For the first time since hiring Steve Wojciechowski in 2014, the Marquette basketball program has significant expectations entering the season.
The Golden Eagles are second in the Big East coaches’ poll and are receiving votes in the AP preseason top 25. Most, if not all, national prognosticators envision MU dancing in the NCAA Tournament this year – including some who are clearly pounding the blue and gold Kool-Aid and listed Marquette as a Final Four contender. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index even lines up the Golden Eagles as one of the five best teams in the nation.
And yes, we are still talking about the same Marquette team that missed the tourney last season and lost its leading scorer, but that doesn’t mean the optimism is misplaced. (Well, any Final Four dreams are probably a year away – at best.)
Nevertheless, here are 18 questions (and answers) before the start of the 2018-19 Marquette season.
1. How much will the loss of Andrew Rowsey hurt?
A lot if you like thrilling and outlandish heaves (which I enjoy), not so much if you like consistent wins (which I also enjoy). Rowsey posted the best single-season scoring campaign in program history, but his poor fit next to Markus Howard overshadowed his 20.5 points per game. Marquette still has plenty of scoring between Howard, Sam Hauser and its plethora of role players, and it no longer has to start two sub-6-foot guards next to each other atop its defense.
2. Can the defense even be average this year?
Tentative yes, which would be a massive shift from consecutive campaigns of abhorrent defense. In their Marquette offseason preview, ThreeManWeave pulled this handy stat on the Golden Eagles’ defense last year. Simply put, when Howard was on the court alone last season, Marquette actually defended pretty well. When it was just Rowsey alone, the defense was also fine. But when the two played together, which they did on over half of MU’s possessions, the defense immediately collapsed into a catatonic state.
Sub out Rowsey for Joseph Chartouny – a 6-foot-3 transfer point guard who led the nation in steals last year – and add in newly eligible Ed Morrow, a rebounding, shot-blocking maven from Nebraska, and Marquette’s defensive numbers should improve by leaps and (re)bounds.
3. Bigger impact transfer: Chartouny or Morrow?
Chartouny. Morrow will provide some much needed frontcourt toughness this season, but Chartouny’s fit as a defensive, pass-first point guard next to Howard is exactly what the doctor ordered for the Golden Eagles. Marquette will also be a little short on guards through December after sophomore Greg Elliott underwent hand surgery in early October, furthering Chartouny’s importance on the perimeter.
4. Will Markus Howard post a 50-40-90 season?
No, but he’ll get close. A 50-40-90 season means he would have to shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the line. As a freshman, he actually posted a 50-54-88 season and followed it up with a 46-40-93 campaign as a sophomore. Howard’s shot profile will always drive down his overall shooting numbers, but he has the ability to knock down even the most difficult perimeter tries and he improved as a finisher in the lane last year. If he can get to 45 percent from beyond the arc, Howard should be able to crack the esteemed 50-40-90 barrier. Of the players who attempted at least 200 field goal attempts last year, only three hit the 50-40-90 marks. If Howard can post a 50-40-90 season, he would likely be only the third player since 1992-93 to do so on over 500 attempts (he launched 515 shots last year).
5. How many career records will Howard set at Marquette?
Four: points, field goals, three-pointers and three-point attempts. He will also get close in field goal attempts (Jerel McNeal) and free throw percentage (Steve Novak). McNeal is the program’s current points leader with 1,985. In two seasons, Howard has already topped 1,104 points. Marquette will conservatively play 66-68 games over the next two years. If we say Howard plays in 62 of them – after all, he is only 5-foot-11 and is often seen colliding with defenders in the paint – and very conservatively averages 18 points per game, then he will still reach 2,220 career points. And if he stays perfectly healthy and takes another step forward as an offensive dynamo while Marquette makes deep tourney runs, then he could even push for the Big East record (Howard hypothetically needs to average 21.8 points over the next 70 games to match Boston College’s Troy Bell’s current record of 2,632).
6. Sam Hauser: underrated or criminally underrated?
There isn’t an adjective for how underrated Hauser is. Marquette has fielded a litany of talented scorers in his first two seasons on campus, but Hauser is probably the most efficient, effective offensive player Wojo has had. He is a special three-point shooter – his 47.3 percent leads all players with at least 300 attempts over the past two seasons – and a smart passer with a deep bag of offensive tricks around the rim. He played all of last season with an injured hip, so after offseason surgery, he will hopefully return to the two-way force Marquette fans are accustomed to watching.
