The big man was doin' WORK in 2011-12. Hope there's more where that came from this season. - (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)
The Big Nickname moves us from players who are returning, to players who are returning with some expectations.
Of all the returning players for Marquette this season, none took a bigger step forward in 2011-12 than did Davante Gardner. His improved conditioning, increased effort on the glass, and occasionally creating the illusion of defense, allowed the big fella to jump from playing 9 to 19 minutes a game in his second season at MU. The scoring touch that he displayed as a freshman, flourished even more as a sophomore. He was a vital piece to MU's success last season - trailing only DJO and Jae Crowder in scoring, and was behind only Jae in rebounds. The early season injury to Chris Otule meant Davante would get all the minutes he could handle in the middle for the Golden Eagles, and he made the most of that opportunity. Only his own late season knee injury prevented last year being a true break-out season for the Ox.
Minimum Expectation: The bar is being set pretty high for Gardner this season. His 9.5 points and 5.3 boards per game are both tops amongst returning players, so everyone expects him to be a major contributor. I don't think it's unreasonable to expect Davante to improve upon last year's numbers, even if not by a lot. I think 10 and 6 is a very attainable goal. But remember, this is the floor. We have far loftier aspirations for the big man this season.
Wildest Dream: Big Smooth takes another leap forward. He becomes a presence in the middle that you can run the offense through every time down the floor. His scoring knack forces teams to double team him when he gets the ball inside, and his excellent passing ability allows him to create easy opportunities for his mates diving to the rack or spotting up from distance. We all know what kind of offensive numbers Davante has the ability to put up. Add in continued energy on the glass and a bit of serviceable defense, and you could be looking at the type of season that all-conference nods are made of.
Worst Nightmare: When a player is coming back off of an injury, there is always the concern that the injury could once again rear its ugly head. In Davante's case, he technically came back from his injury last season. But anyone watching could clearly see that, though he was on the floor, he wasn't really back yet. My worst fear is an early season re-aggravation of that injury that nags Davante all season long and prevents him from taking that next step.
Aside from the injury bug my only other fear would be that somehow Davante regresses. If he doesn't rebound or defend (but especially rebound) at the level that we need him to, he could make it tough for the coaching staff to keep him on the floor enough for his other gifts to have an impact - especially with Otule's return.