Eight games into the season, there’s something new about the Marquette Golden Eagles that has the team excited, and it isn’t multiple pairs of personalized Jordan shoes.
Last year, coach Buzz Williams was left with a depleted roster when freshman guard Junior Cadougan ruptured his Achilles’ tendon in practice, sophomore center Chris Otule broke his foot in November and freshman forward Jeronne Maymon transferred out of the program in December. There were times during the year when the team did not even have 10 healthy players to scrimmage with in practices.
Fast forward a year, and the depth of the team has taken a 180-degree turn. With Otule and Cadougan healthy and five newcomers contributing, Williams and the Golden Eagles have one of their deepest rosters in recent memory. Early returns on this new-found depth have been good, as Marquette has won six of its first eight games, with its only two blemishes coming against top-ranked Duke and Gonzaga by a combined eight points.
Having 12 healthy, Big East-ready players has helped Williams limit minutes in practices and games, keeping players fresh for the stretch runs of close games Marquette inevitably finds itself in year in and year out.
“I think I did a better job of giving (Otule) time in-between each time he played, and tried to sub him anytime we were about to be on offense,” Williams said after Saturday’s victory. “I think that helped him, and that helped our team.”
Last year, Marquette had five players average 29 or more minutes per game. This season senior forward Jimmy Butler is the only player averaging more than 28 minutes per game (31.4). Williams has used four different starting lineups in the team’s first eight games and, at times, will substitute five players at once. A year ago that wouldn’t have been possible, literally.
“It really doesn’t matter to us who starts,” freshman guard Vander Blue said. “Anybody on our team is good enough to start. We all work hard in practice, and everybody is deserving of it.”
The depth and talent level of the roster has made it tough for Williams to come up with a consistent rotation, which could be considered a college basketball coach’s definition of “a good problem to have.”
The usual suspects like Butler and junior guard Darius Johnson-Odom have showed up and contributed in the early going, but players like freshman forward Davante Gardner, freshman guard Reggie Smith and Cadougan have outplayed expectations and given Marquette the depth that was absent a year ago.
Having talented depth has had indirect positive effects as well, keeping players in their true positions instead of having to play out of position, something fans have been accustomed to seeing in recent years.
Being able to plug Gardner or junior forward Jae Crowder in at power forward keeps Butler at his natural small forward position. Receiving production from Cadougan and Smith at the point allows senior guard Dwight Buycks and Johnson-Odom to play on the wing, where they are most productive.
Prior to the season beginning, Williams noted he was nervous that the roster contained just four players with Divison I basketball experience. Eight games and almost a month into the season, it’s clear he now has many more Division I players than that.