Golden Eagles add a threat
The return of sophomore forward Davante Gardner to the Marquette rotation has thrown a wrench into the opposition’s planning for the Golden Eagles.
The opponent has to have game plans for the two styles that the Golden Eagles play, depending on whether the 6-foot-8, 290-pound Gardner is in the game.
The opponent also has to try to anticipate when Gardner will be in the game and how much he will play.
The coaches of Marquette’s last two opponents in the NCAA Tournament said it was not all that easy to get a handle on the Golden Eagles’ style of play.
“It’s two different teams,” said Murray State coach Steve Prohm. “They’re starting five is kind of one style. When (Gardner) subs in, it’s a different style. It is two different styles, no question about that. Two good styles because they’re very good with both teams, both styles.”
Said Brigham Young coach Dave Rose, “It’s hard to get a bead on them as far as their personnel style and how Buzz was going to play them. I think Buzz did a great job of rotating his guys in and out and keep them fresh.”
The Golden Eagles’ victories over Murray State and Brigham Young last week moved them into the Sweet 16, where they will play Florida Thursday in Phoenix.
Because of injuries, Marquette has gone with three different teams this season.
Team No. 1 was the group the Golden Eagles had for the first eight games when everyone was healthy. That team went 8-0.
The No. 2 group played the next 14 games without injured center Chris Otule and with Gardner as the only true big man. That team went 10-4.
Squad No. 3 played the next eight games after Gardner joined Otule on the bench with an injury. That team went 6-2.
Gardner returned to play in the victory over Georgetown in the regular-season finale, the Big East tournament loss to Louisville and in the two NCAA Tournament victories.
In a sense, what coach Buzz Williams has now is a combination of the second and third teams, since he is using the speed and quickness of the starting group that includes Jamil Wilson and Jae Crowder as the team’s “big men.”
But Williams also sprinkles Gardner into the mix to provide the Golden Eagles with some bulk and a low-post presence.
Against Murray State, Gardner played nine of his 12 minutes in the first half. Against Brigham Young, he played 12 minutes in the first half and 10 minutes in the second half.
“When Davante catches the ball, you’re either going to double him, or you’re going to get a foul, or he’s going to get a basket,” said Marquette guard Darius Johnson-Odom.
And it’s not just Gardner who is providing headaches for the opposition. With freshman guard Todd Mayo playing well on both ends of the floor in the two NCAA victories in Louisville, the Golden Eagles have a solid seven-man rotation that doesn’t allow teams to zero in on just Crowder and Johnson-Odom.
“Jae and Darius get a lot of attention,” said Marquette’s Vander Blue. “They’re great players. They make great plays. Respectfully, you can say that’s the reason we got this far based on the way we’ve been playing this season.
“I just feel like we have a complete team. We’re a tough scout because they might focus on Jae and Darius. And the next thing you know, Todd goes off, and Davante comes in and impacts the game the way he does. There’s no way to scout us.
“There’s no telling where the firepower is going to come from. We have weapons to keep throwing at people. I feel we catch them off guard most of the time because a lot of folks put their emphasis on Jae and Darius.”