There is no question Marquette has the guards to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. But look elsewhere for the key to the team's success. If Marquette's big men can play...well...big, this team can compete with anyone in the country.
Getting to the Final Four takes some good bounces, a few lucky breaks, great guard play and solid big men. You hope for the bounces and luck and we know their guards are great. MarquetteWatch.com takes a closer look at the big guys up front.
One of the most improved players in the conference this season is forward Lazar Hayward. After an up and down freshman season averaging 6.6 ppg and 3.6 rpg, Hayward has exploded on the Big East scene. It is obvious he is playing with confidence, but who wouldn't be with the numbers he is putting up this season.
Lazar is second on the team to Jerel McNeal in scoring (13.4 ppg), the team leader in rebounding (6.3 rpg), three-point percentage (48.4%) and is among the team leaders in free-throw percentage (81.3%). Hayward is a rare combination of inside scoring and three-point threat. He is a rising star in the conference and has taken a much needed leadership role in the Golden Eagles' front court.
Tom Crean on Hayward: "You talk about someone who is quiet for the year he is having, but it's not quiet around our place. We know what he is capable of and we are real lucky to have him playing the way he is."
Marquette fans have waited patiently for the time when Ousmane Barro's raw ability would turn into serious production on the court. Since losing his starting job to begin the season, Barro has shown flashes (14pts, 9 rebs vs. Providence & 19 pts, 10 rebs @ Cincinnati) , but has not shown the consistancy to be relied upon. Games when Barro seems to fit into the flow of the offense and other games when he seems lost have resulted in a dip in his numbers from last season.
This is the point of the season when leadership is key and seniors need to play like seniors. MU guards' ability to get Barro the ball in position to score will balance their attack.
After his 14 pt, 9 reb effort to open the Big East conference at Providence: "(It was) not that I was waiting for the Big East, but I was just being more of a presence down low. "They were looking for me a little bit."
The "Three Amigos" are not the only members of the Golden Eagles' junior class. Often the forgotten man, Dwight Burke started the season in place of incumbent senior Barro. He looked to be there to stay after a career-high 12pts and 9rebs in MU's win over rival Wisconsin. It appears Barro has regained his starting spot as Burke's playing time has dwindled as of late. With Tom Crean shortening his bench for the Big East stretch run, look for Burke's minutes to continue to be limited.
Dominic James after Burke's performance at Wisconsin:"That consistency out of the post position, that's what we've been lacking. If we continue to play like that, and guys like Ousmane and Dwight continue to step up, we're going to be a great team."
In the previous few recruiting classes, the Golden Eagles have missed on a number highly rated big men. Though he is only a freshman, 6'7', 240-pound Trevor Mbakwe was to be called upon for inside scoring and a defensive presence down low. A knee injury suffered Nov. 1 was believed to force him into a redshirt year. Mbakwe's surprising comeback Feb. 15 versus Pittsburgh gave the frontcourt a much needed boost.
His limited minutes so far have not given Trevor a chance to show Golden Eagles fans a big impact. If he can quickly adjust to the college game, the MU has the frontcourt strength to match their explosive backcourt.
Tom Crean on Mbakwe's return for the final stretch of the season: "He has a very good understanding for a guy that hasn't played all year of what we're trying to do. I thought he did a very good job with the plays as time went on, and he'll have that much more of a comfort level."