A new start in a new conference means that the familiar names on the schedule come January and February are no longer there. Instead, Xavier faces a new slate of conference foes, some good, some bad, in their quest to continue building on the groundwork laid over the last 20 years.
One of the marquee names of the Big East is Marquette. For the fans of this generation that means less Al McGuire and more Dwyane Wade and Buzz Williams. Xavier crashed out against a very good Golden Eagles squad in the tournament back in 2011. That was the most recent meeting of the teams, and it was heartbreaking, but now Xavier will benefit from having Marquette in the same conference. Marquette starts the season as the only Big East team in the AP Top 25, coming in at 17th. The Golden Eagles are, at least right now, the class of the conference.
The inimitable Buzz Williams has been the coach at Marquette since 2009, when he arrived after a year hiatus from coaching noted power New Orleans. Last year, Buzz led Marquette to the Elite Eight before they crashed out to Syracuse. The Eagles with Buzz have never finished lower than 66th in the nation in defensive efficiency. Last year's 46th was a step down from the ninth of 2011, but still formidable. Marquette forced teams to shoot from deep (276th in 3PT/FGA) and then challenged those shots well, allowing only a 32% mark from deep. While none of the raw numbers are incredible, Marquette's defense was more than the some of its parts. Teams managed only 46.2% for effective field goal and forced teams to take nearly 20 seconds to find those shots. As the clocked ticked past the 24 second mark, teams EFG% dropped from 54% to 44%.
Offensively, the Eagles did have some impressive numbers. Their 11th in the nation in offensive efficiency came greatly from the fact that they grabbed 38% of the their own misses and got to the line well. A 41% FTA/FGA speaks to a commitment to getting to the rim, as does the fact that 36% of their shots came at the rim. Overall, the Golden Eagles shot nearly 52% from inside the arc, 73% from the stripe, and generally maximized their strengths as much as they could.
The amazingly named Vander Blue headed for the NBA draft after last season at Marquette, and he took his 13.8/3.2/1.8 with him. Blue managed that line on 45% shooting and was frequently the focal point of an offense that ran mainly through the also well monikered Junior Cadougan. Cadougan graduated from Marquette and with him went 8.5/2.9/3.8 and a steady hand on the wheel for Buzz Williams. Trent Lockett also leaves after only a season in Marquette, where he averaged 7/5/1.8.
That all adds up to 29.3/11.1/7.4 walking out the door. Three of last year's top six for the Golden Eagles in usage rate, three players who all played more than 65% of the minutes available, and the only meaningful player on the team (Cadougan) with an assist rate over 20%. That is a lot of production and time to replace, but it's hardly all the boys from Wisconsin had last year.
Discussion of Marquette this year invariably begins with Davante Gardner. The 6-8, 290 monster averaged 11.5/4.8/.9 last year with a .585/.200/.835 shooting line. Gardner's minutes, offensive efficiency rating, OR%, effective fg%, assist rate, block rate, and fouls drawn rate all increased last year. 63% of his shots came at the rim and his true shooting percentage was 67%. Simply put, Gardner is a massive human who is getting progressively better at basketball.
Gardner isn't the only Marquette player who stayed though, Jamil Wilson joined him and will bring back 9.7/4.9/1.7 on a .444/.360/.744 shooting line. The 6-7, 225 pound senior also posted the best numbers of his career, which began in Oregon, and saw a marked uptick in his O rating, effective fg%, and rebounding rates. Wilson plays mostly as a forward, but can step back and knock down jumpers if the situation requires.
Todd Mayo, the younger brother of OJ Mayo, saw a reduction in his playing time last year, perhaps due to his .356/.279/.791 shooting line. Most of that appalling line comes from the fact that Mayo connected on only 22% of his jumpers. While you're busy wrapping your mind around that, consider that Mayo finished at 78% at the rim, higher by some margin than anyone else on the team and averaged 5.3/1.2/.7.
Juan Anderson (2.7/2.9/.9), Steve Taylor Jr. (3.0/2.1/.2), Derrick Wilson (1.1/.9/1.6) and Chris Otule (5.1/3.5/.2) round out the important returnees. Otule, in particular, is interesting in that this is his sixth year of college basketball. Injuries in several season have limited the 6-11 center greatly. He could crack the starting lineup this year, at least until he gets hurt again. Wilson will likely move to Cadougan's spot at the point if he can handle it.
Jameel McKay was one of Marquette's big adds this year, but then he left campus before he even played a game. Still, Williams did very well for himself in the recruiting department. John Dawson will come in and look for minutes at the point immediately. A good creator, his lack of strength will need to be addressed before he's truly ready for the Big East. At 6-2, 190, he has plenty of room to add muscle.
McKay and Dawson are nice pieces, but the big deal for the Golden Eagles are their three top 100 recruits. Deonte Burton, JaJuan Johnson, and Duane Wilson all landed in Milwaukee this year. Burton was 39th on the ESPN Top 100 and is built like a small truck. A 6-4, 228 pound guard, Burton is a lefthander that goes at the rim with abandon. He's not a great shooter, but when you can jump and you weight 228 pounds, you don't need to be. Burton may not start to begin with, but his skills don't sit.
Stick thin JuJuan Johnson (6-5, 185) was ESPN's 27th ranked recruit and will join Dawson in the backcourt. A solid shooter and scorer, Johnson also needs to add size to be able to get to the rim. That said, ESPN doesn't just hand out top 30 spots to just anyone, Johnson can play. Duane Wilson was ESPNs 53rd ranked player and 13th ranked point guard and may have started from the jump for Marquette had he not suffered a leg injury. Wilson isn't great shooter and will only try from deep when he has space. He is tall though (6-3), and uses his length advantage to distribute the ball well. Capable of finishing near the rim, he prefers to penetrate and pitch to shooters
not named Todd Mayo.
Marquette actually succeeded with the proverbial reload not rebuild. Three excellent backcourt players left, three more came in. Down low the team has Otule for awhile and the monstrous Davante Gardner. Jamil Wilson also adds some experience to mesh with the wave of incoming talent. Deep, experienced, and well coached, Marquette remains the cream of the Big East.
Closest A10 comp:
Marquette landed at 24th in the KenPom rankings last year, eight spots beneath the Billikens of Saint Louis and only four spots behind VCU.