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No. 25 Marquette Golden Eagles: Can Wojo find a way to get his team to defend?

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Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25.

Today we dive into No. 25 Marquette.


Steve Wojciechowski is heading into his fifth season as the head coach at Marquette, and in theory, this should be the best team that he has had since arriving in Milwaukee on the heels of the Buzz Williams era.

I like when all of the dots connect, and it seems like that is going to be the case for this team.

They have an all-american at the point, arguably the nation’s best shooter in Markus Howard who averaged 20.4 points despite sharing lead guard duties with the now-departed Andrew Rowsey. They have one of the nation’s most underrated forwards in Sam Hauser and his brother, Joey, a top 50 prospect that enrolled in school a semester early to redshirt and rehab with the program. They have a number of talented wing pieces that fill different roles and provide Wojo with a measure of lineup versatility.

Perhaps most importantly, the Marquette coaching staff tapped into the transfer market to fill the biggest holes on this roster, adding Joseph Chartouny and Ed Morrow.

Put it all together, and there really is a lot to like here.

But the question this season is the same as it has been for each of the last two years: Will Marquette ever figure out how to get stops?

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MARQUETTE WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

There’s little doubt in my mind that this group is going to be able to put up points in a hurry, because that’s really the only thing that they have been good at since Wojo showed up.

In each of the last two seasons, the Golden Eagles finished in the top 12 of KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric. Only four other teams managed to do that — Villanova, Duke, Kansas and North Carolina. That’s pretty impressive company to be in, and I don’t see them slowing down at all this season.

The biggest reason for that is the return of Markus Howard. The 5-foot-11 native of Arizona has proven himself to be in elite company when it comes to his ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter. As a freshman, he knocked down a ridiculous 54.7 percent of his three pointers while shooting 4.8 threes per night. As a sophomore, he shot more than eight threes per game and still hit better than 40 percent of them despite the fact that the threes he was taking were a much higher degree of difficulty. His scoring rose from 13.2 points as a freshman to 20.4 points as a sophomore.

And with Andrew Rowsey, who actually led the team in scoring and assists last season, gone, Howard’s role is going to grow even larger as a junior.

I have little doubt he’ll be able to handle it. Howard’s efficiency did not drop all that much between his freshman and sophomore seasons despite seeing his usage rate rise from 25.4 to 28.8. The way he was used was totally different as well. As a freshman, 33.1 percent of Howard’s offense came simply as a spot-up shooter, a number that dropped to 19.5 percent as a sophomore, according to Synergy. Instead, 42.6 percent of Howard’s offense came in pick-and-roll actions when including passes.

Frankly, there’s still plenty of room for him to improve as well. During his sophomore season, Marquette ran Howard off of screens five times as often as his freshman year, but he shot just 30.9 percent in those actions. His 0.797 points-per-possession ranked in the 36th percentile nationally. For someone that shoots the ball as well as Howard does, shooting on the move should not be all that difficult to improve.

Markus Howard (Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

And it’s something that he will need to improve on, because one of the key additions that Marquette made this offseason was Fordham grad transfer Joseph Chartouny, who should be able to step in right away and provide consistent minutes next to Howard. Chartouny averaged 12.2 points, 5.6 boards, 4.6 assists and 3.3 steals as a junior, but he profiles much more as facilitator than anything else. As good as Rowsey was, he was a guy that was ball-dominant and looking to score first. Chartouny is phenomenal in ball-screens, has a very high IQ and will look to get his teammates involved first. That is a good combination of skills for a player on a team that will likely have three snipers around him.

What’s more promising is that Marquette does have weapons around him that will be able to score. Sam Hauser remains one of the most underrated players in the country. As a sophomore, he averaged 14.1 points, 5.7 boards and 2.9 assists — more than Howard — while shooting 48.7 percent from three and turning in the nation’s 11th-highest offensive rating, according to KenPom. He’ll be a junior this season and should play plenty of minutes with his brother Joey, another skilled, 6-foot-8 forward with plenty of range, joining him on the floor.

I’d expect those three to be the crux of what Marquette does offensively, and they should be talented enough to carry the load, but there are other pieces. Jamal Cain is a 6-foot-7 sophomore that shot 47.3 percent from three as a freshman. Brendan Bailey, another versatile, 6-foot-8 forward, is the son of former NBA player Thurl Bailey and was a top 50 prospect coming out of high school before going on his Mormon mission.

