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2021-22 Marquette Men’s Basketball Player Preview: #10 Justin Lewis

Yes, #10, he changed over the summer.

NCAA Basketball: Marquette at Creighton Steven Branscombe-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 guy who is Marquette’s returning leader in points, rebounds, and assists........

Justin Lewis

Sophomore - #10 - Forward - 6’7” - 245 pounds - Baltimore, Maryland

Marquette’s new star player — star by default still makes you the star — had a pretty good freshman season last year right up until the point in January where he suffered an ankle injury and wasn’t the same the rest of the year. 8.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, just short of an assist and a block per game in 22.3 minutes a night is pretty good stuff for a freshman. It’s definitely good stuff as a freshman playing alongside Dawson Garcia and D.J. Carton who were doing their fair share of the passing and rebounding and scoring. After the ankle injury, Lewis’ minutes went down, and so did all of his stats. His rebounding especially went into the tank, but that’s the kind of thing you can expect from a guy who is suddenly trying to jump around on a bum ankle.

But that was the spring, and now he’s healthy again. He’s also in better shape, or at least we presume he is given all of the things that Shaka Smart said about conditioning for his entire team. We also know that Lewis is much more confident in his outside shot. Getting open corner threes for Lewis was a big part of his team’s goings-on at the Haunted Hoops scrimmage, and he hit a bunch of them. That’s fantastic news given what we saw last season. Lewis started the year 4-for-6 from long range, and yeah, that 67% rate was unsustainable. No one was expecting that to keep going.... but no one asked for Lewis going just 3-for-26 the rest of the season. That’s just 11.5%.... and Lewis went just 2-for-22 in Big East play, a very terrible and awful 9.1%. The fact that 1) the coaching staff wants him shooting a ton of threes and 2) Lewis is hitting them regularly is great news all the way around.

Reasonable Expectations

I think any statement about what’s a reasonable expectation for Lewis comes down to what you think about how Shaka Smart is going to run his team. It stands to reason as the guy who returns to Marquette with the biggest statistical contribution to last year’s team that Lewis is going to be a primary focus of this year’s team. We saw that on display at Haunted Hoops with his team seemingly focusing on getting Lewis open corner threes on the regular. But that’s also with the team split right down the middle and Lewis essentially being required to play the entirety of the 32 minute scrimmage.

How much do things change when Shaka Smart as the full bench at his disposal to fill the five on-court spots for 40 minutes? How much does Shaka Smart’s “play with a bit of violence to you” defensive mindset mean for how Marquette gets after it on offense? Does that spread out the offense attack across multiple players — five different players scored between 10 and 15 points against Bowie State — and does that negate what we might think would be the natural tendency to feature Lewis?

Whatever implications the system being run has on Lewis’ output this season, it’s clear from Thursday’s exhibition victory that this is a different Justin Lewis that we’re seeing this season. Last year, it seemed that Lewis was content to be the third wheel behind Dawson Garcia and D.J. Carton and was able to just fit in between everything those guys were doing. That’s not the case now, as Lewis has clearly taken on a mindset that involves the realization that he has to be a big part of the solution for the Golden Eagles. He looked much more decisive and confident, particularly when making a move from the perimeter with the ball.

In terms of what kind of stats to expect from Lewis, in a weird set of circumstances, his stats against Bowie State are almost exactly what T-Rank projects. He went for 13 points, seven rebounds, and an assist in the actual game, and the website marks him for 13.6 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 1.8 assists a night. That’s wild, right? He did that in just 25 minutes against a wildly outgunned opponent, so the question is what can Lewis do in 30 minutes a night against Big East foes? There’s a real possibility that we’ll all look up in March and be very pleased with how Lewis’ season has gone, but he’s only averaging 10/5/1.

Why You Should Get Excited

In the exhibition game, Lewis went 2-for-6 from long range. If he can do that, shoot 33% behind the arc, then things are going to go very well this season. Lewis’ size makes him look like a guy that maaaaaybe shouldn’t be able to give you the business both shooting and driving from the arc, but he’s physically capable of doing it. If he can just shoot enough threes, or rather make enough threes to keep defenders honest this season, the sky is the absolute limit for what the Baltimore native can accomplish.

His longer than average wingspan — we talked about this in his preview last year — is going to give Lewis an advantage all over the court as well. Maybe he’s able to get to one extra deflection a game as a result. Maybe that means one more block a game that he really should get. Maybe it means he’s able to tip a rebound before anyone else gets a chance and oh well, that’s just an excuse to show the clip again.

Now imagine he’s healthy for the whole year, and he’s more confident on both ends, and he knows that his coaches are counting on him to make big plays on both ends.

What do you think that kind of evolved Justin Lewis is capable of?

Potential Pitfalls

I don’t know if there’s a real possible problem out in front of Justin Lewis this season. He was pretty good as the third banana last season, and he’s going to get more playing time on this team. If Lewis can keep the same level of production going with a 40% boost in minutes to around 30 a night, he’s going to do a whole heck of a lot on the floor, and everyone’s going to be pretty happy about it.

The only real problem I can see of him is whether or not he can take on the mantle of being The Guy on this team and thus being That Guy going forward past this season. Sometimes college basketball players are really good at doing the thing that they’re asked to do in the beginning, but once you start adding responsibility, things go sideways on them. What if Lewis isn’t that type of player? What if he’s a work the margins type of player, not a “this whole thing rests on you getting yours every night” type of player?

Maybe that doesn’t matter on this particular iteration of Marquette basketball. I certainly got the impression of an egalitarian style of play from the exhibition game against Bowie State. If this team is going to be a “whoever is open gets the ball” type of team and not a “let’s get Justin his shots” type of team… and it works and leads to wins…. Well, then that’s the right way to play.

If it doesn’t work and doesn’t lead to wins, and Lewis isn’t stepping forward to be The Guy at Fiserv Forum? I don’t know if it’s a bad thing, but it certainly would go against a lot of things that a lot of Marquette fans were generally thinking about how this season and this roster would play out.