The Kansas Jayhawks start the NIT Season Tip-off tonight playing against the Marquette Golden Eagles, tipping off after the conclusion of the Louisville-Tennessee matchup. The previews of Marquette coming into the season were a bit scattered, and so to give us a clearer picture of the team we are going to face, I reached out to Brewtown Andy over on Anonymous Eagle, the SB Nation site that covers Marquette. He answered a few questions for us.
RCT: Marquette was nearly ranked in the preseason, towards the top of the Earning Votes category, and then got punished for losing to a ranked Indiana team on the road. So what are the real expectations for this team going into the season?
AE: Even before a game was played this year, heck, even before last season ended, 2018-19 was going to be a make-or-break season for Steve Wojciechowski. Any observer, biased or unbiased, would be able to say that Wojo did not clearly overachieve as a head coach in any of his first four seasons at Marquette. There’s a lot of factors at play for each of his seasons that if you squint hard enough, you can at least point at something that explains why that was the case.
There are no reasons to explain anything away for Wojo this year. This is his most talented team, this is his deepest team, this is his most experienced team, and on top of all of that, the Big East took a pretty strong hit in terms of depth and experience. The preseason view was nearly everyone in the league is taking a step back in one way or another, but Marquette was poised to take a step forward. A top three Big East finish and an NCAA tournament seed somewhere north of #7 was the consensus view.
In short: It is very, very important for Wojo to do something with this team that can be pointed at as a reason to call the season a success.
There’s questions about a lot of things right now, though, both within Marquette’s performance as well as the Big East in general.
RCT: Markus Howard is the biggest name coming back from last year’s team. What do you expect from him, and how do the other pieces fit around him?
AE: Quite honestly, he should be a candidate for Big East Player of the Year. If Marquette is going to hit the heights that they should be capable of hitting, then it all starts with Howard taking a run at that trophy and unseating Shamorie Ponds from his preseason honor. For the most part, he’s shown the ability to get there so far this season. While it’s only been four games, Howard is averaging nearly six rebounds and six assists a game while his scoring hasn’t taken a dip at all. His long range shooting has been very off thus far, but when you can say “very off” about a 38% shooter, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Sam Hauser was his primary running buddy coming into the season, and that’s probably still the case. However, the always steady performance from the junior from Stevens Point, Wisconsin, may start to be eclipsed by his younger brother. Freshman Joey Hauser is a slightly taller, slightly bigger, slightly more agile, slightly more athletic version of his older brother, and let me tell you: That should scare the living bejeezus out of people, and if it doesn’t, the realization that Sam and Joey are probably going to play a lot of minutes together all season long should.
RCT: Marquette has had a blistering offense the last couple of years, but the defense has been really bad. What is different this year that gives you hope for an improvement?
AE: The hope comes two-fold. First, gunner extraordinaire Andrew Rowsey has finished up his eligibility. His devil may care attitude may have shot Marquette into a bunch of games over the past two seasons, but his notoriously bad pick and roll defense may have escorted MU out of a lot of games as well. In theory, merely playing someone else on the defensive end other than Rowsey should make things better.
The other part is the addition of two transfers. Ed Morrow makes his way onto the floor for Marquette this season after sitting out following his departure from Nebraska, while Joseph Chartouny is a graduate transfer from Fordham. Morrow is a power forward who earned a reputation as a rim protector and rebounder for the Huskers, two things that were lacking to varying degrees for Marquette the last two years. Chartouny appears to be a natural fit to occupy the vacancy left by Rowsey. He’s much taller than the (allegedly) 5’11 Rowsey, so his mere physical existence should be helpful, and on top of that, he ranked either #1 or #2 in the country in Steal Rate according KenPom each of the past two seasons.
The first part seems to be working so far, at least outside of the Indiana game. The second part is still up in the air. Neither Morrow nor Chartouny have put together anything resembling a solid full game yet, although the last 13 minutes of Saturday’s game against Presbyterian at least looked like the light has gone on for Chartouny.
RCT: Turning to the game, Kansas is extremely deep this year, and has talent all over the floor. How can Marquette match up, and where do you think will be the best place to attack the Jayhawks?
AE: Marquette’s best chance to win is most likely going to come from the Golden Eagles figuring out how to shoot lights out like they did the past two years. That hasn’t happened quite yet this year, so it’s a little worrying in general for the season, much less for Wednesday night against the #2 team in the country. A glance at the stat sheet shows that Kansas hasn’t defended the three-point line particularly well this season, both in terms of shooting percentage as well as the rate at which those shots get launched. Dead eye long range shooting is supposed to be a Marquette forte, and if they can get it going, they can make this game interesting.
The Golden Eagles are capable of putting multiple lineups on the floor where all five guys can let fly from deep, but that same lineup would also leave them somewhat vulnerable to getting ripped to shreds inside by Dedric Lawson and Udoka Azubuike. It may be a tall task for Wojo and his staff to find a lineup that hits enough of the right notes to both score and defend.
RCT: Prediction Time! How do you see the game going tonight?
AE: I wrote this game off in my mind as a loss for the Golden Eagles as soon as the bracket was announced. Marquette is a team that is supposed to be good enough to challenge for the top spot in the Big East, while Kansas has their eyes on a national championship. That’s fine, it is what it is. However, after the Indiana game where MU never even got out of the starting blocks, I really need to see a competitive game. Keep it within 10, and I’ll chalk the loss up to “hey, look, improvement!”
A big thanks to Andrew for helping us out today. Don’t forget to check out the questions I answered for him over on Anonymous Eagle.