Marquette is annually one of the nation’s best shooting teams and most efficient offenses, and there’s no reason for that to change in 2018-19.

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Sam Hauser (Darryl Oumi/Getty Images)

BUT MARQUETTE IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

The Golden Eagles have been a train-wreck on the defensive end of the floor for two years, and we’ve reached the point where the inability to get stops has turned into something of a calling card for the Wojo era.

Every year that he has been the head coach at Marquette, their defense has gotten worse. Last season, the Golden Eagles finished 182nd in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric. Only six high-major programs finished below them: Washington State, East Carolina, South Florida, Tulane, Memphis and Iowa. Only four teams reached the NCAA tournament with a worse defensive rating — Texas Southern, LIU Brooklyn, NC-Central, Iona — and Iona, a No. 15 seed, was the only tournament invitee that was not in a play-in game.

This is what happens when the three best players on your team are all mediocre-at-best defenders. Both Rowsey and Howard are under 6-foot with limited physical tools, and Sam Hauser is certainly not known for his athletic prowess. Center Matt Heldt didn’t exactly help matters, either. He’s not a great shot-blocker and he’s less-inclined to make an impact defending ball-screens. When your perimeter players struggle to keep people in front, your defense cannot guard pick-and-rolls and there isn’t someone at the rim to erase defensive mistakes, this is what happens.

With Howard, Heldt and both Hausers all expected to see major minutes again this season, Marquette is not going to turn into Virginia overnight.

But there is some reason to be optimistic that things will be better this year.

For starters, Chartouny is unquestionably going to be an upgrade defensively over Rowsey. He stands 6-foot-3, which helps quite a bit, and he has finished top two in steal rate each of the last two seasons, although those numbers were inflated a bit by the style of defense Fordham played. He’ll be an upgrade defensively, but he’s not Khyri Thomas.

Then there is Nebraska transfer Ed Morrow. A 6-foot-7 redshirt junior, Morrow excels at being athletic and playing hard. He’s somewhat limited offensively — sources in the Big Ten said part of the reason that Nebraska improved last season after he left was because they no longer had to neuter their playbook — but Marquette isn’t going to need him to do too much. He’s an aggressive rebounder, he’ll help as a rim protector and he is going to be a factor in ball-screens on both ends of the floor.

As one coach put, those guys “will help them [but] won’t win them the Big East.”

Ed Morrow (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

THE X-FACTOR

The Hausers.

Both of them.

Let’s start with Sam. He played last season with a hip issue that required surgery to fix this offseason. He underwent the procedure in March, and while he was supposed to be out six months, it’s now late-September and he still isn’t back to full strength. He’s expected to be cleared soon and, barring a setback, will be ready to go by the start of the season, but it’s hard to project how any player is going to come back from a long layoff and recover from a surgery. He needs to be at full strength and, frankly, better than he was last year if Marquette is going to outperform expectations.

And then there is Joey. It’s always going to be difficult to project how a freshman is going to impact a team and a program, and that’s before you consider the health issues he’s dealt with in the last year. He underwent surgery last August to deal with a foot injury he suffered in a 2016 football game. He then underwent another surgery on his ankle in December, an injury that was likely related to his first surgery. He enrolled at Marquette early in part to get the best medical care that he could as he rehabbed, and he was cleared for workouts over the summer.

I can probably include Brendan Bailey in this conversation as well. He was a top 50 prospect but he missed the last two seasons on his mission.

Those three are the versatile forwards that will be able to help Marquette space the floor this season. They will determine what Marquette’s ceiling is this year.

2018-19 OUTLOOK

Marquette is going to be one of those teams that can beat anyone.

They will have nights where they score 100 points. Markus Howard may not go for 52 points in a game against this season, but I would not be surprised to see him crack 40 multiple times. When they get hot they are going to be very difficult to beat.

The issue is going to be on the defensive end of the floor. Can they get enough stops that they will still win some games when they go 8-for-30 from three instead of 14-for-30? In theory, I think they can, but that is going to depend on the health of the Hausers, the impact that Chartouny and Morrow make defensively and how Howard adjusts to being the marked man in the Big East.

They should be a tournament team. But would anyone be surprised if they finished outside the top 100 defensively in a return trip to the NIT?

Miami lands Florida grad-transfer Keith Stone

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Keith Stone is leaving the SEC but not the state of Florida.

