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Marquette’s 2020 Known Knowns, Known Unknowns and Unknown Unknowns

Team Fans

(Photo by Ryan Messier/Paint Touches)

After a pretty successful run last season, I figured we’d dust off the format and put a 2020 spin on it. (See for yourself.)

Again, all we are trying to do here is identify what we are certain of, what we think we don’t know, and what we know we can’t expect or predict.

Known Knowns

Markus Howard

I think there may be a few more questions than last year, just because of the roster transformation taking away two key floor spacers, as well as primary point guard responsibilities, but as we examined in depth, his talents are special. There’s no other way to frame it.

Howard Career

Over his career he has identified weak spots and just attacked them until they were no longer exploitable. This year, I think we see a Markus that is much more selective about when to take over, and, as history indicates, shoulders a smaller share of the offense in terms of usage.

But however the usage breakdown ends up happening, we do know Howard will be the focal point of the offense, he will become Marquette’s all-time leading scorer and he will be one of the greatest to lace them up for Marquette in the modern era.

Defense

One of the biggest question marks of Wojo’s tenure before last season was if he could make his teams play well collectively on the defensive end. 2019 proved beyond shadow of a doubt that the answer was a resounding yes.

“What about the NCAA Tournament,” you ask? I think that shows exactly why you can be confident in this year’s version of the defense. Last season, the roster composition was better defensively simply by subtracting Andrew Rowsey, particularly as he shared the floor with Howard over 50% of the time. But with Greg Elliott redshirting due to injury and Joseph Chartouny unable to keep up with the pace of play at the upper echelons of DI, the guard position was woefully undermanned. And the quick guards of this world made them pay (hello Romeo Langford, Shamorie Ponds, Ja Morant).

Not to mention that playing Sam Hauser (great positionally, poor athletically) and Joey Hauser (poor positionally, average athletically) together also limited the ceiling, as the team had to settle for a sort of prevent base defense, limiting gambles on turnovers and instead focusing on contesting shots. So yes, Murray State made Marquette’s defense look atrocious, but going from the 182nd ranked KenPom defense in 2018 to the 45th ranked defense last year was a glaring success.

And now you add guard depth with Koby and Greg (and Symir), add a 7-footer (Jayce) to back up the best defender at Marquette since Jae Crowder and then slide Marquette’s best perimeter defender to a more natural 3 spot, while giving athletic beasts like Bailey and Cain more minutes at the 4, and the makings are there to have an elite defense. But even if it doesn’t quite get there, at worst Marquette’s defense will be good to very good.

Foul Trouble

I linked to my Twitter thread on Theo John’s amazing defensive numbers above, but there’s another part to that story that will keep on dampening his overall impact on this team. He just can’t stop fouling.

From everything we’ve seen this offseason, that’s an enormous if to bank on. We know his minutes will be limited by foul trouble in a majority of games. It’s a given at this point.

Jayce Johnson isn’t quite as foul prone, but he also committed over 5 fouls per 40 minutes last season. If/when he is healthy, we can bank on a few fouls per half from him as well.

But even the perimeter players will join in on the “fun.” With much more aggressive guards, we’ll see an uptick in defensive TO%, but that can and will also lead to more fouls on the perimeter.

Free Throw % Trouble

Marquette has been spoiled the last 3 years, by having at least 2 automatic shooters at the line in Howard and Sam (and Rowsey as well before that) and finishing in the top 25 in FT% each year. While Howard remains, this team will see a drastic dropoff everywhere else with no returning player shooting over 70% last season.

I can guarantee there will be double digit page posts on Scoop lamenting how this team can’t shoot free throws and blaming that for multiple losses.

However,  and this is very important, despite a pretty big dropoff in FT% coming, it will actually be a good thing. No, it is not better to miss free throws than make them, but it is better to shoot 60% from the line and go there 20 times than to shoot 80% and go 10 times.

Getting to the line is the most efficient way to score points, even if done inefficiently. Marquette averages 1.13 points PPP last year, adjusted for team strength, which means going 12/20 from the stripe was actually .07 points better per possession than it averaged last year, a year it finished in the top 35 of all offenses.

