down low and he gets after it on offense every position.

3. Dwight Buycks’ defense problems on the perimeter

Overall, the junior newcomer played quite well, but Dwight Buycks’ defense on the outside was shaky at times and Centenary got too many open looks.  Now is the time to make up for those mistakes and Buycks will get every opportunity to do so tonight against UM-ES’s bigger backcourt. It’s clear that Buycks can’t wait to get on offense where he was very efficient, but he has to do it on the defensive end as well.

4. Darius Johnson-Odom’s health and ability to drive the lane

DJO was questionable for the Centenary game but was able to play and logged 23 good minutes but stayed beyond the arc for most of the game.  All summer we heard about DJO’s ability to drive to the hoop and bring a Dominic James-like role to the offense, but 5 of his 6 shots were from beyond the arc.  Hopefully he will be more aggressive tonight and show off that speed and strength.

5. Jeronne Maymon getting acclimated sooner

Freshman Jeronne Maymon put in nine points and hauled in five rebounds but looked lost and slow at times.  While he is really the raw one of the group, his play will be vital to Marquette’s already small front court.  On defense, he was not tough enough in the paint and gave up easy layups as well as failing to rotate on passes from the post.  It’s nothing that can’t be fixed but his play on defense is something to watch for.

Keeping Lazar Hayward on the court is key for the Golden Eagles this year.

6. Erik Williams’ playing time

Williams, a top 100 recruit entering Marquette, played as many minutes as walk-on Rob Frozena and had just one more point than the jump-around guy.  Williams was slowed down by the flu a couple weeks ago but seemed healthy when he took the court, so one has to wonder why he only logged two minutes.  With a lack of depth this season, Marquette’s front court will have to use every body they have and that includes the raw Williams.  Check his minutes tonight.

7. Marquette’s three point shooting

Against a smaller team like Centenary, many expected Marquette to shoot from outside at will.  However, the Golden Eagles ended the night shooting just 3-16 from behind the arc and exposed themselves as a team that can not hit the long ball.  They have the players to do it (Hayward, Buycks, DJO, Cubillan) but must get the job done.  For a small team, not being able to shoot from outside will be the Achilles’ Heel for Marquette.

8. Keep the fast break points coming

If the Golden Eagles aren’t going to shoot well, the least they can is keep the ball moving in transition.  Maurice Acker and Dwight Buycks did an excellent job running the fast break, leading to 28 fast break points that really put the game away in the second half.  Fast break points are sure to come in bunches against weaker teams so expect more of the same tonight against MU-ES.

9. How Chris Otule will respond to his forgettable opener

For whatever reason, Chris Otule did not look like he had made any improvements over the summer.  Passes will be given because we are just one game in and Otule was bound to have one hiccup, so maybe it just came in the opener.  His hands were still all over the place and he just doesn’t look comfortable.  With Youssoupha Mbao out one more game, this is Otule’s last chance to be THE big guy for Marquette.  In my opinion this is a big one tonight for Otule.

10. Overall Improvement

For as average as a 23-point win can look, Marquette did it against Centenary.  The team is young and just two actual games into their careers with each other, but the chemistry needs to improve as a whole.  These cupcake games are scheduled so that players can get comfortable in their surroundings, yet some players still looked a little star-struck.  Tonight is another game so hopefully the perimeter defense and outside shooting will improve and the fouls will be down.

November 17, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , , , | Leave a comment

Marquette Signs Blue and Jones, Waiting on Black

Wednesday marked the first day of the one-week period for recruits from the 2010 class to sign national letters of intent to their respective schools.  Marquette wasted no time in locking up their two prizes for the early signing period, receiving letters from small forward Jamail Jones and point guard Vander Blue.

Jones averaged 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists per game playing for Green Forest Christian Academy in Decatur, Georgia.  He will play his senior year for Montaverde Academy in Florida, touted as one of the best high school teams in the nation, and Jones is a big reason why.  Coach Buzz Williams has already seen improvement from Jones from the first time he saw him play.

“He plays for arguably the best high school coach in the country.  He’s definitely, in my opinion, the best high school coach as it relates to the development of kids as players,” he said.  “[Jones] has gotten better during his time at Montaverde already. We’ve been down there a few times and he has gotten a lot better.”

