The 2021-22 college basketball season is quickly approaching, and thus, we turn our attention to previewing the upcoming Marquette Golden Eagles men’s basketball season.
To that end, we’ve got a stacked up list of questions about the forthcoming campaign, and we’ve gotten the #mubbPAC of Paint Touches, Anonymous Eagle, and Cracked Sidewalks back together to take a crack at answering them. There will be a new question every weekday afternoon between now and the start of the season, so be sure to stop back every day to find the new one.
Onwards, then, to the question of the day:
What are your big key things to watch for during Shaka Smart’s first season in charge at Marquette?
Tim Blair, Cracked Sidewalks: A couple of things jump out. The first is in-season improvement, particularly in the final stretch of the campaign. MU fans are sick and tired of watching teams collapse late, season after season. Seeing how the coaching staff manages a deep but very inexperienced roster with an eye on playing its best ball late is key. Secondly, the defense. Much has been made of Smart’s consistent ability to deliver a top 40 defense. That might be too much to ask in Season #1 in the 414, but Smart didn’t land defensive stalwarts like Darryl Morsell and Kur Kuath to continue the recent Marquette tradition of defensive weakness. On a deep, albeit largely young roster, defense figures to be an area where Shaka can coach each player up, every single day.
Carter Chapley, Anonymous Eagle: Ultimately it feels like this year is very much about finding the right mix of finding out what you have with guys like Olivier-Maxence Prosper, Tyler Kolek, Justin Lewis, Stevie Mitchell, and the long list of first and second year players on the roster while also not wasting the time and efforts of guys like Morsell, Kuath, and Greg Elliott, all while establishing an institutional culture that Shaka wants to bring to Marquette. You want to see Shaka’s defensive identity installed that – as previously mentioned – is consistently very good, while also seeing progression and increased role playing from your next generation stars. The perfect compromise is that the strong defense is going to keep you in lots of games and you hope to provide the opportunities to win for those seniors.
Andrei Greska, Paint Touches: I’ve focused on it all summer, so my key is going to be how the guards do in such a heavy pick and roll system. The lack of proven scorers from P&R plays and action is why I’m relatively bearish on Marquette’s overall prospects this season. This system needs scoring guards. If Morsell can be more efficient and a few of Kam Jones/Tyler Kolek/Stevie Mitchell surprises, it changes the trajectory of the season for me.
Joe McCann, Cracked Sidewalks: It has to be improved defense. It’s been pointed out many times that Shaka Smart has had a top 40 KenPom defense every year since 2012, which was his third year as a head coach back at VCU. If Marquette can get to that level (or close enough to it) defensively, we can leave this season - regardless of the overall record - confident that a culture has been established and the team can build on it going forward.
Patrick Leary, Anonymous Eagle: I’m mainly going to watch this team with a “who stands out?” mindset. At least initially, results won’t mean as much especially contrasted with flashes of talent and growth from a lot of the young players. From a results standpoint, sniffing the NCAA tournament would be a good goal for this team. To do that, they’ll need one or two freshmen to step up and become solid rotation players right away. That’s a really big ask. In the last 15 or so years of Marquette basketball, that has rarely happened. Guys like David Joplin and Emarion Ellis can massively raise this team’s ceiling if they grow up fast.
Alan Bykowski, Cracked Sidewalks: It’s all about the offense for me. I expect the defense to be better. With defenders like Morsell and Kuath, athletes like Prosper and Kam Jones, and a defensive coach like Shaka Smart, I expect a marked defensive improvement. If this team is going to get on the bubble and possibly surprise us however, it will be because they turn that defense into offense through transition, find reliable shooters, and come together as a team on the offensive end. Starting with his Final Four run in 2011, Shaka has made the NCAA Tournament in 7 of the 8 seasons he had a top-100 offense, and in the year he missed, he won the NIT. If the defense is what we expect it to be and the offense is at least passable, this team could dance.
John Gunville, Anonymous Eagle: The key for this year is the freshmen contributions. Shaka’s style of play, both proven in the past and what he indicates he’s leaning towards at Marquette lends itself to a lot of bench rotation, so some of these freshmen are going to have the opportunity to pick up some big minutes. If Mitchell, Jones, and Joplin (to name a few) can find their feet quickly and start contributing on both ends of the floor, this team could be a lot better than we anticipate.
Rob Lowe, Cracked Sidewalks: The first is a top 40 defense or bust. Shaka’s streak is twelve years across two teams in two different leagues. I think the goal is simple, ambitious, and achievable. If Marquette hits that, then we have a rock solid foundation. The second thing is culture. What will we see for MU’s culture during games and before/after games? How will the team respond when things get hard? As for other things during the season, I’ll be watching how MU’s Synergy breakdowns are different from last year at both MU under Steve Wojciechowski as well as at Texas under Smart. Last, I want to track the data on deflections because it’s interesting to me.
Brewtown Andy, Anonymous Eagle: Nothing but vibes. This is a vibes only season for Marquette. There’s a lot of inexperience at the collegiate level, there’s a lot of inexperience in the roles that are going to be asked of guys, there’s a megaton of inexperience playing together. It’s probably not going to be sunshine and lollipops for four straight months. But, that doesn’t stop Marquette from blazing the trail or setting the foundation or whatever metaphor you want for what Shaka Smart’s Marquette Basketball is going to be. When they win, do you say “hell yeah, I love the way they fought for that!” When they lose, do you think the other team is saying “man, we accomplished something by beating those tough dudes over there” when the game is over? That kind of thing. Vibes. Only.
Todd Welter, Cracked Sidewalks: Can Kolek make the jump from George Mason and the A-10 to the Big East? I guess I am still cautious after the whole Joseph Chartouny debacle. Can Morsell assert himself quickly as an impact player? Too many times graduate transfers try to defer or ease in as to not rock the boat. MU needs him to impact from day one. Who is the best option to run the point? Who will get buckets down the stretch? I believe this team will play really good defense to give them a shot to win on most nights. I expect some close games. Someone needs to make buckets to get them those W’s that most people think won’t happen.
Phil Bush, Cracked Sidewalks: Defense and style, that’s it. I want the defense to be really good and the style to be interesting. The previous regime failures in those categories is…..very significant. If Shaka can put a team on the court that entertains me and doesn’t give up easy points, I’m super happy this year.