With the 2020-21 season long since in the books, let’s take a few moments to look back at the performance of each member of YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles this year. While we’re at it, we’ll also take a look back at our player previews and see how our preseason prognostications stack up with how things actually played out. We’ll run through the roster in order of total minutes played going from lowest to highest, which means today we move on to one of the most underrated freshman seasons that we’ve ever seen............
Freshman - #33 - Forward - 6’11” - 235 lbs. - Prior Lake, Minnesota
Dawson Garcia Traditional Stats
Dawson Garcia Fancy Stats
*** — notes a top 500 national ranking per KenPom.com
I guess we have to start our reasonable expectations off with the fact that Garcia has already been named Big East Preseason Freshman of the Year. Fair or not, but if the coaches think that Garcia is the best freshman coming into the league this season, then I guess we have to set the bar at “is in the running for the postseason version” at the very least.
Let’s turn our attention to T-Rank. While KenPom.com doesn’t give us any data on players until there are official stats on the page to deal with, Bart Torvik’s system gives us projections for the upcoming season before it starts. T-Rank’s calculations for Garcia says the following: 10.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, 0.9 assists. That’s by way of an offensive rating of 103 and a usage rate of 21%. It also says 66% of minutes played, and I think that’s where I get my biggest quibble with this, but we’ll circle back to this in a minute.
Let’s just be honest about this: Garcia didn’t agree to play for Steve Wojciechowski in order to be the fifth banana on this team. I don’t know where things are officially going to shake out, and there’s a very real chance that even the coaching staff is going to change their views on the hierarchy of things as the season develops. Still, I think it’s safe to say that Marquette is going to get their very tall, very agile, and very talented star freshman as involved as his production allows him to get involved this season. If everything’s going well and he’s hitting his shots and not committing all of the turnovers, then you can probably expect Marquette to rely on him.
Why You Should Get Excited
This is simple, I think.
I’m pretty sure that the 66% of minutes played thing on T-Rank’s projection is absolute garbage. Not that the algorithm that led the computer to spit it out is garbage, I think it’s wildly underestimating what Steve Wojciechowski is going to want to do with Garcia.
As mentioned earlier, Garcia is the best Marquette prospect to enroll since Henry Ellenson. Since Ellenson was also a Wojciechowski recruit, I feel that at least checking on the general concepts of how Ellenson’s season went is useful here. After all, there’s a certain amount of similarity in the roster standing going from 2014-15 to 2015-16 as there is from last year to this year. There’s a bit of a vacuum in terms of notable returning contributors, y’know.
Ellenson played 82.6% of minutes during his one year at Marquette and started every game. I don’t think it’s crazy to expect the same kind of playing time for Garcia, honestly. If that’s the case, I think we can adjust those T-Rank projections. If we think we can expect Garcia to play that much, that’s about a 25% increase from the projected minutes on T-Rank. Give each of the stats a 25% boost and you get: 13.0 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.1 assists. Now, that’s a bit down from Ellenson’s 17/10/2. However, Ellenson had a usage rate of nearly 26% according to KenPom, which is a bit higher than the projected 21% for Garcia. If the big man from Minnesota ends up as the top option on offense for the Golden Eagles? Sky’s the limit on that stat line.
Think about all of this another way: What if Henry Ellenson was actually a very good three-point shooter? Ellenson put together the best statistical freshman year in Marquette history..... while shooting a Myles Powell-esque 29% from behind the arc. Garcia’s better than that. If he can translate that 39% to college, of course.
Dawson Garcia is a top 50 recruit because he’s very tall, he runs the floor very well, he can handle the ball well enough at worst for a guy his size, and he can rain threes in at a rate that would be great even if he wasn’t 6’11”. You’ll notice the very offensively skewed reasoning behind all of that. Items #1 and #2, though, have an impact on the defensive end, and that’s where we might run into problems.
If you’re like me and you expect Dawson Garcia to start right out of the gate for Marquette, then you probably picture him playing the 4 in the lineup next to Theo John’s 5. This is likely a situation that will work out well for Marquette. Where it might not work out well for Marquette is if Theo John can’t stay on the floor. That’s a legitimate problem, as last season was the first time in his three years at Marquette where he managed to surpass 50% of minutes played. If John isn’t the one playing rim protector..... then I think that job might end up falling to Garcia....... and that’s not necessarily great news.
