NCAA countdown: No. 16 Marquette
by Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports
The first word: Marquette is no stranger to conference realignment. Upon joining the Big East in 2005, the Golden Eagles were considered a little kid on a big kid’s playground.
Much has changed since then, and entering an intriguing season with no clear-cut favorite in a revamped league consisting of 10 basketball-driven programs, Marquette has emerged as the favorite.
Fresh off the best season in coach Buzz Williams’ tenure — the Golden Eagles won a share of the Big East regular season championship and advanced to the Elite Eight in the the program’s eighth consecutive NCAA tournament trip — Marquette will look to ride the strength of a deep, experienced frontcourt to break away from a pack of regulars and three newcomers (Butler, Creighton and Xavier).
The Golden Eagles lose the key pieces to their veteran backcourt led by Trey Blue, who left to play professionally. Senior forwards Davante Gardner and Jamil Wilson will look to team up with a stellar recruiting class made up of guards Duane Johnson and JaJuan Johnson to bring home another title, this time without sharing.
2012-13 in review: 26-9 overall (14-4, co-champions in Big East), lost in the NCAA tournament Elite Eight.
Tournament projection: Automatic bid, No. 4 seed.
Coach’s corner: “From a coaching perspective, playing nine at home and nine on the road, I think there will be a lot more strategic things going on. No more playing a team just once like we did my first five years in the conference. Play somebody in January and you’re not done with them. They are on the schedule again. That’s what makes for rivalries for the fans.” — Williams, now in his sixth season as the Golden Eagles’ head coach, on the true round robin Big East schedule with only 10 teams.
Star watch: Gardner (11.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg) returns as a force in the paint and versatile scorer in Marquette’s offense. He’s joined in the frontcourt by Wilson (9.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg), who had a coming out party at the end of the season — a stretch that included a 19-rebound performance against … [For more on College basketball countdown: No. 16 Marquette, click here.]