Here are the facts:
The chances stud recruit Junior Cadougan plays this year are slimmer than Paris Hilton on a diet. Darius Johnson-Odom, a juco transfer and noted gunslinger, is going to miss more than a month with a left foot injury, leaving Marquette with only nine healthy scholarship players.
The Big Three are long, long gone. And Dwight Burke, the fourth and often forgotten starter from last year’s team, is playing pro ball in Uruguay, presumably against pygmies wearing fancy headdresses.
But here’s another fact: This team is going to be just fine. History is on its side.
That’s because last season the Big East was a player’s graveyard, with a slew of prominent starters missing time because of either injuries or illness. Yet the conference was still the most feared in all of college basketball. Some experts even claimed it was the strongest conference ever.
The most notable loss was probably when Connecticut centerpiece Jerome Dyson went down with a season-ending knee injury. All the Huskies did was go 8-4, including the game he was injured in, without their second leading scorer and reach the Final Four. That wasn’t a fluke either. It was a trend.
Do-everything big man Luke Harangody came down with a nasty case of pneumonia, and Notre Dame calmly went 2-0 without him. Super-senior and NBA first-round pick Terrence Williams missed six weeks of training camp with a medial meniscus tear, but came back to lead Louisville to the Big East championship and the number one overall seed in the tournament.
And Marquette lost starting point guard Dominic James for six of the final seven games and — OK, that one didn’t turn out so well.
The point is that teams come back from these types of things all the time. In fact, the best teams thrive when they are faced with adversity. They love it, they eat it up like Joey Chestnut at a 24-hour hotdog stand. It almost seems like the nastiest of teams, the ones with chips the size of Shaq’s waistline on their shoulders, want something bad to happen just so people can start pouring the Haterade on them. Marquette seems like one of those teams. I mean that in the nicest way possible.
“I’m sure everyone is going to pick us at the bottom of the pack, but that doesn’t matter,” Jimmy Butler said following Cadougan’s injury. “It’s about who wants it more. We don’t except losing, and we expect that mentality to take us really far.”
The underdog theme is deeply rooted in Marquette basketball’s history, and no matter how much success or national exposure the school has, that will probably never change. It’s part of the Golden Eagle blueprint.
But with tenacious coach Buzz Williams at the helm, the charming underdogs are turning into something more vicious and counter-intuitively, something more productive. This team might not be the tallest or most talented, but they’re definitely going to be the toughest. Think Kimbo Slice but with more hops and less beard.
“Buzz is just killing us right now, hopefully the games will be a lot easier,” Lazar Hayward said. “With Cadougan out we all know that we just need to do a little more.”
Injuries and an 80 percent graduation rate from last season’s roster are reasons to worry this year. Fortitude is the reason to believe.
So try to forget for a moment that the team’s top two scorers from last year have moved on. Forget that Maurice Acker, the diminutive guard who will receive the bulk of Cadougan’s abandoned minutes, is shorter than Bobby Knight’s temper. Forget that Hayward, the team’s best and most established player, is going to be the first athlete to ever get quintuple-teamed. Basically, just forget everything you’ve come to know from Marquette basketball. The 2009-2010 team is leading a rebirth.
In mythology, the phoenix was a brilliant bird that would rise from its own ashes. It’s only fitting that Marquette — a team that has been burned to the ground by adversity — is called the Golden Eagles.
This season, let’s rise from the ashes like a phoenix. Like a Golden Eagle.