What to expect from the Markus Howard-less 2020-21 Marquette Golden Eagles

It has been a while that a Marquette men’s basketball team has entered the season without guard Markus Howard — five years to be exact.

Howard dazzled on the court in his final season with the Golden Eagles, leading them to an 18-12 record and got them in line for a spot in the 2020 NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, they did not get the chance to finish his career with a bang since the tournament got canceled. Howard still left Marquette as the highest-scoring player in Big East history and now begins his professional career after signing with the Denver Nuggets as an undrafted free agent.

When it comes to the 2020-21 season, Howard will be extremely tough to replace. On top of averaging 27.8 points, Howard shot 41.2% from deep and dished out 3.3 assists per game.

Replacing Howard’s leadership and on-court production will be difficult for head coach Steve Wojciechowski and his staff, especially in the COVID-19 offseason, and he is not the only contributor to leave the team. Second-leading scorer forward Sacar Anim is also gone after his redshirt senior campaign last year when he recorded 13.1 points and 4.1 boards per contest. Big men Ed Morrow and Jayce Johnson, who provided depth off the bench, have moved on from the program. Forward Brendan Bailey started all 30 games, averaging 7.1 points and 5.2 rebounds per game and left school early to pursue a professional career.

So where does that leave the Golden Eagles heading into the season?

It sure helps to have 6-foot-11 power forward Dawson Garcia on the roster. The four-star recruit from Prior Lake, Minn., has already been named the preseason Big East freshman of the year. He stood out during with USA Basketball, winning MVP of both the 2019 FIBA 3×3 U18 World Cup and the 2019 USA Basketball Men’s 3×3 U18 national championship.

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He is joined by 6-9 forward Osasere Ighodaro from Chandler, Ariz., and 6-7 Justin Lewis from Baltimore, both of whom are also four-star recruits. In all, those three commitments gave Marquette the top-rated class in the Big East by 247 Sports.

Those three give Wojciechowski and the Golden Eagles a much-needed influx of talent with the departures of Howard and Anim. Leaning on freshmen is generally not the pathway to big-time success in college basketball, but their collective talents, specifically Garcia’s, should be able to contribute to winning.

And while Marquette’s top two scorers from last year are gone, the Golden Eagles return important players.

Marquette returns two starters from last season: redshirt senior guard Koby McEwen and senior forward Theo John.

McEwen figures to be the team’s floor general as he enters his fifth year after averaging 9.5 points, five rebounds and 3.2 assists in 2019-20. Entering his final season with the team, the 6-9 John was a presence on the defensive end with a team-leading 55 blocks.

Senior forward Jamal Cain and redshirt junior guard Greg Elliott could both end up as starters after getting significant playing time off the bench last year. Cain put up 5.2 points and 4.2 boards, while Elliot scored 5.1 points per game and lit it up from long range by shooting 41.3%.

Add in transfer guards D.J. Carton from Ohio State and Jose Perez from Gardner-Webb, and Marquette should have more than enough backcourt depth. Carton scored 10.4 points per game for the Buckeyes and did so efficiently, shooting 47.7% from the field and 40% from 3-point land. Perez was very productive at Gardner-Webb, averaging 15.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game last season. In 2018-19, Perez was the runner-up for Big South Conference freshman of the year.

Marquette has a great mix of talent and experience. It would be fair to consider this team a contender to win the Big East. The Golden Eagles open the season with a home matchup against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Nov. 25.

Hopefully this time the college basketball season will not come to an early, unexpected end.