There are options in the Marquette backcourt. There are big guards, small guards, quick guards, long-range shooters, crafty scorers, distributors and defensive stoppers. It's fair to say new coach Buzz Williams has few worries here.
Jerel McNeal is part of an outstanding Marquette backcourt.
The starting guard trio of Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews returns intact. All three averaged in double figures last season. All three are seniors who've been through the battles in the Big East, a luxury for a guy with limited head-coaching experience.
James is an explosive point guard with a world of ability but sometimes-questionable shot selection. He continues to be a top-notch distributor who makes good decisions with the ball (a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio), but he shot less than 40 percent for the season and 31 percent from 3-point range. James is at his best with the ball in his hands, penetrating and creating opportunities for his teammates and himself. It's difficult to keep him out of the lane.
The glue guy is McNeal, who does the big things and the little things that help win games. He has raised his scoring average in each of his three seasons at Marquette, and he continues to be one of the best defenders in college basketball. In five postseason games last season (three in the Big East tournament), McNeal averaged 23.2 points and 6.2 rebounds and shot a sizzling 53 percent. He had a career-high 30 points in the NCAA loss to Stanford. Everyone will get shots in the offense, but McNeal could be poised for a breakout season.
Matthews often is overlooked because of the presence of James and McNeal. He goes about his job without much flash, but he's a dependable scorer with a solid basketball IQ. He scored between six and 16 points in 32 of the Golden Eagles' 35 games.
The backcourt has two spark plugs off the bench in David Cubillan and Maurice Acker. Cubillan was third on the team in 3-pointers made (39), behind James (45) and forward Lazar Hayward (41). Cubillan also led the team in assist-to-turnover ratio and won the program's "Floor Burn" award for his hustle. But he's coming off surgery on both shoulders and was cleared to practice only in the past week.
Acker, a transfer from Ball State, played in all 35 games and shot a stellar 42.6 percent from 3-point range. His averages of 4.5 points and 1.8 assists were achieved in only 13.3 minutes per game.
Hayward had the breakthrough season the coaching staff believed he would. He nearly doubled his scoring and rebounding averages from his freshman to sophomore seasons and became a threat all over the court. One of the major revelations was his outside shot, which improved dramatically. After shooting only 20.8 percent from 3-point range in his first season and attempting only 48 3-pointers, Hayward led the Golden Eagles in 3-point percentage (45.1 percent) and was second in 3-pointers made (41). The season culminated with him being named second-team All-Big East.
The other starter up front is senior Dwight Burke, who made 17 starts last season. He averaged only 11.8 minutes per game because Marquette frequently played four guards. Burke did have 10 rebounds in the Big East tournament final against Pittsburgh, the kind of performance coaches would like to see more of this season. He knows his role; he took only 53 shots last season and went without a field-goal attempt in 11 games.
Depth in the frontcourt will have to come from new faces. Joseph Fulce is a 6-foot-7 transfer from Tyler (Texas) College. He was a second-team NJCAA All-America after averaging 16.6 points and 13.2 rebounds last season. Chris Otule, a 6-10 freshman center, has nice size and length, but he is raw.
The Golden Eagles won't run as many sets as they did under former coach Tom Crean, but with their lack of size and rebounding, it will be important to take quality shots. If they can't get out and score in transition, look for them to go late in the shot clock and work for a good look.
The Golden Eagles had Stanford on the ropes in the second round of the NCAA tournament, and nearly every significant contributor returns save for Crean, who took the coaching job at Indiana. Marquette made a run at some top names – or at least inquired – before turning to Williams, who had just finished his first season as a Golden Eagles assistant. He inherits a ton of talent and some pressure because this is a team capable of at least the Sweet 16. The guards are a tough bunch, on par with just about any backcourt in the country. But there are questions up front. For as many mismatches the Golden Eagles create, they face them, too, with just one starter taller than 6-6. For that reason, it's hard to see them much beyond the Sweet 16, but it's all about matchups come tournament time.
Marquette primarily will play man-to-man. The guards are good at clogging the passing lanes. Every pass from the perimeter is a risk.
SHOES TO FILL
F Ousmane Barro. Barro, a 6-10 Senegal native, averaged 5.5 points and 5.5 rebounds. He also was a solid defensive presence, leading the Golden Eagles in blocks.
MUST STEP UP
James. He hasn't been quite the same since his freshman season, when he averaged 15.3 points and 5.4 assists and shot 43.1 percent. In fact, his scoring, rebounding and assists averages have dropped each of his three seasons in Milwaukee. Yes, some of that can be attributed to a better cast around him. But not all of it.
Fulce. He's a big-time athlete who does a terrific job on the glass. Anyone who can rebound will get a shot at significant minutes.
Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.