Now, it’s not bad. Garcia is actually the tallest player on the team, and his status as third heaviest (both John and Justin Lewis (!) are 245 lb.) goes somewhat hand in hand there. It would appear that he has the physical stature to pull this off. But the same could be said for Henry Ellenson at 6’11” and 245, and he had absolutely zero business playing the 5 on defense. Had to happen sometimes though, because Luke Fischer couldn’t be on the floor, and it generally speaking didn’t go well. Marquette already has something of a defensive problem under Steve Wojciechowski, with #45 in 2018-19 reigning as the best KenPom defense that we’ve seen. If Garcia is going to play big minutes, then he’s going to have to play defense for a lot of the time out there. If he’s the 4? I don’t worry too much. If he’s the 5? I’m a little worried that he’s not going to be able to hold up his end of the deal if he’s called on to do that a lot.
There is, of course, the other aspect of Garcia to consider. Namely: What if none of his stuff works at the next level up? Sometimes, when you’re 6’11” and you move really well, you can get away with a lot of teeny errors when you’re playing high school basketball or even club circuit basketball. There aren’t a lot of guys anywhere close to your size, and combining the size and the agility? Good luck finding someone between the ages of 14 and 18 to keep up with you. College basketball is a whole different deal. Everybody here was a star on their high school team or on their club team. Lots of guys are really tall. It’s a little bit faster and a little bit quicker and a little bit stronger. What if all of that is a little bit too much for Garcia to adjust to as the Golden Eagles are largely speaking thrown straight into the fire out of the gate in terms of strength of schedule?
I find myself caught between a rock and a hard place when considering Dawson Garcia’s first (and only?) season with Marquette.
On one hand, we just finished watching four years of Steve Wojciechowski’s offense becoming more and more and more reliant on “well, let’s see what Markus Howard can do for us.” In theory, you’d think that I would welcome seeing a highly diversified Marquette offense with multiple people making notable contributions.
On the other hand, I got very sick and tired of looking at a Marquette live stats box score with 10 or so minutes left in a competitive game and finding out that Dawson Garcia had attempted four shots in the game to that point.
Maybe it didn’t actually happen a lot. It felt like it did.
What I know for sure is that Dawson Garcia finished the year with an effective field goal percentage of 53.2%, which was #419 in the country, as he shot 53% on two-pointers and 36% on three-pointers. Even with just 27 games played because of the pandemic shortened season, Garcia still slipped into the Marquette freshman scoring top 10 and easily could have been top five if this was a full regular season.
And he did this while attempting fewer than 10 shots per game overall and fewer than nine shots per game in Big East play.
“Oh, well, Andy, just because he wasn’t attempting shots doesn’t mean that Marquette wasn’t going to him on offense! He probably just turned it over a lot or maybe got to the free throw line a lot.”
Nope. Garcia finished with a turnover rate of just 14.6%, ranking #492 in the country per KenPom.com. He was great at keeping track of the ball, especially for a freshman and especially for a freshman big man and especially for a mobile freshman big man. He did get to the free throw line a lot relative to his own field goal attempts, ranking #421 in the country in fouls drawn per 40 minutes and #242 in free throw attempt rate. That only turns into less than four free throw attempts per game and just slightly over four per game in Big East action.
Good things happened when Dawson Garcia had the ball on offense for Marquette this season. He just wasn’t asked to do something a lot this season, even while tying for the team lead in points per game. Considering he was a much better three-point shooter than his co-leading scorer (D.J. Carton) and the #3 scorer (Koby McEwen), especially in Big East play, this is very confusing. Seeing as Marquette appeared to never or at least almost never run The Patented Sam Hauser Pick And Pop For Three for Garcia, this is very confusing. With Garcia coming in as a better free throw shooter than both Carton and Garcia, this is very confusing.
