"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

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Marquette Preview, 2020-21

Marquette Golden Eagles

Coach: Steve Wojciechowski (115-81)

Three-Year NCAA Rank Average: 37.3

Three-Year kenpom Average: 39.0

2020-21 T-Rank Projection: 76

Yes Big East fans, Theo John is still at Marquette

Photo from gomarquette.com

Projected Starters: PG Symir Torrence (6'3" So), SG D.J. Carton (6'2" So), SF Koby McEwen (6'4" RS Sr), PF Dawson Garcia (6'11" Fr), C Theo John (6'9" Sr)

Marquette's 2019-20 season was eerily familiar for Golden Eagles fans. A promising non-con start, competing near the top of the conference for two months, then a staggeringly poor finish. The biggest difference was the play of Markus Howard. His struggles were in large part responsible for the 2019 slump but this past year he was the only scintillating spot as Marquette dropped game after game. Howard's departure has fans in Milwaukee wondering what is next for this team and how successful Coach Wojo can be without the focal point of an offense that was ranked on average 16.5 nationally with Howard as its leader.

In addition to losing the Big East's all-time leading scorer, reliable contributors Sacar Anim, Brendan Bailey, and Jayce Johnson are also gone from this roster. Symir Torrence has received rave offseason reviews and will hope to make a significant freshman to sophomore year jump. He has excellent court vision and distribution abilities. Marquette got a huge boost when transfer guard D.J. Carton was granted immediate eligibility. Carton has NBA potential though while he can score is far more of a distributor and game manager than Howard was. He is also regarded as a better defender, something Wojo sorely needs. Koby McEwen should be more comfortable on the wing and along with Torrence and Carton gives more of a three-guard look. McEwen showed flashes early on but cratered down the stretch, with a 78.6 adjusted offensive rating during the 1-6 finish. Up front, Garcia is the preseason Big East Freshman of the Year. The McDonald's All-American can score inside and out, is able to put the ball on the floor, and should be able to play all three frontcourt positions. John is a physical enforcer who does most of his work around the rim. Jamal Cain and Greg Elliott will likely get close to starter minutes off the bench. Cain is a bouncy forward that can provide excellent rebounding, shooting, and length, while Elliott is an athletic guard that, when healthy, can be a big contributor on both ends, though that health has been elusive. The rest of the bench is filled by youth, with Dexter Akanno looking like a long-term piece in the backcourt and Justin Lewis and Osasere Ighadaro offering potential but no experience. The wildcard could be Jose Perez, a transfer from Gardner-Webb who was just granted immediate eligibility. Perez is a physical wing that was originally going to sit out. He tended to run hot and cold as one of the focal points at GWU and Marquette will likely hope a lower usage rate will lead to greater efficiency.

Offensively, the plan the past two years has been for everything to go through the hands of Markus Howard. Carton will likely have similar freedom, but expect him to share opportunities a lot more than Howard did. Expect the offense to continue to work from the outside in. Marquette under Wojo always has a wealth of three-point shooters and that will likely continue. This should be a better team on the offensive glass and while it's hard to imagine them being more offensively efficient without Howard, they will likely be more productive inside. On paper, this team should be better defensively. Wojo's teams usually stick with man-to-man, though in high-leverage situations they often throw a zone look at opponents. Marquette isn't the kind of team to try forcing turnovers or imposing their defensive will on opponents, instead working to stay in front of their assignments with John acting as the safety valve at the rim. This year they have more length with guys like Carton, Cain, and Garcia so logic indicates this will be a better defensive team. The problem is that it seems there's a case every year as to why Marquette will become a good defensive team (added athleticism in 2018, no more undersized Rowsey in 2019, no more slow-footed Hausers in 2020) and yet they never match preseason defensive expectations. Until we actually see the improvement, it's hard to accept that it will happen.

In a perfect world for Marquette, Carton would be a better replacement for Howard, not fully matching his scoring but guiding a more balanced offense that doesn't just rely on one guy going off to get a win. Garcia would live up to his immediate potential, serving as a Henry Ellenson type but better understanding his role. Torrence would blossom as a game manager, helping the other offensive pieces to reach their ceilings. And all the length would finally lead to a reliable defense that was able to carry Marquette to top-three in the league and a protected NCAA seed. But I can just as easily envision no one stepping up to alpha scorer status in lieu of Howard and the young roster leading to too many defensive miscues for a team that never really solidifies themselves in the NCAA picture. Like many Big East teams, there are a wide range of outcomes for this squad, perhaps best evidenced by their preseason kenpom and T-Rank disparity. Pomeroy has them at #36 and third in the Big East, T-Rank has them at #76 and ninth in the league. One of the problems with having high expectations for this team is that in the Wojo era, Marquette has only once finished higher on kenpom at the end of the season than they started. Wojo's teams consistently fail to meet expectations. So where do they end up this year? If they get a full season from Carton, I think he's too good for this team not to be competitive. I expect them to be in the middle of the league, good enough to be on the bubble but never quite reaching the heights Marquette fans want to see from Wojo.

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