Buzz is back: Marquette looks to make tourney run
Buzz Williams believes that just because he grew up in Texas, doesn't mean he should work there. And the fourth-year Marquette coach still isn't happy rumors swirled around his gritty team that he was departing as they played in the NCAA tournament.
''I said to the media I don't want to talk about it because we're still in season, I think everybody perceived that to be `Buzz is leaving because Buzz won't answer the question,''' Williams said. ''No, I answered the question the first day I was hired. It's not me, it's those kids. And it'll always be those kids.''
Williams' squad reached the round of 16 for the first time since the 2003 Final Four run under predecessor Tom Crean despite a 9-9 record in Big East play. After two strong games in Cleveland to start the NCAA tournament, the Golden Eagles fell to North Carolina 81-63.
''We outscored North Carolina in the second half, but we literally looked like a middle school team in the first half,'' Williams said. ''The best thing about going to the Sweet 16 was the experience of learning how hard it is to win and advance and how once you get to that point, you can't reach back in time and say, `I wish I would've ....'''
Center Chris Otule said the rumors of Williams leaving the program never reached him during the tournament and that he was shocked to hear about it after the season ended.
''He explained that that would never happen,'' Otule said.
Williams signed an extension in the offseason that included a major pay increase at the private Jesuit school and after winning 69 games over his first three seasons, the pressure will surely increase to repeat his results.
''We've got a good group of guys that's two feet in, so to speak,'' forward Jae Crowder said.
Williams, who has lost 30 pounds in the offseason thanks to a mix of running and weightlifting, has had uneven expectations each year, but the Golden Eagles always seem to make good when it counts. They've reached the NCAA tournament six straight years and have sent a steady stream of players to the NBA.
Wesley Matthews went undrafted in 2009, but signed a $34 million, five-year contract the next year with the Portland Trail Blazers. Lazar Hayward went with the 30th pick to the Wizards in last year's draft and Jimmy Butler went 30th to the Bulls this year.
Marquette (22-15 last season) loses two starters in Butler, who averaged 15.7 points per game, and Dwight Buycks, who ended up playing point guard by default, and three role players. But, talented guard Darius Johnson-Odom (15.8 ppg) returns, as does Crowder (11.8 ppg, 6.8 rebounds per game).
''I hope me and Jae will both be the next person who is called (in the NBA draft), but we can't be focused on that right now. We've got to be focused on what we can do in a Marquette Golden Eagles jersey,'' Johnson-Odom said. ''We have high expectations on ourselves for the team that we're bringing back. People are going to see it's more than just toughness. We have some real talented guys.''
Once again, Marquette lacks a true big man in the post. Otule is a 6-11 junior who has steadily improved after Williams joked he was the worst player over 6-2 that was recruited in the state of Texas.
''I don't know what he's talking about,'' said Otule, who averaged 5.1 points and an underwhelming 3.6 rebounds per game. ''I just try to find the good in what he says, and what I got from that is that I've matured over the years.''
After that, no one is bigger - or wider - than 6-8 sophomore forward Davante Gardner, who has slimmed down to 290 pounds. Otule said Gardner can get to the rim whenever he wants and the best way to get him out of the paint might be to distract him.
''Maybe put some steak on the sideline, see if he'll go after that,'' Otule said. ''"He's huge. He's huge to move, huge to push around.''
The rest of the rotation will include holdovers Vander Blue, Junior Cadougan and Jamail Jones. The freshman class is comprised of guards Todd Mayo, the brother of Memphis Grizzlies' star O.J. Mayo, and Derrick Wilson as well as forward Juan Anderson. Jamil Wilson, an Oregon transfer, also will be eligible as a sophomore.
Still, it all depends on how much Williams can get out of his group, one that he doesn't like to be termed scrappy as much as he likes to call them winners. And no bloated coaching salary can change that.
''I'm not leaving Chris, I'm not leaving Jae, I'm not leaving DJ and no dollar amount is going to make me leave them. And that may mean we get our (butts') beat all year long this year. I don't know,'' Williams said. ''But like momma says, `Don't mess with happy,' and I'm happy.''
The regular season begins at home Nov. 11 against Mount St. Mary's.