SCOUTING THE GOLDEN EAGLES
Head coach Buzz Williams again has a hot-shooting group in his third season at Marquette. The Eagles are making more than 50 percent from the floor and are right on the much-desired 33 percent mark for threes, and show a nice blend of veteran leadership and young talent poised to remain a solid Big East program to come. The best of the older group is forward Jimmy Butler (6-7, 220 lbs.). The senior averages a team-best 15.3 points per game with six rebounds. He has above-average length, runs the floor well and converts from the line. He's played 32 minutes per game on average, the most on the squad, and knocked down 38 percent from three-point range. His size and quickness make for a solid defender, and Butler also handles the ball well for a player his height. He lacks the quickness of a D.J. Kennedy, but this is a very good player West Virginia needs to guard inside and out and keep away from the rim. Like many St. John's players, Butler likes the transition game. If the Mountaineers don't eliminate that, WVU could allow another 50-plus percent shooting performance from a foe. Butler's inside-out game is balanced by center Chris Otule (6-11, 260 lbs.). The sophomore is still developing, but finishes well inside (he has made 33 of 44 shots this season) and has enough of a low block presence to cause issues for Deniz Kilicli and Kevin Jones, who give up two and three inches, respectively. Otule, like Butler a Texas native, has 21 blocks this year and will change enough shots to cause the Mountaineers -- who have shown no interior gumption in several games -- pause when attacking the rim.
Swingman Jae Crowder (6-6, 225 lbs.), 11.5 points, 6.5 rebounds per game, was the 2009-10 NJCAA Player of the Year as voted by the Coaches Association. He has an excellent outside shot, making 13 of 31 this season (41.9%) and 57 of 101 shots overall. The Howard transfer is very active on the offensive glass and continually challenges the rim, putting pressure on defenses to foul or give help that allows passing lanes and open looks for teammates. He does struggle from the foul line, though, and West Virginia should be able to take advantage of that as needed. Shooting guard Darius Johnson-Odom (6-2, 215 lbs.) is a major threat in the backcourt. The junior is among the better defenders WVU will play, and will challenge Casey Mitchell's outside shooting ability. Johnson-Odom can hit from anywhere on the floor (41.7 percent shooting) and will convert free throws. He is surprisingly adept on the defensive glass, with his 41 rebounds ranking third on the team. He isn't the distributor that point guard Dwight Buycks is, but does everything else quite well, including taking foes off the dribble and finishing toward the rim. This is an underrated Big East player, and an entertaining athlete to watch. Buycks (6-3, 190 lbs.) a hometown senior, was the team's sixth man last year and provided a decent jolt of the bench. He has a nearly two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio with 56 assists. He has taken the second-most threes on the team at 32, making 34 percent, and is very good at the short and midrange jumper -- a lost art in collegiate basketball. Buycks, another junior college transfer, is great at the line and his quickness is solid on the defensive end.
|Sat. Jan. 1
11:00 a.m. EST
WVU 8-3, 0-1
Marquette 9-4, 0-0
|Sirius Channel: 121|
WVU - 9
Marquette - 150
Buycks back-up is sophomore Junior Cadougan (6-1, 205 lbs.). The Toronto native plays about 20 minutes per game and averages less than three points and a pair of rebounds. Another primarily passing point player, Cadougan has recovered nicely from a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered early last season. A jack-of-all-trades, yet master of none, the reserve is steady, but won't produce like Joe Mazzulla. Fellow backup guard Vander Blue (6-4, 190 lbs.) flashes more size, and is a bit of a black hole with the basketball in his first college season. Blue has taken 103 shots, fourth-most on the team, and made almost 50 percent. He doesn't have the outside shot of some of the other guards, but does get to the line, rebound decently and play strong defense despite his lack of weight while contributing a solid 10 points and four rebounds in 26-plus minutes of play. Williams has a very good young player here, and one that should get better as his game matures. Reserve forwards Devante Gardner (6-8, 290 lbs.) and Eric Williams (6-7, 210 lbs.) are another freshman-sophomore combo, respectively. Both of their games are all inside, with Gardner playing more power basketball than Williams. Gardner averages seven points and 2.6 rebounds, Williams three points and a couple boards. Gardner does have the bulk West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins would like of his group, and can control paint play well for a newcomer.
Marquette shoots better than 50 percent, gets to the line and has the size to bother the Mountaineers. The Eagles are passing well, creating more turnovers than they are committing and getting transition points and easy baskets when possible. Williams doesn't have the marquee point guard he had recently enjoyed, but the roster shows a good mix for now and the future. This is a tough out for West Virginia on the road. The best idea might be to focus on playing hard, intelligent basketball for 40 minutes and not allowing easy hoops. If the Mountaineers can force Marquette into a half court game and one in which it must work well into the shot clock for decent looks, the scoring should be lesser and play to WVU's strengths. One has to wonder about this team after the St. John's loss. Lethargy, lack of focus, increased reliance on the three-pointer and an unwillingess to play interior or transition defense are glaring problems. This three-game road stretch could begin to get the Mountaineers out of a funk or bury them barely four games into league play. Round two is here…let's see the response.
West Virginia is 0-3 all-time on Jan. 1. It last played on the date last year, losing 77-62 at Purdue. This will be the first time in school history the team has played in consecutive New Year's Day games.
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The Mountaineers have a 14-13 Big East road record under Huggins. They are 71-2 under Huggins when posting a better shooting percentage than foes.
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WVU was predicted fifth in the Big East preseason and has finished higher than predicted for the last eight seasons.
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The home team has won every game in the series. There have been for games played in Morgantown and four in Milwaukee. West Virginia leads the Big East series 3-2, and won the last meeting last season.
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Huggins is 22-12 vs. Marquette (20-11 at Cincinnati and 2-1 at WVU). He is 1-1 against MU head coach Buzz Williams. Williams is 56-26 in his third season at Marquette.
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The Eagles are 8-1 at home this year. They lost to Wisconsin 69-64 on Dec. 11.