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2019-20 Marquette Basketball Player Preview: #34 Jayce Johnson

What are the Golden Eagles going to get from this year’s grad transfer?

Jayce Johnson
Was I tempted to use one of the style photos of Johnson from Big East Media Day? Yes, yes, I was.
Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2019-20 college basketball season is right around the corner, so let’s get into the Marquette Golden Eagles men’s 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 freshmen, then the lone graduate transfer, followed by the two guys who were on the team but sat out all of 2018-19 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 Marquette’s graduate transfer for the forthcoming season......

Jayce Johnson

Graduate Transfer - #34 - 7’0” - 245 pounds - Mission Viejo, California

I think it’s safe to say that college basketball has not quite gone the way that Jayce Johnson might have hoped that it would over the past three seasons. He was the #87 prospect in the country in the Class of 2016, and then enrolled early at Utah in January of 2016 and sat out as a redshirt for the rest of the 2015-16 season. Jakob Poeltl and Kyle Kuzma pushed that Utes squad to a 27-9 record and a win in the NCAA tournament for the second straight season. Those were the first back-to-back NCAA appearances for the Utes since 2004 and 2005, back when they were in the Mountain West.

They haven’t been back since. Part of that may have to do with Poeltl’s departure for the NBA Draft following the 2015-16 season as a sophomore, but part of that might also be just that Utah is in the Pac-12. The Utes went 20-12 in Johnson’s first full year of eligibility and 23-12 in his redshirt sophomore campaign. Neither were good enough for an NCAA tournament bid, and there’s no way that last year’s 17-14 was, either.

Along the way, Johnson has never quite lived up to the hype as a top 100 prospect, but last year might be a sign that he’s figured everything out. He has career averages of 5.5 points and 5.8 rebounds in 16.8 minutes per game while making 91 appearances with 32 starts for Utah. That’s after having his best career year last season, putting up 7.1 points and 7.7 rebounds while playing 21.9 minutes per game in 29 games with 25 starts. As a redshirt junior last year, Johnson ranked in the top 30 in the country in rebounding rate on both ends of the floor, and at #1 in OR% and #2 in DR% in Pac-12 play, you can easily argue that he was the best rebounder in the entire conference. While Johnson never quite played enough minutes in his first two years of eligibility to pop into the KenPom.com national rankings, he’s consistently been a high value rebounder. Johnson has always hit double digits on both ends in rebounding rate, and always going above 12% on the offensive glass and 24% on the defensive glass. He also landed in the top 150 in block rate last season, and his 59.7% shooting percentage on two-pointers was exactly #200 in the country amongst qualified players.

Reasonable Expectations

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think Johnson can repeat his 7&7 performance from a year ago while wearing a Marquette uniform. He did that on relatively limited minutes, although the 22 per night is more of a tell to head coach Larry Krystowiak keeping Johnson coming off the bench to start the season than how Johnson ended up in the rotation at the end of the year.

If Johnson ends up playing the Ed Morrow role to Theo John’s starting center more often than not, then that would aim him towards about the same amount of minutes as Johnson played a year ago. There’s variance on that depending on how much foul trouble John gets into, but that’s an entirely different preview. At worst, if head coach Steve Wojciechowski is dedicated to playing two of his three big men together for regular intervals, that would ultimately mean more playing time for Johnson, it seems. Either way, if it’s merely playing about half the time opposite John or in a rotation on the floor with John and Morrow, seeing Johnson replicate last year’s output seems about right.

Why You Should Get Excited

I mean this in the nicest way possible about Jayce Johnson, so I don’t want to get any angry emails from anyone about this: Jayce Johnson is exactly the basketball player that we think he is, and we are almost assuredly going to get exactly the basketball player that we think we’re getting.

I don’t think it’s a gross overstatement to say that Joseph Chartouny did not work out as anyone had hoped as a grad transfer a year ago. His assist rate dropped significantly, his turnover rate shot all the way to the damn moon, and his steal rate — perhaps the major reason why we were all excited about his addition to the squad — was cut in half. By the time we got to February, Chartouny was down to playing single digits worth of minutes in games instead of being the regular contributing point guard partner to Markus Howard that we thought that we were going to see.

Jayce Johnson, on the other hand, excels at things that can’t vary no matter what kind of system you put him in. He’s big, he grabs the ball well, he swats opposing shots with enough regularity to make him a quality rim protector. That’s the kind of player he is, and that’s the kind of player that we’re going to get. You can make all the jokes about the futility of the Pac-12 that you want to make (oh, and we will), but Johnson averaged 7.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per game last year in 16 conference games against a Pac-12 that had seven top 100 KenPom teams and three more between 100 and 115. These are numbers against quality competition coming in skill and departments that translate well to any Division 1 conference in the country.

I think Jayce Johnson ends up restoring our trust in grad transfers, as long as we remember to only trust them to play a supporting role on the team and not anything else.

Potential Pitfalls

On Sunday, Marquette beat Indiana in a secret closed scrimmage, 72-69. Go check out the box score from that contest in case you haven’t already.

In particular, let me direct your attention to Jayce Johnson’s line.

10 minutes, seven points, three rebounds, four fouls.

Last year, Jayce Johnson had a career best in fouls called per 40 minutes at 5.4. You will, of course, remember that college basketball players are only allowed five fouls per 40 minutes. 5.4 fouls per 40 minutes is not good, and that was the lowest that number has been for him in all three of his collegiate seasons.

Steve Wojciechowski’s plan of using two bigs together at the same time is dependent on one very key factor: Two of the three bigs being able to be on the floor due to a lack of fouls. Theo John racked up fouls to the tune of 7.4 per 40 minutes last year (!), and Ed Morrow was at 5.7 per 40 minutes.

Mix in Jayce Johnson’s stats from his time in Utah, and hoooooooooooboy that is a cocktail asking to cause a problem. Wojciechowski is attempting to create a game plan that miiiiiight just be completely doomed if his guys can’t stay on the floor, and that’s the biggest hurdle for Johnson’s success at Marquette.