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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?

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.