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Back to the Big East: Marquette

Catching up with UConn’s soon-to-be conference mates in the Big East. Next up: Marquette.

NCAA Basketball: Marquette at DePaul Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Our tour of UConn’s new home in the new Big East continues. We hit on Providence, St. John’s, Butler and Creighton earlier this week, following heavyweights Xavier and Villanova. Now we’re on to Milwaukee to talk about the Marquette Golden Eagles.

Quick Facts

Head Coach: Steve Wojciechowski

2020 Record: 18-12, 8-10 in the Big East

NCAA Championships: 1977

Big East Tournament Championships: 1997

Big East Regular Season Titles: 1994, 2003, 2013

Home Court: Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

2019-20 Average Home Attendance: 15,611

What UConn fans have missed

When UConn last left Marquette, they were consistently making the NCAA tournament. Now that they’ve returned, they’re (more or less) consistently making the NCAA tournament. So what changed? A lot, actually.

Buzz Williams was head coach when UConn left the conference, winning the Big East in the Huskies’ last year in the program, then missed the tournament the next and immediately bolted for Virginia Tech.

Long-time Dookie Steve Wojciechowski took over for him in 2015, and made Marquette fans wait for tepid results: After finishing in the bottom half of the conference in 2015 and 2016, Wojciechowski led his team to two NCAA first round exits and an NIT berth.

In other news, Marquette has also swapped stadiums since UConn left, leaving the old on-campus Gymnasium for the brand-spankin’-new Fiserv Forum in downtown Milwaukee, walking the same hallways as Giannis Atetokounmpo before games.

Outlook for 2020-21

You could potentially argue that Marquette’s recent success over the last few years - two NCAA tournament berths and one NIT appearance - was thanks to one man: star guard Markus Howard. His prolific career has already become stuff of legend around Milwaukee, even though many college basketball fans outside of the Big East have barely heard of him.

His freshman year, where he shot 54.7 percent from three, or his senior year, where he averaged nearly 28 points per game and was still lights out from beyond the arc, or that time he put a 50-piece on the board. Oh, did I say “that time?” I meant to say “those times”: On the road against Creighton and Providence in late-season conference clashes, and in a non-conference showdown with Pac-12 power USC.

Howard will be tough to replace like Kemba Walker was tough to replace: as much of a legend on campus as he was a person. It becomes even tougher when you mention that Marquette only has six returning scholarship players. It might not look rosy for the Golden Eagles in 2020-21, but they’ll have help in the form of a top-20 recruiting class, featuring three four-stars and the third-ranked power forward in the country, Dawson Garcia. D.J. Carton, a transfer guard who is immediately eligible and averaged 10.4 points and 3 assists through 23 minutes per game as a freshman at Ohio State last year, is also in the mix.

Potential Starting Five

Guard: Kobe McEwen, Sr.

Nothing inspires confidence more than starting with the player Marquette’s fans call “By far the most confusing player on the Golden Eagles this year.”

At best, McEwen was a steady hand in the backcourt for the Golden Eagles last year, playing the most minutes per game out of all non-seniors. He isn’t the most efficient player in the world, but is the team’s returning assist leader and was able to pull down five rebounds per game.

At worst, he makes far too many mistakes, turning over the ball nearly three times a game and sending opponents to the foul line nearly five times per game. McEwen needs to raise his game quick, because Marquette’s bench looks pretty barren otherwise.

Guard: D.J. Carton, So.

Carton might not have blown everyone away his freshman year at Ohio State, but Marquette will need him to make an impact right away as their guard depth is, in a word, not great. Brendon Bailey and Symir Torrence are the only other returning guards, and both combined to average under 10 points per game in 2019.

Forward: Jamal Cain, Jr.

After a tough sophomore year, forward Jamal Cain performed when needed in the 2019-20 season. He was an efficient scorer when he was actually asked to take shots, he didn’t turn the ball over much, and his minutes increased as the season went on.

It also turns out that, like another certain lanky wing by the name of Tyler Polley, Jamal Cain is also a secret advanced stats god. There’s something to build on there for Cain, and he’ll need it if he wants to fend off the Golden Eagles’ recruiting class made up entirely of forwards for that starting spot.

Forward: Dawson Garcia, Fr.

With the departure of last year’s starter at the four to the NBA, this leaves a gaping hole in Marquette’s power forward rotation. Wojciechowski might end up being forced to start his shiny new toy here, and although starting true freshman doesn’t always work out, it’s a little more likely when that true freshman is the No. 34 recruit in the country.

Forward: Theo John, Sr.

John is a lanky, 6-foot-9 blocking machine that struggles to stay on the floor in leverage situations. Who does that sound like? If your answer is Akok Akok, Josh Carlton, Amida Brimah, any one of a dozen UConn big men of the past 10 years, you would be right!

John averaged just over 20 minutes per game due to foul trouble — his 2.7 per game was certainly an improvement from his sophomore year, but still not great. What was great was his shot-blocking prowess, rejecting nearly 10 percent of all shots lobbed up while he was on the court, anchoring Marquette’s defense. John will likely have an even increased role in 2020, becoming the star of the team after Howard’s departure.