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2021-2022 Marquette Men’s Basketball Player Preview: #35 Kur Kuath

Can the big man transfer from Oklahoma play big minutes in the middle for the Golden Eagles?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Oklahoma at Gonzaga Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021-22 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 in alphabetical order, then the two underclassmen transfers, then the two super-seniors on their extra year of eligibility, and then finally the three 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, as we always do:

  • Reasonable Expectations
  • Why You Should Get Excited
  • Potential Pitfalls

With that out of the way, it’s time to talk about the transfer from Oklahoma who should probably go straight into the starting lineup for the Golden Eagles........

Kur Kuath

Graduate Student - #35 - Forward - 6’10” - 215 pounds - Biemnon, South Sudan

If there’s one thing that Oklahoma transfer Kur Kuath brings to the locker room, it’s veteran experience. After two years at Salt Lake Community College and three years with the Sooners thanks to a back injury in 2018-19, the 6’10” big man comes to Marquette for his 6th college basketball season.

With 63 Division 1 basketball games under his belt, Kuath is looking to make one final go-round and make a significant impact under Shaka Smart. That’s a pretty smart (get it) move by Kuath, given his new head coach’s well regarded reputation for bringing along big men.

Last season at OU, Kuath started 15 of 27 games and saw an average of 17.1 minutes per night. He averaged 5.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. With Lon Kruger now retired and Marquette coaching candidate Porter Moser taking over that program, Kuath decided his best option was to move on with his Oklahoma degree in hand. He will likely find starting minutes and an increased role in both the overall vision and the offensive game plan.

For a coach in Shaka Smart that loves to prioritize defense and specifically man-to-man defensive responsibilities, Kuath is a perfect fit as a big man to plug and play into that kind of system. He’s an athletic, mobile, high-energy, and most importantly, he is 6’10”. He can be that anchoring rim protector a defensive center needs to be.

Coming out of junior college, the South Sudanese native forward was once considered one of the top JUCO products of that year’s class but never quite reached the heights you’d hope for out of a player of his potential. Though he proved to be a legitimate defensive force and significant help to Oklahoma in reaching the second round in last year’s NCAA tournament, he was also a stand-out on the defensive end in the otherwise brutal loss to Gonzaga. While the Sooners lost the game by 16, Kuath recorded five blocks in that game and dished out four assists on the other end.

Kuath initially indicated in February of 2021 that he was going to leave OU at the end of the season to pursue a professional basketball career. He said leaving Oklahoma was what was best for him and his family. He even declared for the NBA draft. But somewhere along the line, that changed, and in April, he committed to Marquette, less than a month after Shaka Smart was hired.

Shaka Smart has shown a real knack for getting big men NBA ready. While at Texas he had seven NBA draft picks, all forwards or centers. At VCU, he had another two. He’s had nine draft picks in his eleven seasons as an NCAA Division One Head Coach, eight of which hold a physical profile relatively similar to Kuath. Is that to say Kuath is the next pick that Shaka Smart produces? No, probably not. But it does indicate an ability to accelerate the overall career of a big man, and if Kuath was serious about doing what was best for a professional career… then this move makes a lot of sense.

Reasonable Expectations

At the bare minimum, Kur Kuath is going to be the defensive anchor of the Golden Eagles. The man can flat-out block the basketball and is one of the elite rim protectors in the nation. His 1.5 blocks per game were third best in the Big 12, and his block rate led the conference and was top 30 in the country.

Defensively you can do many exciting things with Kuath, he’s athletic and long enough to switch onto more agile wings, and you don’t have to feel terrified if he ends up guarding on the perimeter. He’s clearly best suited when acting as a deterrent at the rim, but he’s got enough flexibility to execute more creative rotations and looks.

On offense, his game is more limited. Thanks to a slenderer frame, he struggles to create his own shot, and he doesn’t have much of a traditional back-to-the-basket post-game. But he is an excellent weapon to have when paired with a guard who can find him. He runs the rim well, is a prime target for lobs, and when allowed to go right at the rim, he has the reach, leap, and strength to attack the rim with power.

Overall, if all you’re asking of Kuath is to be a defensive presence and glass cleaner and an occasional and opportunistic point getter, he’s going to do just that and historically has done it really well. His limitations only become a problem if the rest of the lineup doesn’t supplement him. This can be frustrating, but as a rotational forward/center, who probably won’t lead the team in minutes any game this season… it’s hardly insurmountable.

Reasons to Get Excited

Kuath is a big play monster. His highlight tapes show a player who does high-energy things, and his stats indicate he’s a player who excels at things that gets crowds excited. Dunks, blocks, offensive putbacks, particularly of the dunking kind, and things of that nature. He has shown a shooting touch but hasn’t done enough to prove it’s a regular part of his game, so you hope he shows it more. But at this point, you can reasonably expect a highly impactful player on defense and moderately impactful on the offensive end in the right situations.

Another tool in his utility belt is he is an above-average offensive rebounder. He has a knack for finding the ball off the rim and putting it back with style. His 9.8% Offensive Rebound rate last season was good for 208th in the country last year, and he only improved as the year went on, improving that rate to 11% in conference play, 10th best in the Big 12. So while as we will come to discover his offensive game is limited, his ability to extend plays and create second chances is a mitigating skill set.

There are also lots of small things that make him a big you feel comfortable having on the floor, even with small ball or more guard/wing-oriented lineups. He's mobile, versatile, and better when given opportunities to use his agility rather than when he’s planted in place. More than anything his rim protection ability makes you feel less worried of smaller lineups getting exposed on drives to the rim, he will force teams to think twice before coming inside.

He has an inkling of an ability to be a shooter as well. While he only went 2-for-7 last season from deep, he did take jumpers from the elbow regularly and hit at an encouraging clip. At OU, it wasn't really his job to be that kind of player, but it is interesting to know that there may be that skill set waiting in his back pocket if called upon just in case.

Reasons To Be Worried

Kuath is a veteran player with a ton of experience and game minutes to lean on. The only problem is that in all that playing time and experience, he hasn’t exactly ascended into a player you feel really confident in to be your “guy.” At the JUCO level, he was that guy, but he just never broke through in his three years as a Sooner.

Now that’s asking a lot of a guy, and honestly, that’s only a reason to be worried if you’re getting your expectations out of line. It’s going to be very much a matter of managing expectations with this player. He’s really good at what he does, but what Kuath does is somewhat limited, and now in his sixth college basketball season, it’s not productive to imagine he grows so significantly that that changes in a short period.

He isn’t a great rebounder for a big man, especially on the defensive end which, unfortunately, due to volume outweighs his knack for grabbing offensive boards. He needs the assistance of other playmakers to create offensive opportunities for him, and there is a chance he gets bullied by more physical bigs.

It stands to reason that he could rise to the occasion if given time and an expanded role, which he’s likely to get at Marquette. Considering how young this team is, you could need him to stay competitive for long stretches if the younger players aren’t as consistent. It maybe shouldn’t be counted on or expected, but pleasantly surprising is an excellent middle ground here.

There are lots of little whispers of things that could improve his game tenfold. If he cleans up the defensive glass more consistently, that relieves a lot of pressure. If he reintroduces a midrange or outside jump shot as an even moderate threat, that reduces a ton of pressure off his offensive game.

Kuath will only be in Milwaukee for one season, but it could be an exciting one based on his style of play and the role he’ll be placed in. He’ll be easy to cheer for, that much is for sure.