"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

DJO: Dominating the Big East

When Buzz Williams welcomed Darius Johnson-Odom to the Marquette campus two years ago, few expected the Raleigh product to emerge as a dominant player. At the time, Johnson-Odom was a late addition to a promising class that carried with it the burden of bridging the program out of the Three Amigos Era. In short order he became much more than that.

Surprising sophomore campaign
Once on campus, expectations quickly shifted as DJO emerged as one of the most exciting players around, demonstrating the unwavering confidence of a seasoned scorer. Although Lazar Hayward was the Warriors' go-to guy, Johnson-Odom distinguished himself as the perhaps team's most imposing offensive force. DJO brought a hybrid skillset of lethal accuracy from long-range coupled with a lightning-quick first step that allowed him to create his own shot in any circumstance. To paraphrase (re-quote?) Buzz, "DJO was the only guy on the team able to go 'get a bucket'."

Ultimately DJO averaged 13 points per game and connected on 47% of his three-point attempts as as sophomore, setting the stage for what MU fans hoped would be a big junior season.

Early season struggles
Expectations were sky-high entering this season, but early on it seemed as if the hype was too much as Johnson-Odom struggled to find his rhythm.

While DJO averaged 14.2 points per outing in the non-conference schedule, his wild inconsistency from the field was striking. The crafty lefty connected on just 42% of his field goal attempts and 33% from deep in through the season's first 11 games, numbers that contributed to Marquette's uneven play. His effort against Wisconsin, where he was just 1-9 from the floor, stood out among a handful of poor performances. In our December Big East Blogger Roundtable, we said DJO was shipwrecked.

Even though he closed the out-of-conference action with a pair of strong performances against MVSU and Vanderbilt, heading into Big East play DJO was a question mark.

DJO delivers 40% increase in scoring during conference play
Were the strong performances against MVSU and Vanderbilt enough to re-establish Johnson-Odom's confidence and consistency?

Apparently so, because in Big East action DJO has been devastating, raising his play to an All-American level. There is no player in the Big East, or likely the country, who has raised his game so dramatically and so consistently during conference action.

At the mid-point of the Big East slate DJO is averaging 19.9 points per game, fourth in the league and a 40% spike over his non-conference scoring average. He has scored in double-figures in every outing, and has logged 20 or more points five times while scoring less than 15 points just once.

If raising his scoring average by nearly six points per game was not impressive enough, realize he is connecting on a 48% from the field overall and 44% from three-point territory during this stretch -- dramatic improvements from his early-season efforts.

His performance against Syracuse last weekend was a microcosm of just how overwhelming DJO's offensive repertoire can be. Despite taking just seven shots (4 -7, 57%) he finished with 17 points. His sublime pump fake set up not only dribble penetration -- DJO was perfect 7-7 from the charity stripe -- but freed him up for open looks from deep (2 - 4, 50%).

His combination of deadly three-point shooting and relentlessness in attacking the rim is the straw that stirs the proverbial drink for Marquette's extraordinary offense. Johnson-Odom is still one of the few players in the Big East who can create his own shot from anywhere on the floor, a supreme advantage for Buzz Williams. Opposing coaches have to game plan for DJO, and his prowess ensures that teammates Jimmy Butler, Dwight Buycks and Jae Crowder have more freedom of movement on offense. The formula works -- Marquette enjoys a most efficient offense, 1.17 points per possession (ppp). As you would expect, MU leads the Big East in scoring offense overall and in conference play.

With 10 regular season games remaining, there's no sign that MU's offense -- or its most skilled offensive player -- will slow down.

Comparison -- Out-of-conference performance vs. Big East performance
Darius Johnson-Odom

Out of Conf.Big East
FG% 42%48%

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