Mount St. Mary's-Marquette Preview

BY foxsports • November 10, 2011

After advancing to the regional semifinals of the NCAA tournament for the first time in eight years, Marquette coach Buzz Williams was rewarded with a contract extension that included a major pay increase.

The pressure will certainly be on Williams for his team to not only replicate, but also exceed, those results.

The 22nd-ranked Golden Eagles open their fourth season under Williams on Friday night against Mount St. Mary's in the first meeting between the programs.

Although his players say they didn't notice, rumors began to circulate during last season's NCAA tournament that Williams was going to leave Marquette. The Golden Eagles' season ended with an 81-63 loss to second-seeded North Carolina in the regional semifinals - their first trip past the second round since the 2003 Final Four - and Williams didn't leave.

In fact, he signed an extension.

"I'm not leaving Chris (Otule), I'm not leaving Jae (Crowder), I'm not leaving DJ (Darius Johnson-Odom) and no dollar amount is going to make me leave them," Williams said. "And that may mean we get our (butts) beat all year long this year. I don't know.

"But like momma says, 'Don't mess with happy,' and I'm happy.''

Williams is likely pleased about returning three of his starters and two of his top three scorers from last season's 22-15 team. Johnson-Odom averaged a team-best 15.8 points while Crowder averaged 11.8 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds.

"We have high expectations on ourselves for the team that we're bringing back," Johnson-Odom said. "People are going to see it's more than just toughness. We have some real talented guys.''

Although Johnson-Odom seems eager to shed the gritty label, this season's team should still be physical.

The 6-foot-8, 290-pound Davante Gardner will be counted on to patrol the paint and disrupt defenses. He made big strides over the course of his freshman season, averaging 7.2 points and 4.5 rebounds in seven games during Marquette's run through the Big East and NCAA tournaments.

He averaged 4.0 points and 1.7 rebounds during the regular season.

"He's huge," said the 6-foot-11 Otule, who averaged 5.1 points and 3.6 rebounds as a sophomore. "He's huge to move, huge to push around."

Mount St. Mary's could have some trouble matching up with Gardner considering no one on its roster weighs more than 230 pounds.

The Mountaineers, who went 11-21 last season and finished tied for sixth in the Northeast Conference, are expected to be led by Lamar Trice. The senior guard averaged a team-best 13.3 points last season and was named the conference's most improved player.

Mount St. Mary's returns four of its top five scorers from last season, but that might not be enough to upset the Golden Eagles.

Since becoming a Division I program in 1988-89, the Mountaineers are 0-12 against Big East teams and 1-15 against Top 25 opponents, with the lone victory coming over No. 21 Georgia Tech in 1995. They're also 3-20 in season openers since 1988, while the Golden Eagles have won 10 straight since a 67-54 loss to South Alabama on Nov. 14, 2000.

"They're ready to play," Williams said of his team. "Their spirit is great, their energy has been fantastic and I'm excited about where we're at."

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