The Marquette Golden Eagles are flying beneath the radar as they enter the 2019-20 campaign. Here are 15 questions to whet your appetite as MU kicks off the non-conference portion of its 103rd season.
1. Projected starting lineup?
Howard, Koby McEwen, Sacar Anim, Brendan Bailey and Theo John.
2. First man off the bench?
Ed Morrow. Partially because he is a solid player (never forget his game-saving heroics against Wisconsin last year) and partially because John has a knack for picking up two fouls within the first five minutes of every game.
3. Three must-watch keys for Marquette?
Marquette’s perimeter spacing sans Hausers
Will the Golden Eagles’ improved athleticism result in a top-flight defense?
Markus Howard legacy watch
Bailey. The former top-100 prospect was a part of the same recruiting class as Howard, yet he's only in his second season on campus after completing a two-year Mormon mission between high school and college. Bailey looks the part of a premier three-and-D player, and while I’m not sure he is going to flash the consistency to become a true all-league star as a sophomore, his size, speed and shooting stroke are perfect complements next to Howard and McEwen. Expect Bailey to match up with the other team’s top offensive player on most nights and average north of four three-point attempts per game.
5. Impact Freshman?
Symir Torrence. The Syracuse native and top-75 recruit reclassified into the class of 2019, and will immediately provide crucial backcourt depth. He has good size at 6-foot-3, and will give Steve Wojciechowski some options playing on and off the ball.
6. How will Marquette replace the Hauser brothers?
This question brings me back to a scene from the movie "Moneyball," when Brad Pitt’s scouts are aimlessly kicking around replacement possibilities for All-Star first baseman Jason Giambi, much to Pitt/Billy Beane’s dismay.
Pitt/Beane: "Is there another first baseman like Giambi?"
Scouts: "No, not really."
Pitt/Beane: "And if there was, could we afford him?"
Marquette cannot replace the Hausers. The Golden Eagles aren’t just going to find 25 ppg, 13 rpg, five apg and deadly perimeter shooting somewhere in the couch cushions. But what Wojciechowski and his staff can do is build a team with a new style. For everything the Hausers did well, neither Sam nor Joey were the most fleet of foot, which manifested itself both on defense and in transition.
But by swapping out the Hausers in the starting lineup with 6-foot-4 transfer guard McEwen and 6-foot-8 Bailey, Marquette will be quicker, lighter and more versatile. McEwen will bring some welcome change of pace as an on-ball slasher, while Bailey can defend up and down the positional spectrum. Neither are as polished offensively as the Hausers, but their other skill sets should make up for any drop-off from Sam and Joey’s departure.
7. How high can Howard fly?
Marquette has only fielded four consensus first-team All-Americans in its history: Dean Meminger (1971), Jim Chones (1972), Butch Lee (1978) and Dwyane Wade (2003). Howard already etched his name in blue-and-gold lore last year with his second-team All-America selection – something only three other players had done in program history – but he is poised to take it one step further in 2019-20. Howard was named to the preseason AP All-America first-team, earning the second-most votes in the nation, and enters the season with legitimate Player of the Year buzz. Lee is the only MU’er to ever win a National POY award.
Should Howard seriously contend for such an honor, not only will he solidify his standing in the Marquette record books (and rafters), the Golden Eagles will likely be destined for a lengthy March run, which is the only pock mark on Howard’s otherwise sterling resume to date.
8. Predicted per-game stats leaders?
The key takeaway from MU’s exhibition game was how much time Howard played off the ball, allowing teammates like McEwen to bring the ball up the floor. McEwen averaged 3.1 apg in two seasons at Utah State and finished with seven helpers in the exhibition against St. Norbert College. Torrence also profiles as an elite dimer (six against SNC), but he may not see enough playing time to lead the team in raw totals as a freshman.
Morrow is a more efficient rebounder, but here’s betting John’s edge in minutes gives him the inside track to the rebounding crown.
Greg Elliott is a steal maven, but his playing time and injury questions could limit his totals. Howard led the team with 1.1 swipes per game a year ago, and as the expected minutes leader on the team, he becomes the safest bet to grab over a steal a night once again.
9. What temperature is Steve Wojciechowski’s seat?
Comfortably warm. Unless the locker room completely implodes this season, he is all but guaranteed to return in 2020-21. Wojo did what he had to do in 2018-19 to earn a two-year contract extension through 2023-24, and he has already landed two top-80 recruits for next season.
There are some chunks of the MU fan base that are vehemently anti-Wojo, but they are merely a vocal minority (though his two NCAA tournament beatdowns are not helping his cause). For the most part, Wojo has provided a certain competence and steadiness to the program. His next step is to turn these moments of fleeting success into something the program can hold onto long-term – a Big East title, a Sweet 16 trip, etc.
