By Jeff Goodman
Marquette lost an NBA player yet Buzz Williams' team may be improved from a year ago.
There's certainly more quality depth than there was a year ago - or at any point since he inherited the reigns from Tom Crean. Darius Johnson-Odom is a year older and while Jae Crowder may not be Jimmy Butler or Lazar Hayward (a pair of first-rounders over the past two seasons), his production could exceed both.
Crowder, through five games, is putting up 17.8 points and 8 boards per game.
"He's a really good player, is extremely intelligent and instinctive," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said.
DJO and Crowder are a potent 1-2 punch, but the difference in this year's team is the maturity of sophomore guard Vander Blue, the presence of a true floor leader (Junior Cadougan, right) and the addition of a potent scorer off the bench (Todd Mayo)
Blue is averaging 12.2 points per game, Cadougan is a significant upgrade over Dwight Buycks at the point guard position and Mayo -- O.J.'s little brother -- is averaging 7.8 points in just 16.6 minutes.
"Dwight helped us win a lot of games, but Junior is a different type of player," Williams said. "He delivers the ball on time and on target."
Cadougan is a true point guard who makes life easier for those around him - and he's finally in shape.
It took Cadougan a while to work his way back from an injury he suffered as a freshman, but he's down to 200 pounds and Williams says he's in the best shape that he's ever seen him. Part of that can be attributed to a contest that Williams posed to Cadougan and rotund big man Davante Gardner. Williams has gone from 233 to a rather svelte 197 pounds and Gardner dropped 27 pounds prior to the start of practice.
"I did it selfishly. I had to turn it into a contest to make me accountable," Williams laughed. "But they weren't going to beat me. I wasn't going to let that happen."
True, the schedule hasn't been taxing. It began with Mount St. Mary's, has included Winthrop, Norfolk State twice and also featured a 30-point pasting on Ole Miss.
However, that'll change soon. Marquette plays at Wisconsin and in New York against Washington in the next 10 days - and will host Vanderbilt late in December when the Commodores are expected to have a healthy Festus Ezeli.
It's difficult to question a Williams-coached team. The constant? They play hard each and every possession. Williams has led Marquette to 69 victories in his first three seasons and a trio of NCAA tournament appearances - including a Sweet 16 berth last year.
Just to compare, Crean won 56 games his first three years and went to the NCAA tournament once. Hall of Famer Al McGuire, who won a national title at the school in 1977, won 43 games his first three seasons at Marquette.
Photo: US PRESSWIRE