Mar 8, 2012; New York, NY, USA; Marquette Golden Eagles mascot performs during the first half of the third round against the Louisville Cardinals at the Big East Tournament held at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

Marquette Golden Eagles Basketball Season Preview

The college hoops season is right around the corner, and Busting Brackets is here to whet your basketball-starved appetite. Over the next five weeks, we are publishing season previews team by team, conference by conference, to offer a glimpse into the upcoming season. Busting Brackets is giving you the lowdown on the biggest storylines, offseason changes and x-factors for each team and each league as we roll into the 2012-13 season. Our complete season preview archive can be accessed here. Buckle up, peeps.

Marquette Golden Eagles

Last Season 27-8 (14-4 Big East)
Lost to Louisville in Big East tournament quarterfinals
Lost to Florida in Sweet 16 of NCAA tournament
Key Returning Players: Vander Blue, G
Davante Gardner, F
Todd Mayo, G
Jamil Wilson, F
Junior Cadougan, G
Chris Otule, C
Key Additions: Trent Lockett, G (Arizona State Transfer)
Steve Taylor, F (Simeon Career Academy)
Jamal Ferguson, G/F (Maury HS)
Garrett Swanson, F (Idaho State Transfer, Walk-on)
Key Losses: Jae Crowder, F
Darius Johnson-Odom, G
Jamail Jones, F (Transferred to Florida Gulf Coast)
Top Non-Conference Games: Nov. 9 vs. Ohio State (Carrier Classic, Charleston, SC)
Nov. 19 vs. Butler (Maui Invitational)
Nov. 20 vs. UNC / Mississippi State (Maui Invitational)
Nov. 21 vs. TBD (Maui Invitational)
Nov. 29 @ Florida
Dec. 8 vs. Wisconsin
Dec. 22 vs. LSU
Top Conference Games: Jan. 5 vs. Georgetown
Jan. 12 @ Pittsburgh
Jan. 19 @ Cincinnati
Jan. 28 vs. South Florida
Feb. 3 @ Louisville
Feb. 6 @ South Florida
Feb. 11 @ Georgetown
Feb. 16 vs. Pittsburgh
Feb. 25 vs. Syracuse
Mar. 2 vs. Notre Dame
Breakout Player: Vander Blue. This is your chance to shine, young man. With Darius Johnson-Odom and reigning Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder moving on to the NBA, Vander Blue will have the opportunity to step up into a leadership role. We’d go with Davante Gardner here—Marquette’s most valuable player when factoring position—but there’s no telling whether the big fella will be in good shape or reliable [in terms of health] over the full season. Unlike last year’s star-driven team, Marquette won’t have any particular go-to guy or go-to duo. The talent on this team is more flush and balanced, with any one of six or seven guys capable of spearheading the team for a stretch. Still, Blue, along with point guard Junior Cadougan and Gardner (provided he stays healthy and in shape), will tote weightier expectations than the rest this season. Blue was once a heralded high school prospect out of Madison, spurning the hometown Badgers for Buzz Williams and the Golden Eagles. Now entering his junior season, it’s time for the Wisconsin native to take his game to another level. The fate of Marquette rests in part on his progression [or lack thereof].
To the general public, unheralded transfer guard Trent Lockett may give the illusion of breaking out. But the truth is, he’s been broken out for the last two years. Lockett was the best player on each of the last two Arizona State teams—overlooked not because of his own performance, but because his team failed to garner any national publicity. That will change in 2012-13. Locket is leaving to be closer to his mother, who lives in Minnesota and was recently diagnosed with cancer.
X-Factor: Replacing DJO and Crowder. No reason to get cryptic here. Marquette’s x-factor is as straightforward as there is for any team we’ve profiled in our season preview segment to date. Marquette has to replace two first-team All-Big East members from last season, including the defending conference player of the year as well as the top overall guard in the league. The task spelled out in numeric form? Replace roughly 36 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, three to four steals per game on top of immeasurable leadership and defensive tenacity. Needless to say, two guys alone won’t fill the void by themselves. It will take a team-wide commitment to replacing DJO and Crowder, including a fresh game plan, an altered system tailored to the team’s new personnel and ruthless defensive persistency. Under Williams, Marquette’s stubborn defenses have never taken a play off, and they’re consistently among the best team defenses in the nation. Marquette players know to rotate on defense, hedge on screens, deny ball entry into the post, draw charges, double-down on post-ups and all the nuances necessary for a polished, coherent