It is no secret that basketball is moving away from traditional 1 through 5 positions and going towards a position-less game. Last year for Marquette Golden Eagles, especially later in the season once Andrew Rowsey and Markus Howard were starting next to each other, the players put on the floor by Head Coach Steve Wojciechowski did not seem to be playing traditional positions, sans Luke Fischer who has always played as a traditional center though he lost much of his playing time once Coach Wojo made this switch. When you combine the success late in the season last year playing without positions along with the wide range of abilities on this year’s team, there is no reason to think that Wojo would revert back to completely positioned basketball for the 2017-18 season. With position-less basketball looking like it is here to stay, there are some advantages and disadvantages it will bring to the team this year.
The main advantages of playing position-less basketball are the ability to switch many more screens than a traditional scheme on defense, and on offense, creating mismatches with multidimensional players who are able to take advantage of their defender’s weaknesses. The Marquette offense will continue to thrive as they play this next season under this system without true positions for most of the guys on the court. The opposing shooting guard tasked with guarding either Markus Howard or Andrew Rowsey will most likely struggle keeping track of either sharp-shooting sub-6-foot guard while they run around screens hunting an open three. The same applies for whomever is tasked with guarding Sam Hauser, either a small forward or shooting guard that will give up size and struggle to contest shots from the 6’ 8” sophomore or a power forward who will struggle to keep up with Hauser around screens on the perimeter. Big man Harry Froling should be in a similar situation with either power forwards giving up significant height or centers having to chase around on the perimeter with the 6’ 11” Australian native.
Not only does playing without positions allow for certain individual mismatches but it also allows for Coach Wojo to alter his lineup more easily when he feels certain lineups can be more favorable against what the other team is bringing. With players such as Sam Hauser and freshmen Jamal Cain having the ability to play on the wing at the heights of 6’8” and 6’7” respectively, it allows Wojo to play two of Ike Eke, Theo John, Harry Froling, and Matt Heldt down low, creating a massive lineup against teams like Seton Hall or Wisconsin where interior defense and rebounding are paramount. Inversely, if Wojo feels the need to play small ball and simply outscore another team he could put John or even Hauser in as the lone big man and surround him with shooters to create an offensively devastating lineup.
As previously mentioned in my article on how the freshmen athleticism will impact the team this year, pick-and-roll defense has to be a priority or no matter how many points Marquette scores, they will be doomed to mediocrity. Playing a position-less scheme could be one of the keys to solving the pick-and-roll defense issues that plagued the team last season. Due to their lack of both height and superior athleticism, Howard and Rowsey will probably never be spectacular defenders. In order to overcome these shortfalls, the other players in the game need to pick up the slack left by these two undersized guards. Having the ability to play versatile, defensive minded players at the other three positions will allow Marquette to switch ball screens and the length and quickness of players such as Haanif Cheatham, Jamal Cain, Greg Elliot, and Sacar Anim will allow for them to sag deeper into the lane preventing easy dump off dunks to the rolling big man. This scheme based on switchability (Made up word alert!) relies on each of the three guys on the court not named Rowsey or Howard to be able to guard multiple positions, which is exactly what most of the guys on this team can do.
Position-less basketball can be fickle. One minute you have numerous mismatches and are scoring the ball in bunches, and the next you realize not having your defense anchored by a seven foot monster patrolling the paint means Angel Delgado is putting up 20 points and 20 rebounds. However, with the current makeup of the roster at Marquette, position-less basketball grants a hell of a lot more advantages than disadvantages. With the ability to create numerous offensive mismatches and hide some defensive flaws, the position-less system might just carry your Golden Eagles back to the big dance.