7. Who will lead the team in the five major categories (per game)?
8. Fiserv Forum: factor or non-factor for Marquette?
Factor! Fiserv Forum is a huge plus for the ascendant Golden Eagles program. As I detailed in August, the new arena should boost Marquette on the recruiting trails and on game day. MU recently announced that over 11,000 fans had already locked in their season tickets – a high-water mark for the Wojciechowski era – meaning the rowdy crowd we occasionally see throughout the year should become a more permanent fixture in 2018-19.
9. The Elmer’s Award goes to … ?
Sacar Anim. The redshirt junior was one of Marquette’s most reliable players last season, and he figures to continue his role as Mr. Glue Guy in 2018-19 as well. Anim can guard up and down the defensive spectrum, serve as a secondary ball-handler, slash to the hoop and occasionally spot up from three in the corner. The Minnesota native is always ready to answer the bell, just like he did in February when he dropped 26 points and four assists to carry Marquette to a crucial victory over Creighton after Howard left with an injury.
10. Freshman to watch?
Joey Hauser, Sam’s younger brother. According to 247Sports, the four-star Hauser is the program’s fifth-best recruit in the 21st century. He has actually been with the team since January, as he enrolled early to redshirt during the second half of last season after an ankle injury cut his high school senior campaign short. Like all Hausers, Joey is flying under the radar as a game-changing freshman entering 2018-19, but his size, versatility and offensive prowess should be a big weapon for Wojo as the season progresses. Even if he doesn’t start much, it would be no surprise to see him as a central player in Marquette’s crunch-time lineups once Big East play rolls around.
11. Dark horse player who could break out?
Jamal Cain. It’s going to be very interesting to watch Wojo manage his frontcourt rotation this year between senior Matt Heldt, Morrow, Cain, the two Hausers, sophomore Theo John and redshirt freshman Ike Eke, but Cain deserves minutes whenever possible. He was incredibly raw as a freshman, but the rail-thin forward has the athleticism and size to be the clichéd "3-and-D" wing. Cain nailed 47 percent of his threes last year (though he only shot 48 percent from the charity stripe) and posted four double-digit scoring games.
12. Super sleeper who could win a game?
Brendan Bailey. It’s hard to know what Bailey – a former top-100 prospect – will provide after spending two years away from basketball to complete his Mormon mission, but initial reviews have been very positive. It’ll be hard for him to crack the rotation with vets like Howard, Chartouny, Sacar Anim and Sam Hauser all lined up for major minutes on the perimeter, but with Elliott injured to start the year, there will be an early opportunity for spot minutes as a third guard. Look for Bailey to shine in a few games as a 6-foot-8 shooter off the bench this year.
13. Any award candidates on the roster?
For sure! Howard and Hauser are both all-conference first team candidates, meaning they should also garner Player of the Year attention as well. And if Marquette makes the leap that everyone expects, then Wojciechowski could certainly capture the Coach of the Year award too.
14. What will be the starting lineup on Nov. 6?
Chartouny, Howard, Anim, S. Hauser and Heldt.
15. The 2018-19 schedule will be … ?
An absolute bear. The Big East has taken a clear step back this year after a mass exodus of veteran stars, but it still includes the defending champs in Villanova and a host of frisky teams with tournament aspirations. In the non-conference portion, Wojo has put together his toughest test yet, with games against preseason no. 1 Kansas, a road game at Indiana, a home contest against no. 12 Kansas State, the traditional rivalry matchup with Wisconsin, and meetings with Cinderella squads UMBC and Buffalo (as well as another game against either no. 6 Tennessee or Louisville). The Golden Eagles will take a couple of hits before New Year’s rolls around, but they will be battle-tested for Big East play and should have improved metrics when their resume is put under the selection committee’s microscope in March.
16. Home dates to know?
Tuesday, Nov. 6 vs. UMBC: Season Opener
Saturday, Dec. 1 vs. Kansas State: Just a really good basketball game!
Saturday, Dec. 8 vs. Wisconsin: ‘Nuff said.
Saturday, Feb. 9 vs. Villanova: National Marquette Day
Saturday, March 9 vs. Georgetown: Senior Day
17. What qualifies as a successful season?
Comfortably making the tournament. This team isn’t flawless, but it’s overwhelming depth and talent should carry Marquette into the top 25 rankings. Another season on the tournament bubble would be a major disappointment and could place Wojciechowski firmly on the hot seat.
18. 2018-19 prediction?
22-9 (11-7 Big East) record entering the conference tournament. Second place in the Big East. Six seed in the NCAA tournament.