NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 25: Head coach Buzz Williams (R) of the Marquette Golden Eagles talks with Vander Blue #2 of the Marquette Golden Eagles after a play against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the first half the east regional semifinal of the 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Prudential Center on March 25, 2011 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
When you're trying to figure out why sophomore guard Vander Blue's freshman campaign is almost universally considered a disappointment, you end up identifying a few contributing factors:
- His superlative ranking coming out of Madison Memorial high school: 24th nationally (and seventh at his position) by Rivals, 31st by ESPNU, sixth at his position by Scout. Everywhere you looked, you found the same thought: this guy could be really good.
- The fact that Vander turned his back on the Great Red Menace (and the backlash that resulted, including one of the nastiest hit-jobs on a high school recruit we've seen in these parts in some time, from "professional journalist" and Badger House Organ Rob Schultz) and chose the greener pastures to the east.
- His solid play to start the 2010-'11 season: nobody's going to get excited* about 7 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists against Prairie View, or 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists against Centenary, or 21 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, but you might not remember that Vander logged 29 effective minutes against Wisconsin, tallying 7 points and 3 rebounds, or that he put together a 10-2-3 line with two steals in 22 minutes against Vandy. Point is: throughout the non-conference schedule, Vander looked like he belonged on the floor.
* OK, fine: I got excited.
Unfortunately (and as you're no doubt painfully aware): the conference season was an animal of a different sort.
More on Vander, after the jump.After a handful of decent performances to open the 2011 Big East season -- 20 minutes, 6 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists on New Year's Day vs. WVU; 6 points and 5 boards in 30 minutes on the road at Rutgers; 12 points, a couple of boards and a couple of assists in a dumptrucking of DePaul at home -- Vander cratered. He was still getting quite a bit of run (he got double-digit minutes in all but four of the conference games in which he participated), but his shot abandoned him and he started playing like his pants were on fire -- and not in a good way.
When Vander turned in back-to-back clunkers in a pair of homes games vs. St. John's and Seton Hall in mid-February, where he had more total turnovers (5) than total points (0), rebounds (2), and assists (2) combined, it was clear to everyone involved that Blue had run headlong into the dreaded Freshman Wall. And though he bounced back a bit in the Big East Tournament, when he seemed more focused on being a defensive stalwart than anything else (see: 7 rebounds in 16 minutes vs. Providence; 4 boards against WVU in the BEast Tourney in 15 minutes), the fact remains: Vander didn't hit a shot from the field in the last five games of the year.
All of that combined to leave something of a bad taste in the mouths of many Marquette fans, and, during the offseason, much of the talk about the upcoming season has focused on Darius Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder, and even Davante Gardner, with little mention of the kid who was the highest-rated recruit to grace Marquette's campus in 30 years.
Minimum Expectations: And then we got this note from Jeff Goodman at CBSSports.com last week, following Marquette's scrimmage vs. Kansas State:
@GoodmanCBS Another little birdie told me that Vander Blue was extremely impressive in MU's scrimmage against Kansas State.
Maybe it's unwarranted, but I'm going to put some faith in Goodman's feathered friends and say this: Blue averaged a very respectable 19.0 mpg; 5.0 ppg; 2.8 rpg; and 1.6 apg last year. At minimum, I expect a 25% increase in those numbers this season: 6.2 ppg; 3.5 rpg; and 2.0 apg. Sounds doable, right?
In My Wildest Dream: I see that SI.com's Seth Davis has taken some flack today for calling Vander a point guard in his Big East preview and writing that Blue will look to spearhead Marquette's offense this season. Of course, some of that flack is well-deserved: unless I've missed something, Junior Cadougan is Marquette's starting point guard for the foreseeable future.
And yet: in my wildest dream, Vander is exactly what Seth Davis says he's going to be.
Hear me out before you light your torches, OK? Do you remember Dominic James in his senior season, when he made the conscious decision to sublimate his scoring, used his playmaking abilities to set up Jerel McNeal and Wes Matthews and Lazar Hayward, and turned himself into a lockdown defender?** I think Vander could do the same thing. And if that came to pass: look out, Big East.
** Senior-year Dom James is still responsible for my favorite three minutes in college basketball: take a look at the play-by-play from Marquette's game vs. West Virginia on January 10, 2009, when Dom forced then-freshman "Truck" Bryant into two turnovers and two fouls by the 17-minute mark, which earned Truck a seat next to Bob Huggins for the rest of the first half.
In My Worst Nightmare: Briefly: the jump shot is still broke. The decision-making hasn't improved. The defense goes on the backburner in favor of the offensive game. And, as a result, the minutes aren't there, and the numbers from last season don't budge an inch.