All the main cogs in the most recent run of success for the Marquette basketball program are now officially gone, with Lazar Hayward graduating and heading to the NBA as a first round pick. With Wes Matthews already in the NBA and Dominic James and Jerel McNeal playing professionally elsewhere (although McNeal’s first professional season ended badly), and even scrappy little guards Maurice Acker and David Cubillan now ex-Warriors (errrrrrr… Golden Eagles? – nah, screw that, they’re still the Warriors to me), Marquette has had plenty of familiar faces in their short time in the Big East (they began play in the conference in 2005) and have had plenty of success (five years in the Big East, five NCAA tournament berths). However, as Buzz Williams enters his third season as the head coach, there is little doubt that this is his team and his program now, no longer just the remnants of what Tom Crean left behind. Sure, the style of play will be similar, and many of the players will seem to be guys that have played at Marquette forever, but then again, aren’t all Marquette basketball players just scrappy members of a pack of pit bulls?

While there is definitely a feeling of change in the air, the pantry isn’t empty and there is exciting fresh new blood coming in. Seniors Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom return and will be asked to take on leadership roles on a roster with six new faces. Butler is the team’s leading returning scorer and rebounder and their most skilled and efficient offensive player. He knocked down 16 of his 32 three-point attempts last season, and will likely be asked to shoot more from range, although his strength is really his mid-range game and his ability to attack the hoop. Johnson-Odom was a bomber for the Warriors in the JuCo transfer’s first season, with just under half of his field goal attempts (and he was second on the team in FGAs with 334) coming from three-point range, and just under half of those 3PAs going in (he shot 47% from three). Both players will be in the starting lineup for the Warriors, but it remains to be seen exactly where they will play, although it is probable that Williams will not have the luxury of going with a traditional lineup. Johnson-Odom will get plenty of play at the two-guard, but he may not be the only two-guard in the lineup. And Butler has a chance to be the four-man in the starting lineup, despite the fact that he is in no way a power forward.

Aside from Johnson-Odom and Butler, the rest of the starting lineup is probably up for grabs. There are a couple of true point guards on the team (6-1 sophomore Junior Cadougan, coming off a torn Achilles’, and 6-1 freshman Reggie Smith), but neither of them has a lock on the starting spot there. Freshman Vander Blue, the most highly regarded of the six-player recruiting class, is more of an off-guard, but could possibly win the job by default. Blue is a high-flying, slashing athlete, who will likely eventually play the two, but he could handle the one-spot while Cadougan recovers from his injury and Smith, a strong and physical penetrating guard, learns how to run the point and initiate offense. If Cadougan is healthy and returns to form, he could just come out and win the job and save everyone a lot of worry, in which case maybe Blue winds up as the third guard alongside Cadougan and Johnson-Odom. Another option in the backcourt is senior guard Dwight Buycks, a JuCo transfer like DJO, a quick, slashing, undersized off-guard. Buycks may not earn a starting spot, but he will get plenty of run. Freshman off-guard D.J. Newbill is also in the mix for some minutes; he is a strong and physical combo guard who is more of a below-the-rim scorer than any great shakes as an athlete or a shooter.

As there is no point guard with a lock on a starting job, there is no true center with a lead on that starting spot. Sophomore Chris Otule and incoming freshman Davante Gardner are both plenty big enough to play the post, but Gardner will need to work on getting in shape (at last check, he had worked hard to get down to 295 pounds) and Otule is unproven. But, Marquette has had great success with players playing out of position, so the “big” guys for Marquette could consist of Butler along with either senior forward Joseph Fulce or sophomore forward Erik Williams winning a spot. Other options up front include a couple intriguing newcomers: 6-6 JuCo transfer Jae Crowder and 6-6 freshman wing Jamail Jones. Crowder has been compared favorably to the departed Hayward: a good-sized forward with the toughness to scrap inside and the skill to step outside. Jones is more of a pure three-man: silky smooth, nice midrange game, range out to the arc. Both will likely see their share of playing time.

While there remain questions as to exactly which roles which players will play, there is plenty of talent up and down the roster. They will, however, need somebody to step up as a leader and corral the disparate newcomers. Between Johnson-Odom and Butler, that should get done, and with guys like Cadougan, Blue, Crowder, Jones and Buycks playing key roles, the Warriors cum Golden Eagles could compete for a tournament berth. But there is enough youth and just enough uncertainty on this squad to leave them with little room for error.
 


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