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 said we were going through the players one by one in this order: 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. However, late breaking news has changed that order, and gave us one last Player Preview to add to the pile.
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, let’s dive in to the Player Preview that we didn’t expect to have to write this year until this past weekend........
Junior - #55 - Guard - 6’5” - 220 lbs. - Bronx, New York
When we wrote about Jose Perez making the decision to transfer to Marquette back in early May, it appeared at the time that Marquette’s two incoming transfers were going to sit out for the 2020-21 season. Sure, we all anticipated that D.J. Carton would be applying for a waiver, but we wouldn’t know that was approved until five weeks after Perez joined the team. Perez, though, was a different deal. There was no talk about a waiver, no thought that he was going to get a waiver, no discussion from national media types when talking about the Golden Eagles this season about Perez waiting for a waiver..... nothing. It looked like he was going to go along with the normal NCAA transfer rules and redshirt this season like most other transfers before him.
And then, on Saturday, Marquette announced that Perez’s waiver to play immediately had been approved. Outta nowhere, just boom, hey, by the way, he’s playing this year, thanks for everything, tip your server.
Perez’s addition to the active roster is more than welcome, as he gives head coach Steve Wojciechowski 11 men on scholarship to work with this season. Sure, rotations tend to not stray deeper than nine for most college basketball teams, but the extra added depth when two scholarship spots sit open and available is more than welcome. We’ll see if he gets a chance to actually contribute in a big way for the Golden Eagles this season, particularly as it seems the plan was supposed to be for Perez to sit out this season.
Perez comes to Marquette after two seasons at Gardner-Webb Bulldogs. He made an immediate impact with the Bulldogs as a freshman, starting in 26 of his 35 appearances and averaging 15.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game. That was good enough for second on the team in scoring but tops in both rebounding and assists on a Gardner-Webb team that went 23-12 after reaching the NCAA tournament and falling to eventual champion Virginia in the first round. Perez did some of his best work in his team’s biggest games that year. In what KenPom.com calls Gardner-Webb’s seven top 100 opponents, Perez raised his effective field goal percentage up above 53%, got his assist rate up over 19%, and cut his turnover rate under 14%. In the program’s first ever NCAA tournament game, Perez came up big for the Bulldogs, throwing together 19 points on 7-for-10 shooting, three rebounds, three assists, and a steal. They were actually beating Virginia at the half, but at that point, the Cavaliers had started a 30-5 run that would change the outcome.
Year Two in Boiling Springs did not go as well for Gardner-Webb. They would finish the year at 16-16, but by that point, Perez had already taken a leave of absence from the squad. When he departed the team, they were just 9-13 on the year and 5-5 in Big South play after falling 84-81 in overtime to Longwood at home. Perez would not return for any of the final 10 games of the year before announcing his intention to transfer, and he was having a personally pretty good season up to that point. He had raised his averages in points (15.2), rebounds (6.5), and assists (4.2) and was leading the team in all three categories.
The big drawback to Perez’s sophomore year was his shooting. In all games in the 2018-19 season, Perez shot 38% from behind the three-point line, and he knocked down 37% against Division 1 foes. 2019-20? Yeah, not so much. He connected on just 25% of his three-point attempts, although that did tick ever so slightly upwards against only D1 teams to 25.6%. I can’t even give you a “well, against top 50 teams, he was better” split there, because even his 29% against Big South teams was not good. His two-point shooting was not good as well, falling from 48% as a freshman to just 39% as a sophomore.
Part of that, quite simply, is that Perez was shooting more. Overall attempts went from 11.2 to 13.6, two-point attempts went from 7.2 to 8.9, and long range bombs went from 4.0 to 4.7. As we just saw with Markus Howard, sometimes when you’re The Guy on the team, you’re going to take more shots that aren’t the best possible shot for you. For Howard, that meant shooting 40% instead of 55% like during his freshman season. For Perez, that meant wandering off into a shooting percentage area that was terrible.
