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2020-21 Marquette Men’s Basketball Player Preview: #23 Jamal Cain

Can the senior from Michigan take a big step forward for the Golden Eagles?

NCAA Basketball: Southern at Marquette Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

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 move on to the senior with the biggest opportunity in front of him this season......

Jamal Cain

Senior - #23 - Forward - 6’7” - 200 lbs. - Pontiac, Michigan

It’s been a wild three years at Marquette for Jamal Cain, at least on the basketball court. We’ve gone from “I dunno, maybe he can do some things” to “hey, he’s doing some things!” to “I wonder what else he can do?” to “hey, what happened to all the things?” to “well, which year was the real Jamal Cain?” to “hey, he’s doing stuff again!” to “y’know, it’d be great if the coaching staff would just figure out a role for him and stick to it.”

2019-20 was clearly his most successful season on the court. He averaged career highs in minutes, points, rebounds, and assists, and matched his career high in blocks. Cain bounced back to being the quality shooter that he showed as a freshman and took a big ol’ step forward by shooting 72% from the free throw line after connecting on just 42% of his attempts through his first two seasons.

And so we go into 2020-21 with a bit of optimism for what Cain might be able to accomplish in what will probably be his final year of eligibility. Through a variety of a combination of factors, the door is wide open for Cain to go out on a high note as a Golden Eagle. The only question is whether or not he’ll go through it.

Reasonable Expectations

I think the logical pathway to a reasonable expectation for Cain this season is deciding how you feel about the rest of the Marquette lineup. I personally think that the #1, #4, and #5 spots in the starting lineup are spoken for. We’ll see if the coaches agree with the idea of slotting D.J. Carton, Dawson Garcia, and Theo John into those three spots in order, but you get the point here. Nothing about Jamal Cain’s first three years on campus says “will play the 2 for Steve Wojciechowski,” and the collection of guards in need of minutes probably eliminates him there, too.

So that leaves the 3 as the most likely source of minutes for Cain, and it’s also the position that best suits him. I don’t want to go so far as to say “Jamal Cain is going to start and play 30 minutes a night at the 3” as a reasonable expectation for him. That’s asking a little bit much from a guy who has played 30 minutes in a game a grand total of one time in his 93 game career. But the minutes are easily available, and if Cain can be successful at what the coaching staff needs from that position this year, then he can grab up all the minutes he possibly can.

Cain’s particular physical frame lends itself to the belief that he can make a notable contribution this year, no matter where he ends up in the rotation. He’s tall, he’s got length for days which helps make up for any deficiencies he might have, he’s strong enough to mix it up in the paint, he can can triples like it’s going out of style, and I think we haven’t quite scratched the surface of what his athleticism can provide for Marquette. With the roster situation being what it is — lots of new faces, only 10 scholarship players available — I think we need to expect that Jamal Cain is an every night notable contributor for Marquette.

T-Rank says 6.0 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.2 assists while playing 54% of minutes. That would be career bests in every department, so sign me up for that.

Why You Should Get Excited

Two things should have kind of stuck out in that last section when you read it. The first was me indicating that Jamal Cain would work out well at the 3 this season and there’s lots of minutes available there. The second was noting that he has played 30 minutes in a game just once in his career with the Golden Eagles.

These things are connected.

Jamal Cain’s lone 30 minute performance in his college career came last season as the Golden Eagles visited Kansas State in Manhattan. Cain came off the bench to play 34 minutes in relief of Brendan Bailey who racked up three fouls in just six minutes, and he was great. Cain went 6-for-9 from the field, connecting on three of his four long range attempts, finishing with 17 points, more than any player on the court other than Markus Howard who only had 19.. He reeled in nine rebounds, three on the offensive end. He dished two assists. He hit both his free throws. declared him to be the MVP of the game.

And Marquette needed that performance from Cain. As mentioned, Bailey was lost in the high grass and relegated to the bench when Steve Wojciechowski realized what Cain was getting done. Koby McEwen fouled out in 18 minutes. MU needed 21 minutes from Greg Elliott and 16 from Symir Torrence just to put guys on the floor that were actually performing as needed to win the game. Cain’s outstanding showcase was very much required on that December night in Kansas, and he came through in a big big way.

In short, I believe fully in The Jamal Cain Experience. Give him extended minutes, let him get comfortable, let him get in the flow of the game, and let him show off what he can do. I’m not saying he’s going to be shooting 67% from the field every night, obviously, but it’s clear that the guy can contribute big minutes and Marquette may just need big minutes at the 3 this season. There isn’t an obvious candidate based on previous experience to get those minutes right now, and I think Jamal Cain is perfect for 25-30 minutes a night there.

In short: LET. JAMAL. COOK.

Potential Pitfalls

So, here’s the thing. My concern for Jamal Cain this season isn’t really concern for what Cain can do. My concern is that the coaching staff has shown a lack of interest in getting him the minutes that he perhaps deserves. Case in point: Cain tore it up against Kansas State, but when Big East play started less than a month later, Cain played less than 10 minutes in three of MU’s first six games. That’s not exactly rewarding a guy for a big performance in a big spot. This would eventually turn around as the season went on, and in what would turn out to be the final game of the 2019-20 season, Cain was one of the guys on the floor for Marquette when Wojciechowski benched half the team because they were stinking out the joint against St. John’s.

Good news: Cain was on the floor as Marquette made that crazy but ultimately futile comeback. Bad news: It took Wojciechowski realizing that the season was collapsing on him to turn things over to Cain. This has been a constant for the last two years. I think we can ignore any ups and downs from Cain’s freshman year because that’s freshman year stuff. But Cain was almost invisible as a sophomore and never got consistent time on the court after he basically won a game for MU all by himself as a junior. While I believe that Cain can give the Golden Eagles what they need, I’m convinced that the coaching staff doesn’t believe that or at the very least, they find ways to talk themselves into believing something else is the correct answer. Until we actually see Cain getting those big minutes and giving those big performances, that thought is going to loom in my head.