|Jae Crowder :: Damen Jackson/Cal Sport Media
Looking for their seventh consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, the Golden Eagles head into 2011-12 poised to build on last season's surprise Sweet 16 appearance. That team relied heavily on the versatility and experience of Jimmy Butler, who was selected in the first round of the NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls. This year's Golden Eagles will feature a trio of similarly talented and interchangeable players in forwards Jae Crowder and Jamil Wilson and guard Darius Johnson-Odom.
Coach Buzz Williams used his connections in the junior college circuit to land Crowder, a 6-foot-6 forward who was billed as a virtual clone of Lazar Hayward, an undersized but tough inside-out player. Crowder lived up to the hype for the most part, averaging 11.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while also knocking down 42 three-pointers. He'll need to increase his productivity while also strengthening on the defensive end, as his penchant for getting into early foul trouble a year ago left Marquette shorthanded up front on a number of occasions.
Giving the Golden Eagles more firepower alongside Crowder will be Wilson, who left Oregon after a moderately successful freshman year in 2009-10. He used his redshirt year to add toughness and size to his 6-7, 220-pound frame and he enters his first competitive season with the Golden Eagles expected to play anywhere from center in a small lineup to point guard.
In the pivot, Marquette will look to junior Chris Otule and sophomore Davante Gardner, both of whom have developed from major projects into a promising duo at center. The 6-11, 265-pound Otule gives the Golden Eagles some intimidating size and shot-blocking capability on the defensive end. The 6-8, 290-pound Gardner is an adept scorer on the block despite both height and quickness limitations.
Johnson-Odom, a second team All-Big East selection as a junior, has become almost as adept at attacking the basket as he is at pulling up from long range. The 15.8 points per game and 71 three-pointers he made last season should increase.
Junior Cadougan is the favorite to start at point guard. He gives the Golden Eagles their first true pass-first floor general in a few seasons. His shot is improving, but with gunners like Crowder, Johnson-Odom and incoming freshman Todd Mayo (O.J. Mayo's brother) expected to fill that role, Cadougan will do well to continue to focus on distributing while also penetrating the lane when possible.
Last season's Sweet 16 appearance energized a fan base that hadn't experienced that type of excitement since 2003, when Dwyane Wade led the Golden Eagles to the Final Four. It also raises the expectation level heading into Year 4 of Williams' tenure.
With as much talent as he's had, not to mention a frontcourt that finally looks like it will be able to hold its own against the Big East's best, the belief is that the Golden Eagles should be able to make another deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Juan Anderson (F, Fr.): Transfer from Seton Hall will be eligible in December.
Todd Mayo (G, Fr.): Skilled, junior college transfer.
Derrick Wilson (G, Fr.): Former prep football standout who played AAU ball in the summer for the famed New York Gauchos.
Jamil Wilson (F, So.): Transfer from Oregon expected to make a huge impact after a fruitful redshirt season.