So while Marquette’s percentage will go down, adding Koby to the fold will see the team’s overall FT Rate spike, which is a good thing, even if it feels infuriating at the time.

Known Unkowns

The offense

While we can predict with certainty Marquette will get to the line more frequently, I don’t think it is a given that the offense will be as good as it was last year. Heck, I don’t think it’s a given that it will be a top-50 offense.

Outside of Markus, there are just too many questions.

Can Koby find his freshmen year efficacy, or will he be a high volume, low efficiency player?

Did Sacar turn the corner down the stretch, finishing with an ORtg of 112.5, or will he be closer to his season long average of 100.1, where he is almost exactly average.

Will the double post play, if and when it happens, turn into a clogged toilet offense with Howard taking stepback contested shots late in the clock or will the added physicality down low increase the offense rebounding percentage enough to offset the eFG%?

Will Brendan Bailey become an average 3 point shooter, instead of a liability in the high 20s, or will defenses be able to sag off him as well.

I can dig in to basically any one of those points and make them their own separate analysis, but you get the picture. None of them are guaranteed, and I think Marquette needs to hit on multiple aspects in order to compete for an NCAA spot this year.

Freshmen Contributions

Symir Torrence initially was a redshirt candidate (at least according to Wojo’s whiteboard), but all signs point to him not only playing, but sticking around past cupcake time and becoming a part of the back half of the rotation.

That doesn’t mean he will be a starter at any point this year, or that he’ll even crack 15 minutes a game, but I do think his natural feel for the point guard position will be useful beyond token minutes in most games.

On the other hand, Dexter Akanno seems like a more prototypical freshman, where his minutes may not be quite as steady, and his impact less immediate.

Still, I’m particularly poor at gauging what exactly a freshman will bring to the table, so it’s something that fits perfectly in this list.

Greg Elliott’s Impact

It is worrisome that Greg still doesn’t look 100%, according to both coaches and fan reports, even if that’s just limited to conditioning and confidence. Sure, missing a full season will do that to you, and sustaining a late summer injury pretty much guarantees it, but it’s tough to not be back all the way and contribute early on.

So we can’t really say when Greg will be himself once more, and the timing of the schedule this year is particularly damning, with Marquette’s most difficult games coming almost exclusively in November.

However, as the conductor’s of Greg’s hype train, we will once again reiterate that his speed, length and athleticism make him a unique talent defensively.

This is a throwback and a relatively small sample, but he showed so many flashes freshman year, that it’s impossible to say what he’ll look like right now at live game speed, and then once he’s at full conditioning and strength.

Paint Touches

No, not me. You can guarantee bad tweets, long stretches without content, and lots of whining about the officials.

But Wojo has reiterated in interviews this year that he’s much more intent on getting paint touches earlier in the possession, both through post entries and penetration. We haven’t really seen an interior based offense under Wojo since 2016, and that was with Henry Ellenson involved, so I am very intrigued to see what that looks like.

Unknown Unknowns

Injuries

For all the depth that I was just touting, should Markus go down for more than a few games, expectation for this team will plummet. There is simply no replacing him.

Jayce is already out for at least the opener, so we do know of one injury already, but as a whole, the timing of injuries is critical, and there’s no real way to project that.

Chemistry

This could technically go into the Known Unkowns, but as fans, we don’t really know when things go bad until after the fact.

Like when two of your best players each transfer days after your best players declares he’s coming back for his final season.

Sports are really weird in that you need talent to win at a high level, but just having talent does not guarantee it. Basketball in particular is unique in that poor chemistry on the court can have disastrous effects pretty much immediately. We knew Marquette looked off the last 3 weeks of the season, and although we may never hear it coming officially, the chemistry between Howard and the Hausers and Wojo was off.

The team put up a very united front and you can easily see a narrative form if Marquette jumps out to a 3-0 start, with wins over two top 40 teams, that this is a rejuvenated team with a real edge, proving that they are and can be more than what was lost this summer.

Or you can just as easily see a disastrous 2-4 start where every pundit and fan will be out in full force with an “I told you” message, resurfacing frictions in the locker room and putting even more strain on Wojo.

We don’t know how this team will deal with adversity. We don’t know how individuals will deal with adversity. But chemistry isn’t something we can afford to ignore.

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