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UConn men’s basketball 2022-23 opponent preview: Marquette

How will the Golden Eagles adjust to life after Justin Lewis?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Marquette vs North Carolina Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Fast Facts

Head Coach: Shaka Smart (Second season as head coach)

2021-22 Record: 19-13 (11-8 Big East)

2021-22 Conference finish: Sixth

Final 2021-22 Ranking: No. 56

2022-23 Conference Coaches Poll Ranking: Ninth

2022-23 KenPom Rating: No. 76

2021-22 in review

Smart’s first season at Marquette went a lot like his time at Texas — about 20 wins and a first-round NCAA tournament exit. To Smart’s defense, his fast-paced system allowed the Golden Eagles to improve pretty significantly on both ends compared to their final season under Steve Wojciechowski. Marquette finished a full 30 spots higher in adjusted offensive efficiency (No. 64 in 2022) last season and 28 spots higher (No. 55) in adjusted defensive efficiency while playing faster than just about anyone else in the country, ranking 25th overall in tempo.

Led by second-year player and First Team All-Big East selection Justin Lewis, the Golden Eagles boasted a handful of impressive wins, like an early season victory over an Illinois team that ranked No. 20 in KenPom. They were also the only school in the country to beat Villanova, a Final Four team, twice. Smart and Marquette dropped their Big East Tournament opener to Creighton, but made the NCAA tournament as an 8-seed, where it was trounced 95-63 by a North Carolina squad that ended up reaching the national championship game.

2022-23 preview

Lewis opted to turn pro and was signed by the Chicago Bulls as an undrafted free agent, so the Golden Eagles will have to replace their star forward if they want to return to the Big Dance for another season. Instead of using the NCAA transfer portal to bring in talent, Smart opted to fill out the roster in an old-school way with a solid recruiting class that ranked No. 59 overall in the 247 composite rankings, featuring two 3-star guards in Sean Jones and Chase Ross and Australian forward Ben Gold out of the NBA Global Academy. These three, combined with incoming transfer and reigning NAIA Player of the Year Zach Wrightsil, should add some depth to a Marquette lineup that returns three talented sophomores in Tyler Kolek, Olivier-Maxence Prosper and Kam Jones.

Kolek was one of the best distributors in the conference last season after transferring from George Mason and took advantage of Smart’s uptempo system and constantly found players like Lewis and a knockdown shooter in Jones, who shot 39.2 percent from deep last season and over 44 percent in conference play. Jones will once again be asked to carry the scoring load along with Prosper, who was efficient inside the arc (54.3 percent 2-point percentage) but like Kolek will need to improve outside of it to stretch out the offense. With so much scoring gone from last season and the defense taking a hit after losing lockdown defender Darryl Morsell and Kur Kuath to graduation, Smart’s freshmen class should have plenty of chances to break into the rotation, especially with a schedule that features plenty of tough non-conference opponents.

Bottom line

Smart and Marquette will have their work cut out for them from the start this season, with three top-60 matchups — No. 25 Purdue, No. 53 Mississippi State and No. 6 Baylor — all in November, followed by games against Wisconsin and Notre Dame in December. A win against of any of those schools would show the Golden Eagles are better than they appear to be on paper and are doing just fine without Lewis, who was one of the best players in the conference last season. Wrightsil’s adjustment to Division I/Big East basketball after dominating NAIA last season is one of the more intriguing conference storylines to watch throughout the year, and his success (or lack thereof) could end up being the difference between Smart and Marquette sitting at home in March or making the tournament for a second-straight year.