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2020-21 Marquette Men’s Basketball Player Preview: #2 Justin Lewis

Let’s talk about the third and final true freshman on the roster, shall we?

Marquette v St John’s Photo by Porter Binks/Getty Images

The 2020-21 college basketball season is right around the corner, no matter what the coronavirus pandemic says, 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 in alphabetical order, then the immediately eligible sophomore transfer, then the redshirt freshman, and then the five returning players, going in order of average minutes 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 will wrap up the week with our third and final freshman preview.........

Justin Lewis

Freshman - #2 - Forward - 6’7” - 245 lbs. - Baltimore, Maryland

Alphabetical order for our freshman class previews has brought us to Justin Lewis as the third and final entry. However, he’s not the third in order if you look at it through the recruiting lens. 247 Sports ranks Lewis as the #97 prospect in the Class of 2020 in their Composite system. It’s a far cry from Dawson Garcia at #36, sure, but it still has Lewis solidly ahead of Oso Ighodaro at #126. That makes Lewis the #15 power forward in the recruiting class and the #3 player coming out of the state of Maryland. Whether it’s the Composite, or 247’s internal system, Lewis is still rated as a four-star prospect, but internally, the 247 smart guys aren’t as high on Lewis as everyone else is. Internally, Lewis ranks #111 in the country. Rivals has Lewis as the #124 player in the country and #25 amongst power forwards, which should be making you ask the question “how is Lewis a Composite top 100 guy?” Well, that answer comes to us at least partially from ESPN, where he is ranked #71 in his class. That has him at #12 at his position, but still at #3 in Maryland behind two top 45 prospects that coincidentally, both played at DeMatha just outside of Washington, D.C.

While all three of Marquette’s true freshmen on the roster this season are listed as power forwards in terms of their recruiting position, Lewis is the one that most physically resembles a traditional power forward. At nearly seven feet tall, Garcia gets nudged over to the PF spot from center because of his mobility. Ighodaro has a power forward’s height at 6’9”, but because of his ultra-lanky frame, there’s nothing about him that you immediately connect to the word “power” in your mind when you see him. Lewis, on the other hand, is 6’7” tall, which might not be particularly tall in the forward department, but he’s getting to the power department pretty easily. Marquette currently lists him at 245 pounds, which has him tied with Theo John for the bulkiest guy on the roster. All of this is particularly notable because Lewis was listed at 225 pounds when he committed to Marquette back in July of 2019. The craziest part about all of this is that while John looks like a 245 pound guy, Lewis doesn’t. Check out #2 in the top left in this tweet from the official MBB Twitter.

As a senior at Baltimore Polytechnic, Lewis averaged 19.3 points, 13.4 rebounds, and 4.4 blocks per game. As we talked about with Ighodaro yesterday, that 4.4 blocks per game jumps off the page at you. It’s even more impressive for Lewis, who has to make up for a two inch height differential from his new teammate from Arizona. It speaks to his athleticism, because at some point, that many blocks means guys think that they can get a shot off before Lewis can close on them, but they are horrifyingly wrong. While his senior year stats are pretty neat, I’m almost more interested in his junior year stats, and not just because Poly won their Maryland state record third straight title that year. Lewis went for 17.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 3.2 blocks per game. That’s a remarkably consistent level of production over two high school seasons, and the fact that his Marquette bio includes the assists there while leaving them out from his senior year stats tells us a story, I think. It certainly looks like Lewis went from being a major component on a great team to the star player on a team with high expectations and didn’t have any problem shifting from one to the other. That’s good news for Marquette immediately, as it means Lewis is used to fitting in to his role on the team, but it also means that long term, he understands what is necessary to take that extra step forward.

But that’s something to think about down the road. Let’s focus on 2020-21, shall we?

Reasonable Expectations

We start with the idea that Lewis is most likely going to start the year coming off the bench. His most likely playing opportunities are at the 4 and at the 5 in the lineup, and those two primary roles appear to be occupied by Dawson Garcia and Theo John respectively. That’s fine! Both guys are going to need rest at some point during games, and that provides more than enough playing time for Lewis. The only catch is that he might need to be interchangeable on defense between the two spots instead of relying on the taller Garcia to slide down to the 5 when John takes a breather. If Garcia’s talents are best used as “not the rim protector” on defense, then that job may just have to fall to Lewis instead. That may not be as much of a problem as you think it might for a 6’7” guy, but we’ll circle back to this in a minute.

