Thad Matta's Ohio State Buckeyes open the 2012-2013 college basketball season in style Friday night against Buzz Williams and Marquette. On a boat. A freaking air craft carrier. If you haven't seen the duds, well the entire event is really something. But hey, it means meaningful college hoops is back and, even better, it's for a great cause. We'll take it.
In order to give us the Golden Eagles vantage and let us know what to be on the look out for as the two sides go toe-to-toe, we welcome in Brewtown Andy of Anonymous Eagle. You can follow Andy on Twitter at @BrewtownAndy and the entire staff of Anonymous Eagle at @AnonymousEagle.
So Marquette enters 2012-2013 unranked but I don't know that this is totally uncharted territory for you guys. It seems like the last couple seasons Marquette has either been in the low 20's or unranked going into the year but Buzz Williams coached teams always seem to find their way into the bracket sweet heart category come March. What's the pulse in and around Milwaukee? Can this team make another Sweet 16 run (or beyond)?
Given that Marquette lost Big East Player Of The Year Jae Crowder and All-Big East First Teamer Darius Johnson-Odom to the NBA, I actually consider Marquette getting votes in the preseason polling a sign of respect as to what Buzz Williams has accomplished in the last few seasons. Had you asked this question before Midnight Madness, I would have said that most people are optimistic about what this team can do, even if there are more questions than answers about the team right now. But Buzz went on the record in front of Marquette's Madness crowd and said that Sweet 16s aren't good enough any more. I don't know if everyone's on board with predicting that for MU right now, but this team is definitely more talented than the 2010-11 squad that pulled two upsets (at least in terms of seeding) to get to the Sweet 16.
The ineligibility of OJ Mayo's younger brother Todd is drawing most of the headlines heading into the Carrier Classic. I've already seen one Ohio State media personality saying this changes his entire perception of how Friday night potentially plays out. What's the Marquette vantage on what Mayo's absence potentially means to the season opener and beyond?
Buzz sent Mayo home for the summer in a move that was called a suspension at the time. Buzz has since pointed out that he's sent at least one player home every summer to get their head straight and that he'll probably do it every summer, so I don't know if it was really a suspension. So it was both a surprise and not a surprise that Mayo had "rendered himself" academically ineligible. Mayo was probably the first backcourt/wing guy off the bench and he's really the closest thing MU had to a reliable returning three point shooter, so losing him indefinitely is a significant issue. Marquette is dangerously thin in the backcourt and wing now, but Buzz has always declared that he loves "switchable" players. We're going to get to see how much the current roster is capable of switching to cover for Mayo's absence.
No Jae Crowder, no Darius Johnson-Odom this season but Buzz Williams has already come out and said "every team is a house." Who specifically though do you expect to take over the workman's load of the scoring responsibilities on this year's team and who might be a name to watch in Friday's opener?
My pick for leading scorer on this year's team is Arizona State transfer Trent Lockett. He ripped through his degree in three seasons so he could transfer without questions to be closer to his mother, who has been diagnosed with lymphoma after surviving breast cancer when Trent was in middle school. I get a "I'm not letting my senior year go to waste" vibe from Lockett, so he's my pick there. As far as a name to watch goes, I'd say Steve Taylor. The 6'7" freshman won three straight Illinois state titles while playing at Simeon in Chicago and says he's more comfortable playing around the rim, even though he was primarily a perimeter player in high school. It's clear from Marquette's two open scrimmages that Buzz trusts him already, so he'll definitely get a chance on Friday night.
It seems like just about every offseason there's some smoke around the possibility of Buzz Williams departing. A sizable buyout is rumored to be a big part of preventing that from becoming a reality, but is there a high enough profile job out there that should it open it would make you guys really sweat? Or is Williams in it for the long haul?
Buzz recently did a Q&A with Michael Hunt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, where Hunt basically asked him the exact same question. Surprising no one, he went on a massive tangent and never really answered the question. The closest he came to an answer was, "Should I have the job at Marquette? The answer is unequivocally "no." The only reason I have this job is because God authored it."
It's not really an answer, but it does lead back to my personal opinion on the perpetual rumors of his departure: Buzz gets to include his personal theology in his coaching as much as he wants at Marquette because Marquette is a Jesuit Catholic university. Heck, it might even be encouraged by the administration. Will he get to do that any a big state school like Ohio State? I don't know. But I think it might end up playing a part in Buzz staying at Marquette.
In closing, Ohio State fans have a rather pointed opinion of Indiana's Tom Crean. We're going to put you on the spot: Crean, or Buzz Williams?
I was surprised to find out that Crean was still the coach at Indiana, because the last time he had a team this loaded and ready for a deep postseason run, he left without telling his players first.
Much like CM Punk is a Paul Heyman guy, I'm a Buzz Williams guy.