The former Gator will finish his career at Miami as a graduate transfer, he announced Monday via social media.

The 6-foot-8 Stone is from Deerfield, Fla., less than an hour’s ride from Miami Beach. He averaged 6.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season before tearing his ACL in January. With Dewan Hernandez, Ebuka Izundu, and Anthony Lawrence all gone from the Canes, Stone could be in line for a major role right from the jump if his knee gets back to full strength.

Miami went 14-18 last season to finish under .500 for the first time in Jim Larranaga’s eight seasons, and it was just the second time the Canes failed to win at least 20 games.

Kyle Guy says he’s staying in the draft, will not return to Virginia

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Kyle Guy is off to the professional ranks.

The Virginia junior had already declared for the NBA draft, but announced Monday that he plans to stay in the draft and not return to the Cavaliers next season, as he would be allowed to under NCAA rules.

“I am officially keeping my name in the draft. I know it’s the right step after much prayer and thought with my family,” Guy wrote on social media.

Players retain the option to return to school up until the end of next month, but Guy’s announcement makes it clear he has no intention of utilizing that avenue as he plows ahead toward a professional career after being named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player as Virginia won its first-ever national championship earlier this month in Minneapolis.

The 6-foot-2 guard averaged 15.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game in Virginia’s slow-paced offense while shooting 49.5 percent from 3-point range. Right now, Guy’s draft ceiling would appear to be in the second round with going undrafted a possibility as well. If he does make it at the next level, it’s pretty clear it’ll be the 3-point shooting that gets and keeps him there in a league that covets that skill now more than ever.

For Virginia, Guy’s decision simply crystalizes what was likely the reality already – they’re going to have a completely remade roster, which certainly isn’t uncommon for national championship winners. There’s a reason no one since Florida in 2006 and 2007 has repeated as champions. With Guy gone and Ty Jerome, De’Andre Hunter and Mamadi Diakite all having declared, Tony Bennett and Co. could be looking at more modest expectations following the greatest season in program history.

Duke adds to 2019 class with top-30 guard Cassius Stanley

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Duke’s already monster 2019 class got even stronger Monday.

Cassius Stanley, a four-star guard from California, pledged to the Blue Devils to give them their fifth recruit rated in the top-35 nationally in the class.

“I’ll be joining the brotherhood. Go Duke,” Stanley said in his announcement video posted to social media.

“He wants to come in and start or contribute as a starter on a highly competitive team,” Jerome Stanley, Cassius’ father, told 247Sports. “He’s used to winning and he plans to come in there and win. He doesn’t plan to be a project, he wants to step on the floor immediately and help them win.”

Stanley’s commitment only further reinforces how strong Duke is on the recruiting trail as it now has five-stars Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt and Wendell Moore signed along with top-40 Boogie Ellis of San Diego.

The Blue Devils may have lost their high-profile trio of Zion Williamson, R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish, but with these major additions along with Tre Jones, Marques Bolden and Alex O’Connell slated to return, they’ll be looking at another top-10 (and maybe higher) preseason ranking after a disappointing Elite Eight departure from the NCAA tournament last month.

Udoka Azubuike returning to Kansas for senior season

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Injuries have robbed Kansas center Udoka Azubuike of nearly two full seasons of college basketball. They also likely played a major part on while he’ll be back for his fourth year on campus.

The 7-footer will return to Lawrence and the Jayhawks for his senior season rather than declare for the NBA draft, the school announced Monday.

“We’re all very excited about Udoka making the decision not to enter the draft,” Kansas coach Bill Self said in a statement released by the school. “Unfortunately for him, injury is the reason as he still cannot participate (at) what would be the NBA combine or workouts for the NBA teams. We really anticipated that this would be the year he would enter the draft but that was also based on him having an injury-free year.”

Azubuike was averaging 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 70.5 percent from the field before a wrist injury cut his season short in January after just nine games. He also played just 11 games as a freshman due to injury.

In his lone full healthy season, Azubuike averaged 13 points and 7 rebounds per game as he made 77 percent of his shots from the field, making him nearly an unstoppable force for teams across the Big 12. His return makes Kansas, the 10th-ranked team in our preseason Top 25, an even stronger favorite to regain its Big 12 crown after Texas Tech and Kansas State shared the league title last year to deprive Kansas of its spot atop the league for the first time in 14 years as it battled injuries, suspensions and lackluster play.