Jones, or “Mellow” as he prefers to be called, fit the “Buzz Williams mold” to a tee.  At 6’6”, his physical 180-pound body will make him difficult to defend as he has improved his outside jump shot and is able to handle the ball.  Because of this, Jones will be able to play shooting guard or both forward positions.  Those traits are exactly what Williams looks for.

“We want to sign as many guys as we can that are hard to guard.  We want to sign as many guys as we can that can pass, dribble, and shoot.  We want to sign as many guys as we can that can guard multiple positions,” he said.

jamail

With the versatile Jamail Jones on the floor, Marquette will be able to use him many ways.

As big of a signing as Jones was for the Golden Eagles, receiving a commitment from a consensus top-100 player for next season, much of the hype surrounding Marquette’s recruiting class circulated around Madison, WI native Vander Blue.

After backing out of a verbal commitment from Wisconsin in May, Blue re-opened his recruitment and ultimately chose Marquette over Wisconsin, Florida, and UCLA.  Ranked as high as 22 on Rivals.com, Blue is Marquette’s third highest ranked commitment in the last thirty years and will be able to step in right away, something that Buzz Williams is grateful for.

“That’s the thing that’s probably not talked about enough is how hard it is to sign players that can have an immediate impact at this level,” Williams said.  “Where their bodies are ready, where their minds are ready, where their skills are ready to have an impact right away and I think Vander can do that.”

Blue’s decision to come to Marquette after de-committing from Wisconsin should add more fuel to the already lit in-state rivalry, but Buzz Williams said his recruitment of Blue was never anything negative towards the University of Wisconsin.

“I want people that want to be a part of who we are, and I don’t want it to be because we knocked down every other program and we were the only one left standing.  I want them to come here because, in their heart, they feel like this is where they are supposed to be.”

One thing Buzz Williams looks for in every recruiting class is having a true point guard, something he believes Blue will be able to do.  At the same time, that all-important versatility is something that attracted him to recruit Blue.

“I’ll put him wherever is best for our team for him to do what he does best.  I think he’s a guy that can play all three positions.  I think he’ll be a hard guy to get off the floor and I think he’s a guy that can guard all three positions, which makes his value really, really high.”

vanderblue

Vander Blue (L) will join former high school teammate Jeronne Maymon next year.

“Mellow” and Blue have vaulted Marquette’s recruiting class into the top 15 by most, including 13th by Rivals.com’s latest rankings.  However, Buzz Williams and the Marquette staff are not done recruiting and hope to sign another player or two before the Wednesday deadline, saying Marquette will “sign as many players as we can sign that are great players and fit what it is we want to be about on and off the court.”

The main prize for Marquette would be Tarik Black, a 6’8” power forward from Memphis.  Memphis, Tennessee, and Florida are competing with Marquette for his services and he is expected to sign during the early period.  Rumors floating around the internet have pegged Marquette as the favorite but Memphis is the hometown team and Black took his official visit to Florida this weekend.

With a point guard and small forward already in his pocket, Williams understands that size should be next on the checklist for the 2010 class, but he will not pass up the opportunity to add another guard.

“We need size for sure.  I think I would always say that and I think that if you only have three dribble guys on your team, it should be because you couldn’t sign a fourth dribble guy.  And so if we can add another guard that can dribble, we’ll do that too,” he said.

Other names worth keeping an eye on include point guards Reggie Smith (IL) and Stargell Love (NC), power forward Jayvaughn Pinkston (NY) during the early signing period, and small forward Justin Coleman (VA) in the spring.

While there are still questions concerning the status of Monterale Clark, Marquette will has two remaining scholarships but Williams has shown a tendency to over-recruit, so as many as three signings could occur before the 2010 signing period is over.

November 14, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , , , | Leave a comment

Bucks’ Brandon Jennings Looks Like the Real Deal

Before rookie Brandon Jennings was making headlines for the Milwaukee Bucks, he was making negative ones for himself leading up to the beginning of the 2009-10 NBA season.  Known by just about everyone because of his decision to skip college ball and play in Europe, Jennings had question marks all around him.  His upside was immense and GM’s knew that Jennings had the potential to be a franchise-changing player unlike the majority of the players in last year’s draft class.  However, they also knew his downside was investing money into a cancerous teammate who would repeat his lackluster performance in Rome.