Again, I don’t think it would have been good for Marquette to tilt all the way over into “well, let’s see what Dawson Garcia can do for us” territory. I feel like there was a middle ground between that and what we got, though. Koby McEwen was a frustrating player to watch on his good days, and D.J. Carton was a bafflingly bad shooter when left wide open. Steve Wojciechowski elected to run with both of those guys for most of the season while just refusing to push some of their offensive contributions onto Garcia’s plate, even though the big man from Minnesota was arguably the much better option for Marquette’s chances of success.
We should probably acknowledge the elephant in the room at this point, and that’s the fact that Dawson Garcia might never pull on a Marquette uniform ever again. He’s exercising his right to put his name in for consideration in the NBA Draft, and with that comes evaluations from NBA scouts. At a glance across various mock draft situations, I don’t think Garcia is likely to be drafted. In theory, because that’s what he said he would do, that would mean he’ll return to Marquette for at least his sophomore season. The wild card in this decision making process is that we don’t know how much Marquette changing coaches from Wojciechowski to Shaka Smart impacts Garcia’s decision making process here. Playing for Wojciechowski was a known quantity for Garcia, as that’s the guy he made his commitment with for college hoops. Sure, his first season of college hoops didn’t go very well for the team, but Garcia had an individually very successful season that would have earned him Big East Freshman of the Year honors if the team had better results.
What does that mean for a sophomore season under the guidance of Shaka Smart? Is that beneficial for Garcia? Is that something he wants to deal with while trying to improve his own personal NBA future? What if it’s not? What if Garcia decides that even though he played well for MU, that didn’t mean anything for the team, and changing the coach might not change that and that ends up hurting his professional future?
Why am I talking about all of this future possibility stuff when this is a review of Garcia’s first year? Well, as much as it probably shouldn’t, Garcia’s decision to stay or leave is going to end up impacting what we remember about his 2020-21 season. Leave, and maybe we end up thinking “boy, that definitely did not look like a year where you should definitely go pro afterwards, but he did anyway.” Stay, and maybe we look back at 2020-21 as a rocky first step on a pathway to very big things.
Dawson Garcia had three double-doubles this past season. Two of them are obvious candidates for his best game of the year, and the third is a “he was very good but the team was very bad” situation. On the road against North Carolina, in a game that admittedly meant very little for Marquette at that point of the season but was a pretty big game relative to what Garcia had experienced at Marquette, the Minnesotan put up 24 points, 11 rebounds, and two assists. Good stuff! In MU’s hilariously awful collapsing loss to Connecticut, Garcia went for 20 points and 11 rebounds.
But the one I’m going with is Garcia’s Big East debut on the road against Creighton. Faced with a second top 10 opponent in 10 days after a win against #4 Wisconsin, Garcia posted 14 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, and two blocks as MU went into Omaha and beat #9 Creighton, 89-84. Not only was his line great, Garcia was big late when MU needed buckets. He scored in the paint with 90 seconds to go to put the Golden Eagles up six following a steal by Greg Elliott, and then 40 seconds later, Garcia tipped in a Justin Lewis miss to put MU up eight with 53 seconds to go.
I was guessing at 13/9/1 as a stat line for Garcia when extrapolating that he would play a lot more minutes than T-Rank was projecting. He ended up at 13/7/1 for the year while not playing as many minutes as I was expecting but while ending up at right around the usage rate that T-Rank was projecting. Garcia absolutely was set to be Big East Freshman of the Year up through late January when Posh Alexander went on a tear for St. John’s to help the Johnnies finish with a winning record on the year. If Marquette has a winning record? Garcia probably gets it over Alexander, and the fact that the MU big man was a unanimous choice for the All-Freshman team helps point us in that direction.
Maybe, just maybe, if Steve Wojciechowski gives Garcia a little bit more playing time, and maybe, just maybe, if Steve Wojciechowski lets his very good and big mismatch outside shooter fire off a few more threes or just shots in general, maybe Garcia ends up as Freshman of the Year anyway because his stats are just that much better. Maybe the team gets a few more wins as a result and that helps his case, too.
But none of that is Garcia’s fault. He was really good, almost to the point of being underrecognized for how good he was, and most of that falls on the coaching staff for not maximizing what they had on their hands.
Garcia did what was asked of him and he did it well. I’m giving him a 9 for the year, and I’d love the chance to see what a different coaching staff does with him for a sophomore campaign.