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BIG EAST: 2006-07

College Preview Big East Message Board

By Eric Silver

August 30th, 2006

 

Big East Basketball Preview: Marquette

 

The surprise team in the Big East last year was Marquette.  Picked to finish anywhere from 11th to 14th in the league by national publications, Tom Crean’s team tied for fourth with Pittsburgh and Georgetown at 10-6 and returned to the NCAA tournament after a two-year absence.  Most of the key figures return this year though sharpshooter Steve Novak and his 17.5 ppg will obviously be missed.  Here’s a look at the players who return.

 

Starters

 

Last year’s Big East Freshman of the Year, point guard Dominic James (#36  RSCI for the Class of 2005), is the leading returning scorer in the conference at 15.3 ppg.  He is also the leader among returning players in assists at 5.4 apg.  Add to that an impressive 4.6 rpg, and it’s easy to see why he made some First Team All-American Freshmen teams.  A remarkable athlete, James has an explosive first step, but he also has another gear beyond that which most players can only dream of.  He is also a tremendous leaper.  In fact, Marquette runs a play in which he is on the receiving end of an alley-oop pass.  There aren’t many 5’11” guards who can jam with two hands over a defender, but James does it easily.  One area James does need to improve his three-point shooting (30%).  

 

Joining James in Marquette’s backcourt is fellow sophomore, Jerel McNeal, who averaged 11.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg (5.2 rpg in conference), and 2.7 apg.  He shot a very respectable 44% from the field.  McNeal is extremely aggressive driving to the hoop and is strong enough and athletic enough to finish against opposing big men.  Unfortunately, McNeal’s aggressiveness also led to turnovers.  He had the dubious distinction of leading the conference in this category.  He needs to use better judgment and not force the issue at times, but that should come with experience.  He also  has to improve his three-point shooting (28%).   As good as he is on offense, McNeal may be even better on defense.  He is an intense on-ball defender who also does an excellent job of playing the passing lanes.   He was second in the conference in steals last season (behind Kyle Lowry).   McNeal is the proverbial “stat stuffer,” which is why he was ranked #57 on RSCI in the Class of 2005.

 

The third member of the “Three Amigos” is another sophomore, Wesley Matthews, Jr. (#61 on RSCI in 2005).   Had he not missed eight games at the start of the conference season due to injury, his stats might have been similar to McNeal’s.  Still, he averaged 8.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, and 2.1 apg in only 23.1 mpg.  Statistically, he’s a better outside shooter (44%) than James or McNeal, but he also uses his height and quickness to get to the basket, and he has a soft touch on his pull-up, mid-range jump shot. 

 

The likely starter at the 4 is 6’6” freshman Lazar Hayward.  Relatively unheralded compared to his Notre Dame Prep teammates Paul Harris (Syracuse) and Derrick Caracter (Louisville), Hayward nevertheless led his team in scoring.  He is a superb outside shooter whom more than one basketball analyst called one of the best perimeter shooters in the Class of 2006.  Yet his game is multi-dimensional.  Unlike the all-conference player he is replacing (Novak), Hayward can put the ball on the floor and beat his defender off the dribble.  He won’t make MU fans forget Novak, who broke the Big East season record for three-pointers last year, but if he’s even close to as good as the reports from summer pick-up games indicate, MU won’t miss Novak nearly as much as many Marquette fans originally thought.

 

The starting center position is junior Ousmane Barro’s to lose.  The athletic 6’10” native of Senegal averaged only 4.4 ppg and 2.8 rpg in 13.5 mpg last season.  However, he scored 13 points against Providence at the end of the regular season and then had 13 again in the NCAA Tournament loss to Alabama.  Barro is still a year away from being a potential impact player, but Crean doesn’t need much scoring from him.  What he does need is solid rebounding and interior defense.  If Barro can average seven or eight ppg and five rpg in 24-25 mpg, Marquette could end up among the top three in the league.

 

 

Reserves

 

6’8”/6’9” Dan Fitzgerald is a coach’s dream.  He can play the 1 through the 4, though this year he will likely concentrate on backing up at the 2 and the 3.  He can handle the ball, pass, and shoot (48% from the field overall and 40.5% from behind the arc).  He has enough quickness to defend on the wing, and his height makes it difficult for smaller guards to see over him.  He has to look for his shot more often this year with Novak gone.  If he does, he’s capable of scoring 8-10 ppg in 20-24 mpg.

 

Despite being overshadowed by his more highly-publicized teammates, such as Lance Thomas (Duke) and Eugene Harvey (Seton Hall), and  Corey Stokes (Villanova), as well as Samado Samuels, 6’0” freshman David Cubillan, from St. Benedict’s (NJ) averaged in double figures and was his team’s primary three-point shooter (just under 50% for the season).  He is expected to back up James at point, and he will likely get additional minutes backing up McNeal at the 2.  As good as he is on offense, what has coaches and fans truly excited is his reputation as a lock-down defender.

 

Up front, there is not a single proven big man, which could be Marquette’s Achilles heel.  Senior Mike Kinsella is 7’0”, and he has a nice mid-range shot, but he has a history of injuries, and he has yet to stay healthy for an entire season.  Jamil Lott battled mononucleosis last year.  At 6’7” he is undersized for the 5 but can match up at the 4.  He was a bit of a disappointment last season, but MU faithful are hoping the former juco second team all-American will have a senior season similar to the one Marcus Jackson had two years ago when he averaged 8.5 rpg.  Dwight Burke, a 6’8” sophomore, has potential but is probably a year away from earning decent minutes, while junior Trend Blackledge, another junior college transfer, is the X factor.  He’s 6’7”and athletic, but extremely thin.  At this point it’s almost impossible to predict how much he’ll play this year.

 

Most likely, back-up minutes at the 4 and 5 will be handled by committee with different players getting time depending on specific match-ups.  Crean would love to see someone in this group step up his game and separate from the other three, but that might be too much to expect.

 

Prediction

 

College basketball is still dominated by guards, and Marquette has the best trio of guards in the league.  All three starters – James, McNeal, and Matthews – are warriors in the best sense of the word.  Having Fitzgerald and Cubillan coming off the bench means Marquette also has the deepest guard corps in the conference.  Crean’s crew should finish no lower than sixth in the Big East; if Barro can get 8 points and 5 boards a game, and if someone moves ahead of the pack to become a solid back-up at the 4/5, MU should finish higher.  They’re a Top 25 team based on their guards alone.  If everyone stays healthy, Marquette will likely finish fifth.

- Predicted Finish: 5 of 16

? Georgetown

? Lousville

? Pittsburgh

? Syracuse #5 Marquette #6 Villanova #7 Connecticut #8 St. John's

#9 DePaul

#10 Providence #11 Rutgers #12 Notre Dame #13 Cincinnati #14 Seton Hall #15 WVU #16 S. Florida

 

 

 

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