When Buzz Williams saw the opening team on Marquette’s schedule this season, he must have thought the Golden Eagles were fortunate to face a direction instead of a university. Unfortunately, the Southern University Jaguars are a real school, and a 2013 NCAA Tournament participant to boot.
Last season Southern finished second in the SWAC at 23-10 and 14-3 in the conference in the regular season. The Jaguars did not lose a game at home, but were beaten to the regular season crown by Texas Southern. However, Texas Southern choked in the conference tournament, and Southern nipped Prairie View A&M by a point to go dancing with the SWAC tournament title.
In the second round of the NCAA tournament, the No. 16 seed Jaguars made a statement that mid-majors of the world will not soon forget. They battled No. 1 seed Gonzaga wire-to-wire, coming up short just six points. That Southern could keep up with a vastly superior team like Gonzaga for forty minutes emphasizes Marquette’s need to not underestimate the Jaguars on Friday.
Since last season, Southern graduated its starting backcourt of point guard Jameel Grace and shooting guard Derrick Beltran. Grace and Beltran combined for 25 points and five assists per game. The Jaguars will look to senior guards Malcolm Miller and Yondarius Johnson to step into their roles and contribute this season.
Miller seems the likeliest player to take on Beltran’s role as dominant scorer. The preseason SWAC player of the year averaged 15.5 points per game in 2012-13 and will look to improve upon that significantly this season. At 6-foot-6, Miller shot 45 percent from beyond the arc last year and 50 percent from the field. He presents a versatile skill set that will be difficult for any team to defend.
Up front, the duo of 6-foot-9 senior center Javan Mitchell and 6-foot-7 senior forward Bryce Clark add more experience to this roster of veterans. Mitchell averaged 24 minutes per game for the Jaguars last season, scoring a hair of nine points per contest. Clark, a transfer from Arkansas State, will add athleticism and experience to a stacked SWAC roster picked to finish second in the conference yet again.
Look for either 6-foot-2 junior guard Cameron Monroe or 5-foot-11 sophomore guard Christopher Hyder to make a leap for Southern as well.
Marquette’s big question
Who guards Malcolm Miller?
Miller is easily Southern’s best player and most versatile scorer, but he also happens to play Marquette’s weakest position, the two guard spot. Derrick Wilson is Marquette’s best perimeter defender, but Miller has five inches on him. Wilson doesn’t have the size to consistently contest Miller’s solid jump shot.
The two most logical answers are Todd Mayo or Jamil Wilson. With Mayo, the question is defensive intensity. Will he give the full effort to guard the other team’s best player for at least 30 minutes? With Wilson the question is two fold. Does he have the quickness to stay with Miller and can Marquette afford him guarding the perimeter instead of checking a post player?
Most likely, Buzz Williams will give Mayo an opportunity to prove himself as a defender for most of the game. If Miller starts giving the Golden Eagles fits, look for Williams to switch the long arms of Wilson onto him or even bring in freshman guard JaJuan Johnson as a lockdown option at shooting guard.
Sure, Southern made the NCAA tournament, gave Gonzaga a scare, and has an experience laden roster. But this game by no means looks like a trap for Marquette. The Golden Eagles still boast the longest home winning streak in the nation with the exception of a now Nate Wolters-less South Dakota State, and Southern shouldn’t challenge that. Miller’s shooting may keep the first half close, but Davante Gardner will wear the Jaguars’ bigs down inside, get them in foul trouble, and make this game an easy victory for Marquette. The Golden Eagles win 85-59.