Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Thoughts on Marquette

I’m going to approach my pre-season comments about Marquette a bit differently than I did my comments about Wisconsin. Having attended a couple of games (and I do mean “a couple,” as I was not a frequent attendee) of the Milwaukee Summer Pro-Am League that most of the team played in this past summer, I’ve got a bit more to work with, since I’ve actually seen most of these guys play since last March. So, rather than just giving a simple ranking, I’d like to reflect on some of my impressions on each player from his summer league performance, and talk about my expectations for the year. And here are those thoughts about the players, followed by a few brief thoughts on the team as a whole:

Darrius Johnson-Odom: DJO was my favorite thing about the Milwaukee Summer Pro-Am League. In the few times that I saw him play, he was on a completely different level than everyone else on the floor. I’m looking for a huge leap from Johnson-Odom this year. With Lazar Hayward gone, this team belongs to Johnson-Odom and Jimmy Butler. And I can’t think of two better guys to take the reigns.

Jimmy Butler: I was lucky enough to see Butler in one of his early appearances in the summer league prior to injury keeping him out of most of the action. Like Johnson-Odom, he was on a higher level than most of the other players there. Perhaps just as impressive, Butler remained active in the league after his injury, showing up to encourage and help out teammates (both MU and non-MU). One of the fun things about watching Marquette since Buzz Williams took over is that the guys who seem to have the most success are the guys who seem most willing to help the team. Butler’s that guy this year. Like Wesley Matthews and Lazar Hayward before him, Butler is never going to complain that he’s playing out of position. He’s just going to go out and play his butt off, regardless of where he ends up on the court or who he needs to guard. And he’s going to have a great season. (Jeronne Maymon, or perhaps more accurately, the people around Jeronne Maymon could learn a lot from watching a guy like Butler.)

Joe Fulce: I sort of knew that I was going to enjoy watching Johnson-Odom and Butler play in the summer league, but I was sort of surprised by how much I liked Joe Fulce. First off, from observing the players up close and getting to see a bit of their personalities come out on the floor, Fulce seems like the guy on the Marquette squad that I’d most like to hang out with. He approached things with an appropriate amount of seriousness, but still spent plenty of time joking around and having fun. And it would have been tough for him not to have fun, as he played extremely well in the summer league, grabbing rebound after rebound and displaying a shooting range that he wasn’t able to show off in the regular season. It was clear upon seeing Fulce close up that he’s a bit shorter than I had anticipated, which makes his solid play as an undersized power forward all the more impressive. I look for Fulce to potentially be a starter this year and to be another guy who takes a strong step forward.

Junior Caudougan: I was prepared to dislike Cadougan when I went to go watch summer league games. If you liked Cadougan last year, I don’t know what you were watching. Coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon, Cadougan made the questionable decision to take off his redshirt and play 12 games down the stretch. He looked slow and out of shape in the few games that he played in. This summer, however, he got up and down the court with ease and consistently set his teammates up with outstanding passes. Upon watching him, it was tough not to think that his play last year was merely a function of him not having the time to get back into game shape following his injury. He clearly looks the part of a point guard and it would be surprising to me if he’s not the starter this season.

Chris Otule: I didn’t really get to see Otule play in the summer league. For some reason I just never seemed to be watching his team when he happened to be playing. I’ve heard some buzz about how he looked vastly improved (his exhibition game stats would imply some improvement, as well). Unfortunately, I have to say that I don’t believe any of that buzz. In his limited action during his rare healthy moments at Marquette, I’ve generally thought that Otule has looked lost and over-matched when he’s on the court. Improvement is possible for everyone, but to date, nothing has led me to believe that Otule is the frontcourt answer that the Golden Eagles are looking for. I hope that I’m wrong in my assessment, as I’ve found Otule to be really likable when I’ve heard him interviewed. But just because someone seems like a good guy doesn’t mean that I have to like them as a player.

Dwight Buycks: Buycks wowed most people in the summer league, routinely dropping 40 points in games. I get the sense, however, that most people recognize that the wide-open style of the league played to Buycks' strengths, and that we shouldn't be expecting huge scoring outbursts during the regular season. This season I look for him to be pretty much what he was last year–a solid bench option who whose play won’t be a huge drop-off from that of the starters. And let’s be honest–that’s not at all anything to sneeze at. But anyone who’s expecting him to randomly drop 35 points on Providence will probably be disappointed.

