Men’s Basketball Season Recap

Senior guard Dwight Buycks committed three costly turnovers in Marquette's 81-63 loss to North Carolina. Photo Courtesy of Marquette Images.

Even the most optimistic Marquette basketball fan did not envision the success the team would have in 2010-’11, making its third Sweet 16 since 1994.

After losing seniors Lazar Hayward and a pair of key point guards in Maurice Acker and David Cubillan, the odds were against the Golden Eagles reaching their sixth straight NCAA Tournament, who were picked to finish tied with Louisville for eighth in the Big East Preseason Coaches Poll.

But as usual, coach Buzz Williams had his team prepared from day one.

Coaching a team exclusively of players he recruited, Williams relied on senior forward Jimmy Butler and junior forward Jae Crowder to be the leaders of an inexperienced Marquette team.

“When you look at it, for us to have a chance and for us to be be successful, leaders had to lead the younger guys in order to get us where we wanted to be,” Crowder said.

Junior guard Darius Johnson-Odom, another team leader, struggled early to find his jumper, while freshman forward Davante Gardner was a pleasant surprise in the paint.

Highly touted freshman guard Vander Blue struggled offensively, but more than made up for it as one of Marquette’s best defenders.

“I feel like this year I didn’t live up to the expectations I put for myself and the team,” Blue said. “Now I know I have a good feel of the game and how it works at this level and I want to go farther.”

The Golden Eagles failed to win any of their four quality non-conference games early in the season. But they were outscored by just a total of 14 points in those losses to Duke, Gonzaga, Wisconsin and Vanderbilt, showing fight and consistency they would use later in the season.

Two days before the Jan. 29 tilt at Vanderbilt, Williams learned that freshman guard Reggie Smith was transferring. His departure left the backcourt thin, but it gave sophomore guard Junior Cadougan extended minutes, who finished the year second on the team in assists.

Chris Otule, a redshirt sophomore returning from injury, improved greatly and provided a true defensive presence in the post. Otule averaged 1.5 blocks per game and was third on the team in rebounding.

The Big East season was a roller coaster, with Marquette picking up key wins against West Virginia and Notre Dame to move to 3-1 before losing heartbreakers to Louisville and a rematch with Notre Dame.

After an 80-68 loss at home to St. John’s sent Marquette to 6-7, its NCAA Tournament hopes seemed bleak and chants of “N-I-T,” referring to the lesser-profile National Invitation Tournament, could be heard from the crowd late in the game.

Consider that the turning point in the season, as the Golden Eagles reeled off three straight victories after that, including their first big road win, a 74-67 overtime thriller to the now Final Four-bound Connecticut Huskies.

Johnson-Odom, the overtime hero against Connecticut, also used late-game heroics that gave Marquette a win over West Virginia in the Big East Tournament and a win over Syracuse that sent Marquette to the Sweet 16. Johnson-Odom averaged 15.8 points and was selected to the All-Big East Second Team.

Butler was consistent on offense all year long, but his true value was shown on the defensive end, where he locked up the likes of Connecticut superstar junior guard Kemba Walker, Providence scoring machine senior wing Marshon Brooks, Xavier’s junior point guard Tu Holloway and Syracuse’s floor general, junior guard Scoop Jardine, late in the season.

Senior Dwight Buycks, who took over for Acker at the point, says his final year as a Golden Eagle was everything he hoped it to be, capped off with a Sweet 16 berth.

“I don’t have any regrets from this season,” Buycks said.  “The chemistry we had and what we accomplished as a team, it was the perfect ending to my career.”