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2017-18 Marquette Basketball Player Preview: #12 Matt Heldt

The Milkman returns with the hearts of his fans in hand.

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

The 2017-18 college basketball season is right around the corner, so let's get into the Marquette Golden Eagles 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 four freshmen, moving on to MU’s lone available transfer this season, and then wrapping up with the returning players, going in order of average minutes played per game last season from lowest to highest.

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, let’s get to our next preview, which is focused the guy who would probably be voted as the official favorite player of the student section.....

Matt Heldt

Junior - #12 - Center - 6’10” - 245 lbs. - Neenah, Wisconsin

I love fan quirks, especially when they’re ridiculous. The only thing I know about the 2002 Anaheim Angels is that Troy Glaus hit a go-ahead double in Game 6 of the World Series and that the fans rallied behind a monkey. They call attention to seemingly insignificant aspects of teams and give us something more jovial to draw our attention. But sometimes they can be just a little more significant than that. Matt Heldt is a fine player, at least compared to other college basketball players, but he’s not going to make First Team All American nor will you see him milly rocking in the locker room. So how did we get to the point where articles like this are written about him and people are calling him Milkman? Well, first off, he absolutely looks like he would be a milkman if he weren’t playing basketball, but you can also tell that he’s working harder than anyone on the court. That’s where the folklore begins and it also helps explain how Matt Heldt could play a key role in Marquette’s season.

If I told you last October that Heldt would end up in the “Nearly Invisible” category of KenPom’s players section at the end of the season, you probably wouldn’t be that surprised. This ended up being true, but last year turned out to be an important step for him. In 2016, his freshman year, he really wasn’t that good. He was playing behind a top prospect in Henry Ellenson and an impact transfer in Luke Fischer. Not the best situation for in-game development. He hardly played at all, played decent-ish defense, and looked pretty lost on offense.

With Ellenson leaving after that year, Heldt’s role was bound to change with only one other true big man on the roster. He started the season as Fischer’s backup, which basically meant that he came in after the under 12:00 timeout in the first half when Luke picked up his second foul. This turned into a starting role later in the season when it was clear that Heldt would be a vastly superior defender without giving up too much on offense. And that’s what he ended up doing, especially on pick and roll defense where opponents would otherwise slaughter the team. While Fischer got a lot of desperation blocks, Heldt was staying home in order to force a difficult pass or affect a shot without having to block it from behind the guard that walked right by Andrew Rowsey.

Offensively, he experienced a very steady improvement over the course of the year. Again, he was hardly used as a part of the offense when he was in, but he was incredibly solid when used. He turned the ball over in 5.6% of his possessions (the terminology is awkward, but it’s just saying how many times a turnover happened for every time a possession ended with the ball coming out of his hands, essentially) in conference play where the league average is 18.5%. The man could also set some picks. Remember how many times a possession would just die because someone stuck their foot out on a pick at the top of the key last year? It seems like Heldt never did that and held(t) his ground, allowing for Rowsey to do The Thing®. This built up to his double-double at home against St. John’s, where he showed some legitimate moves and even finished an and-one, prompting a new crowd favorite gesture.

I’m all in on this gesture, even though milkmen don’t actually milk cows. He finished off the year with a subpar performance against South Carolina (I’m willing to bet some variation of that statement is used in every player preview), but overall he definitely showed progress going into this year, where he will likely be asked to do even more.

What You Should Expect

If he is not 2012 Drew Gordon, I expect him to quit basketball and be thrown out of town.

In reality, our expectations should involve good defense without foul trouble and to be a not-terrible contribution on offense. As great as Luke Fischer was with his back to the basket with no other options, a decent portion of his 65% field goal percentage can be attributed to dumpoffs. Jajuan Johnson (I’m really going to miss his banana routes to the basket leading to a wrap-around pass) and Markus Howard were incredible last year at driving to the basket, drawing defenders and passing to Fischer for a dunk. If Heldt can avoid turnovers, be a decent passer and grab some demoralizing offensive boards, that will be perfectly fine for keeping the offense going, especially if Harry “He’s From Australia” Froling lives up to his offensive hype.

Defensively, avoiding fouls will be one of the main expectations. Similar to last year, there will only be two centers on the team. We know head coach Steve Wojciechowski is fine with playing small, but losing one of your two main sources of size due to foul trouble is never advisable. We should also expect for Heldt to consistently anchor the defense down low. I can’t emphasize how important it will be for him to continue to improve his pick and roll defense. Seriously, it was awful last year for the team. Saying he was better than Fischer isn’t saying much. He had the tendency to follow the ball handler for a bit too long, leading to an open pass near the bucket. A defensive improvement from last year will likely have a lot to do with his individual performance, and it’s going to be tested right away. Everybody say hi to Purdue’s Isaac Haas.