Well, this is a hard one to pin down. I haven’t really been considering how Perez fits into this team up until Saturday since I wasn’t expecting him to play. I also don’t see him fitting into a role as “The Guy” on this team, not right out of the gate. If there was a sentiment from the coaching staff that Perez would be best benefitted by sitting out this year and that’s why there wasn’t a pursuit of a waiver immediately out of the gate, then that has an impact on what he could bring to the table, too. If Steve Wojciechowski and his assistants were approaching bringing Perez in with the idea that he needed a year to make himself ready to play in the Big East, I don’t know if that has changed. The circumstances have, sure, what with the NCAA extending everyone on a roster this year an extra year of eligibility if they want it thus perhaps making a waiver more palatable to everyone involved. That doesn’t suddenly make Perez more Big East ready in the coaches’ eyes, though.
Here’s what we know, though: Perez is not going to be asked to be The Guy on this team. No one who gets a waiver four days before the season starts was a major cog in the planning for the year. For Perez, that might not be the worst thing. If he can start picking his spots instead of being asked to carry the team, that might ultimately help his efficiency on the court. With Koby McEwen fitting into the rotation as The Big Guard in front of Perez in the lineup (at least for the time being, go read our McEwen preview), that means all Perez has to do is carry his end of things. Of course, we might have said the same thing about McEwen a year ago, and that did not go well.
I think that at 6’5” and a somewhat surprising 220 pounds, Perez provides the Golden Eagles with an intriguing option of size and physicality at the guard/wing positions. When you’re a guy who can bring something different to the table, there’s always a possibility that you can earn minutes that way. I think we have to project Perez as a part-time player, someone who can carry a second unit off the bench, but maybe not more than that for the time being. T-Rank’s outlook of 4.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.6 assists while playing 38% of the minutes feels about right.
Why You Should Get Excited
I don’t have any faith in Koby McEwen at the moment, as is very clear if you go read his Player Preview. He’s probably the only player on the roster that I am legitimately worried about for this season. Why am I talking about McEwen in terms of Perez? Well, Perez seems to be the guy on the roster most matched to McEwen in terms of size and abilities. Height, weight, general guard/wing skills, statistical comps, it all seems to match up pretty well.
The point of the story here is that there is a distinct chance based on how last season went — especially at the end — that Koby McEwen might not be able to contribute to this team in a regular fashion this season. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m not putting a lot of eggs in that basket. If that’s how that all shakes out, the door is wide open for Perez to grab onto the brass ring and occupy the minutes that the coaching staff can’t hand over to McEwen. We have no idea how much responsibility the coaches are planning on giving to McEwen, but if that falls apart, Perez has the chance to make an impact.
At the very least, Perez’s newfound eligibility gives Marquette a little bit of flexibility. Redshirt freshman Dexter Akanno is apparently still shaking off the effects of COVID-19 and at least as of about a week ago, he had not been cleared by MU’s medical staff. We can’t be sure how much Akanno was factoring into things up until the program shutdown due to coronavirus exposure, but for now, he’s on the sideline. In theory, that should mean that Perez can slip into Akanno’s projected spot in the rotation and start showing what he can do. In addition to Akanno being a question mark, we don’t know exactly how healed Greg Elliott is. He had ankle surgery back in April, and while that was a long time ago in terms of recovery time, that’s two ankle surgeries in 10 months for the Michigan native. If Elliott’s athleticism has been stolen from him by his repeated injuries, then he may not be able to play a notable role for this team this year. That’s another avenue for Perez to get on the floor. If the skills that led Perez to average 15/6/4 in 57 games for Gardner-Webb translate to the Big East, then big things might be in store for the New Yorker.
I think the biggest possible problem for Perez in 2020-21 is that he just isn’t Big East ready and ends up being relegated to a deep bench role at best. That’s not the worst thing in the world, and it might honestly be in line with what the coaching staff was expecting for Perez in the first place.
The biggest question for me relative to how much playing time Perez can get is his shooting. It’s not a secret that Steve Wojciechowski loves him some three-point shooting, or at the very least, he loves taking advantage of having shooters who can hit a bajillion threes. If 38% Freshman Year Jose Perez shows up on the court for Marquette, that’s great news! If 25% Sophomore Year Jose Perez is what we get, then that’s going to keep him on the bench. With Markus Howard gone, offense is going to have to come from multiple different spots on the floor, and that means balance is key. If teams are able to sag off of Perez because they don’t have to worry about his long range shot, that’s going to cause dysfunction everywhere else on the floor for the Golden Eagles, and that’s not going to work out for anyone involved.