This was supposed to be Marquette’s year. If you’re reading this website you already know why, and you know a huge part of that was the Hauser brothers. The Hausers - who are now heading into their respective senior and sophomore years - are a pair of extremely talented 6’9”ish forwards who combined to average 25/12/5 while shooting a combined 133-325 (40.9%) from behind the arc last year. Unfortunately for the Golden Eagle faithful, they transferred out over the summer, leaving a gaping hole in the lineup for Coach Woojahooski to fill.
The team they left behind wasn’t without warts to begin with. After storming to a 23-4 start, Marquette took a nose-dive to the tune of closing the season 1-6 with their lone win coming against St. John’s. The offense, which had been a top-25 unit all year, simply stopped making two-point shots and turned the ball over like it had been greased. They were -2.8 Wins Above Bubble in their final 7 games; I’m not sure exactly how that’s calculated, but I know it compares a team’s win haul against what the average bubble team could have been expected to do over a span of games. Marquette’s was good for 282nd in the nation that time.
So what’s the answer for a team that fell off a cliff because it stopped making twos and then had the guys who hit a quarter of its twos leave unexpectedly over the summer? It’s not saddling up star guard Markus Howard further. He was 5th in the nation in usage rate and 7th in shots percentage and somehow managed to post a 110.7 ORtg under that workload, but he was clearly out of gas down the stretch, posting ORtgs below his season’s average in 8 of the team’s last 9 games.
Diversification might be the only way through, and it is going to have to start with 6’5” senior wing Sacar Anim. He broke out early in Big East play when Xavier made him look like a young Kobe to the tune of 20/7/2 on 9-14 shooting, but he was inconsistent on his way to averaging a reasonable 8.3 PPG. He shot 39% from deep but just 59% from the line, so his stroke might not be something you can count on. After him, Marquette isn’t deep on returning guys who can handle an offensive load. Ed Morrow (5.6 and 4.5) and Theo John (5.5 and 4.9) are both THICC big men who are more likely to grab a stickback than work with their number called.
The further down the page you read, the more question marks abound. Greg Elliott is a sophomore who missed all of last year through a pair of injuries, but maybe he’s ready to build on the 4.5 PPG he dropped as a freshman. Brendan Bailey is a 6’8” sophomore forward who averaged 3.2 PPG on 35% shooting last year; if anyone coming back has projectible growth, it might be him. If he doesn’t step into the gap, it’s down to the incoming guys...
It’s for just such a rainy day occasion that Utah State transfer Koby McEwen was brought into the team. He’s a 6’4” guard who guns from all over, averaging 15 PPG in two years in the mountain time zone. He’s a career 36% shooter from deep on more than 5.5 attempts per game. He was a bit of a volume scorer who struggled to be efficient against better competition, but playing alongside Howard should help him out. Big man Jayce Johnson is a seven-foot grad transfer from Utah. Like Morrow and John, he’s more of a rebounder than a go-to offensive threat, but he’s been efficient in low usage and defends the rim well.
Speaking of defense, that might well end up being an underrated strength for this team. While the offense has been no lower than 32nd in each of the past three seasons, the defense has jumped from 165th to 45th in the that time. Losing the Hausers hurts on one end, but neither of them would be confused with Stanley Burrell on the other. KenPom projects their defense to be 34th this year, and Bart Torvik is slightly less optimistic but sees the Golden Eagles in the top 60. If Coach Wochieowski can evolve the offense into something beyond Howard Plus Four Others to keep his star’s legs fresh and the defense can hold up its end of the bargain, there might be life left in this squad yet.
Why Marquette can beat Xavier
Markus Howard, really. He dropped 57 on the Muskies in two games last year; when he has his legs under him, he’s really difficult to stop. If Xavier’s shooting isn’t going well, the Golden Eagles have a bevy of really big dudes to clog up the paint for X’s big men. It will be really hard for X to get any separation against Marquette without hitting jumpers, and Marquette has the Big East’s most explosive scorer ready to gobble up any ground our favorite guys might be able to gain.
Why Xavier can beat Marquette
It wouldn’t be the first time a team tried to bully Howard off the ball with a bigger defender, but Xavier has the bigger, more athletic guards to (theoretically) make Howard incredibly uncomfortable on and off the ball. If Bryce Moore is as advertised and Quentin Goodin is healthy, X can push Marquette to a plan B they may not have. If Jason Carter and/or Naji Marshall can man the four and force Marquette to play small or move bigs away from the rim, Xavier has a recipe for success.