and fundamentally-sound team defense. Their margin for error this season—specifically on D—is as thin as it’s been in years. The Golden Eagles still have the pieces to score at a respectable level—Gardner, Blue, Todd Mayo, Jamil Wilson and Trent Lockett are all capable scorers—but gone are the 80- and 90-point explosions last year’s team spoiled by the fans with from time to time. Thanks to the spry and impossible-to-guard-in-transition DJO as well as the crafty Crowder—who was as stingy as anyone on defense, creating constant fast break opportunities with his knack for picking up steals—the Golden Eagles sported a high-octane offense last season. Marquette scored 80 or more points in 14 of the team’s 35 games and 90 or more points in six of those 14. This year’s squad lacks that prolific capability, and the Golden Eagles almost certainly won’t lead the Big East in scoring for the second straight season. Simply put, Marquette can’t replace Johnson-Odom and Crowder. This year’s squad will lack the star-power and firepower of last year’s group. But these Golden Eagles can still be good if all of the secondary players on last year’s team pull their oar. The one requisite constant for Marquette to survive without its two leaders? Buzz Williams defense executed to a T.
Best Case: Trent Lockett is overlooked no longer. The Arizona State transfer, who is eligible to play immediately, excels in this, his senior season. A long and athletic 6-foot-4 guard, Lockett shines as an impressive two-way player, providing stingy defense, strong rebounding out of the guard position and efficient scoring. Lockett has shot no worse than 49-percent from the floor in any of his three seasons at ASU, and that constancy continues into his one-year stop at Marquette.  Vander Blue breaks out and Todd Mayo is more accurate from long-range. Junior Cadougan, meanwhile, excels without having to split the point guard duties with DJO. The Cadougan-Lockett-Blue-Mayo quartet is one of the best backcourt rotations in the league. Davante Gardner stays healthy and is a force inside. Jamil Wilson, in an expanded role, blossoms as a poor man’s Crowder. Prized freshman Steve Taylor chips in as a valuable bench player, adding needed depth to a frontcourt that will need contributions from more players than just Gardner and Wilson. Marquette is pesky as usual on defense, and the defensive prowess atones for the inevitable offensive regression to the norm. Though not as top-heavy, the Golden Eagles are more balanced this season than last, and with multiple players emerging, Marquette remains a top-five team in the Big East. After handling well a gauntlet of a non-conference slate, the Golden Eagles storm into conference play bubbling with confidence. There, Marquette wins 12 games in-conference and parlays that success into a strong Big East tournament run. Marquette secures a No. 5 seed in the Big Dance.
Worst Case: Lockett is solid, but doesn’t stand out. The uptick in competition from the Pac-12 to the Big East is a humbling experience, and Lockett struggles to grapple with a lesser role. Blue is unprepared to handle an expanded role as a junior, and the team noticeably misses the leadership of DJO and Crowder. The frontcourt is thin, and with Steve Taylor still a year away from contributing, Gardner and Wilson are overburdened. Seldom reliable to stay on the floor for extended periods of time because of poor conditioning, Gardner is only a 20-minutes-per-game player when the team needs him for 30+. Having to turn to smaller lineups—even four-guard looks from time to time to spell Gardner—Marquette is exploited inside and dominated on the glass. The defense is good, but not good enough to compensate for the offensive setback. Minus the top-two 3-point shooters from last year’s team (which wasn’t a particularly great 3-point shooting team in the first place), Marquette struggles from long-distance. The Golden Eagles rely heavily on dribble-penetration and fast-break opportunities, the latter of which is negated in part by Crowder’s absence (bear in mind Crowder was good for two or three steals per game). Trapped in a deep conference, Marquette finishes eighth in the league directly behind upstart South Florida and a young, but talented Georgetown team. A rough showing against a rigorous non-conference slate puts Marquette squarely on the bubble come Selection Sunday. Buzz Williams’s teams are always good, but this one isn’t quite good enough.
Projected Finish: Regular Season: 19-12 (10-8 Big East), 8th place Big East
Lose in Big East tournament quarterfinals
NCAA tournament No. 12 seed

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