How can a team that loses Travis Diener be considered much improved?
Answer: the best incoming players of the Tom Crean era.
Contrary to The Verve Pipe, our freshman may very well be held responsible for the success of the 2005-2006 season. Mere freshman? Hardly. Several media outlets consider Marquette’s new kids on campus to be among the best in the country (better than Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Louisville, and UW-Madison).
Dwight Burke, Matt Mortensen, Jerel McNeal, Wes Matthews, and “the kid”…Dominic James: these five freshmen will combine with transfers Dan Fitzgerald and Jamil Lott to complete an overhaul of more than half of last year’s roster
Last year left much room for improvement, culminating in an opening round NIT loss to Western Michigan (54-40). In that final game, Marquette shot 28.6 percent (16-56) from the field and 4.8 percent (1-21) beyond the arc.
Losing Diener to injuries earlier in the year left Marquette with a Marcus Jackson-sized hole at point guard. Unfortunately, filling that hole with Marcus Jackson proved unsuccessful.During the eight games Diener was out, Marquette could only average 56.3 points per game. Shooting just 36.9 percent as a team, Marquette managed just two wins in Diener’s absence.
Enter Dominic James, point guard of the future and 2005 Indiana Basketball News player of the year. Standing 5’10”, James’ high school legend grew larger last January when photos emerged of him rejecting the dunk attempt of a 6’8” opponent. Last year at Richmond High School, James lead the state of Indiana in scoring, averaging 31.1 points per game. This year, he will lead Marquette’s offense up the floor.
Tom Crean can be expected to plug Dominic James into the starting lineup right away. The remaining four freshmen will likely contribute off the bench as the season starts. At that time, Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal will vie to fill the role(s) of dynamic playmaker left by departed guard, Dameon Mason (transfer – LSU).
Both players come to Marquette with high acclaim.Matthews took home Mr. Basketball honors for Wisconsin and lead Madison Memorial High School to a state championship, last season. McNeal was named third team high school all-American by Parade magazine and is already being lauded for his defensive prowess and versatility.
Not to be lost in the discussion of freshmen is Marquette’s talented core of returning players.
Leading all returning starters is senior forward, Steve Novak. Considered by national sportswriters to be a top 50 player in the country, Novak may possess the best outside game of anyone in the country not named J.J. Redick.
Playing beside Novak will be sophomore forward, Ryan Amoroso. My prediction is Amoroso will have a breakout year. While playing sparingly last season, Amoroso proved he could be effective inside and out, shooting a team-high 49.2 percent from the field.
From a Final Four appearance in 2003 to consecutive NIT appearances in 2004-2005, Marquette has slipped but not fallen from the glory days of Dwayne Wade. If anything, the past two seasons have shown that over-relying on one player’s leadership can come with a cost. Our 2005-2006 Marquette Golden Eagles will display a more balanced attack on offense and should hold their own as they enter the Big East Conference.
Anything short of a berth to the NCAA tournament will be a disappointment.