The 21 most important ‘stay-or-go’ NBA draft early entry decisions

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This single most important and influential decision when if came to this year’s NBA draft belonged to Cassius Winston.

The Grand Maester of the Michigan State offense, Winston put together an All-American season as he led Michigan State to the 2019 Big Ten regular season title, tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. Over the weekend, the 6-foot point guard announced that he will be returning to school for his senior season, immediately ensuring that the Spartans will be the No. 1 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25 and locking them in as favorites to win next year’s national title.

But he is far from the only important decision that is left to be made in this year’s NBA draft process. At 11:59 p.m. on April 21st, the deadline to declare for the NBA draft came and went. The players who put there name into the mix — more than 130 that we know of — will have until May 29th to pull their names out of the draft.

Here are 21 decisions that will have the biggest impact on the 2019-2020 college basketball season.

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KERRY BLACKSHEAR

Blackshear might be the single-most influential player in all of college basketball, but to figure out where he is going to have influence, the 6-foot-10, 250 pound forward has a couple of decisions to make. For starters, he has declared for the NBA draft, and given that he is 22 years old and more or less fully developed as a player, now may be the best time for him to make the jump to the professional ranks. If he does decide to return to school, he’s going to have to decide where to play: He’s a redshirt junior and a graduate transfer, which means that the Virginia Tech big man may end up being a former Virginia Tech big man. Every school in college basketball will want to get involved. We’ll see where he ends up.

IGNAS BRAZDEIKIS and JORDAN POOLE, Michigan

Michigan essentially had two players on their roster last season that you could trust to be threats on the offensive end of the floor night in and night out: Poole and Brazdeikis. Now it looks like there is a real chance that both of them to could end following Charles Matthews lead and remain in the NBA draft despite the fact that neither look like they will be a first round pick.

That’s a major concern for John Beilein, because with Zavier Simpson, Jon Teske and Isaiah Livers all back, Michigan will have a case to be the preseason No. 1 team in the country if both Iggy and Swaggy Poole return. If both end up gone, the Wolverines may never break 60 points in a game next year.

DEVON DOTSON, QUENTIN GRIMES and UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas

This one is tricky because we have yet to get official word on whether or not Azubuike has actually declared for the draft*; he did last season and ultimately opted to return to school. Of the three, I think Dotson is probably the most important, as the Jayhawks don’t have anyone nearly as good as he is at the point. If Azubuike opts to enter the draft, Bill Self does still have David McCormack on his roster, who will be an adequate replacement. Grimes is the x-factor here. A former top ten recruit, I think he’s probably the most likely to keep his name in the draft this year even if it’s as a second round pick. I’m not sure if that’s necessarily the best plan of action — I do think there is still a chance that he could come back to Kansas and play his way into the first round with a big sophomore year — but I get it. If he’s gone, the Jayhawks do have some perimeter pieces that will be able to fill the void in Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett.

With all three back, we’re talking about Kansas as the surefire best team in the Big 12 and potentially as a top five team. If they’re all gone, then it is going to be a long, long season in Lawrence.

*(Since this posting, Azubuike has announced that he is returning to school.)

Grant Williams (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

GRANT WILLIAMS and JORDAN BONE, Tennessee

This may sound counterintuitive, but I think that it is true: Bone is the more likely of the two to leave school this year, but Williams would have a much bigger impact on the Tennessee program if he opts to return. Bone was a bit inconsistent as a junior, but when he was at his best, he was the best guard in the SEC. Losing that hurts, but the truth is that with Lamonte Turner, Jordan Bowden and Josiah James in the mix, there is enough backcourt talent in Knoxville to withstand his departure.

I’m not sure that is true with Williams. Tennessee does have some big bodies on their roster, but Williams would be in the conversation with Cassius Winston for preseason National Player of the Year if he opts to come back to Tennessee for another run at a national title. And with Williams back, they would very much be in that conversation. As it stands, Tennessee is No. 22 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

A source close to the situation told NBC Sports that they think there’s a “50-50” chance that Williams is back.

KYLE GUY and MAMADI DIAKITE, Virginia

I fully expect that both Ty Jerome and De’Andre Hunter will remain in the NBA draft for good. That leaves Guy and Diakite as the players who are up in the air. Everyone should know about Guy by now. The reigning Final Four MOP, Guy led Virginia in scoring last season and is one of the best shooters in all of college basketball. For a program that lacks perimeter depth, Guy’s return would obviously be enormous.

