For the first time in coach Buzz Williams’ tenure, Marquette doesn’t have a bona fide star on its roster.
Williams’ first year was the final season of the Big Three, with Wes Matthews, Jerel McNeal and Dominic James leading the team.
His second year featured a future first round pick, Lazar Hayward, leading the way. Williams’ third campaign had, you guessed it, another future first round pick, with Jimmy Butler doing the grunt work.
And last year, the Golden Eagles had the lethal combination of Darius Johnson-Odom and Big East Player of the Year Jae Crowder leading the team to its second consecutive Sweet 16 appearance.
But where is the scoring going to come from this year?
Senior guard Trent Lockett transferred from Arizona State, where he led the Sun Devils in scoring in 2010 and finished second last year with 13 points per game.
Lockett will be eligible to play immediately, but it will be tough to ask Lockett to come in and score frequently without a period of adjustment first. Lockett is going to have to learn fast, however, as the Golden Eagles take on national title contender Ohio State in the Carrier Classic on Nov. 9.
Junior forward Davante Gardner is the team’s leading returning scorer, putting up 9.5 points per game in 27 games last year. Gardner missed eight Big East games after he suffered a knee injury on Jan. 28 against Villanova.
His conditioning has always been an issue, but he proved to be a viable option off the bench in Marquette’s final five games, averaging 16 minutes in those games.
He will likely be asked to play more than his 13.3 minutes per game average through two seasons this year and will hopefully have a healthy Chris Otule on the floor with him.
As Marquette fans have come to expect, however, Williams’ teams will be able to score. Since he took over in 2008, Marquette has averaged 75.3 points per game. He just finds a way.
Williams will have to rely more on sophomore guard Todd Mayo, who was sent home to Huntington, W.V., this summer to make sure he really wanted to be a part of the team.
The Journal Sentinel’s Michael Hunt reported that Williams has done this with at least one player every summer after the season.
Mayo seemingly has grown in his maturity, but translating that to the basketball court is an entirely different task.
He averaged 7.9 points per game and is the team’s second-most prolific three-point shooter, knocking down 33.3 percent of his shots from beyond the arc last year.
Two players to watch are redshirt junior forward Jamil Wilson and junior guard Vander Blue.
Wilson averaged 7.1 points per game and a team-high 1.4 blocks per game in his first season in a Golden Eagle uniform last year after transferring from Oregon.
Wilson’s maturity on the court grew to a whole new level last year, culminating in a season-high 18 points and 10 rebounds in a road win over DePaul. The Racine, Wis., native will likely to be asked to score more than 7.1 points per game this year and is another “switchable” Williams loves so dearly.
Blue is one of the most polarizing figures on the Marquette roster and has been for his first two years. He was a consensus top 60 recruit in the nation in high school and has never had a season at Marquette in which he didn’t make the Sweet 16.
Blue tends to play better in non-conference games, averaging 8.4 points per game overall but just 8.0 points per game in Big East play last year. Blue has to contribute more on the offensive end than he has in his first two seasons.
One certainty is that senior guard Junior Cadougan will be a breakout player this year. Cadougan has always struggled as shooter, averaging just 39.4 percent from the floor in three seasons.
He was given a bad rap by fans after turning the ball over too much during crucial moments in big games last year, but Cadougan is as solid as a rock, with a career 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Williams loves him and will stick with him through thick and thin.
Marquette fans have high expectations for this team, and rightly so, because of how it finished the past two years. When a team goes to the Sweet 16 in consecutive seasons, fans get used to winning.
This team will win, but another second place Big East finish is unlikely. Louisville is a national championship contender and Syracuse probably is, too. Marquette was picked seventh in the Big East this year, but it will finish higher.
Buzz has earned the respect of Marquette fans and always seems to finish higher than his team is projected and that will hold true again this year.