Saturday night the 62nd edition of the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament came to an end in Portsmouth, Va., with the event showcasing college seniors looking to improve their standing in the eyes of scouts from the NBA and other professional leagues. The title game matched Sales Systems, Ltd. and Norfolk Sports Club, with former Georgetown point guard Markel Starks winning the game for Sales Systems with a shot with two seconds remaining.
Starks finished the game with 19 points and five assists, and he was one of two Sales Systems, Ltd. players to make the event’s All-Tournament Team. The other was former Marquette center Davante Gardner, who accounted for 20 points and nine rebounds in the title game and won tournament MVP honors.
The other players on the All-Tournament Team were:
With Gardner and Wilson on the above list, Marquette was the only program to see two products make this year’s All-Tournament team. In the above video are a few highlights from WAVY-TV in Hampton Roads, Va., but unfortunately video of Starks’ game-winner did not make the segment.
In a season that’s been defined by an excess of fouls that stems from an effort to increase the amount of scoring that we see on a nightly basis in college hoops, it was somewhat refreshing to see a good old-fashioned defensive slug-fest on Saturday afternoon.
No. 10 Ohio State held No. 17 Marquette to 18.9% (10-53) shooting from the floor, a 1-for-18 performance from three and forced 20 turnovers en route to a 52-35 demolition of the Golden Eagles in Milwaukee. The final score simply does not do justice to the level of dominance portrayed by Thad Matta’s club in the final 20 minutes. Marquette went 12 minutes without a field goal in the second half, which is not a good way to go about getting a win.
Much of that can be pinned on Marquette, as they got a ton of minutes out of Derrick Wilson and Jake Thomas, two role-playing guards that don’t provide much of an offensive threat. That forced the Golden Eagles to rely on the unreliable Todd Mayo for a perimeter scoring punch. Mayo went 3-for-15 from the floor and played an all-around horrendous offensive game.
But credit must be given where credit is due, and there is no way around the fact that the Buckeyes simply played suffocating defense. That should not come as a surprise to you, either. Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott are two of the best perimeter defenders in the country. There’s simply no disputing that fact. Lenzelle Smith certainly is no slouch on the defensive side of the ball, and Sam Thompson’s length and athleticism will give opposing wings nightmares.
We expected this, however. We knew heading into the season that the Buckeyes were going to be able to play stifling defense. The question marks were on the offensive end of the floor, and based on what we saw out of this group this afternoon, Ohio State fans should feel quite confident.
When Ohio State took over in the second half, it was because Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson, and to a lesser extent Aaron Craft, got it going offensively. Scott provided the spark with a couple of buckets in transition before finding a few lanes to penetrate in Marquette’s halfcourt defense. Thompson continued the run with a series of perimeter jumpers and baskets slashing to the paint. Craft was typical Aaron Craft, finishing with 10 points and 10 assists to go along with seven rebounds.
All told, Scott, Thompson and Craft finished with 38 points and 14 assists while shooting 15-for-31 from the field. It’s not overwhelming offensive production, but it’s good enough given Ohio State’s ability on the defensive end of the floor. It becomes all the more impressive when you consider that: A) Marquette is traditionally a tough, physical defensive teams; B) the games was played at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee; and C) it came in a game where LaQuinton Ross, the guy that was supposed to be the replacement for Deshaun Thomas offensively, went scoreless on six shots from the floor.
There is no part of me that doubts the fact that Buzz Williams will get his team turned around. I don’t question the fact that the Golden Eagles will be a top 20 team by the end of the season, even if they are a ways away from that level right now.
But regardless of that fact, it’s inarguable that Ohio State looked every bit the part of a legitimate Big Ten title contender on Saturday.
2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 14 Marquette Golden Eagles
– G: Derrick Wilson, Jr.
– G: Todd Mayo, Jr.
– F: Jamil Wilson, Sr.
– F: Davante Gardner, Sr.
– C: Chris Otule, Sr.
– Bench: JaJuan Johnson, Fr.; Deonte Burton, Fr.; Duane Wilson, Fr.; Juan Anderson, Jr.; Steve Taylor, So.; Jameel McKay, Jr.
They’ll be good because …: Marquette’s front line will be one of the best in the country, as this group can legitimately go five or six deep. It starts with the big boys: Chris Otule and Davante Gardner, who combine for more than 550 pounds of center. In the past, these two have shared time up front, as Gardner is much more of an offensive threat while Otule is a defensive presence and a space-eater in the lane, but don’t be surprised to see them being used together more this season.
But those two aren’t alone up front. Jamil Wilson is the latest in the long line of combo-forwards to come through the Marquette program. Steve Taylor was a highly-regarded forward coming out of Chicago in 2012. JuCo transfer Jameel McKay and junior Juan Anderson, who started 31 games as a sophomore, round out the front line rotation. There is enough talent, depth, and versatility here for Buzz Williams to be able to create a number of different looks up front.
But they might disappoint because …: Generally speaking, Marquette has been known for their back court over the course of Williams’ tenure, but there are plenty of question marks when it comes to the guards on the Golden Eagles’ roster. The returnees are Derrick Wilson, Todd Mayo and Jake Thomas, none of whom will strike fear into Big East opponents’ hearts. Williams landed an impressive recruiting class that included top 100 prospects Deonte Burton, Duane Wilson, and JaJuan Johnson as well as John Dawson, and while that group may be the future of Marquette basketball, they’re not necessarily the present. They’re freshmen, after all.
How well will they acclimate to playing in the Big East? Can Derrick Wilson play the role of Marquette’s primary ball-handler? Is Mayo healthy (and mature?) enough to be relied upon as a consistent source of scoring? There is talent there, but there are plenty of questions and concerns as well.
Outlook: This team is an intriguing as any that Williams has had in his five seasons in Milwaukee. It’s built around size in the front court and will rely upon youthful, inexperienced talent in the back court, the first time we’ve seen a team like that from him at Marquette. Here’s a stat to remember, however: In his five seasons at Marquette, Williams has never had a team outside the top 35 in offensive efficiency. But in those five years, his teams have ranked 85th, 304th, 129th, 16th and 239th in tempo. Williams knows how to build a system to maximize the strengths of the players on his roster.
More to the point, Williams is almost like Bo Ryan in the sense that his teams always seem to be better on the floor than they look on paper. He may hate the idea that his teams succeed because they outwork and out-hustle their opponents not because of talent or coaching, but the bottom-line is that Marquette does outwork and out-hustle teams. What makes them scary is when there is talent on the roster, and this year’s group certainly has the pieces. Marquette should enter the season as the favorite to win the Big East, so it will be interesting to see if Williams can find the right way for all those pieces to fit together.