Just when Marquette seemed to be on the verge of a preseason top 10 ranking next season, the Golden Eagles suffered a crippling loss that will probably diminish expectations a bit.
Vander Blue, Marquette's leading scorer as a junior, announced Tuesday morning that he will forgo his final year of college eligibility and enter the NBA draft. The decision comes as a surprise since Blue is unlikely to be a first-round pick and would not be guaranteed a roster spot with the team that selects him if he goes in the second round.
"I've had three great years here and appreciate everything Marquette has done for me during that time to help me develop," Blue said in a statement. "At this point I want to pursue my dream. I've prayed about it and discussed it with my family and think this is the right decision for me at this time."
A celebrated five-star recruit who developed incrementally during his three seasons at Marquette, Blue played his way onto the NBA's radar as a junior. He averaged 14.8 points per game as a slashing shooting guard, leading the Golden Eagles to a co-Big East title and a berth in the Elite Eight.
A 29-point performance against Butler in the NCAA tournament should boost Blue's stock, but the concern for NBA scouts will be his perimeter shooting. Can a 6-foot-4 shooting guard who hits only 30.3 percent from behind the arc realistically be a first-round pick? It seems unlikely because Blue is a good but not explosive athlete and because his outside shooting has never been a strength.
Another year in college to continue improve that facet of his game would have benefited Blue. And as an added bonus he'd have been the centerpiece of maybe the most highly touted Marquette team since the days of Dwyane Wade.
Considering Buzz Williams' reputation for doing more with less, Marquette will probably still contend in the new Big East next season even without Blue.
The frontcourt is deep and experienced with Davante Gardner, Chris Otule and Jamil Wilson all returning. Todd Mayo is the most talented of the returners in the backcourt, but the Golden Eagles will be aided by the arrival of a heralded guard-heavy recruiting class that will now need to contribute immediately with Blue gone.
So yes, Marquette will still be nationally relevant next season even without its star. Still, for now, it's hard not to wonder what might have been possible if Blue were in that mix too.