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Big East Season Preview: Marquette Golden Eagles

Jeremy Schrank and Conner Handel give us the 411 on the Marquette Golden Eagles, who come into 2014 with a mixed bag, and many new faces.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

2013-14 in Review: 17-15 (9-9 Big East), Lost to Xavier in 1st Round of Big East Tournament

Head Coach: It’s Steve Wojciechowski’s first season as a head coach after being an assistant under Coach K at Duke. Wojo will have the duty of taking over a young team after the Golden Eagles disappointing, tournament-less campaign last season.

Key Returnees: Deonte Burton (6.9 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 47.8 FG%, 4-8 3P FG, 64.7 FT%), Derrick Wilson (5.0 PPG, 4.2 APG, 3.8 RPG, 39.1 FG%, 7.1 3P%, 33.2 FT%), Juan Anderson (3.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.0 APG, 37.8 FG%, 19.2 3P%, 73.1 FT%), JaJuan Johnson (4.3 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 1.0 APG, 44.3 FG%, 29 3P%, 80 FT%)

Notable Departures: Todd Mayo (Professional Career; 11.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 2.0 APG, 46.1 FG%, 33.3 3P%, 81.4 FT%), Jamil Wilson (Graduated; 11.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 2.6 APG, 42.8 FG%, 32.7 3P%, 67.0 FT%) , Davante Gardner (Graduated; 14.9 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.3 APG, 52.8 FG%, 78.1 FT%), Chris Otule (Graduated; 5.8 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 0.2 APG, 1.0 BPG, 59.1 FG%, 55 FT%), Jake Thomas (7.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.3 APG, 36.7 FG%, 39.0 3P%, 76.1 FT%)

Key Additions: Matt Carlino (Transfer from BYU), Wally Ellenson (Transfer from Minnesota), Sandy Cohen III (4-star recruit), Luke Fischer (Transfer from Indiana)

Projected Starting Lineup: Derrick Wilson, Matt Carlino, JuJuan Johnson, Deonte Burton, Steve Taylor Jr.

Key Nonconference Matchups: Nov. 18 @ No. 20 Ohio State, Nov. 27 vs. Georgia Tech, Dec. 6 vs. No. 3 Wisconsin, Dec. 16 vs. Arizona State

Last Season: Marquette’s season last year can be summed up with one word: average. The Golden Eagles played numerous talented opponents, including ranked teams like Wisconsin, Ohio State, Creighton and Villanova, but they lost all of those games.  However, besides a 17-point loss to Ohio State early on the season where MU shot 18.9 percent from the field, Marquette was in most of those contests.

Wojo will have his hands full trying to find the right lineup to throw out that will provide enough offense yet remain strong on the defensive end. For Marquette’s sake, he better find out pretty quickly

Despite the weakened Big East, Marquette managed to have its worst season since 2001.  The Golden Eagles missed the tournament for the first time in nine years.  There is both good news and bad news for Golden Eagle faithful.  We can start with the bad and end on the good.

Numerous close games didn’t go their way including eight losses by eight points or less. MU went 9-9 in conference play with losing its last three games and two each by one point in double overtime.

The roster was talented but couldn’t consistently muster up enough offense, especially late in ball games. Davante Gardner carried the load offensively and the emergence of Todd Mayo as a clutch outside shooter gave Marquette a spark heading into the BIG EAST Tournament.

The season ended abruptly, however, as the Golden Eagles lost another tight game, this time to Xavier 68-65.  It was a "down" year for Marquette fans, yet MU still managed to finish sixth in the conference with a record above .500.

The Bad News

Not only did Marquette struggle greatly in its debut in the new-look Big East, but they lost their head coach of six years as well.  Buzz Williams led Marquette to the tournament five times and to Big East Champions once. He left for Virginia Tech in the offseason.

Wojo will take over a team full of new faces, and not just new to Wojciechowski.  Marquette lost five of their top six players from last year.  None was bigger, both literally and figuratively, than the loss of Davante Gardner to graduation.  The 6’8’’, 290-pound forward is the reigning two-time Big East Sixth Man of the Year.  Both he and fellow graduate Chris Otule were able to matchup pound-for-pound with any frontcourt in the nation.  The loss of Jamil Wilson as well means the Golden Eagles will be without their top three forwards from last year.

They did land a former Top-100 recruit in Indiana transfer Luke Fischer.  Unfortunately for the Golden Eagles, the 6’11 forward will not be eligible until Dec. 14.  In the mean time, their two tallest forwards are Juan Anderson and Steve Taylor Jr. at 6’6 and 6’7 respectively.

Their backcourt is in slightly better shape than the frontcourt.  Initially, they only lost Jake Thomas to graduation.  But the team’s third leading scorer Todd Mayo this summer opted to forgo his senior season to pursue a professional basketball career.

The Good News

Amidst the many departures, Marquette was still able to attract some talent.  Matt Carlino was the third leading scorer last season at BYU, a team that was third in the nation in scoring.  Carlino will join the Golden Eagles for his final year of eligibility as he attends graduate school.  He will provide Marquette with three-point range, ball facilitation and senior leadership.

Alongside Carlino in the backcourt will be the team’s lone returning starter Derrick Wilson.  He ran the point for the Golden Eagles last season and helped the team dish out the third most assists in the conference.

That fluid ball movement will be key again this season in building team cohesiveness.  Marquette brought in three Top-100 recruits a year ago in guards Duane Wilson and JaJuan Johnson and wingman Deonte Burton.  Wilson redshirted last season after missing the first month of the season due to a stress fracture in his right leg.  Johnson and Burton saw little action averaging around 13 minutes per game.  The trio will see increased roles this season and will have to live up to their Top-100 expectations if they want to even consider making the tournament.

Upper class men forwards Juan Anderson and Steve Taylor Jr. will also have to take strides this season as they too averaged fewer than 15 minutes per game.  They will likely man the frontcourt at least until Luke Fischer becomes eligible.

In a time of transition for Marquette, there is still some fortune. Other Big East teams, too, are dealing with marquee losses.  They will not have to deal with Big East studs such as Creighton’s Doug McDermott, Xavier’s Semaj Christon or Providence’s Bryce Cotton this season.

Even so, it is unlikely the Golden Eagles finish in the top half of the Big East.  It should take some time for the players to figure out their role and learn the new system.  Marquette will probably be watching its second consecutive NCAA Tournament from the comfort of their couch.  But do not be discouraged Marquette fans, so long as the program does not have any more unexpected departures, there is a good chance they punch their ticket to the Big Dance next season.

Prediction: Wojo will have his hands full trying to find the right lineup to throw out that will provide enough offense yet remain strong on the defensive end. For Marquette’s sake, he better find out pretty quickly because MU will travel to Columbus to take on Ohio State in just its second game of the season. We’ll find out a lot about this team in the month of December, though. They'll face Georgia Tech as part of the Orlando Classic, and matchups with Wisconsin and Arizona State highlight the home nonconference slate. If Marquette can come away with two wins, the season sets up nice finishing off nonconference play and heading into DePaul for their first Big East game. With a pretty difficult nonconference schedule and what seems to be a down year, another 17 win season seems likely for the Golden Eagles.