It doesn’t make sense.
How could a team that loses its only bona fide big men — one of whom was among the conference’s best defensive players, Chris Otule — be considered a Final Four contender with two 6-foot-6 guys as its tallest players?
Not to mention the Golden Eagles have been playing an up-tempo, high-energy style, with a rotation of only seven players who see meaningful minutes.
They should be dead tired.
So how are they doing it? How is one of the most undersized teams in the conference playing the way they are?
Well, they have two outstanding seniors in Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, and the duo (a la Greg Jennings on Youtube) have put the team on their backs and carried them higher than anyone could have imagined.
This isn’t meant to downplay the contributions of guys like sophomore forward Jamil Wilson, junior guard Junior Cadougan or sophomore guard Vander Blue. It’s meant to make Marquette fans realize what a special duo they have.
Calling them a one-two punch wouldn’t be fair. Who would be one and who would be two?
Well, according to all the hype before the season, Johnson-Odom, a possible Big East Player of the Year after making the preseason All-Big East first team, he would have been the “one.”
Johnson-Odom said at media day in October he wanted to average 20 points, five rebounds and five assists per game. So there was a bit of pressure on him coming into the season. He’s not at those statistics, but he’s still a worthy candidate for conference and national player of the year.
Crowder, though, is plenty capable and worthy of being the “one.”
The only knock on Crowder was his tendency to disappear in big games. Looking at his performances against Wisconsin and Notre Dame this year, it still happens. But when a guy puts up 29 points and 12 rebounds against a team with five guys at least two inches taller than him on the road, I’d say he’s fine.
Crowder has gained notoriety throughout the season as one of the toughest players to guard in the country, and rightfully so. He does everything offensively, and has become a very good defender this season.
Johnson-Odom and Crowder are putting the program in a position it hasn’t found itself in since 2003: it is a legitimate threat to make it to the Final Four.
It was more fun when national experts were questioning the Golden Eagles when they were fully healthy, but seeing and hearing them praise a thin (numbers-wise) Marquette team is even better.
Usually, there’s an injury or something that hinders Marquette and holds them back from reaching their potential.
This year, though, injuries might have allowed the Golden Eagles to fully spread their wings and reach their full potential. The return of Davante Gardner will hopefully be beneficial to the team, giving Marquette another option offensively — one that is incredibly efficient down low — but the team has thrived in his absence recently.
Not to put a lot of pressure on them, but this Marquette team will go as far as Johnson-Odom and Crowder take them. Already, they’ve taken them to second place in the Big East and a top-10 ranking nationally, and we’re not even into March yet. Possibilities are limitless for this team.
And if they’re capable of that, maybe they could be cutting down the nets in New Orleans this year.