"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, October 18, 2011

The MU backcourt: What do we have beyond DJO?

There are a number of reasons for optimism heading into the 2011-2012 Warriors basketball campaign, and that list usually begins with star senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom. Beyond DJO however, no part of the Marquette roster raises more questions than the rest of the backcourt.

First let’s remember how dominant Darius Johnson-Odom can be. DJO exploded on the scene as a sophomore and followed up with a strong junior season in which he averaged 16 points per game including more than 17 per outing in conference play. Johnson-Odom is the second-leading returning scorer in Big East action, and his clutch play against Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament catapulted the Warriors to the Sweet 16.

Beyond the senior player of the year candidate, coach Buzz Williams will rely on what amounts to a pair of second-year guards, Junior Cadougan and Vander Blue, and two freshmen, Derrick Wilson and Todd Mayo, to share the burden in the backcourt. Where MU might have strength in numbers, will the Warriors have enough backcourt talent to complement its star senior guard?  Could this mix be just enough for a veteran team like Marquette to chase a Big East crown and make another deep run in March?

Cadougan figures to start at the point after emerging down the stretch last season. During the season's final 14 games, the Canadian averaged 21 minutes per outing as Buzz Williams leaned on him at the expense of slumping senior Dwight Buycks.

While Cadougan claimed more minutes, his increased playing time came with consequences. The bruising point guard had by far the highest turnover rate on the team last season, coughing the ball up 28.9% of the time.  Beyond his struggles to protect the ball, Cadougan remains a work in progress on offense. As a sophomore he averaged four points per game to go with than two rebounds and three assists (overall, his assist rate was solid). For the season, Cadougan shot 44% from the floor, including 15% from three-point territory.

Some others are much more bullish on Cadougan.  None other than contributor Dr. Blackheart expects very good things from Junior based on his play down the stretch (the thread at MUScoop is well worth reading).  While Cadougan's play late last season was promising in spots -- his turnover rate did improve modestly -- his offensive limitations remain.

What of Vander Blue? Blue’s freshman season was sadly consistent. Blue performed well against lousy opponents early in the season, and as the level of competition improved his effectiveness crumbled.  Blue scored in double figures just once in the season's final 24 games. Incredibly he connected on only five field goals (5-34, 15%) and scored a walk-on like 16 points in the season’s final fourteen games.

Freshmen Todd Mayo and Derrick Wilson are also candidates to see action in the backcourt. Wilson, the burly former football player, figures to earn chances early to spell Cadougan as the team’s backup point guard. Mayo will be planted firmly behind the All-American candidate DJO at the shooting guard slot, though he could perhaps slide over to the point or even to a wing position depending on the rotation coach Williams establishes.

Any enthusiasm about the ability of these freshmen to contribute should be tempered by history, however. No coach in the Big East (the nation?) plays freshmen less than Buzz Williams. And with Blue, Cadougan, Johnson-Odom and perhaps even Jamail Jones seeing time in the backcourt or as designated shooters, history seems likely to repeat itself.

So what does MU have? Other than DJO, the returning backcourt talent at MU has offensive prowess that only Mike Deane could love.

MU returns an experienced point guard who now has one full, healthy season under his belt. The experience and sustained return to good health are positive indicators heading into the season, and Cadougan could be ready to make the leap and become a reliable floor general. He’ll need to be if this team is to reach expectations.  (editor's note: we are rooting for Cadougan to go all "Mo Acker as a senior" on me).

Last season Vander Blue endured lumps like few high-profile freshmen have in recent memory. To his credit Blue ran through the finish line despite rarely appearing to be comfortable on the floor. Blue is not a shooting guard; in fact, he is not a classic two-guard in any sense of the role. Blue, who has explosive hops and can create separation from a defender off the dribble, is an Alpha dog guard who could excel with the ball in his hands rather than playing off the ball constantly. Could we see Blue log time at the point? It will be interesting to see how Buzz uses his enigmatic sophomore this season.

So what are we left with? DJO and the Question Marks.  Stay healthy, Darius Johnson-Odom.

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