Gardner leads re-tooling No. 13 Golden Eagles
This preview and more on Marquette and the Big East are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
No. 13 Marquette Facts & Figures
Last season: 25-9 (14-4 Big East)
Postseason: NCAA Elite Eight
Coach: Buzz Williams (122-54 at Marquette)
Big East projection: First
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
This Marquette team, however, could have a very different look. For the first time in well over a decade, the Golden Eagles’ focus figures to shift to the frontcourt. That’s not to suggest they won’t have talent in the backcourt; the key to coach Buzz Williams’ success has always been the steady stream of “switchables” he churns out.
But big men Davante Gardner, Jamil Wilson, Chris Otule and Jameel McKay are going to be leaned upon up front like never before as a revamped group of guards gets up to speed.
If everything comes together as Williams hopes, a Big East title should be well within the Golden Eagles’ grasp.
It would have seemed far-fetched to have suggested only a couple years ago that MU’s hopes would ever be pinned to the broad shoulders of Gardner. After all, he arrived at MU in 2010 as a 6-8, 300-pound-plus project who didn’t figure to mesh well with Williams’ frenetic style of play — especially on the defensive end. But Gardner showed from early on that his ample backside and craftiness around the basket couldn’t be ignored, and he heads into this season as the league’s reigning Sixth Man of the Year, not to mention MU’s leading returning scorer. Gardner shot a Big East-leading 58.5 percent while coming off the bench in 2012-13, and he attempted 5.0 free throws per game, knocking them down at an 83.5 percent clip.
When Williams needs a defensive presence in the lane, he will turn to the 6-11 Otule, who will be in his sixth season thanks to a medical hardship. He started last season and blocked more than a shot per game while altering quite a few more. He’s also a decent rebounder.
Wilson, who will see most of his minutes at power forward, is actually the Golden Eagles’ leading returning 3-point shooter (.360) and rebounder (4.9 rpg). He also is a great passer for his size and blocked nearly a shot per game.
McKay was a two-time first team NJCAA All-American at Indian Hills (Iowa) Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa. He is a high-energy athlete who should get plenty of minutes right away.
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Youth will be served at both guard spots, where it’s likely a true freshman will start at point guard and two others will see big minutes alongside. Duane Wilson will give the Golden Eagles an offensive threat they haven’t had handling the ball in years with an ability to get to the basket, draw fouls and also knock down 3-pointers.
Williams is a big fan of junior Derrick Wilson’s reliability — he committed only 19 turnovers in 457 minutes — but Duane Wilson will be tough to keep off the floor in crunch time because he can create as well as keep defenses honest.
The 6-5 JaJuan Johnson and the 6-4, 230-pound Deonte Burton will give Williams the ability to use different looks at shooting guard and on the wing. Johnson is more of shooter and finisher. Burton’s body should allow him to make the transition to the physical style Williams prefers.
Junior Todd Mayo can be an explosive scorer, but he’s butted heads with Williams at times and his role has diminished.
Jameel McKay, Duane Wilson and Deonte Burton are all Milwaukee natives. While it will undoubtedly be fun for them to play in their hometown, it would also behoove them to try and avoid some of the inherent distractions that comes along with that. All three have the ability to be special players, along with Memphis native Jajuan Johnson. John Dawson will have his work cut out for him to get into the rotation in his first year at MU. The five combine to form Williams’ third top-25 recruiting class in six seasons.
Factoid: 16-0. Marquette went 16–0 when it made more free throws than its opponent attempted last season. The Golden Eagles averaged 15.7 made free throws per game.
Nine letterwinners return, but there will still be plenty of playing time available for the newcomers. All told, this will be Williams’ biggest, deepest and most athletic group from front to back.
The key will be how quickly Division I neophytes like McKay and Duane Wilson, specifically, can adapt considering how much will be put on them from the outset.
Williams and his players have made a habit of exceeding expectations, using their underdog mentality to reach new heights each season. Now that they will be one of the favorites in the new-look Big East, will the Golden Eagles have what it takes to live up to the hype? History suggest it would be wise not to bet against them.
2013-14 Preseason Top 25
14. New Mexico
15. Notre Dame
25. Wichita State