With the 2017-2018 season in the books, let’s take a few moments to look back at the performance of each member of YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles this year. While we’re at it, we’ll also take a look back at our player previews and see how our preseason prognostications stack up with how things actually played out. We’ll run through roster in order of total minutes played (lowest to highest), which means today’s installment brings us to the first of two freshmen from Michigan......
Freshman - #23 - Forward - 6’7” - 190 lb. - Pontiac, Michigan
Jamal Cain Traditional Stats
Jamal Cain Fancy Stats
** - denotes KenPom top 500 ranking
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.
We were pretty spot-on with our preview of Jamal Cain’s first season as a Golden Eagle, and if anything, pleasantly surprised. The surprising part was on the offense end, so let’s start there. The preview said that averaging 6 to 8 points per game is a reasonable expectation for his freshman year, and though Cain’s 4.6-point average didn’t quite reach that mark, that was mostly because he and Greg Elliot traded games filled with scoring moments that made Marquette fans think to themselves “So young! So good!” But really, the Cain Train showed enough offensive tools in his first year that give enough evidence to assume he’ll become a multi-dimensional scorer at Marquette, should he stay for four years, and, combined with his defense, will vault him to the upper-echelon of Big East players down the line. He shot a scorching 47.3 percent from behind the arc, and while it was only on 55 attempts, that’s enough to sell me on Cain, at the very least, being a solid 3-and-D guy for his career. He had an easy time getting to the rim, his long arms and legs allowing him to get out ahead of his defender, but once he got there, he typically wasn’t strong enough to bully over post defenders and finish through contact. There were moments were his length took over and his arms just found their way into an open shooting space, but he’ll have to bulk up if he plans on consistently finishing at the rim. However, when there were no defenders in front of him, he had a much easier time wreaking havoc on opposing hoops. Like, look at this:
That’s just stupid. So, as physically challenged as he is now, he’ll add some strength and also some nuance to his game to shore up his interior offense. His free throws need work, and work is slightly generous. He shot 47.8 percent from the stripe, but only on 23 attempts (he made 11). It’s a small sample size because of his inability to muscle into defenders to draw fouls, but it’s still not great. I’m kind of perplexed here. His shot is good, albeit slightly Lonzo Ball-ish, and he’s a deadeye from 3, so it’s just a matter of getting up shots in the offseason and finding that repetition. I believe! And I have to, we have to, based off what we’ve seen from Cain this year. He’s got a chance to be an explosive player. KenPom’s comparisons liken him to the freshman years of Hollis Thompson, who played a large role on a good Georgetown team and floated around the NBA, and Caleb Martin, who recently finished up leading his Nevada team to a Sweet 16 appearance. If Cain can do that in his time at Marquette, I’d call that a success.
Cain’s defense is already better than most of this past season’s team. I mean that quite literally, as he led the team in Defensive Rating, per Sports Reference, with 108.7 points given up per 100 possessions. The preview is extremely correct in that Cain did block shots both on the ball and from the weakside, and his length did help him create havoc in the passing lanes. His rebounding was pretty good, giving him a 17.9 percent Defensive Rebounding Percentage. That jumped to 19.6 percent in conference play, good for 12th in the Big East. Speaking of other conference ranks, he was 13th in Block Percentage with 2.4 and 16th in Steal Percentage with 2.2 percent. The Steal Percentage jumps up to 2.7 when you factor in all teams, which is 206th in the country. That’s pretty good! Prefer the eye test to numbers? OK shut up and watch this:
Right?!?! And that’s not even the block that Cain had in the regular season finale against Creighton that caused Davion Mintz to have to retire!
Anyways, there’s not actually that much to talk about regarding the Cain Train’s defense, because what you see is what you get. He’s a tall, long, bouncy wing whose athleticism will help him stay in front of pretty much anybody. Like with his offense, adding strength will be really important in getting to that next level of ball-stopping, but right now, he’s pretty capable of guarding four of the five positions on the court (I wouldn’t ask him to protect the rim just yet). He does have some of the tendencies that freshmen usually do, like not recognizing when to switch, ball watching, and just straight up not paying attention (I feel that), but those are fixable, understandable issues for a 19-year-old kid. We’ll talk about Greg Elliott soon enough, but Cain and Elliott’s length and athleticism are hell for opposing teams, and Marquette fans should be excited for things to come.
It has to be in a close loss to Xavier at home. That was the Cain Train Breakout Game, and there’s not really a close second. With Andrew Rowsey almost singlehandedly keeping the Golden Eagles in the game at home, he needed some help, and Cain was ready. In 29 minutes, he set a career-high of 16 points on 5-8 shooting, drilling four 3-pointers from the corner out of six (the sixth was a desperation shot towards the end of the game), while also tallying 4 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 blocks. He also spent a decent chunk of his time on court guarding Trevon Bluiett, holding him to 6-16 from the floor and 1-8 from distance. Bluiett finished with 23 points thanks to going 10-11 from the free throw line, so one might assume Cain racked up a lot of fouls, too. Not the case. He had 0. Despite the loss, a remarkably poised and effective game from a freshman playing a top-10 team in his first Big East matchup ever. Given the context of the game and Cain’s role, it was really one of the best games by a Marquette player all season.
Season Grade, on a scale of 1-10: 7.5
That’s a pretty good score for the role Cain played. And to be honest, it’s curved towards the flashes of potential he showed rather than a steady judgement of his first year in college hoops. But I also think that’s fair, considering the balance of the offensive load he wasn’t allowed to bear and how much of the defensive load he was forced to bear. Like we said in the preview, Cain probably has the highest ceiling of any newcomer to the team this season, and I would say of maybe anyone on the roster as it stands, and he showed enough this season that should let Marquette fans feel comfortable buying into that.