With the 2015-2016 season now in the books, we take a moment to look back at the performance that 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 roster in order of total minutes played (lowest to highest). This is the penultimate entry into this year's series, and we have two freshmen left to cover.....
#25 - Freshman - 6'5" - 190 lb.
* - denotes national Top 500 ranking
What I Think We'll See
If you count Wally Ellenson, Marquette has six newly eligible players on the roster this season. Haanif Cheatham is the only one that we don't have a gauge for this season. He didn't play in Europe, so we have no idea where he fits into Wojciechowski's rotation at this point. Marquette Madness gave us our first look at Cheatham out on the floor with his teammates, and I didn't see much from him.
We can draw one conclusion from Marquette Madness, though. With Luke Fischer sidelined after an elbow to the head a day before, Wojo went with Traci Carter, Duane Wilson, Sandy Cohen, and both Ellenson boys on one side of the first scrimmage. With Wally Ellenson replacing Fischer, that's the exact same lineup that started all four games in Europe. The word coming out of practices leading into the trip to Europe was that Carter and Cheatham were spending time at point guard. We don't know who was winning that battle, but we do know that Wojo had to go with Carter at the 1 in Europe, and he definitely stuck with him as the starting 1 at Marquette Madness.
So combine Carter appearing to have the advantage on the starting spot at the position that he and Cheatham share with Cheatham not showing all that much exciting stuff at the Madness scrimmages.... and I don't know what to make of Cheatham. He's arguably the second best recruit on the team after Henry Ellenson, so you'd think that he'd be mostly ready to contribute. Let's just leave it at that: We'll see a guy who can contribute to the team with minutes off the bench without looking overwhelmed.
What I Want To See
If we can't rightfully expect a lot from Cheatham based on what little we've seen, then the sky's pretty much the limit on what I want to see from him. I want to see the guy that Wojo targeted as one of his primary targets from Day 1 at Marquette. It took just slightly longer than five months for Wojciechowski to go from the day he was hired to the day that Cheatham committed. There's something about his game that Wojo likes, and I want to see that guy poke his head out of the bench. Maybe it means pushing Carter for minutes, maybe it means pushing Duane Wilson or Sandy Cohen for time, maybe it just means being a reliable option for 10 minutes off the bench. There are going to be days when Marquette's freshmen are going to look very much like the freshmen that they are. They can't all look like freshman at the same time, though, so perhaps that will be Cheatham's time to shine.
What I Don't Want To See
I'm slightly concerned about the disappearing act at Marquette Madness. A guy with Cheatham's size shouldn't have that much difficulty dealing with the defensive combination of Traci Carter and Duane Wilson. What if it takes him a bit longer than expected to adjust to college ball? What if not playing on the Europe trip ends up stunting his growth ever so slightly?
The chance for minutes will be there at the guard and wing positions, as Wojo looks to replace the 65 minutes per game that Matt Carlino and Derrick Wilson combined to provide a year ago. Some of those need to come from Cheatham for Marquette to be successful this season. With just four returning players, there's more than enough space for Cheatham to etch out a role for himself. He just needs to find a way to do it.
It's possible, nay, it's likely that Haanif Cheatham just had the best freshman season in Marquette basketball history that no one was really noticing or giving any attention.
Remember a year ago, when we were lauding Duane Wilson for his spectacular freshman campaign? It was a well justified commendation of what Wilson did. Cheatham beat him in points, field goals made, three point percentage, free throws made, and free throw percentage. He nearly beat him in scoring average, losing that race by just 0.1 points. Wilson finished in the top 500 in the country in four KenPom categories, including usage rate and percentage of shots taken, while Cheatham checks in on six different categories, with four of them involving his shooting percentages.
I mean, who are we kidding here? If Wilson was obviously one of the best freshmen Marquette had ever seen as a redshirt frosh, how great was Cheatham who was clearly outpacing Wilson? Imagine all the things we'd be saying about how well Cheatham performed this year if Henry Ellenson wasn't on the team and destroying freshman records left, right, and center? I suppose if you wanted to be a jerk about it, you could try to claim that Ellenson's dominance was what allowed Cheatham to do his thing, but my counter to that is thus: Wilson had his great freshman campaign while having to be a primary option for Marquette, and Cheatham was still arguably outplaying him.
Let's think about this thing in a slightly different way. If you had to list them, what were the most common thoughts about Marquette basketball players this past season? "Oh, man, Henry's for real." "Hooboy, Jajaun Johnson is figuring it out." "Get these freshman jitters out of his system and Traci Carter's really gonna be something." "I can't believe Luke Fischer got another foul." Stuff like that was commonplace, right? You know what I don't remember thinking a lot? "Boy, Haanif Cheatham just keeps being pretty good." I bet you don't remember thinking that a lot either. At least for this past season, his game just did not lend itself to a lot of "HOLY CRAP DID YOU JUST SEE THAT?" That's fine. Second on the team in minutes per game, third in points per game, third in rebounds, third in assists, fourth in steals. Don't pay him no mind. Cheatham led the team in three point field goal percentage and free throw percentage, no big deal. One of just three players to start every single game, with the other two topping out at over 6'10" and one of them is going to be selected in the front half of the first round of the NBA Draft on Thursday. No big whoop.
Before we start drawing hearts around his picture in our yearbooks, we should probably talk about his turnover problem a little bit. Much like Traci Carter, his backcourt partner, Haanif Cheatham was whipping the ball all over the gym on a regular basis last season. His 88 turnovers were a team high, and that means he averaged 2.7 per game. He had a turnover rate of 24.4%, meaning he was responsible for nearly a quarter of all of MU's turnovers while he was on the floor. That's, uh, really bad, actually, the second worst rate amongst regulars on the team behind Carter's 29.1%. It was slightly higher (25%) during the 18 game Big East schedule, and even higher yet (26%) in MU's 17 most difficult games. I guess if you want to find a bright spot, you can point to the fact that Cheatham didn't commit a single turnover in the Big East tournament. That trend's obviously not going to continue forever, but it's at least a massive improvement over his average for arguably the two most important games of the season.
Best Game: We could take Cheatham's career best scoring day where he didn't miss a three pointer (4-4) or a free throw (6-6), but that 24 point, three rebound, one assist outing came in a 19 point victory over Jackson State. Lame. No, instead, I think the move is to go with his best scoring output in Big East action, a 20 point performance against DePaul on the road. Coming off of an annoying home loss to Creighton after squeaking Providence in double overtime, Cheatham burned the Blue Demons in a revenge game from MU's 1 point home loss earlier in the season. He was 5-7 from the floor, including a 4-6 mark from long range, and added five rebounds, three assists, and three steals as Marquette picked up the 73-60 victory.
Season Grade, on a scale of 1-10: Right out of the gate, Cheatham exceeded expectations merely by landing in the starting lineup against Belmont and staying there all season. Coming into the season opener, it was unclear as to what his role was going to be, but he grabbed that starting spot and never let go all year. He clearly showed why Wojo put a priority on bringing Cheatham in from Day 1, and by the end of the season, he had Rubie Q referring to him as Future All Time Leading Scorer Haanif Cheatham.
Hey, don't laugh, Cheatham has a 48 point lead on Jerel McNeal's pace to the all time scoring title.
He got the playing time, he looked like he belonged, and other than the annoying turnover situation, he barely even looked like a freshman this season, even though he was named to the Big East's All-Freshman Team. Haanif Cheatham was great for Marquette this season, and he deserves more recognition for being great. He gets a 9.