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2020-2021 Marquette Men’s Basketball Player Preview: #21 D.J. Carton

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The Ohio State transfer looks to have a big role on a rebuilding team

Ohio State v Maryland Photo by G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/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 start off our one and only full week of player previews with a look at the immediately eligible transfer.......

D.J. Carton

Sophomore - #21 - Guard - 6’2” - 200 lbs. - Bettendorf, Iowa

If a poll were to be taken of Marquette basketball fans, there’s a good likelihood that most fans are low on expectations for the team this year and going forward. Likely this will end up being a year that many forget due to a lack of interest with the team, frustration with the coaching situation and a lack of fervor surrounding sports culture after tiresome months of litigious discussion on how sports can be played.

Nothing I said there is surprising. Still, there’s a reason that paragraph still strikes me as even a little odd. After a shocking departure from the Ohio State program due to a brave and public battle with unspecified mental health issues, one of the best returning point guards in the country will be making his way to Marquette as the best case scenario for finding one man to fill Markus Howard’s clown-sized star guard shoes.

D.J. Carton was a top-35 player coming out of high school and quickly emerged as one of the country’s bright young stars. A 15 point, 5-for-6 shooting performance late in the non-conference season against Kentucky even launched him into NBA discussions before a brutal seven game stretch torpedoed the Buckeyes’ hopes at a Big Ten title. Carton struggled mightily during that time when the early stain of his turnover issues were brought to the focus of his opponents. Other issues were clearly at play as well, so D.J. took a leave of absence from the team with 11 games left and never returned, announcing the intention to transfer shortly thereafter.

Which brings him to Marquette’s door not entirely unlike the infant Moses floating down the waters of the Nile. There was a Markus Howard-sized hole in the offense set to be filled by players that equate to scotch tape and glitter in a system that desperately needs guys to create shots for themselves and others. A pass-first (26.9% assist rate per KenPom, would have been top 150 if he had the minutes) point guard with elite shooting ability (40% on 60 attempts) can create easy shots and driving lanes for guys like Dawson Garcia, Koby McEwen and Greg Elliott. Those guys can’t be expected to produce their own shot at a level worthy of the 34th best team in the country, and Carton’s creative passing can buy them those precious extra feet of space.

Reasonable Expectations

It is not hyperbolic to assume that D.J. Carton’s performance will dictate the Golden Eagles’ overall trajectory for the season. That’s why it’s in this section. With a more loaded incoming freshman class and the (hopeful?) emergence of Symir Torrence in the backcourt, the extent of that expectation will not go to the conclusion of Markus Howard’s “The team will perform as he does” line that we touted around this time a year ago. Still, Dawson Garcia is the only other player on this team with a comparable recruiting ranking to D.J., and he’s had *gestures in the direction of the entire world* to deal with in addition to trying to just get some quality practice time in with guys on his skill level.

In terms of the scheme, Carton fits like a glove. He’s at his peak working in pick and roll situations, which is partially why NBA scouts were salivating over him. He has incredible quickness for his 6’2” frame and he uses it to get effective shots at the rim. That’s what will separate him from guys like Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey. He’s a legitimate threat to shoot from deep, but if he’s getting those shots, it’s not off the dribble. That really makes him like almost every other basketball player, but Marquette fans have seen some unicorns over the last 4 years.

But Carton’s skillset is something that the team desperately needed at the end of last year, which was strong finishing around the rim. Here’s a fun stat that will make you mad: D.J. Carton, who had MU in a final six recruiting group back in the day, shot 39-for-59 (66%!) in the “shots at the rim” range last year. The only person on Marquette with a better percentage with that was Brendan Bailey, who only attempted 25 close twos in 11 more games played. Getting to and closing the deal at the rim is a desperate need for the team, and Carton does not sacrifice deep shots to get those since he made 40% of his threes last year. His shot release has always been annoyingly low but honestly, if he can get the shots off regularly and they go in 40% of the time, who cares other than NBA scouts who get paid to find the teeniest tiniest flaws you can possibly imagine.

