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). That means we wrap things up with the freshman from Rice Lake who's already left the team...
#13 - Freshman - 6'11" - 245 lb.
* - denotes top 500 national ranking
What I Think We'll See
Here's where I put the brakes on. Those last five paragraphs did an awful lot of puffing Ellenson up. Here's the reality of the situation: He's an 18 year old kid who's adjusting to college, both on and off the court. He's not going to be perfect. He's going to have stretches in games where he looks overwhelmed, and that might even turn into stretches during the season. He might be the biggest NBA prospect in 99% of the games that Marquette plays this season, but he's going to screw up here and there. It's going to happen. Ellenson's mere presence on the roster does not automatically add 10 wins over last year when Marquette finished 13-19.
To put it another way: For most of the season, Henry Ellenson will be the most physically gifted and talented basketball player on the floor for most of Marquette's season. That's not going to stop him from making a boo-boo here and there, though.
What I Want To See
Ok, wet blanket off. Look at this video, pulled by Paint Touches from Marquette's game on the Europe trip against LSU-Atletas.
August 20, 2015
LOOK AT IT AGAIN. I'll wait.
That is a 6'10", 245 pound dude grabbing a rebound, taking a dribble or two, realizing he can go coast to coast, going BETWEEN HIS LEGS to cross up some poor Lithuanian sap, and then Eurostepping into the lane for a delightfully simple finger roll, George Gervin style.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THAT WHERE ARE MY PANTS WOOOOOOOOO
Here's the best case scenario for Ellenson: He wins Big East Player of the Year going away as his very particular set of skills allow him to adapt to college basketball with relative ease. Not for nothing, but if that were to happen, I think we're all going to be pretty happy with how the season turns out. The Big East coaches aren't going to vote a big stats guy from a lousy team as Player of the Year, y'know?
I should point out that the deck is slightly stacked against Ellenson pulling this off. No freshman has ever won Big East Player of the Year, although 10 sophomores have won the award outright or have shared it with another player. Perhaps it's not likely. But I believe the possibility does exist, based on what I've seen from Ellenson already. I mean, he's already the first freshmen to earn preseason all-conference honors since the Big East stopped creating a preseason all-freshman team.
Personally, I want to see Henry win POY while leading the Big East in scoring and rebounding (both of these things are completely reasonable, btw) JUST to see the reaction on Kevin Jones' face.
What I Don't Want To See
Uh, pretty much anything else.
Look, I watched those four games in Europe. I get that those four clubs aren't close to the kind of caliber of team that Marquette is going to see night in and night out in the Big East. But if Henry Ellenson wasn't the best player on the floor, then someone else was because Ellenson was creating so much havoc at that point that the theoretical someone else looked better because the opponent was trying to pay attention to Ellenson.
To put it another way:
General vibe coming from the Stanford v Marquette scrimmage (wasn't played as a 40 minute game) is that Henry Ellenson is the real deal— Brian Snow (@BSnowScout) November 2, 2015
There is only one thing that could legitimately stop Ellenson from at worst all-Big East honors at the end of this season, and if you think that I'm going to tempt fate and actually type that word out (it starts with an "i"), then you are a crazy person.
The question is thus: Exactly how glowing do you want this review to be?
Led the team in scoring and rebounding, both by wide margins. Set eight Marquette freshman season records, including points, rebounds, blocks, field goals made, and free throws made. Had the 10th best rebounding season in Marquette history. KenPom national top 500 in eight different categories, including offensive rebounding rate, defensive rebounding rate, and fouls drawn per 40 minutes. Led the Big East in rebounding. Third in the Big East in scoring. Tied for fourth in the Big East in blocked shots. Big East Freshman of the Year. Big East All-Freshman Team. First Big East freshman since Carmelo Anthony in 2003 to be named to the All-Big East First Team.
I mean, wow.
It was a ridiculously amazing individual season, which is another way of saying that the only negative you could try to pin on Ellenson is that Marquette didn't make a postseason appearance. That, by the way, is a stupid thing to say. Of course the eighth least experienced team in the country (via KenPom) was going to struggle to make the postseason. That's not a knock on Ellenson. He should be praised for his legitimately ridiculous effort to raise the team up from 13-19 the year before. He was brought in by head coach Steve Wojciechowski to be The Man from day 1, and he lived up to that potential. Hell, I'd even go so far as to say that he surpassed his potential.
