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March 25, 2011I spent my first two years of college at Marquette University, before transferring to North Carolina for my junior year last year. And while I'm far away from the frigid winters and beer-guzzling culture of Milwaukee, I've still watched the Golden Eagles dozens of times over the past two years.
It is a point that many have made, but really can't be emphasized enough. The Golden Eagles do not quit and very rarely get blown out.
They get on the floor after loose balls, shoot it well from the outside, limit turnovers and compensate for their lack of size by gang rebounding, which includes the guards-who are not afraid to get down on the block and try to box out bigger opponents.
Forwards Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder are 6-7 and 6-6, respectively, but Butler averages 6.1 rebounds and Crowder is the team leader at 6.8.
What also makes Marquette a nightmare to prepare for is that both the players and Coach Buzz Williams have slight chips on their shoulders.
Williams had just one year of Division I head-coaching experience before taking over for Tom Crean in 2008-2009, but is about as diligent and thorough in his preparation as any coach in the country (He begins practices at times like 3:17 p.m. to stress attention to detail, and puts great emphasis on the "character" of his team).
He often quotes philosophers, and has a tremendous understanding of the game, in addition to an uncanny ability to motivate his players and get them to play for 40 minutes.
What also contributes to Marquette's toughness is that the Golden Eagles' four leading scorers all spent at least one year at a junior college after not being heavily recruited out of high school.
Raleigh-native Darius Johnson-Odom, a junior, is the team's best player and certainly its best pro prospect. As a sophomore last year, his first in the Big East, he averaged 13 points, while shooting 44 percent from the field and 47 percent from three.
This year, he was a Second-Team All-Big East Selection after upping his scoring average to 16 per game and making big improvements defensively.
DJO is a bit streaky at times, but he has played very well in the tournament and connected on the game-winning three against Syracuse on Sunday. He has a dangerous in-and-out dribble move, and has good touch in the paint for his tier-drops.
Jimmy Butler was essentially Marquette's first juco recruit in the Buzz Williams era, and he has had a stellar three-year career. This season, he averaged 15.8 points and 6.1 rebounds as an undersized 6-7 big who was often guarded by power forwards.
Butler isn't freakishly athletic, but he is very efficient and has a very high basketball IQ. Despite the lack of size, Butler, a senior, does a lot of his damage in the paint, but he also has a very smooth mid-range jumper, which forces his defender to step out and clears driving lanes for the Marquette slashers.
After two years at Howard Community College in Maryland, Jae Crowder-the son of former NBA player Corey Crowder-stepped right into the Marquette rotation this year to play major minutes and become the team's third-leading scorer.
Crowder is a well-built forward who plays bigger than he is defensively. On the offensive end, he loves to put his back to the basket, and he get some garbage buckets off of broken plays and when the Marquette guards drive baseline in hit him in the paint.
What makes him perfect for Marquette's system, though, is that he is a very good 3-point shooter (36 percent) who, like Butler, stretches defenses and draws bigs away from the basket. Crowder does not start, but he plays starter's minutes and is about as integral to team's success as anyone.
Marquette certainly has other pieces, including Dwight Buycks, Vander Blue, Junior Cadougan and Chris Otule, who can do some damage, but Johnson-Odom, Butler and Crowder will be the players of emphasis for North Carolina tonight.