Marquette aims to build off tourney success

MILWAUKEE — A team coming off an Elite Eight appearance often time loses a vast majority of its core to either graduation or defections to the NBA Draft.

Barring any surprise early departures to the draft by Vander Blue or Jamil Wilson or Chris Otule deciding he’s had enough of college, that’s not the case for Marquette University.

The Golden Eagles lose two senior starters and leaders, but could return their three leading scorers and bring in a recruiting class ranked sixth in the nation by Scout.com.

With all major job openings filled, and Buzz Williams staying at Marquette, the Golden Eagles could have one of their most talented and deepest teams in years.

There’s a chance Blue could test the draft waters after his breakout season led him to a national stage during the NCAA tournament. Blue could really benefit from another year in school, leading what could be a special group.

If Blue stays, Marquette will have to toss the underdog role out the window. Instead of being the hunters, the Golden Eagles will be one of the hunted. Expect them to be picked to finish near the top of the new Big East, and a preseason top 15 ranking should follow.

Last year’s seniors Junior Cadougan and Trent Lockett will need to be replaced. Sophomore Derrick Wilson will likely get the first crack at the starting point guard spot in his junior season. Though his offensive game leaves a lot to be desired, Derrick Wilson protects the basketball and is a solid defender.

Incoming freshman Duane Wilson – the cousin of Jamil Wilson – will challenge Derrick Wilson right away. A quick, athletic and big point guard, Duane Wilson is a scorer, but also underrated as a passer. His ability to penetrate, create and shoot could be hard to keep off of the floor. But Williams is loyal and rewards time put into the program. Derrick Wilson is going to get the first crack.

Freshman-to-be John Dawson will also join the mix at point guard. At 6-foot-4, Dawson brings size to the position, but flew under the radar in the recruiting process. Williams is great at finding diamonds in the rough, so his instincts must be trusted. It’s unknown how much Dawson will be ready to contribute right away, especially with two other point guards on the roster.

The starter at shooting guard is obviously Blue if he’s back on campus. He took a giant leap forward in his junior season, becoming Marquette’s main offensive weapon and vastly improving his jump shot from a year ago.

Should he return, Blue would be a preseason All-Big East selection and would be as good of a candidate for preseason player of the year.

Other returners at shooting guard include Todd Mayo and Jamal Ferguson. Mayo was academically ineligible for the first semester last season and never really found his way into Marquette’s rotation.

Mayo didn’t shoot well when he played, and he was too often careless with the basketball. Besides transfer and eligibility questions, Mayo has an uphill climb to get back in the mix for the Golden Eagles.

Ferguson appeared in just 14 games and averaged just 4.6 minutes per game when he did see time. If Blue returns, playing time could be difficult to find again for Ferguson, especially with JaJuan Johnson set to arrive on campus.

The highest ranked recruit in Williams’ tenure at Marquette, Johnson is a natural scorer who can get to the rim but also knock down a 3-pointer. He’s too talented not to make an immediate impact, be it replacing Blue or serving as his backup.

After his one year in Milwaukee, Lockett graduates and vacates the starting small forward position. While he wasn’t the scorer many anticipated coming over from Arizona State, Lockett had a valuable role and helped Marquette on the boards, defensively and with hustle plays.

By the NCAA tournament, Lockett was playing his best basketball. Williams couldn’t take him off the floor. He’s a bigger loss than people are anticipating, same with Cadougan.

Williams will have options  when it comes to the small forward and power forward positions. What’s known is Jamil Wilson will start at one of the two spots, likely small foward. As talented as anyone in the Big East, Jamil Wilson finally started realizing his vast potential as last season wore down. If he continues the progression in his senior season, Jamil Wilson will be an NBA Draft pick next year.

Juan Anderson was the starter in name only at power forward. A raw, but intriguing athlete, Anderson saw his minutes dwindle as the year wore on. Another offseason of adding strength and continued progression will serve him well. He often times found himself lost on the defensive end last season. The talent is there, the mental side just needs to catch up.

The other returner fighting for minutes at the forward spots is Steve Taylor, Jr. Showing off his unlimited potential in the bit of playing time he got during his freshman year, Taylor should become a big contributor next season.

He has an NBA body and flashed a skill set that could turn him into a star at Marquette down the road. Williams raved about his attitude and effort, and of course, he loves his ability.

Newcomers Deonte Burton and Jameel McKay both are extremely talented and will compete form minutes right off the bat. Burton is an athletic wing player that probably fits best at small forward. Explosive and dangerous in transition, Burton is an athletic and physical player. He lacks great size at small forward, however.

McKay fits the Williams mold. He is a junior college All-American and had to take the beaten path to major college basketball. Williams does so well in developing junior college players – Darius Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder, Jimmy Butler – that it’s hard not to believe the 6-foot-8 McKay is going to have some sort of impact next season.

There’s a chance Marquette could lose center Chris Otule. While he has a sixth year of eligibility available to him, Otule could choose to use the time left in his basketball career trying to play professionally overseas.

Otule will start at center, if he returns. And if he is back, Marquette has a very potent attack at center with Davante Gardner coming off the bench. It would be ideal if Williams could keep Gardner on the bench to control his minutes, but he may have to start if Otule departs.

There’s no question Marquette will be loaded with talent – though a lot will be young talent – next season. Williams is going to have options at all five positions, and he could run two different groups of five out there that could start at other schools.

Nobody really does know how this freshman class will translate to the next level, and if Blue departs Marquette must replace its leading scorer. But on paper, this team has the makings of being a really special group that will keep Marquette continue to rise as one of the elite programs in college basketball.

Follow Andrew Gruman on Twitter.