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2018-19 Marquette Basketball Player Preview: #4 Theo John

Can the second-year big man carve out a role in a suddenly crowded frontcourt?

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Marquette Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018-19 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 MU’s lone true freshman, then the lone graduate transfer, followed by the three players who redshirted last season for one reason or another, 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, we turn our attention to the player who often looks more like an NFL tight end than a basketball player...

Theo John

Sophomore - #4 - 6’9” - 240 pounds - Minneapolis, Minnesota

In a bygone era of college basketball, Theo John would be the player on Marquette’s roster that you would pick if you walked into the Al McGuire Center for the first time during practice and immediately had to point out who the team’s star player was. I distinctly remember seeing John live for the first time in last year’s exhibition against Lindenwood and being astounded by his physical presence. To quote the Internet: “In awe of the size of this lad, absolute unit.” John really does look like an NFL tight end, so to answer the question of how he ended up as a somewhat under-the-radar commit to Marquette, you have to take his on the court skills into account.

John at times didn’t seem prepared for collegiate basketball as a freshman. He began the season with a massive foul problem that tapered off a bit as he became more comfortable. But even though his minutes fluctuated and he missed two games with an injury, he showed flashes of real promise. He popped on one of the biggest stages Marquette basketball offers, National Marquette Day, in a career-high 14-point performance during which he made all six of his field goals and added six rebounds and five blocks. He also had a tendency to grab an uncommonly high usage for his role when he was on the court, especially compared to his center time-sharer Matt Heldt. The possession ended in John’s hands more than 19 percent of the time when he was on the floor, which ranked only behind Andrew Rowsey and Markus Howard on the team and contributed to his team-worst offensive rating.

He finished with averages of 3.9 points and 2.3 rebounds per game, but his upside remains undeniably high.

Reasonable Expectations

John’s role has about as wide a range of outcomes as any player on the Marquette roster for 2018-19. If his game grows into his lab-specimen body, he could start at center and play 25 minutes a night. If he continues to struggle to score consistently and defend without fouling, he could be forced to the bench by the emergence of Joey Hauser and Ed Morrow and Heldt’s regular old consistency. For what it’s worth, the actually-very-good-for-being-run-by-a-Badger-fan analytics website Barttorvik.com doesn’t project John as a contributor playing any sort of regular minutes. No, really: He’s not even listed on the Marquette page right now.

I just can’t imagine a player with John’s body type and a year of experience as a backup center in the Big East disappearing from any sort of meaningful role. John feels like the third option up front for Marquette this year, behind a starting lineup that includes Matt Heldt and a smaller lineup where Ed Morrow is the most post-oriented player. It would be reasonable to expect John to occasionally show flashes of brilliance in consistent second unit appearances, but might be a bridge too far to expect him to take the starting center role from Heldt. If Matt drops a weight on his foot again, or whatever the heck he did this offseason, then John would be the most likely to at least start if not become the team’s primary post player.

Reasons To Get Excited

There will be at least two or three times when John steals a low-major big man’s lunch money in November and December and either dunks on him or completely dominates him physically. That will be fun. Also, “legitimately gigantic, athletic big man,” is not a type of player Marquette’s roster usually features. The last time Marquette had a player like John was...before I first got to campus in 2011, that’s for sure. Dwight Burke, maybe? Again, if his basketball skills can catch up to his body and he can harness his strength for legal defense as opposed to fouling, his ceiling is this team’s starting center by January.

Potential Pitfalls

If John hasn’t improved his defensive awareness, he may routinely get fouled out of games, either by actual disqualification or merely picking up enough where Wojo can’t put him back out there. He’s as explosive as any player Marquette has had, but if he’s exploding into offensive players who pump fake him or get by Markus Howard on the perimeter, that will hamper his improvement and Marquette’s chances to win games. Last season, John played regular minutes because he and Matt Heldt were the only players on the roster (besides Harry Froling) whose true position was power forward or higher. Now that Morrow, Joey Hauser and Ike Eke exist as eligible options, John’s minutes won’t be guaranteed by his size. If any of those other players stand out, John could see a whole lot of the bench.