Marquette’s story in recent years has frequently been about switchables – the players who defy conventional positional labels to create matchup struggles for opponents of the Golden Eagles. That’s not to say that coach Buzz Williams has no use for those with obvious basketball bona fides such as being really, really tall.
Marquette made the Sweet 16 last season despite a December 6 injury to Chris Otule, the 6’10” natural center who figured — at bare minimum — to be a defensive eraser in the paint. His absence left 6’8″ Davante Gardner as the tallest player on the roster. Gardner and Jae Crowder did what Buzz Williams’ switchables always do, and gritted it out against larger, stronger opponents. But you can bet they’d have had an easier time with Otule in the middle.
Otule has seen some setbacks along the road to recovery, but he thrilled Marquette fans this weekend by declaring himself healthy and ready to go for the 2012-13 season.
“I’m right on track. I feel like I can do anything,” Otule said. “I practice without any limitations, all of that.”
Buzz Williams admitted he has held back Otule in some drills as a precaution, but as a whole is happy where his fifth-year senior is right now.
“He’s becoming one of my favorite human beings of all-time,” Williams said. “His story is what college athletics, it’s what life is supposed to be about. I have been over-protective of him, relative to our work. But all the things that he’s overcome, just to be part of the team picture in 15 minutes, I think that’s really, really cool.”
Otule, who turns 23 in January, played six minutes in Marquette’s first public scrimmage of the season, scoring four points and hauling down four rebounds. The Golden Eagles open their season November 9 against Ohio State in Charleston, South Carolina.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.