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Big East 2016-2017 Preview: Marquette Golden Eagles

Marquette’s postseason hopes ride on a talented young backcourt.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Xavier vs Marquette
Jajuan Johnson looks to help lead Marquette back to the tournament in his senior season
William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

After signs of improvement with a large cadre of freshmen last year, Marquette basketball is looking to take the next step with Coach Wojo and the talented group of now-NCAA seasoned players.

Last Season

20-13, 8-10 Big East (7th place)

Notable Returnees (2015-16 Stats)

Luke Fischer - C, Senior (12.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 61% FG%, 47 blocks)

Haanif Cheatham - G, Sophomore (11.8 PPG, 2.2 APG, 3.4 RPG, 49% FG%, 39% 3PT%)

Jajuan Johnson - G/F, Senior (10.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 51% FG%, 39% 3PT%, 51 steals)

Traci Carter - G, Sophmore (5.4 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 4.6 APG, 48 steals)

Notable Departures (2015-16 Stats)

Henry Ellenson - F (17.0 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 45% FG%)

Notable Additions

Andrew Rowsey - G (Redshirt transfer last year - UNC Asheville)

Katin Reinhardt - F (Transfer from USC)

Sam Hauser - F (Stevens Point Area High School)

Markus Howard - G (Findlay Prep)

Projected Starting Lineup

PG - Traci Carter

SG - Haanif Cheatham

SF - Jajuan Johnson

PF - Katin Reinhardt or Sam Hauser (it’s a coin flip)

C - Luke Fischer

Coach

Steve Wojciechowski (33-32 in two seasons)

Storylines

Seasoning

Last year, around 60% of Big East minutes were accounted for by freshmen players, including revelations like Traci Carter and Haanif Cheatham, in addition to the obvious one in Henry Ellenson. With a year of playing under their belt and another year working with the staff, Marquette returns dangerous sophomore pieces.

Nonconference Scheduling

Last year, the highlights of Marquette’s nonconference scheduling included a road win at Sweet 16 and Xavier-slayer Wisconsin and an absolute thrashing by Iowa at the Bradley Center. This year, Marquette gets Vanderbilt, Michigan, and one of SMU or Pitt in neutral games, they also go to Georgia, and get Wisconsin and Fresno State at the Bradley Center. This schedule is much stronger and should provide great early season insight into how well this team can play.

Postseason Hopes

Marquette hasn’t made a postseason tournament since 2013. Former coach Buzz Williams left the year after, and Coach Wojo has been meticulously recruiting and building a talented team since. The fanbase is hungry for postseason success after some down years. With the returning players and good schedule, this will be a statement year for Coach Wojo. Can he guide this team to the heights this talent can reach, or will there be more aching for the NCAA Tournament in Milwaukee?

Three Reasons to Be Optimistic

The Returning Talent

Luke Fischer, Jajuan Johnson, Traci Carter, Haanif Cheatham. These four, along with Henry Ellenson, played as consistent starters last year. Duane Wilson and Sandy Cohen were sparkplugs off of the bench. While Ellenson did take up a large portion of the offense, this year these guys will be given the keys and told to make good things happen. The potential of the returning talent is immense and the ceiling is very, very high.

The New Guys Look Pretty Good, Too

Sam Hauser is a favorite of the coaching staff (Wojo already has said that he has a big role to play this year) and fits a unique role within the team as a stretch 4 who is athletic and can create a shot off of the dribble and/or drive. Markus Howard is electric and quick, with a fast release. He led the team with 17 points, including being 4-6 from 3 in the exhibition win over Rockhurst. Andrew Rowsey is a lights out shooter who can finally show off why he was such a desired transfer. Katin Reinhardt is a bigger shooter who compliments the lineup by stretching defenses. The incoming talent fits well and adds new dimensions to the offensive end of the floor.

Wojo’s Recruiting

Marquette has been mediocre the past few seasons, as Coach Wojo has started to mold the team into his identity, but he’s managed to recruit like a maniac anyway. Good players are picking this team even without the postseason success. This may be the year that Wojo’s recruiting starts to pay off big time, with his chosen recruits finally representing the core of his team instead of the young guys waiting their turn.

Three Reasons to Be Pessimistic

Where’s the Size?

Marquette has two true big men in Luke Fischer (6-11) and underused sophomore Matt Heldt (6-10). Sam Hauser is the next tallest listed on the roster at 6-7. During the exhibition against Rockhurst, Hauser was at one point playing center. If any of them go down hurt (Heldt has had ankle problems, Fischer shoulder problems), Marquette will be walking the finest of lines of being absolutely dominated down low. Coach Wojo needs his smaller guys to step up and play bigger than they are for Marquette to succeed on defense, and perimeter defense needs to be near perfect to make up for the lack in post defense.

The Big East is Scary

Reigning national champions Villanova return a bunch of talent, including Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins amongst others. Xavier is loaded with talent, and Edmond Sumner might compete for Big East Player of the Year. Creighton is a great squad loaded with backcourt talent in Maurice Watson and Marcus Foster. Seton Hall only lost Isaiah Whitehead from their key contributors on their NCAA tournament squad last year. Butler and Georgetown are both always dangerous. Marquette is good, but the Big East is fantastic, and that means the Golden Eagles will have to come to play every night and beat good teams in tough situations to stand out in a stacked conference.

The Potential Sophomore Slump

Even with the turnover rates and playing tough teams night in and night out, players like Cheatham and Carter had fantastic freshmen seasons. Now, however, teams know how good they are, and with Ellenson gone teams can gameplan to beat these guys. The pressure is fully on to produce at high levels every single game, and if either one of them hits a slump, Marquette might suffer greatly for it.

Best Case Scenario

Everything fires on all cylinders for the returners and the new guys fit in perfectly. Marquette has a fantastic nonconference season and then pulls off double digit Big East wins (most likely 10 or 11), wins a Big East Tournament game or two, and returns to the NCAA Tournament.

Worst Case Scenario

Big guys go down hurt and Marquette gets mauled in the nonconference before losing tough swing games both at home and on the road in the Big East, finishing near the cellar with only six or seven wins, and again missing the NCAA Tournament and NIT.