“There’s always room for improvement.” Possibly the oldest cliche in the book for coaches, yet true in every way. Every player has weaknesses that need to be targeted and strengthened over the offseason. However, identifying weaknesses can easily turn to useless nit-picking. For example: Steve Novak is apparently not among the best athletes in the NBA (surprising, right?). However, Steve Novak also happens to be one of the best three-point shooters in the league (and more importantly, a Marquette grad) – erasing the need of athleticism in his respective role. So instead of “Where MU Returning Players Can Improve This Offseason,” a better title would be “Where MU Returning Players Need To Improve This Offseason.” Sure, it’d be nice for Chris Otule to come into the season draining triples left and right – but again, that’s not part of what the 6’11 center’s role is on the team. As common sense should indicate, we will not be breaking down first-year players in this segment. Players are ordered from highest scoring to lowest scoring.
PF Davante Gardner: Conditioning, Consistency
Last season, Marquette basketball fans became familiar with both sides of Davante Gardner – the one who would play 25+ minutes, take a handful of shots and make over half, and then the other who seemingly wasn’t even in the building, playing less than 20 minutes and maybe making one or two shots on few attempts. Not only were these two sides distinguishable through observation, but the theory is solidified from a statistical standpoint as well:
Davante Gardner, when on floor 25 or more minutes: 11 games – 14.9 points per game – 6.8 rebounds per game – 61% from the field (48-79)
Davante Gardner, when on floor 20 or less minutes: 16 games – 8.3 points per game – 3.4 rebounds per game – 52% from the field (39-74)
These stats prove that Gardner (overall 21.5 MPG) was more efficient and productive in games where he stayed on the floor. One could argue that it was a matter of playing more that got Gardner the more inflated stats, but the number of shots taken is almost the same for both examples. On the bright side, those who have seen Gardner play this offseason have said he looks slimmer and more athletic, especially in the Pro-Am (see for yourself here). Expect much more time on the floor from Gardner this year, which should also go hand in hand with fixing the consistency.
F Jamil Wilson: Increase role
In his two years at Marquette, Wilson has put up very efficient numbers – 36% from three, 44% from the field, more assists than turnovers, 74% free throw and 5.0 rebounds per game. The stats between both years are fairly similar, except for increased field goals made and rebounds – stats that increase by solely usage. Fairly older than most college basketball players (turning 23 in November), expect the same this year out of Wilson – same statistical rates, just more production due to a much increased role.
SG Todd Mayo: Increase role (but first, get healthy)
All that needs to be said about Mayo here was said already in this article about his unexpected surgery – that once his suspension-riddled season was behind him, he seemed ready get back to the freshman who averaged 8 PPG and 33% from three, until he tore the meniscus in his left knee. He may be able to get back in time for the season, or he may sit out a few games – but there’s no doubt he has matured and worked incredibly hard this offseason to show that. A projected starter pre-surgery, the only way to see how healthy Mayo will be is to wait.
C Chris Otule: Free throw shooting, getting back to pre-ACL agility
Otule, given the official grant of a 6th year at Marquette this offseason, has been a statistically constant player over the last three years. The only category that stands out from the rest is free throw shooting, where he has shot an abysmal .512 over his MU career, and declined in percentage each of the last 3 years. However, with such a large sample size, don’t expect any drastic changes in that department. Also, after using a brace for his rehabbing knee last year, Otule will be at full strength for the whole season, so overall expect either slightly improved numbers or more of the same.
F Steve Taylor, Jr: Increase role
Taylor actually put up quite productive numbers his freshman season for averaging only 8 minutes per game. Don’t look at the 3 points and 2 rebounds per game, look at the .531 percent shooting percentage (43-81) and 73 total season rebounds, 36 of which were on the offensive glass. Overall a very productive first season, and after he fully recovers from a surgery to remove a benign growth in his right knee in May,* expect Taylor to keep up the efficient play with plentiful time at the 3 and 4.
G/F Juan Anderson: Outside shooting
Though starting 31 of 35 games last year, Anderson is a difficult player to analyze in these circumstances due to limited playing time (13.0 MPG). It would be ignorant to say he needs to improve “everything,” because that is not the case whatsoever. We do know that after getting beat up inside for his first two years at Marquette, Anderson will be making the move to the perimeter – meaning guarding smaller players and taking more outside shots. Low shooting percentages during last season shouldn’t be something to worry about, as they are due to low usage than poor shooting. However, Anderson has certainly shown the ability to shoot the 3 recently with a .365 clip at the Milwaukee Pro-Am, going 19-52 in seven games. Though Pro-Am stats should be taken lightly, they show his improvement nonetheless.
SG Jake Thomas: Three-point shooting
Thomas had been ready to transfer this offseason until Vander Blue decided to take his talents to the NBA (or not so), and seeing the possibility of more playing time, was able to get back on the roster within a few days. Last season being Thomas’ first at Marquette after transferring from South Dakota, Thomas made little headlines except for the miraculous and-1 three he made against Syracuse in conference play. He shot .278 from three, but 10-36 total isn’t a number to necessarily frown upon – especially with the little minutes he received (only had more than 4 minutes twice in Big East play). With weaker defenses in the new Big East and questions rising upon SG depth, Thomas should receive more valuable minutes, and in return needs to be closer to the threat from three he was expected to be from day one.
PG Derrick Wilson: Offensive ability
Wilson is expected to have a leg-up on the starting PG job being a junior, but the job won’t be his for long unless he has stepped up his offensive game at least somewhat over the offseason. Shooting 15-55 from the field and 9-20 from the line in 457 minutes isn’t going to make you a starter. However, Wilson also happens to be a phenomenal defender and ball-handler, with only 19 turnovers in his 457 minutes compared to Junior Cadougan’s 87 in 982 last year – less than half the rate of Cadougan’s. If he steps up his offensive production (or even just efficiency), Wilson has the ability to be an essential piece in this upcoming season. We’re not expecting a huge offensive leap, but the ability to score yourself when nothing else is working is a crucial asset. Junior Cadougan achieved it last season and the results were tremendous, and Derrick has the potential to be even better.
G Dylan Flood: Just make sure you score your first points as a Golden Eagle at home, so fans can chant your name for the rest of the end of the game. Got it?
Overall, a very talented team to be excited about. Keep counting down the days to the season, we’ve got 77 to go. Lucky number perhaps?
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*Taylor expected back in time for season; benign growth considered a medical condition rather than injury.