Ten burning questions going into the new season

When someone asks how Marquette will do this year, this is all you need to say: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I don’t know. You don’t know. Heck, the staff doesn’t even know.

There are simply too many unknowns to make a definitive prediction. So instead of posting a preview full of conjecture and uninformed opinion, let’s just spell out the ten most important questions.

1. How many minutes will Derrick Wilson get?

One thing is crystal clear, Derrick will start the year as the clear No. 1 point guard. Another thing is just as clear: the fan base is on edge about this. Coach Wojciechowski trusts Derrick Wilson, a senior with plenty of experience, to bring the ball up and initiate the offense. More importantly, he’s proven to be Marquette’s best perimeter defender, using his strength to his advantage against potential drivers. With only nine eligible bodies, and a preliminary plan to press full-court, every single one of those nine bodies will be put to good use. The question is how good? Wilson proved to be a valuable contributor as Junior Cadougan’s backup during the 2013 Elite-8 run, but with his poor shooting and hesitance to drive, clearly isn’t a creator on offense. This led to spacing issues and stagnant offensive sets last year. With a more perimeter-based team (out of necessity), defenses won’t be able to pack it in as effectively against Marquette, so theoretically, there should be a bit more space to operate. Derrick’s success in exploiting this will hinge on improvements at the line. He’s a 44.7 percent free-throw shooter for his career, a number that might embarrass Shaq (who shot 52 percent himself). No one knows how the 50-billion shots he put up in the offseason will improve that. Still, for the non-conference slate, it’s a safe bet to say he will get the most minutes at the point spot. Whether that holds up in Big East play is not yet set in stone.

2. Would you take the over or under for Matt Carlino’s usage if it was set at 27.5%?

For reference, his career usage is 25.5 percent, peaking last year at 27.1 for BYU. The graduate-transfer is the only proven perimeter scorer and will have a fairly wide green-light to chuck away as roles are being cemented. If the starting lineup from Saturday holds (Taylor, Anderson, Cohen, Wilson, Carlino) he will be will be the first, second and maybe third option on offense. However, he has shown good vision in the limited windows of games/practices we’ve seen. Plus, a green light doesn’t stay green when shots stop falling (as was the case at times for him last season). I’d still take the over and feel quite secure.

3. Will the full-court press minimize the size deficiencies on this team?

When Steve Taylor goes to the bench this non-conference season, he will be replaced at the center position by a 6-foot-6 Anderson or a 6-foot-4 Deonte Burton. To mitigate this obvious disparity, it looks as if Wojo will implement a full-court press to try and disrupt opponents and create some turnovers that lead to easy points. Against the little brother’s of Martin Luther on Saturday, this made Wojo look like the second coming of John Wooden, forcing 20-something steals and turning that into a 70-point rout. Unfortunately, Marquette won’t play many other rec-league teams this year. The press had some gaping holes at times that most cupcakes could exploit. It also led to some cheap fouls, looking at you Mr. Dawson. There will have to be tremendous discipline on Marquette’s part for this strategy to prove successful. To be honest, though, it is a necessary risk. The lack of height on this squad is no exaggeration and will lead to some utterly-frustrating four or five attempt defensive possessions. The press won’t hide this, but it could help make up for it.

4. Was last year an anomaly for Steve Taylor?

Speaking of Taylor, which version are we likely to see this year: the freshman version terrorizing the offensive boards and hitting shots from all over, or the sophomore version who couldn’t hit water out of a boat? Look at the difference in his O-Rating from year to year:
2013: 115.3
2014: 82.7
You don’t need a degree in analytics to be curious. Just as problematic was his confusion at the defensive schemes. He was beyond lost. Yes, he was battling his way back from an atrophy after knee surgery. He was also at odds with Buzz and had two feet out the door at the season. But that doesn’t change any of the quantifiable facts that he didn’t look right at any point in the season. He wasn’t sure what his role was and he had troubles communicating that with the staff. His role is set set in stone this year, which will help and minutes are guaranteed. Get under the basket and grab as many boards as humanly possible. He is probably the most important player until December, and will have a heavy defensive burden against bigger and stronger opponents. What I will say, though, is he has experience in that position. His senior year at Simeon, he guarded the likes of (young) Jahlil Okafor and (young) Cliff Alexander on his way to the state championship in Illinois. Should Taylor not revert to freshman form, a .500 record may be a pipe dream.