Before Jennings could even step on the court he was back at it, firing his mouth away about then-teammate Ramon Sessions and Luke Ridnour.  On a radio show with rapper Joe Budden, he mentioned being upset with the Knicks passing on him and deeming himself the starter over Ridnour.  He also made headlines by calling out Ricky Rubio, saying he was “overrated” and not as good as Jennings after a workout with the Kings.

Bucks’ general manager John Hammond decided that the upside of Jennings was well worth the potential of failure and he selected him with the tenth overall pick in the draft.  His cockiness and swagger is something that, to an extent, all great basketball players need to have, and Hammond believed Jennings had that.

What Hammond most likely did not think Jennings had was the ability to average over 20 points per game in his first six games, racking up four wins for the Bucks.  In many ways, Jennings is looking like the savior that is going to save the Bucks.  Rumors have floated around that have the Bucks leaving Milwaukee, but Jennings could change all that.

His situation in Milwaukee this season is eerily similar to Derrick Rose’s last season in Chicago.  The Bulls had reached the playoffs in 2006 before winning just 33 games the next year.  When the Bulls defied lottery odds and were awarded the number one overall pick, they selected Rose and went on to win 41 games and make the playoffs.

In Chicago, Rose has seemingly rejuvenated the Bulls and made everyone around him better.  Joakim Noah is finally playing up to his potential that we all saw at Florida, Luol Deng is flourishing under Rose’s lead, and he has worked to mold rookies James Johnson and Taj Gibson into role players this season.  The talent was there for the Bulls as seen by the three straight playoff appearances before 2007, but the team was growing old and John Paxson’s inability to trade for grade-A superstars had the Bulls wondering where the future would take them.

Knicks Bucks Basketball

Brandon Jennings has flourished with the Bucks and his confidence could not be any higher. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

In the same sense, Jennings has done the exact same thing in Milwaukee.  The Bucks made the playoffs during the 2005-2006 campaign with rookie Andrew Bogut, but three years of injuries and inconsistency had left the Bucks with nothing to show for the talent they had.  Now, Jennings has utilized Bogut as the big man that every good point guard needs, and vice versa.

Six games into his young career might be a little early to start crowning him the savior for the Bucks, but in basketball more than any other sport, early starts become trends.  The great ones usually start that way and do not fade as compared to baseball and football.

His skill set is very raw and at times he plays like the rookie that he is.  He doesn’t seem to have picked up on the logistics of the offense yet and many times he will create for himself.  But with a big man that can shoot the outside shot, the way he moves off screens has to be considered close to the top of the league, and his closing speed while going to the basket warrants a replay on most possessions.

One of his big question marks coming into his rookie campaign was defense.  However, six games in he is averaging over a steal per game and limited Chauncey Billups to 6-16 shooting, gave up just one point to Chris Duhon, and forced Derrick Rose to commit five turnovers. No one will be forgetting about Chris Paul any time soon but positive returns this early in the season are always good.

Just about every aspect of his game is raw right now, but that can be a good thing, too.  Sometimes just letting players go out and be athletes can bring success and it seems like head coach Scott Skiles is letting Jennings do that for the most part.  It’s been an unbelievable start for a guy who, a year ago, was living out of a suitcase and traveling on a bus to foreign places in Italy to average under six points per game.

He’s got a long way to go, but Brandon Jennings is looking like the real deal.

November 13, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA | , , | 4 Comments

The Official Marquette Basketball Season Preview

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.

DJOO

If Darius Johnson-Odom can stay healthy, it would do wonders for the Marquette backcourt.

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.

Key Games

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.

trevon

Trevon Hughes will surely want revenge on the Golden Eagles after last year's defeat at the Bradley Center.

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.

Player Predictions

*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

Predictions

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.

zario

Lazar Hayward holds the key to success for Marquette this season. If he fails, so will the team.

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!

November 9, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | , , , , , | 3 Comments