Hell, I'll even go one step further: I don't think we got the full actualization of Henry Ellenson in college basketball. We talked about it at the start of the season: because Luke Fischer was held out of Marquette Madness as a concussion protection, that meant it was Henry Ellenson vs Matt Heldt the whole time. When Ellenson had to go inside against Heldt, he kind of got swallowed up a bit. With Ellenson and Fischer as the only notable useful size on the roster (sorry about your season ending injury, Matt Heldt), that meant that when Fischer got into foul trouble, Ellenson was stuck out there as the biggest guy on the floor wearing blue and gold. That meant a lot of going against the biggest guy on the opposing team, and that meant sometimes ignoring the full range of options that make Ellenson so dangerous.
In short, the failings of the roster around Ellenson may have ended up hampering him from composing one of the great seasons in Marquette history instead of merely the best freshman season in Marquette history. This isn't a criticism of Wojciechowski, by the way. It's a criticism of Buzz Williams and the wreckage of multiple failed recruiting classes that he left behind. Credit must be paid to Wojo, and to Ellenson as well, for the reconstruction project that got underway in full force during the 2015-16 season.
That brings us to one final point that I think we have to touch on regarding what Ellenson did this season. If you go back to when Ellenson declared he was leaving school for the NBA Draft, one of the (incredibly stupid) recurring criticisms of Ellenson's decision was that this season was pointless, that recruiting one-and-done prospects is bad, and that Marquette was going to suffer long term because of this. Except..... Maybe the development of Haanif Cheatham and Traci Carter benefited from the shield of Ellenson taking the defensive focus night in and night out. Maybe Markus Howard decided to finish up high school a year early and head to Marquette at the age of 17 because of what he saw blossoming with Wojo's first recruiting class. Maybe Ike Eke got a chance to see what Marquette looks like with an athletic big man running around and chose to continue his education in Milwaukee. Henry Ellenson's Marquette career might be over, but we may not see the actual impact of what he did for Marquette for years.
Best Game: There's an awful lot to choose from here. 16-11 in the big national television win over LSU? Nah, he fouled out. 18-11-1 and 3 blocks the next night in the OT win over Arizona State? 15-11-4 in his lone collegiate appearance against the Badgers? 13-14-3-2-2 in his first ever Big East game? 13-10-1-4-3, including the game winning block on fellow future NBA draft pick on the road against Providence? 16-18 & four blocks in that crazy snow altered game against St. John's? 26-16 with a block and two steals in the thrilling double overtime win against Providence? 22-10-2-1-1 surrounded by an always crazy crowd in Omaha as both Marquette and Creighton were fighting for their postseason lives? 27-14-2 and a steal to extend Marquette's streak of never missing the Big East tournament quarterfinals since joining the league?
Just read those stat sheet stuffing lines again and think about the ridiculous performances that you got to watch over and over and over and over this past season. It's crazy, right?
How do you pick just one out of them? Well, you don't, because I left my pick out of that list. With Marquette sitting at 3-5 in league play and 14-7 overall coming off of a shoddy team performance in a 14 point win over Stetson, Ellenson obliterated Butler's Andrew Chrabascz over and over and over on a Saturday afternoon at the Bradley Center. He finished with a collegiate best 32 points on 8-14 shooting (made both three pointers!), 10 rebounds, a career high six (!) blocks, and a steal as the Golden Eagles hung a 75-69 win on the Bulldogs to provide a spark of life and postseason hope in late January.
Season Grade, on a scale of 1-10: Yeah, it's a 10, and I'm not taking arguments on this. If you want to complain about his three point shooting - which was, let's be clear, bad, at 29% - that's fine. It doesn't really matter in the big picture of what Henry Ellenson accomplished in his lone season wearing blue and gold. That's why I didn't even bother mentioning until now. The mantle of The Man was going to be put on Ellenson from minute one, and he lived up to the hype. Did we offer the possibility of winning Big East Player of the Year at the start of the season? Sure did. Did he become the first freshman in 13 years to even sniff a chance at winning it? Absolutely. You can't downgrade him for not accomplishing something that no other freshman ever managed to do.