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The 12 Days of 'Big East-Mas' Season Preview: Marquette Golden Eagles

Marquette Golden Eagles

19-13, 11-8 (5th in Big East)

Last Year in Review

Shaka Smart's first season in Milwaukee was a rollercoaster. The Golden Eagles started off the season hot, winning five straight. That included a win over then No. 10 Illinois and now conference-foe Andre Curbelo that got Ed Cooley all excited.

Marquette finished non-conference play with an 8-3 record, and all three losses came against ranked opponents: No. 22 St. Bonaventure on a neutral floor, No. 23 Wisconsin on the road, and No. 4 UCLA at home.

That loss against UCLA began a four-game losing streak into Big East play, as the Golden Eagles dropped games at Xavier and to UConn and Creighton. That game against the Bluejays was a thriller that went into double-overtime.

At 8-6 on the season and 0-3 in the Big East, it would have been easy to count Marquette, picked to finish ninth in the conference in the preseason, out. Instead, the team bounced back with authority.

Starting with an 88-56 win over eventual league-champion Providence, the Golden Eagles put together seven wins in a row. Justin Lewis hit a late 3-pointer to break Villanova's 29-game winning-streak on campus as part of that streak, and one game after the streak broke at Providence, Marquette returned home to finish a sweep over the Wildcats. In less than a month, the Golden Eagles won eight of nine, swept Villanova and Seton Hall, and turned their Big East fortunes around.

The Golden Eagles were ranked as high as No. 18 in the AP Poll before a 3-4 finish to the regular season put Marquette in fifth place in the Big East heading into postseason play, the team's highest finish since 2018-19. That set up a date with Creighton as Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately, that game ended like the two regular season meetings: with a Marquette loss.

Marquette earned a bid for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018-19, getting the No. 9 seed in the East region. That set the team against No. 8 North Carolina, a team that had won seven of eight to end the regular season. It was a game of two teams trending in opposite directions. The Golden Eagles lost that one, and the Tar Heels ended up riding that hot streak all the way to the National Championship.

Who’s Out

  • Justin Lewis, F

  • Darryl Morsell, G

  • Kur Kuath, F

  • Greg Elliot, G

Losing Morsell, Kuath, and Elliot was not a surprise. Lewis, on the other hand, was a surprise. After telling fans he would be staying at Marquette, Lewis then added that fans should not "believe everything they hear" before departing for the NBA Draft anyway.

Lewis led the team in scoring with 16.8 points per game and rebounding with 7.9 boards per game, and he was named to the All-Big East First Team. Morsell was second on the team in scoring (13.4) and playmaking (2.5) while finishing third in rebounding (3.6), and he was a Big East Honorable Mention at the season's end. The duo finished first and second in minutes played per game last year, as well. Replacing that production and impact from that pairing will be the toughest problem Shaka Smart faces next season.

Kur Kuath was one of the top shot blockers in the Big East last year and led Marquette by a wide margin, and Greg Elliot provided experience and shot-making off the bench.

Who’s In

  • Zach Wrightsil, F

  • Chase Ross, G

  • Sean Jones, F

  • Ben Gold, F

Wrightsil is the most interesting name on this list, and he's someone I wrote about over the summer. The NAIA Player of the Year is a physical forward with experience running the press, so he should be an instant fit with what Shaka Smart likes to do. Jones and Ross both sit between 150 and 200 in 247's recruiting rankings, and both could inject some athleticism into the lineup. Gold is more of a question mark, coming in unranked from the NBA Global Academy in Australia. The 6'11" freshman is the tallest player on the roster, so he may be called upon to give backup minutes at the center spot.

Who’s Back

  • Tyler Kolek, G

  • Kam Jones, G

  • Stevie Mitchell, G

  • Emarion Ellis, G

  • David Joplin, F

  • Olivier-Maxence Prosper, F

  • Osa Ighodaro, F

  • Keeyan Itejere, F

Shaka Smart is counting on development from this group. Kolek led the Big East in assists per game last season and was on the court for most of the season, starting all 32 games. Jones, Prosper, and Ighodaro have already proven they can contribute as role players and will now be asked to give the same performances as starters. Jones was the team's best 3-point shooter last year. Prosper and Ighodaro both have a knack for finding the ball and were among the team leaders in steals and rebounds per 40 minutes. Ighodaro also showed promise a shot-blocker, where he'll be tasked with replacing Kur Kuath.

With Ellis sidelined until at least December with a stress fracture in his knee, the burden will fall on Stevie Mitchell and David Joplin to make leaps in their second years. Mitchell came to Marquette as a four-star recruit, but he averaged shy of 11 minutes per game last year. He showed promise at the end of the bench, but that now needs to turn into reality in a significant role. The same statement applies to David Joplin, a three-star recruit who posted similar numbers in about 7 minutes of playing time.

Projected Starters

  • Tyler Kolek, G

  • Kam Jones, G

  • Zach Wrightsil, F

  • Olivier-Maxence Prosper, F

  • Osa Ighodaro

Final Thoughts

With four veterans departing and only one coming in, Shaka Smart is counting on internal development for the Golden Eagles. The starting lineup has some serious upside, with Kolek already proven as a playmaker and Kam Jones finding his groove as a shooter in conference play. Prosper and Ighodaro have both also shown sparks in Milwaukee. The depth, though, is a question mark.

Shaka's press scheme relies on a rotating cast of characters always bringing energy, making those first guys off the bench critical. That means Marquette will need quality contributions from all of the rising sophomores and at least some of the freshmen.

Marquette should be one of the tougher outs in the Big East with that style of play. Unfortunately, it is hard to recover quickly from losing as much talent as this team did, and I understand the skepticism around the team that resulted in the Golden Eagles finishing ninth in the Preseason Coaches' Poll.

A tough early schedule featuring four tournament teams will tell us where Marquette is in the development process before conference play rolls around. The Golden Eagles face Purdue, Baylor, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame all before Christmas, and then draw four more tournament teams in their first four conference games. By the time the clock strikes midnight on 2022, we may know exactly how year two for Shaka at Marquette is going to end.


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