But Diakite’s return is just as impactful. He’s such a monster on the defensive end of the floor, and I’m not sure people realize just how good he is. His offensive game is coming along, but the value is that he would be a perfect pairing next to Jay Huff if Virginia wants to play big and that he is versatile enough to defend on the perimeter if needed when Virginia plays small. It’s not a coincidence that the most productive six-game stretch of Diakite’s career came during the run to the NCAA title, when he averaged 10.5 points, 8.2 boards and 2.7 blocks.

Kyle Guy (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

JORDAN NWORA, Louisville

There are a few Louisville players that have declared for the NBA draft, but for my money, Nwora is the one that matters the most, and it is not close. One of college basketball’s most improved players, Nwora is will be a first-team All-ACC player and a potential All-American if he comes back. He will be the veteran scorer that the Cardinals need as Chris Mack brings in a loaded, six-man recruiting class. With Nwora back, the Cards will be a top ten team.

KILLIAN TILLIE and ZACH NORVELL, Gonzaga

Assuming that Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke are both gone, Tillie becomes the most important player on Gonzaga’s frontcourt if he opts to return to school. And Norvell slides right in as the projected leading scorer. Frankly, with those two and Corey Kispert on the roster, I think the Zags will have more than enough scoring to keep things rolling as their talented six-man recruiting class gets some experience.

The reason they are as low on this list as they are is that I still think there is a ceiling to what Gonzaga can be because of their point guard situation. Right now, they are in a position where they’ll have to decide between freshman Brock Ravet and sophomores Greg Foster Jr. and Joel Ayayi. I would not be surprised if there was a grad transfer that was in the mix here at some point.

ANTHONY COWAN, Maryland

The Terps already got word that they are getting Jalen Smith back for his sophomore season. With the rest of last year’s promising recruiting class in the mix — Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala, Ricky Lindo — the only thing they need to ensure that they are a preseason top ten team is their star point guard. Cowan, if he returns, will be in the mix for preseason All-American honors.

MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

This one isn’t difficult. Seton Hall returns basically everyone from last season if Powell comes back. They should still be relevant in the Big East if he doesn’t, but he was arguably the most dangerous scorer in college basketball this side of Markus Howard last year, and assuming he’s back in the fold, we have the Pirates at No. 12 in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

Myles Powell (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

PAYTON PRITCHARD and KENNY WOOTEN, Oregon

Assuming that Louis King ends up staying in the draft, Pritchard and Wooten are the two guys that will matter for Oregon next season. They are the two pieces that allow Dana Altman’s system to work the way that it is supposed to work — a high-scoring lead guard and an uber-athletic five that can protect the rim and finish lobs. With both of them back, I think Oregon is a top 10-15 team and the best team in the Pac-12.

E.J. MONTGOMERY, Kentucky

Montgomery is interesting here. He’s super-talented, and he plays a position for Kentucky where the Wildcats are going to really lack some depth this season, but we’ve yet to see him prove that he is anything more than ‘loaded with potential’ at the SEC level. I think Kentucky needs him because they need to keep bodies in their frontcourt, but I’m on a wait-and-see mode before I decide just how much of an impact I think that he is going to make.

CHUMA OKEKE and JARED HARPER, Auburn

I would make the argument that these two were the two most important players on Auburn’s team this past season. If I had to guess, I would say that Okeke is probably gone. He proved just how good he is this past season, and his recovery from the torn ACL he suffered in the NCAA tournament likely won’t be complete until December. If he returns to school, it might end up being a two-year decision, but if he comes back and is fully healthy, he is miles better than Danjel Purifoy, Anfernee McLemore and the other options the Tigers have in their frontcourt.

Harper is a bit more up in the air, and while he was terrific this past season, especially in March, I do think that J’Von McCormick’s emergence has given Bruce Pearl some breathing room. He can do a lot of the things that Harper does, just not quite as well.

NEEMIAS QUETA, Utah State

Utah State is currently the No. 16 team in the NBC Sports preseason top 25, and much of that has to do with the fact that we are assuming Queta ends up returning to school. His size, his ability to protect the rim and how well he finishes makes him extremely valuable in the Mountain West and helps the Aggies matchup with teams from bigger conferences.