Northwestern Wins: A College Hoops Blog

An ode to Verne Lundquist’s calls and everything college basketball

Big East Preview: #5 Marquette

Posted by Zach on October 24, 2008

5. Marquette Golden Eagles– Coach: Buzz Williams (1st season)

PG- Dominic James (SR): After a debut season that culminated in Big East Rookie of the Year honors and a toe dip into the NBA Draft waters, James has yet to live up to the enormous expectations thrown on him after that electrifying first season in Milwaukee. His sophomore year saw a dip in production and an overall sense of disappointment. His junior year became riddled with wrist and ankle injuries while many saw James underachieving as a point guard, with opposing defenses daring him to shoot. James already has the athleticism, drive and man-to-man defensive skills to silence the critics. An improved jump shot from outside and continued progression setting up players like Hayward and Matthews in transition for easy baskets is the challenge this season for James. Whether James wants to play at the next level will largely depend on if scouts see definite improvement in those two facets of his game.

SG- Jerel McNeal (SR): While the Big Three for Marquette the last three years has been James-McNeal-Matthews, nobody of that group has really emerged as the true go-to player offensively. James is inconsistent and Matthews can be overly passive. McNeal decided late February he would vault himself from one of the most feared playmakers in the conference to one of the most feared playmakers in the nation heading into this season. Over Marquette’s last six games, McNeal exploded as the lights got brighter: 23 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 53% FG, 42% 3-PT, all well above his career averages. He came alive in the second round against Stanford, finishing with 30 points and keeping Marquette’s season alive with a series of circus threes. McNeal’s defense is slightly overrated in that he’s a risk-taker that either makes a highlight reel theft or gets burned, but overall his defense is excellent. Add the jump shot we saw late last year and you could have an All-America candidate.

SF- Wesley Matthews (SR): More than anything, Matthews needs to become more dependable offensively for Buzz Williams this season. Stolen from Wisconsin’s backyard in Madison, Matthews has shown glimpses of stardom during his college career, but his production tends to vary from game-to-game or half-to-half, often disappearing for long stretches in the offense. Williams knows Matthews has the body and the tools to be dominant, but whether he can maintain the proper aggressive mentality is the real question. He’ll need to use his 6’5 frame to help Hayward and Burke out with rebounding more this year, and it wouldn’t hurt if Matthews becomes the second scorer behind McNeal, taking pressure off James to make jumpers. Matthews totals in points, rebounds and assists all declined from his sophomore year to his junior year; that same decline cannot happen again if Marquette hopes to reclaim their Final Four glory from 2003.

PF- Lazar Hayward (JR): It wouldn’t shock me if Hayward morphs into the premiere player on this Marquette roster by March. The 6’6 junior does it all: he led Marquette in both rebounds per game and three-point shooting accuracy last season. He runs well in transition and can drain a variety of jump shots. He also shot free throws well (77%) for a big man who plays both the three and four. The strides Hayward made from his freshman to sophomore season were glaring and gives Buzz Williams plenty of hope that the cupboard won’t be left completely bare after this year. Like Matthews, Hayward will need to take on an increased rebounding role. He’ll also need to shore up his shoddy defense, even though it’s difficult when facing Big East power forwards with much more size.

C- Dwight Burke (SR): This is where Marquette could be vulnerable. They certain boast quite a trio on the perimeter, but the amount of frontcourt depth has to be giving Buzz Williams fits. Burke is a big-bodied senior who will likely start at the five this season. While Burke never hesitates to use all five of his fouls at his disposal and really has no offensive game to speak of, Williams just hopes Burke can take up space, rebound consistently and block some shots. Maybe he’ll replicate that stunning performance at Wisconsin last year on more than one occasion. If Marquette can receive any production on offense from Burke, it’s an added bonus. But they likely won’t need it.

Bench:
Once again, the backcourt is not the problem here. David Cubillan is still recovering from two shoulder surgeries this offseason, yet will be ready by the bulk of Marquette’s schedule. His specialty, shooting threes, hit a rough patch last year as his PCT dipped from a team-leading 43% in 2006-07 to 34% in 2007-08. I expect a fully healthy Cubillan to be around 40% this season from deep. Maurice Acker really emerged with McNeal at the end of last season. His shooting has improved drastically and he’s certainly difficult to guard with his dynamic speed. He plays a lot like Dominic James on offense in terms of aggressiveness. Williams lured two JC players from his former recruiting backyard in Texas to Milwaukee this year: guard Jason Butler and forward Joe Fulce. Butler has a quality mid-range game and driving ability who will surely find some minutes. Fulce may emerge as their sixth man if he can show his worth on defense. He has a great nose around the rim both with scoring and rebounding.

Backcourt: A
Frontcourt: B-
Bench: B
Coaching: B-

Bottom Line: The James-McNeal-Matthews trio has yet to reach the heights most expected after their freshman season. Can newly minted coach Buzz Williams lead the way after the departure of Tom Crean to Indiana? Even with the coaching inexperience, this group of backcourt mainstays have plenty of experience to tout. They also have an immense amount of talent, drive and pride for their program. It’s not all that far-fetched to say that Lazar Hayward, who is not even mentioned with the Big Three, could be their most productive player. I expect them to reach the second weekend if they improve on their jump shooting, namely James overall and McNeal bringing some of that late-game magic from a season ago.

Key Non-Conference Games: 12/6 vs. Wisconsin, 12/16 @ Tennessee, 12/22 @ NC State
Key Conference Games: 1/31 vs. Georgetown, 2/25 vs. Connecticut, 3/1 @ Louisville, 3/3 @ Pittsburgh
Most Valuable Player: Jerel McNeal
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA (Sweet 16)

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4 Responses to “Big East Preview: #5 Marquette”

  1. Patrick said

    Overall this a pretty good run down of Marquette and very unbiased. I love to see MU finally play three big non-conference games, and also they will be playing Dayton in Chicago, which isn’t a huge game but its better than Delaware State at home. It really depends on the draw but I think MU is an Elite Eight team just like they were capable of last season if not for Brooke Lopez’s shot in the second round. But your right, if they can’t rebound they can’t win.

    P.S.- Addition by Subtraction = Dan Fitzgerald

  2. Tommy said

    Their starting 1-4 players are arguably the best in the conference although Hayward is a little undersized and James/Matthews need to become more consistent.

  3. MUViking said

    Jimmy Butler, not Jason Butler.

    Chris Otule also bears mention. He will prove to be a surprisingly decent backup center as a freshman.

  4. Zach said

    I’d never be biased against Marquette, Pat. Where would you ever get that idea? 🙂

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