Marquette frontcourt set to lead

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Marquette frontcourt set to lead

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It’s no secret the Marquette frontcourt is the most experienced in the new Big East and one of the most experienced in the country.

The trio of senior Davante Gardner, fifth-year senior Jamil Wilson and sixth-year senior Chris Otule averaged 26.3 points per game last season accounting for 38.6 percent of the Golden Eagles’ total offensive production.

With the early departure of top scorer Vander Blue (14.8 ppg) and the graduation of point guard Junior Cadougan (8.5 ppg) leaving holes to be filled in the backcourt, Marquette’s big men will power the team this season.

As a preseason All-Big East first-team member, Gardner is the roster’s most heralded player. Coach Buzz Williams said he believes Gardner’s talent matches that mantra, but he must improve defensively.

“Offensively he’s as skilled as any player on our team, not post player, any player,” Williams said. “I’ve never coached a player that has his skill set at his size … But he cannot be a liability defensively, regardless of who he’s guarding.”

Otule’s perseverance in the face of an injury-riddled career endeared him to Williams and the Marquette faithful alike. He finally peaked during the team’s Elite Eight run posting his first career double-double against Davidson and scoring 11 points against Miami.

Wilson had a breakout season of sorts last year and carries the expectation to make his final stand his most productive. As one of the team’s best athletes, he has the build and tools to be a key all-around contributor again.

Williams expressed high interest in giving Marquette’s figurative and literal “Big Three” as many minutes as possible, which may call for Gardner and Otule to share the floor.

“I’m not opposed to it,” Williams said. “We’ve got to find a way for those two guys combined to get more than 40 total minutes, but we’ve also got to be intelligent in our matchups, in our ball screen coverage and also in what we’re doing offensively.”

The Gardner-Otule two-headed monster appeared in several key matchups last year, but its effect this season will depend heavily on the development of the team’s defensive identity.

“The first time we ever did it was a complete surprise to everyone, even though we had been preparing to do it,” Williams said. “But when we did it we played exclusively zone. And I don’t know that we can live on a steady diet of zone. Can we do it here and there? I think so.”

“As you saw last season, me and Davante played well together, so hopefully we can play a little bit more together,” Otule said. “He’s been getting up a lot of shots on the perimeter, so he’s a pretty amazing shooter and one of the best shooters on the team. So hopefully, because he can do that, we can play together.”

Gardner’s stamina has been his biggest obstacle throughout his career, though he’s steadily improved each offseason. He averaged just nine minutes per game his freshman year, 19.1 as a sophomore and 21.5 as a junior.  After hovering around 290 pounds last season, he checked in at 283 this year and is adamant he can play more minutes.

“My body changed a lot this summer,” Gardner said at media day, Oct. 11. “I got better, lost weight and can move better. I focused most on rebounding at both ends of the floor.”

With its seasoned and improved presence under the basket, Marquette should again be an imposing force in the paint and give a young backcourt crucial time to grow during the 2013-14 campaign.

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