Mike Deane, Marquette's third-year coach, has developed an
affection for Conference USA, the school's second-year alliance.
"At first I thought the name and the format--with the Red, White
and Blue divisions--was kind of silly, but by the end of the
season it had really caught on," he says. "The thing about it is
that it's really a basketball conference that has football,
rather than a football conference that has basketball." This is
especially good for the Golden Eagles, who do not field a
football team (although those who have ventured into the lane at
the Bradley Center may beg to differ).
Marquette's linemanlike muscle and menace helped limit opponents
to 38.5% shooting from the floor last season, the second-lowest
figure in Division I. And even with the departures of forward
Roney Eford, a four-year starter, and center Amal McCaskill, the
Orlando Magic's second-round draft choice--as well as the
season-long suspension of swingman Zack McCall, who tested
positive for marijuana at the NCAA tournament--Deane still has a
roster packed with inside punch. The most pressing question
remaining is which members of a fearsome but largely untested
fivesome will emerge to complement senior forward Chris Crawford
Richard Shaw, a 6'11", 225-pound junior from LaSalle, Ont., is
the slightest but most athletic candidate: The California Angels
drafted him as a pitcher in June, and he logged significant
minutes over the summer for the Canadian senior national
basketball team that won the Jones Cup, an international amateur
competition. Faisal Abraham, a senior, averaged 1.9 blocks last
year--third best in the conference--in only 18.2 minutes a game.
At 6'10" and 245 pounds, sophomore Jarrod Lovette is the Golden
Eagles' most immovable force. And then there are redshirts Abel
Joseph (6'9", 240) and John Polonowski (6'8", 225).
"We'll probably evolve up front as the year goes along," Deane
says. "It may be that we wind up having a committee on the
inside, with a bunch of guys averaging five or six points
instead of one or two guys averaging 15 or 16."
Marquette won't need to mix and match much in the backcourt.
Senior shooting guard Anthony Pieper (rhymes with "sleeper") is
a two-year starter who has taken only two approaches to offense
in the past: bombing with abandon and driving with abandon. He
worked painstakingly over the summer to develop a midrange
pull-up game that should net him more trips to the free throw
line, where he shot 83.1% last year. On D, Deane assigns Pieper
the toughest assignment at small forward, off-guard or the
point. "I take that as a compliment," Pieper says. "Then I get
to go out and prove I deserve it."
At the helm is junior Aaron Hutchins (page 84), a 5'10",
175-pound dynamo who can bench-press 275 and at times carry the
entire offense on his back. While his shooting percentage from
two-point range (38.0) was only slightly higher than his
accuracy from beyond the arc (37.0), Hutchins was often forced
to bail out the Golden Eagles when the shot clock was running
down. This season Deane will use him more often as a 2-guard to
free him from the dual burden of running the team and looking
for his own shot. Not that Hutchins minds all the
responsibility. "I even joke that some of the people sitting in
courtside seats are close enough to the bench to find out what
Hutch wants to do," Deane says.
Beware not to bite on that line too hard. While the 45-year-old
Deane does allow his point guards a lot of freedom on the court,
he has had no small hand in molding them. A small-college
All-America guard at Potsdam (N.Y.) State in 1973 and '74, he
went on to become an assistant at Michigan State, where he
helped develop Sam Vincent and Scott Skiles. Hutchins, Deane's
latest project, not only led the conference in assists last
season, but he also led the Golden Eagles in scoring. "This is
the best place in the world for Aaron to play," says assistant
coach Dan Theiss. "Mike loves to have a scorer at the point of
Even with Deane's impressive 44-20 record at Marquette, it has
taken two seasons for the Golden Eagles to grow comfortable with
his running, rapid-fire system after the more down-tempo
half-court style of Kevin O'Neill, who left in '94 for
Tennessee. "It really started to kick in last year. We get the
rebound and go," Pieper says. "Kevin was more strict: 'This is
what you do'--and we did it. Mike is intense, but he's a lot
more free with us. We're back to playing basketball again."
Deane has essentially stuck with O'Neill's man-to-man defense,
but with the shot-swatting McCaskill gone, he'll lean more
heavily on the matchup zone he used to spectacular effect in his
eight years as coach at Siena. "I haven't used it much because
Kevin was such a die-hard man-to-man guy," Deane says. "But on
those teams size was a bigger factor. We're still big, but I
think we'll rely more on speed and quickness."
With its talented backcourt, depth up front and overall
experience, Marquette is the most likely candidate to emerge
from the pack of second-tier teams behind Cincinnati in
Conference USA. It enters the season with an 18-game home
winning streak and could well end a second straight season
unbeaten at home. This much is certain: The Bradley Center will
still not be a place for the faint of heart.
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Although he sometimes plays out of control, Pieper is still a keeper for Marquette. [Anthony Pieper in game]
Coach: Mike Deane
Career record: 234-122 (12 seasons)
Record at Marquette: 44-20 (two seasons)
1995-96 record: 23-8 (final ranking: 23rd)
C-USA record: 10-4 (second in Blue Division)
PG *Aaron Hutchins, 5'10", Jr.
Led team in scoring (14.0) and assists (6.9)
SG *Anthony Pieper, 6'3", Sr.
Played in all but one game in three seasons
SF *Chris Crawford, 6'9", Sr.
Shot 34.5% from three-point range
PF Faisal Abraham, 6'7", Sr.
Third in league with 1.9 blocks per game
C Richard Shaw, 6'11", Jr.
Averaged 7.3 points, 4.3 boards in Jones Cup
Dec. 31 vs. Wisconsin
No love lost between intrastate rivals
Jan. 7 at Iowa State
Midseason road test against well-coached Cyclones
Feb. 20 vs. Louisville
Cardinals try to avenge last season's double-OT loss
Feb. 25 at St. Louis
Key Blue Division matchup down the stretch
Feb. 27 vs. Cincinnati
Chance to unseat the beasts of Conference USA
PLAYER TO WATCH
Not only is he a proven three-point shooter and the Golden
Eagles' most accomplished post-up player, but senior forward
Chris Crawford is also their best pitching prospect. As a
pitcher for the Houston Astros' Auburn, N.Y., franchise in the
Class A New York-Penn League this summer, he went 2-4 with a
4.12 ERA. On the basketball court, Crawford's size and breadth
of skill allow him to throw opposing defenses a curve by lining
up at either forward slot, depending on the matchup that night.
At 6'9", 225 pounds, he's big enough to bang down low, but he
has the shooting touch (52 career three-pointers, eighth best in
school history) to step outside. "His inside-outside game is
going to be one of our main looks this year," says senior guard
Anthony Pieper. "He's got to produce more than he did last year.
He's really got to come through."