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Today we continue our countdown of the nation's top 32 teams. Why 32? Frankly, if these teams don't get to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament (i.e., the round of 32), the season likely will be termed a disappointment.
October 23, 2011
STRENGTHS: Marquette has one of the best players in the Big East in senior G Darius Johnson-Odom, and he is ably complemented up front by senior F Jae Crowder. Johnson-Odom, a former JC transfer entering his third season with the Golden Eagles, is the No. 2 returning scorer in the Big East (15.8 ppg), behind Pittsburgh G Ashton Gibbs. He's a solidly built lefthander who is quicker than he looks. He has a nice outside stroke and also has a nice mid-range game as well as the ability to bull his way into the lane. Crowder arrived last season from a junior college with a passel of press clippings and he lived up to them for the most part; he's not the tallest guy but he's savvy on the boards, averaging 6.8 rebounds per game last season. He has 3-point ability but is better off when he focuses on scoring from 15 feet in. He and Johnson-Odom have a nice feel for the game; each is an effective passer who also takes good care of the ball. C Chris Otule is limited offensively (he averaged fewer than four shots per game while playing almost 18 minutes per game), but he has good shot-blocking ability. Good things are expected from sophomore F Jamil Wilson, a Wisconsin native who sat out last season after transferring "home" from Oregon. He can play a variety of positions and has some offensive skills. Junior G Junior Cadougan - it was so much easier to write about him when he was a sophomore last season! - is a steady pass-first point man who can be a pest at times defensively.
WEAKNESSES: The Golden Eagles need another guard to show he can hit 3-pointers. It won't be Cadougan, who has limited offensive skills. Sophomore G Vander Blue arrived with a ton of press clippings last season, too, but unlike Crowder, Blue struggled in adjusting to the major-college game. He did a nice job defensively, but shot poorly and didn't always take good care of the ball. Still, his athleticism and potential means he will get every opportunity to produce. Freshman G Todd Mayo, O.J.'s brother, arrives with the reputation of being a good shooter, and perhaps he can help by being consistent from 3-point range. It also would be helpful if another frontcourt player can produce some points; F Jimmy Butler was Marquette's leading scorer last season, but he is gone. The Golden Eagles also need to get tougher defensively. They lost 15 times last season; in seven losses, the opponent scored at least 80, and only four times did Marquette lose when surrendering fewer than 70.
[More Marquette coverage: MarquetteWatch.com]
OVERVIEW: A top-three finish in the Big East isn't going to happen, but a top-six finish would seem assured and a fourth-place finish is a distinct possibility if another scorer emerges. Crowder and Johnson-Odom can be a productive duo, but Marquette is going to be better off it that duo becomes a trio. This is an athletic group with a potential defensive force at the back end in Otule, and coach Buzz Williams has shown he knows what he is doing on the sideline. Marquette has won at least 22 games in each of the past five seasons and should win at least that many again this season; the question is whether the Golden Eagles can win two or three - or even four - in March.
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Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.