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Big East Preview: Marquette

Marquette’s coaching change is the big story in Milwaukee this year.

NCAA Basketball: Texas at Oklahoma
There’s only one story in Milwaukee this year
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Name a Marquette player you know. Nope, not him, he’s gone. No, not that guy either, he’s gone. DJ Carton? Great guess, he’s gone. Maybe a random Hauser still floating around? nope. What about that Dawson Garcia kid who ruined Xavier’s night? Gone. Enough of this guessing game, here’s who is left: Greg Elliott, Justin Lewis, Oso Ighodaro, and three walk-ons. Yes, at one point this year Marquette had three scholarship basketball players and enough total dudes to play a game with one sub.

As you may have heard though, Marquette has a new coach. Also gone from last year is Steve Wojciechowski. Wojo leaves having taken the Golden Eagles to the tournament twice and losing in the first round twice. His appointment and early recruiting came with a lot of hype that he ultimately failed to deliver on. For three of those years Marquette was near 100 on the KenPom, for one year they were mediocre, and for three years they floated in the 30s. What they never did was win when it mattered or show signs of significant improvement. Now, the Wojo Era is over.

Into that vacancy steps Shaka Smart. Smart was the shiny new thing when he left VCU and arrived at Texas in 2015. At VCU Smart took a team that Anthony Grant had built and turned it into a perennial NCAA tournament contender. That success largely eluded him at Texas, where six seasons led to three tournament bids and no wins. Smart arrives at Marquette looking to put the shine back on a career whose last rebound was arrested by Abilene Christian.

But with what? One thing Smart has always been able to do is recruit, and his arrival in Milwaukee has been no different. Faced with a roster denuded of almost every contributor, Smart reloaded.

Returning players:

Sometimes it can be a drag to type these things because it’s so much flipping back and forth to copy in each player. Not so here; thanks Marquette! Justin Lewis is the top returning scorer and leader in minutes. Lewis went for 7.5/5.4/0.8 as a freshman last season despite not shooting the ball terribly well. He’s a monster on the glass and figures to be a large part of what Smart is setting up. Equally important will be the steadying presence of Greg Elliott. “Steadying” may not actually be the best adverbial to use for someone with a turnover rate of 19.9%, but Elliot did post an ORtg of 114 and shot 45.5% behind the arc last season in around 18 minutes per game. Raw big Oso Ighodaro only appeared in five games last season but also returns.

Incoming players:

Here the list gets a bit bigger. The best addition Smart made was likely grad transfer guard Darryl Morsell. Morsell was the Big Ten defensive player of the year for Maryland last season and averaged 9.0/4.0/2.8 for a Terrapin team that was knocked out in the second round by Alabama. Smart also snagged occasional Oklahoma starter Kur Kuath. Kuath is a 6-10 shot blocking monster who scores more by dint of being close the basket than anything else. Olivier Maxence-Prosper (from Clemson) and Tyler Kolek are the other two transfers on the roster. Prosper is raw and needs some work, but Kolek comes having averaged 10.8/3.6/2.3 at George Mason. Kolek isn’t a polished shooter, but he will do most of his damage behind the arc.

The shining piece of Smart’s recruiting class is Stevie Mitchell. Mitchell, a guard, is a top 100 recruit who will play right away for Marquette once he is fully healed from a lower leg injury. Kameron Jones is another guard who some insiders believe will start for the Golden Eagles this season. Both he and Mitchell can fill it up and should help solidify the point guard spot for Smart. Emarion Ellis, Keeyan Itejere, and David Joplin are all three or four start recruits depending in which service you prefer. Smart has depth, if not an overwhelming amount of top end talent, on this roster.

Outlook

In the preseason poll Marquette was picked to finish ninth. That goes up if Smart can stitch together a team from a lot of talented parts and his freshman are ready to rock from the off. The Golden Eagles are going to pressure, play fast, and dare teams to meet them at their speed. That could cause problems for opponents and steal them a couple of extra wins.

Marquette will finish worse than ninth if DePaul has a great year (big nope there) and both Creighton and Georgetown complete their rebuilds quickly and successfully. Smart has the talent and the experience to turn this team of disparate parts into a real threat. If he can do it in just one year remains to be seen.