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2019-20 Marquette Basketball Player Preview: #4 Theo John

We’ve seen what he can do. How much more will we get this year?

NCAA Basketball: Marquette at Villanova Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019-20 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 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 the man who makes his biggest impact on the defensive side of the court......

Theo John

Junior - #4 - Forward - 6’9” - 255 pounds - Minneapolis, MN

One of the first lessons I learned playing basketball was that everyone has bad offensive days where their shot isn’t falling, but good defenders are good defenders every day (Shoutout Paul Mihelich). Theo John is no good defender, he is a great defender. Because of his defensive prowess, his night-in/night-out floor is rather high. We know he will turn opponents away at the rim and even more importantly, make them think twice before even attempting a shot at the rim (just ask Creighton about this one). Even if he doesn’t make much of an offensive impact, Theo John will leave his footprint on the game. Last season he was 11th in the country in blocked shot percentage at 11.1%, he also had an offensive rebound percentage of 11.1% which ranked in the top 200 in the country.

All of that being said, the Minnesota Monster does have areas he was deficient in last season. The first and most obvious would be fouling. John averaged 7.4 fouls per 40 minutes last season. That is obviously 2.4 fouls over the amount required to foul out. Because of his propensity for hacking dudes, Theo only played 49% of the time last year, by far the lowest of any starter. I will talk more about fouling later so just keep that in mind. Theo was also rather limited on the offensive end of the floor as almost all his points can within three feet of the basket, mostly on either offensive rebounds or put backs. John also shot 51% from the free throw line which is bad. Not Jayce Johnson bad, but bad nonetheless.

However, even though Theo has not shown much indication of offensive prowess, he has improved since his freshman year. He dropped his turnover percentage from a ghastly 27.7% to a merely bad 21%. Furthermore, he dropped that percentage down to 16% during conference play which jumped his offensive rating up to 114, second only to Sam Hauser among the starters. These improvements are incremental but show a distinct improvement which is backed up by the eye test.

Overall, Theo was a pretty damn effective player last year and the chances of major regression are very small. The only real question is if he will take any large strides forward in any aspects of his game.

Reasonable Expectations

We all know that Theo John will start at center. But will he finish there? The best ability is availability and as great of a defensive stopper John is, he is only a great defensive stopper half the game because he is sitting with foul trouble the other half. Honestly, I do not see John cutting way down on his defensive fouls. His value comes not only from the blocks he gets but the shots he alters or prevents from being taken entirely. His reputation for swatting everything comes at the price of picking up a couple of reckless-adjacent fouls per game. Additionally, having a backup center who seven feet tall should dampen many effects of Theo getting in foul trouble.

Where Theo can and should improve is to stop picking up cheap offensive fouls. He adds no offensive value picking up these fouls and detracts from his defensive value. Hell, his shoulders are already (approximately) 74 feet wide. If he just stands there, the defender won’t be able to get around his screen. There is no need to shuffle his feet and pick up cheap fouls. I predict we see his minutes share rise up to about 60% with a reduction in offensive fouls.

As for the rest of his game, I see Theo getting more post touches this season where he can show off the baby hook he seems to like on both sides of the block. However, I do not really see much else about his game changing. He isn’t going to start shooting threes or facing up and taking guys to the basket. It is just not who he is as a basketball player.

Why You Should Get Excited

Maybe I am wrong. It has happened before once or twice. Maybe Theo can sustain his high block rate while reducing his fouls enough to stay in most of the game. After all, it isn’t totally out of the realm of possibility as he dropped his foul rate from 8.5 per 40min to 7.4 per 40min since his freshman season. Furthermore, without the Hauser brothers (especially Joey) getting beat by their man, Theo may have less of a burden to meet guys at the rim. That could result in lowering his total fouls.

Enough about fouls. I doubt many people came here to read about them. Time to talk about the scintillating topic of turnovers. Marquette had a turnover problem last year and Theo played his part. However, as mentioned above he did drop his turnover percentage to a very respectable 16% during conference play. If Theo keeps that up along with his 60% shooting clip, his offensive rating should be around 114 again which is pretty damn good.

On a slightly less probable note, Theo could also see his assist percentage rise a bit from the paltry 4.4% he threw out last year. John has always struck me as a talented yet unwilling passer. After all, when someone gets the ball as unfrequently on the block as he does, they are going to shoot it, usually as hard as they can with both hands. However, with an offense that may give him more post touches this year, I do not think it is crazy to imagine him upping that assist rate. I am not going to pretend he is going to be playing point forward but ball movement will be crucial this year with lesser outside shooting and I think John can play his part.

Potential Pitfalls

Fouls, fouls, fouls, and those things you get whistled for when you make too much contact with the opponent. I have already talked about this above and I do not feel the need to repeat myself here. Theo fouls too much and takes himself out of the game. One is only an effective player if they are actually playing.

Aside from the obvious fouls issue, the second biggest worry this season is scheme. Marquette will undoubtedly be a lesser three-point shooting team without the Hausers and even more so when Wojo plays the fabled two big lineup. With a possible lack of shooting, the lane could become clogged leading to a drop in offensive rebounding percentage and a drop in dump-off opportunities. We have yet to see if Theo can play next to another traditional big and there are legitimate worries he can not. This is a worry for the whole team in general but John specifically since he scores all his points in the lane.

Aside from schematic changes, John’s skillset is rather immune to regression. His game is built around instincts and physical attributes, two things you walk in the door with every day. John is a big man and he does big man things. If he stops doing big man things and starts doing stuff like dribbling a lot on the perimeter or shooting mid-range jumpers, we could see some problems. But if John sticks to his game and makes incremental changes, I would not be surprised to see him receiving votes for all-Big East teams at the end of the year.