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2016-17 Marquette Men’s Basketball Player Preview: #25 Haanif Cheatham

We wrap up our preview series with a look at perhaps the most underrated player in the Big East.

NCAA Basketball: Butler at Marquette Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016-17 college basketball season is right around the corner, so let's get into the Marquette 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 the freshmen, moving on to the two transfer players, and then wrapping up with the returning players, going in order of average minutes played per game last season.

We’re going to organize our thoughts about the upcoming season as it relates to each player into categories:

  • Reasonable Expectations
  • Why You Should Get Excited
  • Potential Pitfalls

With that out of the way, we wrap up our preview series with one final entry, a look at a sophomore who had an incredibly underrated freshman campaign......

Haanif Cheatham

Sophomore - #25 - Guard - 6’5” - 195 lb.

Do you realize that we watched the fourth best freshman scoring season in Marquette history last season? Were you aware you saw the seventh best field goal percentage season by a Marquette freshman? Did you notice that you witnessed just the second season by a freshman with 100 made free throws? I ask these questions because none of these things apply to Henry Ellenson, who was selected #18 overall in the 2016 NBA Draft. No, these things apply to Haanif Cheatham, who is back for round two in blue and gold with the second best returning scoring average and the highest minutes played average.

He was SO GOOD a year ago. And I’m not entirely sure if even Marquette fans recognize it, largely due to the fact that he was overshadowed by Ellenson. Henry Ellenson did set a brand new freshman scoring record last season, eclipsing Cheatham by 170 points. Ellenson was also the first Marquette freshman to reach 100 made free throws, as Cheatham only got there on his final make of the season.

But Cheatham was right there, just slightly below the surface, gliding along to what might have been called the best freshman season in program history had it not been for what Henry Ellenson was doing at the same time. It’s kind of like the 2004 NFL season, where Daunte Culpepper had maybe the best passing season by an quarterback in league history.... except Peyton Manning was actually better than him in the same season. Everyone remembers that Manning broke the single season touchdown record, but no one remembers that Culpepper actually passed for more yards that year.

Here’s how good he was last year. Jerel McNeal is Marquette’s all time career leader in points, with 1,985. Haanif Cheatham has a 48 point lead on McNeal’s freshman season.

Buckle up, kids. We’re going to have some fun.

Reasonable Expectations

Cheatham averaged 12 points, a shade over three rebounds, two assists, and a steal last season, which I think can be a nice baseline for him this year. If we want to talk about keeping pace with McNeal, that means another 426 points this season. Marquette has a guaranteed 31 games this season, which is merely 13.8 per game to stay in line with McNeal. That seems simple enough.

The reason why I think that should be simple enough is because Cheatham was quietly the best three point shooter on the team in terms of field goal percentage. HIs 38.7% was top 350 in the country and narrowly edged out Jajuan Johnson (38.5%) for the team lead. It might not seem like Cheatham was that good because quite honestly, he didn’t shoot it all that much. He averaged just over two attempts per game last season, and given his ability to shoot it and Marquette’s need to spread the floor with shooters, I think that he can easily exceed that this season. More threes = more threes go in = more points.

The other thing that’s safe to bet on is that Cheatham’s turnover rate is going to go way, way down. He turned it over on nearly 25% of the possessions where he was on the floor last year, and finished the year with a team high 88 turnovers. One of MU’s biggest problems last year was keeping track of the ball, and Cheatham was one of the worst offenders.

I’m not worried about him, though. First of all, he’s a sophomore now, so he’s got the freshman jitters out of his system. Second of all, Marquette is not going to need to rely on him for ball handling. Between Traci Carter, Markus Howard, Andrew Rowsey, and even Duane Wilson, Marquette has enough guys to take care of that angle. Get the ball out of Cheatham’s hands, and he’ll commit fewer turnovers.

Why You Should Get Excited

I mean, why SHOULDN’T you get excited?

Cheatham gets to shift to an off-guard/wing role on this team, which seems like a more natural fit for him. We already know he can shoot it, and not just from the arc, either. Last year, he splashed 82% of his free throws, so he can get it done at the line, too. His ability to get into the lane and draw contact is excellent as well, as he finished top 400 in the country in Free Throw Rate, shooting 46% as many free throws as field goals.

Combine all of that and mix it with a heavy dose of “someone’s gotta take all those shots and grab all those rebounds that Henry Ellenson totaled up last year,” and you get a prime opportunity for Cheatham to turn into an all-Big East caliber player by the time March rolls around.

He’s a little bit bigger, he’s a little bit stronger, he’s a little bit smarter, he’s a little bit more in tune with head coach Steve Wojciechowski needs from him on a night in and night out basis. All the signals are there for a big season from the Florida native.

Potential Pitfalls

Marquette needs to cut down on their turnovers this season. Period. Full stop. Unfortunately for Cheatham, he’s specifically one of the guys who needs to take better care of the ball. This team is deep enough at the guard and wing spots that if he can’t stop turning the ball over, Wojo will look somewhere else for minutes, somewhere where he can feel better about turnovers being limited.

The other issue potentially looming in front of Cheatham is merely an issue of playing time. Speed and energy are going to be requirements for this team. Yes, he averaged just barely short of 30 minutes a game last season, but Wojo seems to be against the idea of that happening this season. Cheatham’s stats may suffer. As long as his tempo free numbers don’t dip, then it’s fine. However, the possibility exists that Cheatham was so good last year because he got a lot of time to play and thus get into a solid rhythm on the court. If he plays less, is he going to still be able to contribute at the highest of high levels when he’s on and off the court more than last season?