College Basketball Preseason Top 25: #21 Marquette

Davante Gardner could help lead Marquette to another Big East tile.  (Photo: Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports)

Davante Gardner could help lead Marquette to another Big East tile. (Photo: Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports)

21. Marquette Golden Eagles

Marquette earns this ranking purely out of respect. Year after year, the Golden Eagles are expected to take a step back because of the loss of a key player, and yet year after year, head coach Buzz Williams wills them into contention. Last season, Marquette shared the Big East regular season title with Louisville despite losing All-American Jae Crowder the year before. This year, the Golden Eagles say goodbye to Vander Blue, a do-everything guard who averaged 14.8 points and 3.5 rebounds per game last season. They also lose Junior Cadougan and Trent Lockett, starters both.

But Marquette will be just fine in 2014, thanks to Williams’ near-Tom Crean level intensity and approach (who didn’t love his emotional, butcher, baker, candlestick maker speech after advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2012?). They’ve also got a pair of talented big men returning in 6-8, 290-pound senior Davante Gardner and 6-11, 275-pound senior Chris Otule. Both will be expected to do big things this year, and to keep the team afloat as it breaks in young guards. One of those guards could be freshman Duane Wilson, who is talented and has a knack for scoring around the basket. Don’t forget about 6-7 forward Jamil Wilson, either, who may be the guy who emerges as the next star player at Marquette.

BOTTOM LINE: Marquette had emerged as the Wisconsin of the old Big East (relax, Golden Eagles fans, it’s just a comparison), consistently challenging for the league title despite not being expected to do so. Now, in the brave new Big East, the Golden Eagles will have a chance to take ownership of this league. There aren’t any great teams in the league this year, but there are plenty of good ones. If Williams can continue to recruit at the same level despite the drop-off in competition, this program has a chance to become one of the nation’s best. As for this year, Marquette will lean on the big men up front until one of the guards steps up and takes over the lead dog role. It could be Wilson, Mayo, or someone else.

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