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Wisconsin men’s basketball season preview: Marquette

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Under the direction of a new coach, Marquette is a fascinating team in 2021.

NCAA Basketball: Creighton at Marquette
Greg Elliott is one of the few returning players for the Golden Eagles this year.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Team: Marquette Golden Eagles
Location: Milwaukee, Wis.
Conference: Big East
Head coach: Shaka Smart (first season with Marquette)
2020-2021 record: 13-14 overall, 8-11 Big East

Top returning players: 6-foot-7, F, Justin Lewis (7.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 21 mpg); 6-foot-3, G, Greg Elliott (6.2 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 45.5% 3P)

Top newcomers: ALL OF THEM! Literally, almost everyone is new.

6-foot-5, wing, Darryl Morsell (graduate transfer from Maryland); 6-foot-2, G, Stevie Mitchell (freshman); 6-foot-10, F, Kur Kuath (graduate transfer from Oklahoma).

NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - Northern Iowa v Texas
New Marquette coach Shaka Smart has completely retooled the roster heading into the 2021 season.
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

2020-2021 review: Marquette got off to a hot start last season, winning six of their first eight contests, including a win over the Badgers back in early December within the confines of the Fiserv Forum. The season kind of went sideways from there though, as the Golden Eagles only managed seven wins the rest of the way.

On the floor, Marquette was led by Dawson Garcia, DJ Carton, and Koby McEwen. All three averaged in double figures, while Theo John provided further toughness down low.

The Golden Eagles did manage to end the season a bit better, winning four of their last six games, but it was not enough to justify bringing back head coach Steve Wojciechowski for an eighth season. Following the firing in March, Shaka Smart of Texas (formerly of VCU) was hired a week later.

With the majority of talent either moving on to play professionally or leaving for the transfer portal following Wojciechowski’s dismissal, Smart was tasked with completely overhauling the roster in the offseason. He managed to land a five-person recruiting class that ranked No. 19 nationally and No. 4 in the Big East, including three four-star prospects. Additionally, he added Kur Kuath from Oklahoma, Olivier-Maxence Prosper of Clemson, Tyler Kolek from George Mason, and Darryl Morsell of Maryland via the transfer portal.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Maryland vs Michigan
Transfer wing Darryl Morsell is one of the best defenders in the country, and should immediately start for Marquette.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

2021-2022 preview: Very few players from last year’s team remain, making this season a fresh start for nearly everyone involved in the Marquette program. Justin Lewis and Greg Elliott are the two primary contributors from last season that return and I would imagine that Lewis is maybe the only returning player guaranteed to snag a starting role to begin the season.

In terms of roster complexion, the Golden Eagles have a really young roster with 10 players currently listed as freshmen (including redshirts). The infusion of graduate transfers like Kur Kauth and Darryl Morsell should help, but it is hard to project how good this team could be this season.

Morsell is an absolute lockdown defender that can play either shooting guard or small forward and was named the Defensive Player of the Year in the Big Ten last season at Maryland. Kauth is a shot-blocking specialist that can play inside out on the other end. I would imagine that both grad students wind up starting for Marquette this season, and provide an immediate spark.

Beyond those two, and Justin Lewis, who I think is poised for a breakout season as either the starting small forward or power forward, things get a bit murkier.

Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament - Marquette v Georgetown
Is Justin Lewis primed for a breakout season?
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Olivier-Maxence Prosper is a very talented and lanky athlete that should be a key piece, but it is hard to truly know what he is as a player after he played under 10 minutes a game last season with Clemson. He is a former top-100 prospect, so the upside is there.

I am interested to see who winds up starting at point guard for this team though. I think it will be either Stevie Mitchell or Kameron Jones, both true freshmen. Mitchell is probably a more refined point guard at this point, but Jones is a much better shooter on film. Either way, I believe both players will probably figure heavily into the rotation.

Overall, I think Marquette will be a much better defensive team under Smart. He is known for an aggressive style and having a key cog such as Morsell to build around this season should help. I don’t think this is going to be a Marquette team that is all of a sudden contending for a Big East crown, but this team will be fun to watch and will definitely be a significant test for Wisconsin in non-conference play.

Game vs. Wisconsin: Saturday, Dec. 4; Madison, Wis.; Kohl Center; FOX; 11:30 a.m. CT