Marquette men's basketball is in the midst of their NCAA allowed 10 practices before they head on a four game trip to Italy and Switzerland. As such, Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel stopped by one of the practice sessions to get a feel for how things were coming together for a Golden Eagles squad that's attempting to integrate five freshmen into the roster.
Matty V published two pieces on his visit: one official article for the paper and one blog post aimed more at providing insight and tidbits that didn't fit into the full article. Let's rummage around inside these two posts for pertinent information, starting with the newspaper story.
Of those new faces, five are freshmen. While point guard Traci Carter, power forward Henry Ellenson and center Matt Heldt joined the fold with seemingly well-defined positions, Haanif Cheatham and Sacar Anim, both versatile 6-foot-5 players, appear to have more open roles.
During the first week of practice, Cheatham and Anim have been plugged in at new positions and tasked with learning new skill sets. Cheatham has taken reps at point guard against Carter while Anim is battling Ellenson at power forward.
I'm hesitant to actually declare what Cheatham and Carter are doing "playing point guard," as I keep hearing the phrase "just guards" coming from both Marquette and Duke places. Still, someone has to be the lead ball handler, as far as initiating offense or bringing it up against pressure, so I guess that qualifies. Installing Cheatham and Carter in those roles seems to permanently cement Duane Wilson in an off the ball role, at least for this season. Cheatham could end up, physically speaking, turning into what I would have wanted to see from Vander Blue in his senior year: a dynamic, larger point guard.
Sacar Anim matching up and/or subbing in and out for Henry Ellenson is much more interesting. As Velazquez notes, Anim and Cheatham are the same height: six feet, five inches, but listed at 205 pounds, Anim outweighs Cheatham by 25 pounds. I'm guessing that this is more about how Anim carries his size due to his frame, as Sandy Cohen and Jajuan Johnson also fit into that same size. Going back to when Anim committed to Marquette, I remember reading how he relishes the opportunity to make an impact on the defensive end. It's not surprising that head coach Steve Wojciechowski is challenging the guy that he said "may be our best athlete." Odds are that Anim isn't going to be called on to fill a lot of minutes subbing in for Ellenson this season, but when you look at the roster, someone is going to have to do it.
Let's turn our attention to the blog post.
Junior center Luke Fischer looks strong and confident just four months removed from left shoulder surgery. He is playing without a brace on that shoulder and is 100% healthy. During Friday's practice, he showed good touch offensively with both hands and at one point threw down a strong driving slam against freshman center Matt Heldt. Fischer also was stout defensively, using his body well to avoid fouls while making things difficult, especially for team's two freshman bigs (Heldt and Henry Ellenson). In addition to playing with more confidence, Fischer was more vocal than he has been in the past.
Excellent. I noticed in some of the pictures that Marquette has posted to social media that Fischer is also not practicing with an undershirt. I wonder if he'll still don one for games, or if that was a concession he was making for comfort while wearing the brace.
Along with Fischer, returning players Duane Wilson, Jajuan Johnson and Sandy Cohen III all showed improvement. Wilson, who played mostly on the wing, dazzled with his dribble on a few occasions and shot well from the outside. Johnson also displayed a much-improved outside shot and Cohen, who has bulked up, took the ball into the paint more often and found success.
Johnson went 0-15 behind the arc in the first half of the Big East schedule, which included a benching against Xavier. For his career, he's only a 24% long range shooter. I'm hesitant to get excited about this, but he did shoot 6-18 in MU's final seven games last season, and that's bordering on completely acceptable.
Each of Marquette's five freshmen demonstrated the ability to stretch the floor a bit. Point guard Traci Carter, Cheatham and Anim all hit three-pointers when given the opportunity during live drills or the team's 10-minute scrimmage. Ellenson also stepped out for multiple mid-range jumpers as well as some threes. Heldt battled in the post but also was solid on baseline 15-footers.
Multiple options = good. I know, simple, right?
Junior Wally Ellenson, who sat out last season after transferring from Minnesota, has also sat out the first week of practices. This time his absence is due to illness. He was in attendance on Friday but did not compete. He is expected back this weekend.
This is really putting a crimp in my "Wally Ellenson is one of Marquette's five starters" campaign. We'll see what happens in Italy.
UNC-Asheville transfer Andrew Rowsey brought his scoring skills with him from North Carolina. The 5-10 guard, who averaged 19.7 points per game in his first two collegiate seasons, was lights out from three-point range. He also navigated the paint well on multiple occasions.
MOO HOO HA HA HA [/evil tyrant laugh] Yes, Rowsey can't play this season and yes, he won't be making the trip to Europe because of his transfer status. That doesn't mean I can't think about Rowsey, Duane Wilson, and Sam Hauser all playing on the same team in 2016-17 and turning the court into an ICBM range.
On the defensive end, everything was strictly man-to-man.
No surprise there. That's what Wojo wanted to do last year and he was forced out of it by how the team was actually pulling it off. Start with what you want to do, adapt as things go on.
The practice court at the Al McGuire Center featured some new lines, as the team prepares to take on foreign competition. The team team added tape to mark off the court used in FIBA competition, which they will compete on in Europe. They also used a 24-second shot clock during their 10-minute scrimmage. It bears mentioning that there were no shot-clock violations and both offenses flowed nicely.
This is your friendly reminder that men's college basketball will be using a 30 second shot clock this coming season.
One last item that doesn't really have anything to do with practice or Europe...
Marquette expects to open the Big East season at home, but it might not be as part of a New Year's Eve marathon as the conference has done each of the past two years. The Golden Eagles anticipate their conference opener will be on Dec. 30, not Dec. 31. That change could be due to the College Football Playoff, which will hold its semifinals and draw a lot of television viewership on Dec. 31.
Stupid college football.