Marquette has holes to fill, players to fill them

MILWAUKEE — Two players. 37 points. 12 rebounds. 70 combined minutes.
That’s what the Marquette basketball team will have to replace heading into the 2012-13 season without their two key contributors from last season — Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom — both of whom were chosen in the June NBA draft. They were the nucleus, heart and soul of Marquette’s Sweet 16 last season, and without them, coach Buzz Williams acknowledges the Golden Eagles don’t exactly have a laid-out plan for who will be the go-to players or leaders on this team.
But that’s OK, Williams said on Friday at the team’s media day. Marquette has plenty of players who have been waiting in the wings, playing secondary roles, and with a new team, there is plenty of opportunity for building a new foundation. After all, this is not the first time Williams has had to replace his top performers on offense after losing them the season before.
“I think one thing that I would say is different entering Year 5 vs. entering Year 2 is that I’ve learned that every team is a house,” Williams said. “We all live in that house, and when the season is over, that house goes on the market and you can’t live in it again. You can look up the stats, Jae and DJ, 37 points, 12 rebounds, 70 minutes combined, they were pretty impressive. You could argue that they were probably the best combo of guys that have been here in a long time.  But relative to who replaces them and how all that plays out, nobody knows that. We’re in a different house. I like the house that we’re building. I like the people we’re building it with. But we’re not going to be able replicate exactly who Jae and who DJ were as players. But I think collectively, I like where we’re at.”
A collective effort seems to be the most common answer to the question of how Marquette will replace the combined output of Crowder and Johnson-Odom. But with plenty of time before the season begins, there is no telling whether one or several players could step up and fill those roles. Last year, Williams pointed out, Crowder wasn’t nearly the household name he eventually became when the season began.
“Last year at this time, nobody thought Jae and DJ were any good, either,” Williams said. “Jae received zero preseason all-conference votes, and then he became Player of the Year.”
A repeat of that seems unlikely, but the Golden Eagles undoubtedly have talent available on their roster. With wings Todd Mayo and Vander Blue coming back — both were highly touted recruits who averaged 8.4 and 7.9 points last season, respectively — Marquette should be able to put together a solid backcourt.
And with Arizona State transfer Trent Lockett able to play in the frontcourt right away after leaving the Sun Devils to be close to his mother — who has lymphoma — Marquette boasts a number of potential breakout candidates.
But with questions regarding who will step up and who will replace certain players comes a degree of doubt. Does this Marquette team really have the weapons to make it to the Sweet 16 for a third consecutive season?
Williams expected the questions, and he’s embraced them. He enjoys being labeled with the underdog tag, something that often goes away with sustained success like Williams has had since arriving in Milwaukee.
“As you perpetually do well or continue to have success, those new levels bring new devils, and how you handle those devils determines whether or not it can become cyclical,” Williams said. “I hope that it can. … We’re still the underdog. Who’s going to replace Jae? Who’s going to replace DJ? We’re still the underdogs. We’re not top 25 on anyone’s lists. We’re probably not a top 25 team as of today.”
It’s a sentiment many of Williams’ players have happily embraced as well. And with one player in particular, that attitude has bred some serious confidence.
“We’re not No. 1 in the country, so we are underdogs,” Blue said. “That’s where we want to be. Sweet 16 is all hoo-rah-rah, everybody goes crazy, pats our backs, but that’s still not good enough. I play this game to win championships. That’s what it’s all about. … It’s time to win championships. Sweet 16 is getting old now.”

Marquette’s season will open with plenty of question marks. But will those questions have answers by the time March rolls around?
“Who’s going to replace the guys that left last year?” Williams said. “I don’t know, but I think as the season plays itself out, we’ll be answering these same questions about whoever those guys are. Instead of DJ and Jae, it’ll be two or three of those guys back there now. You’ll be asking those same questions next year. … I think that if your culture is chock full of routines — we are our habits, so if your habits and culture are built on the right things — hopefully you can make it perpetual and you’re just replacing names.”
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