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2019-20 Marquette Basketball Player Preview: #23 Jamal Cain

How will one of Marquette’s top athletes play a role now that wing minutes are open for the taking?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 06 Marquette at Seton Hall Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2019-20 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 MU’s freshmen, then the lone graduate transfer, followed by the two guys who were on the team but sat out all of 2018-19 for one reason or another, 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 shine a spotlight on the first of the returning players from last year’s active roster.....

Jamal Cain

Junior - #23 - Forward - 6’7” - 200 pounds - Pontiac, Michigan

Well, it’s hard to start this one without talking about that most tired of Marquette conversation topics: the departure of the Hausers.

No, no, hear me out on this one. I have to start with the Hausers. This is about Jamal, trust me. But I have to start here.

Last year, the Hausers combined for 133 made 3s, shooting over 40% from beyond the arc. They also combined for 60+ minutes at the 3 and 4 per game, 24.6 points per game, 12.5 rebounds per game, nearly 36% of Marquette’s assists, and 21 blocks.

And that’s all gone and it needs to be replaced somehow.

Jamal’s stats last year? 8.6 minutes per game while appearing in 29 of MU’s 34 games, 1.7 points per game, 2.1 rebounds per game, 6 blocks.

One of the guys who will be asked to fill in those missing points/rebounds/floor stretching/whatever else this year now that the expected starters at the 3 and 4 on March 22nd are no longer suiting up in blue and gold? You guessed it. Jamal Cain.

It feels so unfair that we have to examine those guys who will play on the wing this year (Jamal, Brendan Bailey, Sacar Anim amongst others) through the Hauser-shaped lens. And to those screaming “good riddance, we don’t want to hear about it anymore, move on, talk about the guys that are there, we love this group and brotherhood, etc.” I GET IT. Trust me, I get it. But it is so difficult to not wonder what might have been, and more than that, we’re talking about a serious amount of production that has to be replaced one way or another.

Nevertheless, we do go forward. After a very solid freshman campaign in 2017-2018, where he shot 47% from three, 49% from the floor, just missed out on a top 200 steal rate according to KenPom, and had a top 500 defensive rebounding rate, Jamal suffered a sophomore slump. He dropped from 41.3% of the minutes to 18.3%, posted an offensive rating of 79.8, shot a not great 27.3% from beyond the arc, had an abysmal 32.2 turnover rate on a team that struggled mightily to hold onto the ball anyway, and generally fell out of favor as Wojo tightened the rotation later in the season, preferring freshman Brendan Bailey and starting 2 guard-at-the-time Sacar Anim to take up excess wing minutes when the aforementioned Hausers came off the floor.

With the brothers gone, Jamal has a chance this year to reassert himself as a key rotation piece for your Marquette Golden Eagles. But what can we expect?

Reasonable Expectations

Look, there’s a reason “sophomore slump” is in the popular vernacular. It seems to be a common occurrence. And yikes, did Jamal suffer from it. But we’ve seen him play much better than last season suggests. And one would think that having that extra motivation, knowing that his number will be called on a regular basis to play good minutes at the 3 and 4, would be a motivator to make sure that last season gets put firmly outside of his mind.

Marquette needs Jamal to rediscover his stroke from the corner three that he had his freshman. If he can find that, I like to think that he has a regular place in the rotation. He looked shaky on the ball for any extended time, but I like the idea of playing him off of one or two dribbles going towards the rim from, say, the short corner. He also flashed a pretty-looking midrange jumper. I believe in his ability to get open off the ball, and I think that he can easily contribute 5-7 points a night on a combination of corner threes, jumpers off of screens, one or two power dribbles into finishes around the rim and a stray putback here and there. Plus, his athleticism and speed screams for him to be a finisher in transition. If this team can play a bit faster and create more in the open court off of opponent turnovers, I think he will thrive.

He isn’t an elite defender, but his combo of strength, size, speed, and lankiness can be relied on to cause problems for opponents. He’s a better rebounder than the numbers suggest and works to make sure his man isn’t getting an offensive board. I think he has all of the ability to be a better than average defender and rebounder and be a key piece late in the season off of the bench.

Why You Should Get Excited

Well, he’s a whacky ridiculous athlete. I don’t recommend saying this kind of thing about a guy who couldn’t figure out how to get on the floor for a team that spent most of last season ranked in the top 25, buuuuuuuuuut:

In addition to that, Cain fits the prototype Wojo seems to love in the lanky, floor stretching, athletic wing/combo forward. He shot 47% from 3 as a freshman. He’s quick, and if he’s added any sort of confidence in ballhandling/pick and roll/isolation and finishing at the rim, there are very few defenders in the Big East that can stop him. He will out jump you, out hustle you, out-length you (it’s a thing, trust me, don’t look it up), and (assuming the above is true) outscore you. As I’ve said above, he is so much better than last year suggests, and he’s flashed abilities such as the pull up jumper and good rebounding instinct that can be turned into extra Marquette possession or points. If he can rediscover his stealing ability, he will again provide Marquette with more possessions, whether in the halfcourt or in transition. At his best, he’s a Big East starter (or at least pushing both Brendan and Sacar) night in and night out, and is a lethal spot up shooter that can chip in 10-12 points a night, 4 rebounds a night, and at least one highlight dunk per contest, just for kicks.

Potential Pitfalls

I mean, last year did happen. Even though he should be doing his best to drive it from memory, it is what it is. Furthermore, it seems that Bailey has supplanted Jamal’s place as the preferred starter at the 4, while Sacar Anim seems to be the starter at the 3.

If Jamal struggles, it may be hard for him to break into the rotation. While he’s technically the only other true “wing” player outside of Brendan and Sacar, Greg Elliott is lanky enough and a good enough defender to spell Sacar at the 3 (Dexter Akanno may be as well), and Wojo has dabbled with the idea of using Ed Morrow/Theo John at the 4 for some minutes with the addition of Jayce Johnson as a big man. If Jamal can’t beat the slump of last year, and if any one of Greg, Dexter, Ed, or Theo solidify a rotation spot, it may be hard for Jamal to find floor time. This has to be the year he does it, too, as the two Marquette commits so far for the next class are tough combo forwards who can handle the ball and shoot the jumper. Jamal needs to not fall down the pecking order this year. But if the shots don’t fall and the turnovers keep coming, that may be exactly what happens.

Conclusion

I have complete faith in Jamal to find his freshman form again. On a team that needs to get the best out of everyone each night, I think he will step back up and be a reliable, solid rotation player for this team.