5. Can #BANE make the leap?

No explanation needed for this one. Multiple national outlets have tabbed him as a potential breakout star. He will get every opportunity to do so on this squad.

6. Which team will have more wins: Marquette, Indiana or Virginia Tech?

Curve ball. Some people like to pretend Buzz and Crean don’t exist, or at least, shouldn’t be a thought for Marquette followers. I’m not one of them. Yes, they are no longer with MU, but they will always be a part of the history. In any case, this question was much tougher than I expected. It would be easy to dismiss VaTech right off the bat, but go check out their non-conference schedule. Anything less than 11 wins would be embarrassing, no matter what the state of the program. Of course, that ACC schedule is frightening, and getting to four wins would be an accomplishment. So let’s go with 15 for VPI. Indiana isn’t supposed to be great, but the turmoil around that program can take a team from middling to mediocre to massacred in a millisecond. Let’s assume it doesn’t get to that, and give them 18 wins. Can Marquette crack the 18-win mark? I’m doubtful.

7. Will Marquette drop out of the top-20 for attendance this season?

One of the things that makes Marquette an impressive program is the unwavering support from its fans. Here’s the data spanning back to the turn of the century.

  • 2001-02: 12,680 (21st)
  • 2002-03: 15,553 (11th)
  • 2003-04: 15,291 (12th)
  • 2004-05: 11,965 (21st)
  • 2005-06: 13,998 (18th)
  • 2006-07: 15,345 (14th)
  • 2007-08: 16,239 (14th)
  • 2008-09: 16,200 (10th)
  • 2009-10: 15,617 (10th)
  • 2010-11: 15,586 (11th)
  • 2011-12: 15,138 (13th)
  • 2012-13: 15,138 (15th)
  • 2013-14: 15,327 (14th)

For a relatively small private school, having nine straight years of top-20 attendance figures is quite the accomplishment. But coming off the heels of a poor season, with a murky outlook this year and only a handful of truly marquee match-ups, attendance is bound to drop. It would have to fall by about 1,300 fans to slip out of the top-20, though. We shall see.  

8. Can anyone shoot?

Watching the first half of the exhibition last weekend, I started to get sweaty palms and twitchy neck spasms as flashbacks of last season were lived out in agonizingly low-res video. Open jumper? Brick. Contested trey? Brick. Easy put-back? Brick. Heck, one of the only truly unquestionable shots in the MU arsenal, a #BANE one-handed flush, turned into the biggest brick of the half. I put the pom poms away when I put the PT  hat on, but I won’t hide the fact that I cheer for an interesting/good/fun game. Last season was just the opposite. The fake-start of this one was a mirror image. Sure, Marquette was hitting from everywhere in the second half, but it  did little to dispel the visions of brick city that could be the norm against good teams. Theoretically, the additions of Carlino and Duane should improve some of those shooting numbers. But in this case, seeing is believing.

9. Is there an X-Factor?

X-Factor has a very fluid and variable definition in the basketball world, but for this case, it relates to a player that might surprise to become a key cog. With only nine eligible players, though, there will be few that aren’t key. Still, expectations are pretty low for both Juan Anderson and Sandy Cohen. The senior has yet to make an impact in three years, while the freshman doesn’t quite have a Big East body. However, both have impressed Wojo over the offseason enough to be given captainship (Juan) and a starting spot (Sandy). If one, or both, can play above their station, Marquette’s ceiling will be much higher.  

10. What would be considered a successful season?

Setting a certain amount of wins is foolish, not only because of the guesswork aspect, but the context factor. If Marquette starts the season 2-7 and finishes a few games above .500, the mood would be much happier than jumping out to a 7-2 start and sputtering to a few games above .500. It’s all relative. With the being said, a successful season is one that lays the groundwork for a stacked recruiting class. That means player development from a number of areas (not just Bane), a fully formed identity on the floor, and at least a few flashes of brilliance as a team. I think reaching the NIT is a reachable goal, but until we have more evidence, this is pure conjecture. Team improvement. Few transfers. Increased confidence.     

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