All this is not to mask at all his passing skills, which are at a much higher level than any of the aforementioned attributes that he brings to the team. All of the “Wojo needs a passing point guard” dorks can finally shut the hell up even though they’ve spent the last half decade being 1) wrong and 2) boring. As the old saying goes, it’s called POINT guard, not PASS guard. Anyway, those weirdos will be more than satisfied with the touch and creativity that the southpaw from Bettendorf brings to the table. His quick first step on the pick and roll creates so many situations where interior defenders are required to step up and help. When a shot wasn’t there, he can make just about any pass to a cutting wing or opportunistic big man. Carton even adds some razzle-dazzle to the entire show as his court presence can lead to some aesthetically pleasing no-look passes and ankle breakers. He’s an extremely fun player to watch.

I bet you know what the flip side to this is, don’t you? Yeah, he turns it over a lot, or at least he did in his Ohio State minutes. Like a lot a lot. The vision is certainly there, but it’s far from fully developed. There’s no Special Scout Knowledge that watching most of his games can tell you here. It was a straightforward case of a freshman just getting a little cute sometimes. It happens and I’m sure he’ll get it straight. He and SLU’s Yuri Collins took the title for Most Stereotypical Freshman Point Guard last year.

Reasons To Get Excited

I have been absolutely salivating at a potential lineup involving Symir Torrence and Carton acting as dual point guards of sorts. It would be a little bit of a throwback to the 2017 offense but with a much more balanced attack and much more dynamic (and larger) guards running the show. In my mind, it’s like a good-cop/bad-cop scenario where Torrence is the steady hand of the maestro fertilizing the earth of the offense while Carton takes that rhythm and bends the court to his will. The offense could feature much more off-ball movement since there are two elite passers on the court and likely four shooters. Each guard has the type of size that can’t be hidden and will require extra eyes on pick-and-roll attempts, leaving shooters like Jamal Cain and Dawson Garcia open for pop opportunities. There are so many ways the offense could bloom to its full potential and Wojo has a history of playing two point guards like this in 2017.

And the best part is that there would be no additional sacrifice on defense. As a freshman, Symir used his hands so perfectly well on defense and could create easy turnovers for himself. While Carton would try to do too much in the passing game, he showed so much poise as a defender. Guards don’t often get blocked shots, but when they do it’s the result of patience and well-timed jumps when they’re backed down. Carton executed these situations like a five year pro, with by far the best block rate of any of the other wings on his team.

It’s not as bad as it used to be, but by golly do Steve Wojciechowski teams suck at defense, especially at the guard level. Having two capable floodwalls to stop any momentum getting into the paint is about the only time the defense has worked in the last few years. With the small lineups like this staff has been using, the bigs need opportunities to breathe. When the wings act like an NYC Subway turnstyle, the area of coverage for Theo John gets bigger and bigger and his increased motion can easily lead to unnecessary fouls. Having those two guards playing in tandem can bring Theo closer to the basket where he can make a difference and would massively improve the offensive ceiling.

Reasons To Be Worried

I have been absolutely cringing at a potential lineup involving Koby McEwen and Carton acting as the typical point guard/shooting guard archetype. It would be a stupid throwback to watching Joseph Chartouny lead the offense but with worse off ball players. In my mind it’s like a bad-cop/worse-cop scenario where Carton is forced to fit in the pass first mold just to get Koby more shots because he’s The Senior Leader Who Deserves His Chance To Shine. This offense would feature a lot of stagnation because there are no other real threats to shoot from outside and McEwen has made it abundantly clear that he does not want to be a distributor despite evidence suggesting that he’s actually being kinda good at it. D.J. would be asked to conjure up an entire possession of offense off one one Theo John pick and the turnover problems would get much worse since he doesn’t have the insane scoring ability the Markus has. The offense would fall flat on its face in the same way as last year and Wojo has a history of being resistant to playing around with different lineups.

The defense would mostly be the same as last year. You as fans rated Koby as the worst defender on an already poor defensive team so that just means a bigger task for D.J. to deal with. It ends up being the worst of both worlds.

Yes, I just declared Carton’s biggest potential problem is literally nothing he can control because it’s another player on the team.

There’s a lot to love about what the former tippy top prospect brings to the table this year. The results that the team ultimately sees, though, is entirely dependent on the scheme around him. Wojo was beyond lucky to have the scoring talent of Markus Howard in his playbook for 4 years. This will be the big test of how he is able to use elite talent that requires a good system to work with, because while Carton may be a game changing type talent, he’s not the nuclear powered level scorer that can hide other flaws like Howard was.