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Jerry Karpowicz Previews Marquette!

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Jerry Karpowicz, our pal in Milwaukee who occasionally contributes to our site, visited a Marquette game last week. He gives us a look at tonight’s opponent.

Duke is done pummeling Princeton, mauling Miami (Ohio) and pasting Colgate.

Everything changes now.

That would seem to be the theory, anyway.

In unranked, unbeaten Marquette (4-0), top-ranked and reigning national champion Duke (3-0) will face its first serious slings and arrows of a non-conference schedule loaded with them.

The Marquette program is different than when the schools met in 2006 (a 73-62 Duke loss in the final of the College Basketball Experience Classic at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City; the games tonight and tomorrow night are at the three-year-old Sprint Center) and 2007 (a 77-73 Duke victory in the final of the Maui Invitational).

Under the tutelage of Buzz Williams, in his third season as coach at Marquette, the Golden Eagles appear to be deeper and more athletic than either of those clubs. But injuries to 6-7 senior Joseph Fulce (left knee) and 6-8, 290-pound freshman Davante Gardner (mildly sprained left shoulder) may leave Marquette a bit vulnerable inside. Fulce is reportedly out for a couple weeks; Gardner’s availability for tonight is unknown.

Williams, whose 2009-2010 team went 22-12 overall, 11-7 in the Big East (tied for fifth) and lost to Washington in the first round of the NCAA tournament, seems to run players in and out almost like a hockey coach changes lines. He has five players averaging between 20 and 30 minutes, three between 10 and 15 and four between 8 and 10.

Marquette will look to run after makes or misses. If a guard gets a rebound, it would not be surprising to see him drive the length of the court if Duke does not stop the ball. If the defense is back and collapses on the dribbler, a dish to an open teammate for an easy basket is possible.

“They were the aggressors, and they attacked, attacked, attacked from the start,” said Green Bay coach — and Marquette graduate — Brian Wardle after his team absorbed an 89-69 loss in Milwaukee last Wednesday. “Our transition defense was not there to start the game and that really hurt us. They get it out quick.

“We watched film on them, we talked about it at practice over and over about how they’re going to — on makes or misses — get it out quick and push it. Every time they pitch it up the floor, they’re attacking on the dribble. They’re trying to get right to that rim, and we started the game off just very hesitant.”

The aggressiveness has led to an abundance of time at the free throw line. Marquette is averaging 22.3 free throws made and 34 attempts a game (their .654 percentage is nothing to brag about). They also are averaging 44 rebounds and a plus-14.5 margin.

Marquette is scoring 56 percent of its points in the paint (48 a game) and getting 46 percent of its points from its bench (39 a game), although the latter number has gone from 56 to 47 to 37 to 15.

Williams likely will start three guards — Raleigh native Darius Johnson-Odom (6-foot-2 junior), Dwight Buycks (6-3 senior) and Vander Blue (6-4 freshman). Jimmy Butler (6-7 senior) and Chris Otule (6-11 sophomore) start in the front court.

The rest of the rotation (in addition to Fulce and Gardner) includes guards Reggie Smith (6-0 freshman), Junior Cadougan (6-1 sophomore), Jae Crowder (6-6 junior) and forwards Erik Williams (6-7 sophomore) and Jamail Jones (6-6 freshman).

Butler, Marquette’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, leads in scoring at 15.5 points a game. He is a preseason second-team all-Big East pick.

Buycks is the second of four players who score in double figures at 12.3. Johnson-Odom, who sometimes plays out of control but throws down highlight-show dunks, is next at 11.5. Crowder comes in at 11.3 (and leads in rebounding at 8.3). Gardner is at 9.8 and Blue at 9.0.

“I think their heart and soul is Jimmy Butler,” Wardle said. “He’s just non-stop attacking. Active. Plays really hard. He can do a lot for them.”

Jim McIlvaine, in his sixth season as radio analyst (he occasionally slides into the same role on TV), went more in depth.

“Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom are known quantities,” McIlvaine said. “But Jae Crowder has been very solid, he’s a guy who’s capable of producing a double-double on any given night. He makes everybody’s job easier when he’s scoring and a factor down low. It open things up and makes it easier for our perimeter guys. He’s an issue to contend with.

“Vander Blue is a guy that does the intangibles that don’t always show up on the stat sheet, but he’s also a factor.”

Williams is not doing backflips over the 4-0 start. He said Saturday’s performance against South Dakota was their worst of the season.

“We’re not going to outscore elite level teams,” Williams said during his radio interview after Saturday’s 81-69 victory over South Dakota. “We’ve got to get stops.”

He dropped a gem later during the same interview when asked about Duke.

“I think their team, from what I’ve studied, would be an above .500 team in the NBA,” Williams said.

That’s a stretch. This is as big a test for Duke as it is Marquette. Next up, tomorrow night, is Kansas State or Gonzaga. Then Oregon in Portland, Michigan State in Cameron and Butler in New Jersey. When the Blue Devils leave New Jersey on the night of Dec. 4, they will have eight games under their belts.

Some background on Williams

The 38-year-old Williams is an interesting fellow.

Brent Williams, a native of Van Alstyne, Texas replaced Tom Crean as coach on April 7, 2008, a mere 292 days after joining the staff as an assistant. He had seven assistant jobs between 1990 and 2006, when he was named coach at New Orleans.

His 14-17 season with the Privateers resulted in a messy divorce. Williams filed a lawsuit against the school, alleging the school “was either unwilling or unable to provide even the basic necessities for a competitive men's collegiate basketball program.” The school filed a countersuit. An “amicable” agreement was reached in November, 2009.

As for the nickname, the story goes that Williams “buzzed” around the Navarro College (Texas) men’s basketball team so often the coach gave him the nickname.

These days, the slang definition of Buzz — “a feeling of intense enthusiasm, excitement, or exhilaration” — is a better fit.

Williams moves horizontally and vertically on the sideline, and isn’t bashful about venturing six feet or more onto the court. He will occasionally jump like someone gave him a hot foot.

Certainly a candidate for a shock collar. Is he a distant relative of ol’ Roy?

He thinks nothing of patting an official on the back — literally. He also exchanged a fist bump with radio play-by-play man Steve “The Homer” True DURING the Green Bay game.

Another tale on Williams can be found here:

Notes

Sixteen of Marquette’s 34 games last season were decided by four or fewer points, most in the country. Marquette lost the first four and six of seven, but finished 8-8. ... Blue, who reneged on a verbal commitment to hometown school Wisconsin, played with Kyrie Irving and Austin Rivers on the U.S. team that won the FIBA under 18 world championship last summer. ... Crowder was last season’s junior college player of the year. He helped Howard College (Big Spring, TX) to the National Junior College Athletic Association title. ... Gardner, reportedly at 282 pounds after arriving at Marquette this summer tipping the scale at about 310, scored eight of his 11 points during a 24-0 run that turned a 57-45 deficit into a eventual 72-61 victory over Bucknell on Nov. 14. ... Smith, a surprise during preseason practice, started the first two games but came off the bench the next two ... Cadougan, of Toronto, was limited to 12 games last season because of an achilles injury. ... Otule also has had injury problems, playing only nine games in two season.

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