Rebounding on the whole should also improve, but I doubt it’ll end up resulting in higher rebounding rate numbers for him specifically. Bit more on that later. His ability to block out (I don’t think Luke blocked anyone out ever. Also, Luke was definitely a good player overall. I’m not trying to thrash him, but there were a few things he just struggled with) will mean there are some weak side rebounds he just doesn’t get, but neither will the guy he’s guarding. It puts more pressure on the other players to be alert and not just sprint to the other side, but this year’s team should be more equipped to handle that.

Why You Should Be Excited

Picture National Marquette Day on February 3rd against Providence. Tough team. Big East standings and national recognition are at stake, so it’s a brawl. Marquette is down 10 but they crawled back to being down two with 3:00 left. The Friars have really locked down on the guards, not letting them have an inch of space, so they need another way to score. Heldt comes up for a pick at the top of the key. Howard finds a sliver of breathing room and sees him beeline for the hoop and just tosses up a prayer. Heldt athletically catches the ball and throws it down with authority, drawing a foul. Crowd goes nuts. Wojo has ripped up the floorboards and is eating them for some reason. Jump Around Guy starts sobbing as he rips off his suit.

The point is that Heldt can be a real contributor on this team. The steps he made last year really were encouraging. His effort clearly showed, but that can only take you so far as a player. Not everyone can be Aaron “Why is his face more red than his jersey?” Craft, so the fact that he added some skills to supplement that is a good sign. Just a few steps forward on offense and he could become a guy like Arinze Onuaku. I want to show you all a couple of fun trendlines from last year, courtesy of barttovik.com.

Offensive Rating Over Time
Defensive Rebounding % Over Time

Pay really close attention to the 5 Game Average (explanation linked). Do you see the stretch where he exceeded his season average? Do you remember a significant lineup change that happened around this point? That’s right, once he got more minutes from becoming a starter he was raking. It’s a bit troubling that his Offensive Rebounding % trended in the opposite direction, especially since it coincided with a team-wide slump in that area, but this is the positive section. He proved himself with the starting role. Wojo needs a guy he can turn to for reliable minutes down low, and Heldt told everyone he’s up for the challenge.

Despite being one of two “true centers” in the lineup yet again, he’s going to have more help now. No longer will the next biggest man on the floor be Sam Hauser, Katin Reinhardt or Haanif Cheatham every single possession. If nothing else, Theo John and Ike Eke (and maybe Froling?) should be able to provide an athletic body on defense this year. Knowing he can leave his man just a second earlier to stop the driver because he knows his help is a capable defender should prevent a lot more easy baskets. Keeping the ball out of the paint and forcing more outside shots could mean a top 75 defense potentially. Maybe top 75 defense doesn’t sound that impressive, but hey: a top 10 offense and a top 75 defense last year meant you were Michigan, and things seemed to work out okay for the Wolverines.

Potential Pitfalls

I always want to take prompts like this to their absolute extreme just to be a jerk about it, but then every article would just consist of me saying increasingly nihilistic opinions that I don’t even believe and now all of the sudden this is the official blog for anarchists. I maintain my self control for the well-being of our nation, is what I’m trying to say.

Anyway, Matt Heldt. Definitely a basketball player. No doubting that at all. He could be good; he could be bad. Let’s see how he could be bad.

Those trends I showed earlier jump around a bunch for a reason. They’re small samples and can change in an instant, especially coming into a new season. He only started in 7 games. When defenses spend all year preparing for a guy who had completely different offensive strengths, the new player’s numbers can be a bit inflated since it’s something teams haven’t seen yet.

I also worry a bit about that offensive rebounding trend that I mentioned earlier. I’ll show both graphs to you.

Heldt Offensive Rebounding Trend
Team Offensive Rebounding Trend

The top is just Heldt’s trend, the bottom is the team’s. Overall, Marquette ranked 254th in OReb% and Heldt’s minutes came at a direct expense of Fischer’s. I have a preliminary theory that the team’s rebounding numbers with Player X on the floor matter a bit more than X’s individual numbers, given that a bad box-out will be more likely to cost the team a rebound than a good box-out to give the player one. Anyway, those two trends showing the same thing concern me a little bit, but the sample size issues still apply here.

Defensively he has a high floor, but that means nothing if he can’t stay in the game. The Onuaku comparison could apply negatively here. If he gets in foul trouble and can’t effectively stop drivers because of it, we could see another sub-150 defense. As fun as last year was, another full year of games with both teams in the high 80s might literally kill me, or that’s what my cardiologist tells me.