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Big East Preseason Profile: Marquette Golden Eagles

How far can Markus Howard take this team?

Wendell Cruz

Marquette 2019 Record: 24-10, 12-6 Big East (NCAA Tournament 1st Round, lost to Murray State)

2020 Returning Minutes percentage: 59.1%

Graduated Seniors: Joseph Chartouny (G), Matt Heldt (C)

Early departures/ transfers: Joey Hauser (F), Sam Hauser (F)

Incoming talent: Koby McEwen (transfer from Utah State, G), Jayce Johnson (grad transfer from Utah, C), Symir Torrence (G), Dexter Akanno (G)

Likely top 5: Markus Howard (SR), Theo John (JR), Brendan Bailey (SO), Koby McEwen (JR), Sacar Anim (SR)

Marquette last season:

A stellar start, a late-season swoon (possibly because of a Markus Howard injury), the Golden Eagles struggled to win after a W at Providence. The Eagles went 1-6, with that one win a thrashing of St. John’s in the Big East Tournament; the Johnnies had beaten them twice.

The fundamentals are intriguing, despite the loss of Hausers. The Golden Eagles held down scoring inside the arc with their length, rebounded credibly on defense, and shot the [REDACTED] out of the ball around Human Cheat Code Howard.

To get the full scoop on this upcoming Marquette team, we spoke with Ryan Jackson of Paint Touches.

Rumble: The upper half of the Big East seems to laden with talented teams. Marquette figures to be in that upper half. How do you figure the Golden Eagles will fit in the race for the Big East title?

Honestly, I see this as either a boom or bust year for Marquette with no in-between. If you look at the roster, this looks like a team with top 20 talent.

Marquette spent most of last season in the top 15 and finished with a 5 seed despite the wheels falling off at the end. From that team, they bring back 61% of their scoring, all their best defenders, and an All American in Markus Howard. In addition to that returning talent, they add impact transfers in Koby McEwen and Jayce Johnson, Symir Torrence who was a top 50 recruit before reclassifying to 2019 and get a hopefully healthy Greg Elliott back from redshirt.

This is the mark of a team on the rise, not falling. The only place to rise to from their second-place conference finish last season is to be #1.

That being said, the talent may be there, but the pieces need to be able to fit together. Wojo’s offenses have featured shooting forwards (Ellenson, Reinhardt, and the brothers Hauser) since his arrival.

Unless Jamal Cain or Brendan Bailey take big steps forward (possible), Wojo is going to need to wildly change his offensive system in order for Marquette to be able to score. If the coaching staff can’t break from their tried and true system, this team could flounder to a finish in the bottom half of the Big East and miss the postseason all together.

Rumble: How does Marquette move forward after the transfers of the Hauser brothers?

There’s no questioning what Marquette lost when the Hauser brothers transferred. They were both elite three-point shooters, opened up the floor for Marquette’s offense, and represent a huge chunk of the team’s defensive rebounding.

What many may not realize is the weakness that went out the door with them. Neither Sam nor Joey were known for their athleticism. Their lack of speed kept Marquette from getting out in transition and their lack of lateral quickness made them liabilities on defense, particularly Joey.

Sam at least played sound team defense but Joey was the weak link whenever Marquette was on defense. Subtract those two and replace them defensive stoppers like McEwen and Bailey and the Big East’s top ranked defense from last season because one of the top units in the country.

While the three-point shooting lost is significant, Marquette should still be a good shooting team. They have four players on the roster who have turned in at least one season of 39.7% 3P shooting and a fifth who shot over 36%. The offense will be different but should still be more than enough when combined with the elite defense.

Rumble: What are the strengths and weaknesses of this Golden Eagles team?

I would have never believed it two years ago, but the strength of this squad will be defense. KenPom had Marquette as the top-rated defense in the Big East last season until their lopsided loss against Murray State. Now they’ve dropped the two biggest defensive liabilities and added an athletic bruiser in Koby McEwen and bring back Greg Elliott who was one of their best perimeter defenders before getting hurt.

Markus Howard isn’t a defensive stopper but when he’s your worst defender on the floor you are looking pretty good. The true lynchpin of the MU defense will be roaming in the frontcourt. Theo John was one of the nation’s leaders in block% and he is joined by Ed Morrow and 7-Footer Jayce Johnson.

Coach Wojo has said Marquette will run two big looks a lot this season which means anyone who gets past the perimeter will have to challenge the monsters in the post to score.

Despite just talking about the strength of the bigs Marquette has, my biggest concern going into the season is defensive rebounding. Marquette wasn’t great on that end last season and often gave their opponents two, three, or even more opportunities in one possession.

To make things worse, Sam and Joey were the leaders in defensive rebounds last season. Morrow and John are elite rebounders but they do most of their work on the offensive end. Marquette will need to make a team effort on the defensive boards to keep opponents from getting easy putbacks and picking up cheap fouls on the Marquette bigs.

Rumble: Marquette lost 6 of their last 7 games last season. What went wrong during that stretch? Do you foresee those issues to linger into next season?

The answer to this depends on who you ask but one thing everyone can agree on is that Markus was hurt during that entire stretch.

He went down awkwardly on his wrist during the win against Butler and just wasn’t the same player for the rest of the season. Now an injured Markus is still better than most players even on a bad day, but rather than leaning on his teammates, Howard tried to will himself through the injury and actually increased his already absurd usage.

During the rest of the season Markus shot 38% inside the arc and under 30% from distance. Worse, his turnovers jumped up to 4.4 a game. This rubbed off on others as the usually sure handed Sam Hauser started giving the ball away and Joey’s offense tanked.

Now, I don’t expect the injury issues to continue into this season, but Wojo has to find a way to reign Markus in if he’s not having a good game. That is a challenge that I’m not sure the coaching staff is up for.

Rumble: Do you have any win-total prediction for this year?

I’m an optimistic guy. I think 10-2 is more than doable in the non-conference season and 11-1 is possible. In the Big East I expect Marquette to finish in the top 3 of the most competitive Big East since realignment and end up with another top 5 seed. Most importantly, I think this is the team that finally gets a win in March to get that Monkey off of Wojo’s back.