10. What are the five best highlights of the Wojo era?
MU rallies from 17 down to beat top-ranked Villanova in 2016-17
The week MU climbed into the top 10 of the AP Poll in 2018-19
Howard’s various 45+ point explosions
3-2 record against UW (including 2-0 in Madison)
The insane win at Creighton in 2018-19? The National Marquette Day win over VU in 2018-19? Ten straight overtime wins dating back to 2015-16? Either way, Wojciechowski needs something more to establish a real legacy in Milwaukee.
11. Higher year-end total: Anim’s three-point shooting percentage times 100 or John’s fouls per game times 10?
Two under-the-radar questions swirl around a pair of Marquette’s starters: Are Anim’s 2018-19 shooting numbers for real, and can John stay out of foul trouble?
After struggling with his perimeter shot to start his career, Anim posted a .391 mark from behind the arc last season, while John continued to battle foul trouble, averaging 3.6 whistles a night. Even though John has been one of the most foul prone players in the nation through his first two seasons, it seems likely he will average a tick fewer fouls now that he is an upperclassmen, though perhaps not significantly. Opponents know the book on John: attack early and often, and he will probably be sitting next to Wojo for a large chunks of the game.
Anim, meanwhile, has continued to develop his three-point shot during his career, transitioning from a 14 percent shooter through his first 38 games to a 39 percent marksman over his last 48. Here’s betting that number holds high as Anim subsists on a steady diet of kickout threes in the corner from Howard and McEwen.
12. Five biggest home games on Marquette’s schedule?
Nov. 13 vs. Purdue: Marquette attempts to win their first Gavitt Game in its fourth try (the first three attempts have not gone well … at all)
Jan. 4 vs. Villanova: Any Big East title hopes go through ‘Nova
Jan. 15 vs. Xavier: First home game for the students after Winter Break
Feb. 9 vs. Butler: National Marquette Day
Feb. 29 vs. Seton Hall: Senior Day for Howard and perhaps the final meeting between preseason All-Americans Howard and Myles Powell
The home slate is not as exciting as it was in 2018-19 when MU hosted three high-profile non-conference games and played 12 of their 19 Fiserv Forum contests on a weekend. This season, Marquette’s schedule only features one high-profile non-con matchup and just seven of 16 home games are on the weekend. The schedule gods did the Golden Eagles no favors this year, but with changing tides of college basketball scheduling, sometimes you just get caught in an off year.
13. Speaking of: Is National Marquette Day really on a Sunday this year?
Yes – and at 11 a.m. no less! Typically, Marquette looks to schedule its homecoming-esque game for a Saturday afternoon in February. But with this year’s schedule only featuring two Saturday games in February – a non-nationally televised game on Feb. 1 against lowly DePaul and Feb. 29 versus Seton Hall on Senior Day for a game that was probably already going to be a sellout – that left the Sunday morning game against Butler as the only legitimate option.
Of course, even with the program’s legitimate rationale behind the decision, that didn’t stop Marquette fans from ratio’ing the hell out of the team’s Twitter account, launching a petition and creating a Facebook event page for a new NMD date.
For anyone concerned about the early Sunday start for certain beverage reasons, remember that you seem to have no problem imbibing at the same time of day for Packers tailgates. So, sorry, not buying it.
I am somewhat sympathetic to people who wanted to come in from out of town for a Saturday NMD, go out with friends after the game and then fly out Sunday morning. But it is still very possible to switch the order of those events and then simply fly home on Sunday evening. Another option is to just come into Milwaukee for another Marquette game day – say Senior Day against Seton Hall, which should be a fiery affair with major implications on the rest of the conference.
And anyways, once the season gets rolling and the calendar hits National Marquette Day, I trust Marquette fans will find a way to squeeze in a morning brew and pack Fiserv Forum per usual.
14. Five bold (and not-so-bold) predictions?
Wojciechowski becomes the first Marquette head coach to win three straight games in Madison since Al McGuire in the 1970s.
The Golden Eagles finish inside the top 25 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency.
Howard concludes this season as Marquette’s career leader in: points scored, scoring average, field goals made, three-point field goals made and free throws made.
McEwen and Bailey, the two presumed new starters in Sam and Joey Hausers’ stead, average more combined points per game than the Hausers did a year ago (24.6 ppg)
Marquette wins its first NCAA tournament game in the Wojo era.
15. Season projection?
22-8 (12-6 Big East) entering the conference tournament. Two seed in the Big East tournament. Five seed in the NCAA tournament.
When Brian's not writing about sports, he is probably prattling on about Marquette hoops, digging through statistics, or re-binging his favorite television series. Any conversation that begins with a quote from "The Office" or "West Wing" is a surefire way to grab his attention.