Erik Williams: Williams looked good in the summer league, and teammate Robert Frozena relates to ESPN’s Mark Titus (yes, the Club Trillion guy is doing occasional pieces for ESPN–I can think of few more exciting developments this season) that Williams is stronger, much improved, and should be a key cog for Marquette this year. I’m not sure that the summer league gives me a good read on how much Williams has improved though. While summer league can showcase player improvements, a series of glorified pick up games are not the best devices to use in gauging a player’s mental toughness. And last season, Williams’ problems seemed much more mental than physical. If he can get over some of his mental mistakes from last year, Williams has the opportunity to play an important role in the Golden Eagles’ frontcourt.

Robert Frozena: While he’s among the favorite walk-ons of recent memory, I can’t say that I spent much time looking to see how Frozena had improved his game this summer.

The Newcomers

As with all newcomers, I've seen very little of the following players, so take whatever I say with several grains of salt.

Davante Gardner: The one newcomer that stuck out to me when I was watching summer ball, I feel like Gardner could develop into the semi-big guy that Marquette has been trying to find for the past few years.

Vander Blue: He was solid, but unspectacular at the times that I saw him play in the summer league. By the time all is said and done, I think Blue will be a superstar. But I think he’s a guy that’s going to need some time before he feels comfortable. I, for one, am willing to be patient.

Jamil Wilson: Despite being genuinely excited to see him play, I never saw Wilson on the court this summer. My timing just never worked out. Ultimately, this is of no consequence, as Wilson is sitting out this season after transferring from Oregon. I did see him in the stands quite a bit, though. On one such day, I found myself thinking about how uncool he looked standing around with headphones plugged into his iPad (while generally awesome, the iPad looks decidedly lame when used as a portable music device). Then a really attractive woman walked up to him and gave him a hug, reminding me that I don’t really have a great handle on what it takes to be cool these days.

Jae Crowder, Jamail Jones, Reggie Smith, Dave Singleton: I probably saw one or two of them play in the summer league (aside from Crowder, who was the only member of the team who was unable to participate in the league), but I’m certain that I wasn’t paying attention to them when I watched. I know that most people who stopped out to see a game or two of summer league play were just there to scout out Marquette players, but I was genuinely excited to see some big names from the past. Do you seriously want me to pay attention to some freshman guard that I’ve never heard of when Dejuante Wade (who was surprisingly phenomenal in the summer league, by the way) is running up and down the court? If the box score from the Golden Eagles’ exhibition is any sort of indication, though, this could be a very solid freshman class.

Final Thoughts

I’m very excited about this Marquette team, and suspect that it is severely underrated coming into the year. Lazar Hayward is a huge loss from last year’s team (his surprise first round selection in the NBA draft speaks to his value), but Jimmy Butler looks primed to take over his leadership role with some help from Darius Johnson-Odom. The freshman class sounds as if it is loaded with talent and should offer immediate contributions. Indeed, this is a remarkably deep and athletic roster. Only a lack of big-name players keeps Marquette from garnering more respect in the pre-season rankings.

As always seems to be the case, the glaring weakness for Marquette is a lack of size, as only Chris Otule and Davante Gardner stand 6'8" or taller. I’m actually starting to come to grips with Marquette’s lack of size, though. Buzz Williams’ recruiting seems to indicate that he’s not desperate to get big bodies to campus–he just wants guys that can play. I can live with that, as it has seemed to work well for him over the past two years. The key is finding guys like Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler who buy into the team concept and don’t mind playing out of position at times (or most of the time). When that happens, Marquette is not an undersized team at a disadvantage, it’s five athletic guys causing problems for its opposition. For most teams, I wouldn’t advise just rounding up a bunch of athletic 6'7" guys and forgetting about even trying to find a true big man. But it seems to work for Buzz Williams, so who am I to complain.

Back tomorrow with a few housekeeping notes before I head off to my first game of the season...


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