The 2017-18 college basketball season is right around the corner, so let's get into the Marquette Golden Eagles basketball roster and take a look at what to expect from each player this season. We'll be going through the players one by one: First the four freshmen going in alphabetical order by last name, moving on to MU’s lone available transfer this season, and then wrapping up with the returning players, going in order of average minutes played per game last season from lowest to highest.
We’re going to organize our thoughts about the upcoming season as it relates to each player into categories:
- Reasonable Expectations
- Why You Should Get Excited
- Potential Pitfalls
With that out of the way, we kick things off with one of MU’s three freshmen from Michigan....
Freshman - #23 - Forward - 6’ 7” - 190 lb. - Pontiac, Michigan
Jamal Cain is a long-limbed multi-dimensional player hailing from Michigan. He was a finalist for the Michigan Mr. Basketball award after averaging 24 points, 14 rebounds, and four assists as a senior, and that was actually a down year for him. Cain averaged 26 points and 15.7 rebounds as a junior at Cornerstone High School in Detroit. 247 Sports marks him as the #143 prospect in the country in their Composite system, but he was #98 in their internal rankings. Rivals likes him even more in the class of 2017, ranking him at #80 in the country. That low Composite ranking is the result of both ESPN and Scout not having him ranked at all.
Ok, brace yourself for this: Jamal Cain is arguably the best athlete on the team this year. That is both a blessing and a curse for him, it gives Cain the potential to be an impact player on both sides of the ball and possibly develop into the team’s sixth man or even starting small forward, however, this also means that we are putting a lot of expectations on a freshman who is still very skinny and has to acclimate to the speed, intensity, and most of all strength of major conference basketball (See how I didn't use the outdated term “Power Five”).
Even though I just referred to him playing small forward, Cain’s position remains quite the mystery. I recall Cain mentioning in an interview that Wojo wanted him to play some shooting guard but it has also been stated in other interviews that Cain could be seeing some time at power forward this year. The enigma of Jamal Cain is one that may not be unraveled during his freshman campaign as his ceiling is so high we may not even get a hint of it over the next seven (hopefully eight) months.
I expect Jamal Cain to get a shot at real playing time this year. With his length and athletic ability he has all the marking of a defensive stopper, something that Marquette needs desperately on the wing with Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey in the backcourt. I think that it is reasonable for Cain to average around 15-20 minutes in conference play and manage to score between 6 and 8 points per game. If his defense and rebounding can get him on the court he should be able to scrap up some fast break points along with a few open threes while the defense is occupied chasing the smaller guys around the perimeter. It is reasonable that Cain has the largest overall impact on the team of any of the newcomers and along with Theo John greatly improves the Marquette defense.
Why You Should Get Excited
I’m not going to lie to you here, if I listed and fleshed out all my reasons I was excited about Jamal Cain there is no way my editor would approve the length of this article so I’ll condense the best I can. As previously stated, Jamal Cain is a freak athlete and if you saw any of the scrimmage from Marquette Madness you would already know this. Cain will have the ability to block shots both on the ball and from the weak side, his length should help him create havoc in the passing lanes and convert steals to highlight reel dunks... and that's just on defense. On offense, Cain’s superior athleticism should allow his to blow past defenders and finish with force in the lane, Cain has also flashed a reliable jump shot both from three and midrange in high school and AAU games. With these things combined, Cain has the highest upside of any of the newcomers and possibly anyone on the team.
As much as I like Jamal Cain he is not quite perfect or really even close. Cain is now competing with grown men who have been hitting the weight room for years. Cain’s slight frame could make it difficult for him to get to the basket and if he is too far away from the hoop his field goal percentages will drop steeply. In order to be a productive player Cain will also need to work on his ball handling in order to prevent the monstrous turnover numbers that freshman normally put up. The last pitfall for Cain’s game is his jumper. Cain has good touch and range, however, from watching available online footage of him, when starts his shot he drops the ball below his waist before raising it to shoot. This hitch not only slows his shot, but also makes the motion harder to repeat. I am sure the Marquette coaching staff has noticed this and have been working with him during the offseason to fix this. More recent clips of Cain make it seem that Cain has cleaned up the hitch in his jumper. This is overall good news but it may impact his jumper in the short term as he has been shooting with a hitch for a long time.
Jamal Cain is a talented young player with a lot going for him. If he can keep his nose to the grindstone and add some weight along with some consistency to his jumper he could easily find himself playing impactful minutes when March rolls around.