"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Monday, October 28, 2019

Marquette Preview

Marquette Golden Eagles
Coach: Steve Wojciechowski (97-69)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 49.0
3-Year kenpom Average: 39.3
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 30

Projected Starters: PG Markus Howard (5'11" Sr), SG Koby McEwen (6'4" RS Jr), SF Sacar Anim (6'5" RS Sr), PF Brendan Bailey (6'9" So), C Theo John (6'9" Jr)

After a 3-2 start that had fans asking the same old questions, Marquette would only lose to one team in the three months from November 23 to February 23, both home and away to St. John's. They were ranked in the top-10 in the country, Markus Howard was a dark horse in the National Player of the Year race, and things were good in Milwaukee again. But an injury suffered by Howard against Butler and aggravated against Providence led to a 4-game losing streak, all with leads squandered in the final 10 minutes, that ended their Big East title dreams. After getting some revenge on St. John's in the Big East tournament, a controversial loss to Seton Hall and an embarrassing defeat to Murray State in the NCAA Tournament ended their season. Then, with hopes high for the next year, Sam and Joey Hauser, the second and third leading scorers, announced they were transferring, leaving the team with more question marks than answers as the top-5 too-early pundit rankings evaporated.

Marquette's offense will likely start and end with how far Howard, a preseason All-American, can carry them. He is a multi-faceted scorer who is lethal from three and has improved at driving and getting to the line. The hope will be that more ball-handlers will take the pressure off Howard, who is adequate handling the ball but whose raw turnover numbers are inflated by a massive usage rate. McEwen will the second line of ball handling defense and will hope that his return to a secondary role, which he played in his first season at Utah State, will return him to more efficient offensive play. Anim will be expected to take a larger offensive role, but the key will be consistency as he had wild swings in efficiency and scoring last season. Bailey is a wild card, as he flashed driving ability, shot well down the stretch, and is a plus defender. He has the tools to be an all-league player, but the same could've been said of Jamal Cain a year ago. John is more regarded for his defense and will hope that depth behind him mitigates foul trouble. The bench is deep, with big men Ed Morrow and grad transfer Jayce Johnson providing options and muscle in the front court, Jamal Cain giving length and rebounding on the wing, and Greg Elliott and freshman Symir Torrence providing length and athleticism in the back court. Don't be surprised to see a redshirt, with Torrence, Cain, or freshman Dexter Akanno the likeliest options.

Offensively, Marquette has been a high-efficiency team under Wojo, taking and making a lot of threes. That will change a bit with the Hausers gone as the plan is to utilize more two-post sets. That said, McEwen, Anim, Cain, and Elliott have all had seasons where they shot 36+% from three, so the potential for continued three-point accuracy is there. Expect Howard to spend more time off the ball in hopes of freeing him up at the arc and the increased strength inside to lead to more offensive rebounds and opportunities at the line. Defensively, Marquette is a team that prefers man-to-man and saw a big spike last year when their worst defender, Andrew Rowsey, graduated. Running two sub-six foot players led to disastrous results, but Wojo has been able to inject more length and athleticism. While the loss of the Hausers will hurt on offense, Marquette's defense should be significantly better as Joey Hauser wasn't much better than Rowsey on that end and Sam, though a fine defender in a team system, didn't have the athleticism and quickness that players like Bailey and Cain, who will replace his minutes, do have. This team should be better contesting shots, forcing turnovers, and controlling rebounds than they were a year ago, which will almost certainly lead to their best defense under Wojciechowski.

While the Hausers will be missed on offense, there are enough shooters and productive post players to offset, or at least minimize the impact of, that loss. This is also likely the best defensive team in the league, as the added length, quickness, and rim protection of players like McEwen, Elliott, & Johnson have the potential to make a strength even stronger. This team won't look like what Marquette fans are accustomed to under Wojo, but the defense is stout enough to hold down the fort until the offense catches up. Expect this team to be better in March than they are in November, and better than they were a year ago with the Hausers.

Marquette Memory: In 2002, Marquette traveled to Cincinnati with a chance to seize pole position in the Conference USA title race, but squandered a 4-point lead with 30 seconds to play, then followed that up by conceding a double-digit lead in the last 12 minutes in a loss to East Carolina 4 days later. Marquette would go on to earn a 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament but suffered a first-round loss. Adding insult to injury, starter Odartey Blankson transferred after the season. In 2019, Marquette squandered leads to Villanova, Creighton, Seton Hall, and Georgetown to throw away a Big East title. They earned a 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament and suffered a first-round loss. And then saw the Hausers transfer. The silver lining is the 2002-03 Marquette team, led by transcendent scorer Dwyane Wade, won Conference USA and went to the Final Four. We'll see what the 2019-20 Marquette team, led by transcendent scorer Markus Howard, can do in league play and beyond.

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