If you want to talk about stat potential for Lewis, then I don’t necessarily disagree with T-Rank’s outlook. With 32% of minutes played, Lewis projects to 4.4 points and 2.1 rebounds per game. 32% of minutes figures out to about 13 minutes per game, and I think that’s wildly dependent on forces outside Lewis’ control. As you can guess from the previous paragraph, I’m figuring Lewis’ minutes will be very heavily dependent on Theo John’s minutes this season. If the senior big man is going to be limited to 20-25 minutes per game as he has been the past two seasons, then there’s an awful lot more minutes for Lewis to gather up. If Lewis is trending more towards 15-20 minutes a game while he covers for both Garcia and John, I’d figure something more like seven points and four rebounds is much more likely. Quite honestly, I’m not particularly concerned about Lewis’ statistical contributions, especially in the scoring department. Whatever Marquette gets from him there is great.

Why You Should Get Excited

Okay, so I said we would circle back to why we shouldn’t be worried about Lewis playing the 5 along with Garcia at the 4 when John is on the bench. Here’s why.

That, of course, is a tweet from Todd Smith, Marquette’s Director of Sports Performance and head strength and conditioning coach for both men’s basketball and men’s lacrosse. God bless freshman walk-on Luke Fizulich for participating in this wingspan measurement exercise, but we’re going to focus on the three freshmen here. I’m going to pull the three pictures out so you can see them in detail easier.

Here’s Dawson Garcia:

Twitter.com/MUStrength

The general estimation on wingspan is that your arms reach out to the side about as much of a distance as you are tall. Garcia is 6’11”, and it looks like his wingspan is roughly 6’9”, 6’10”. Cool, fine, moving on. Here’s Oso Ighodaro:

Twitter.com/MUStrength

Ighodaro is listed at 6’9”, and it looks like he’s coming in at about 6’10”, maybe 6’11” in wingspan. Sure, whatever, a little bit over, law of averages with Garcia a little bit under. And now, Justin Lewis:

Twitter.com/MUStrength

If you’re like me, your first reaction at seeing this picture is “well, dammit, the 7-foot marker isn’t even visible so now I have no reference point as to how close to 7 feet he is.” Look a second time, particularly at the first fully visible number you can see. The 87 is obviously visible, while the 86 is only shaded by Lewis’ fingertips. Now go back and look at Ighodaro and Garcia. Go find the 86. I’ll wait.

Yeah, that’s right, 6’7” Justin Lewis has a 7’2” wingspan.

You know what’s really helpful when it comes to being a maybe slightly shorter than you’d prefer guy assigned to protecting the rim? A GIGANTIC WINGSPAN, which, obviously, Lewis definitely has. I’m not worried about him being asked to defend in the post, how about you?

By the way, this wingspan probably helps explain why Lewis is tied with John as the heaviest guy on the team but doesn’t look like it. The dude is carrying around seven unexpected inches worth of arm. That tends to add weight that doesn’t make itself obviously apparent when you look at a guy.

Potential Pitfalls

At this point, the possible problem should be obvious to you. While I have every confidence in Lewis being able to accomplish things on the court from a physical perspective, the question as to whether he can actually pull it off remains unanswered until we see him in action. John is the only returning big on the roster for Marquette this season, so the job of backing him up falls to the three freshman power forwards on the roster. We’re not particularly worried about John’s defense, but MU’s team defense has had major flaws over the past few seasons. Getting stops has to be a priority for this team this season, and that means relying on a guy like Lewis to get that done when John is on the bench. If Lewis can’t be that guy, then he’s not going to be playing. Even worse: What happens when John can’t stay on the floor and the Golden Eagles need to cover 20 minutes a game again and they can’t rely on Lewis to occupy some of those minutes because of his defensive shortcomings?