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Get To Know A Marquette Basketball Opponent: Grambling State

Who would win in a fight, a Golden Eagle or a Tiger?

NCAA FOOTBALL: SEP 10 Grambling State at Arizona Photo by Carlos Herrera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Name: Grambling State University

Where: Grambling, Louisiana

My Louisiana Geography Isn’t As Good As You Think It Is: Grambling is about an hour east of Shreveport. If you think of the state as a boot, Grambling would be the top of the decorative stitching on the side of it.

Founded: 1901

Where Did The Name Come From? It’s not just for the city, technically speaking. Originally, the school was named Colored Industrial And Agricultural School. In 1905, it moved to its current location, which was a section of land donated by sawmill owner P.G. Grambling. The school didn’t take on his name until 1946 when it became Grambling College, the school’s fourth name since its inception. Adding graduate degrees in education in 1974 is what prompted the transition to Grambling State University. With that said, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that the city bears Grambling’s name for relatively the same reason that the university does.

Biggest Rivalry: It’s entirely possible that Grambling State’s biggest rivalry isn’t actually in an NCAA sanctioned sport. It might actually be a marching band rivalry with Southern University. While there is no official judging for the yearly Battle of the Bands between GSU and SU as a part of the Bayou Classic football game between the two schools, matching off the World Famed Tiger Marching Band against The Human Jukebox is still a sight to behold.

Here’s an HOUR LONG compilation of video from 2019’s Battle.

Enrollment: 4,863 (3,883 undergrad, 980 grad)

Nickname: Tigers

Why “Tigers?” I can’t find anything in particular to explain it. It’s possible that it derives from the same Confederate army history as LSU’s nickname, but that’s just a theory.

Notable Alumni: Eight time Mr. Olympia winner Ronnie Coleman; Grammy Award winning artist Erykah Badu; current New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow; rapper E-40 attended but did not graduate, professional wrestler and professional football player “Big Cat” Ernie Ladd; Pro Football Hall of Famers Willie Brown, Buck Buchanan, and Charlie Joiner; Super Bowl XXII MVP Doug Williams; and Basketball Hall of Famer Willis Reed.

Marquette Played Grambling Four Years Ago: and I argued that they might be the worst team in the history of KenPom.com, yes. That’s an accurate statement.

So, Has That Changed? Well, yes and no.

Since Marquette last played Grambling in December 2015, the Tigers have compiled a record of 58-71, which is not good. However, the 2015-16 season was the last time that Grambling State finished under .500 in SWAC play, so that’s something. The 2016-17 was their first time over .500 in SWAC play since 2007, which was also the last time that they had back-to-back winning seasons in league play. They’re still taking losses out the wazoo in non-conference play, but they’ve been competitive against their peers since we last saw them.

With that said, since we last spoke about Grambling State, KenPom.com has added a “Program Rank” feature to each team’s page. You can read this explanation as to how it’s calculated exactly, but the point of the story here is that the Tigers are #353, which is the worst team in the history of the database. So now instead of my random wondering out loud, we have an actual algorithmic decision on that statement. Science!

With That Said: They won a regular season SWAC title in 2018, finished tied for third last year (although Prairie View A&M ran away with the league at 17-1), and currently project for a tie for second place in the league according to both KenPom.com and BartTorvik.com. There’s definitely worse times to be scheduling Grambling State, that’s for sure.

Last Season: 17-17 overall, with a record of 10-8 in SWAC play. After losing in the conference tournament semifinals to top seeded Prairie View A&M, they qualified for the CIT, but lost in the first round to Texas-Rio Grande Valley by one point on the road. That sucks.

Final 2018-19 KenPom.com Ranking: #268

This Season: 2-5 against Division 1 opponents, although they are 6-5 overall. Marquette will be the best team that they have played yet this season according to the KenPom rankings, with only Oregon State also turning up in the top 150.

Current KenPom.com Ranking: #291

Stat Leaders

Points: DeVante Jackson, 15.0 ppg
Rebounds: Terreon Randolph, 6.2 rpg
Assists: Ivy Smith Jr., 5.2 apg

A Grambling State Roster/Stats Note: Cameron Christon made his Grambling State debut on Saturday after transferring from Boise State mid-year last season. He put up 15 points, four rebounds, an assist, and a steal in his first game as a Tiger. DeVante Jackson still led the team in scoring with 17.

Shooters? While the stats above are taking all of Grambling’s games into account, for the next two sections, we’re only going to look at what they’ve been doing against Division 1 opponents. Mauling Ecclesia 147-52 isn’t really telling us what we’re looking at here, y’know?

Generally speaking, Marquette is not going to have to worry about the Tigers firing off three-pointers at all. Less than 25% of GSU’s shots come from behind the arc, giving them the fourth lowest volume in the country. This makes sense, as they’re only connecting on 31.3% of them as a team. “Don’t do things you’re bad at” is always a solid tactic.

With that said, there are a couple of guys to keep an eye on. Anthony Gaston (6’4”, 205 lb.) has hit 36% of his attempts this season, which means he’s doing a little bit better than averaging 1-for-3 every single night out. Kelton Edwards (6’6”, 195 lb.) only attempts two three-pointers a game on average, but he is connecting on 36% of them as well. I’m intrigued by DeVante Jackson (6’9”, 200 lb.) knocking down 40% of his tries, but he’s only 2-for-5 on the season. He’s a 37% shooter in his career at Grambling on just 51 attempts.

We should probably also mention Cameron Christon (6’6”, 190 lb.) down here. He went 2-for-7 in his GSU debut, which is, y’know, not good. However, the willingness and the coaching freedom to do that is worth noting. Christon went 5-for-14 (36%) in limited minutes with Boise State as a freshman in 2017-18.

Bigs? Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to Travon Bunch. The 7’1”, 230 pound senior is going to be a riddle that Marquette has to solve to win the game. He’s a top 100 rebounder on the defensive end according to KenPom’s rate measurements, and he blocks 10.5% of the shots that go up against GSU while he’s on the court. Bunch is a quality offensive rebounder (#312 in the country in KenPom’s rate) and he draws fouls really well on top of that. On the rare opportunity that he shoots (less than five attempts per game), it’s probably going in, as he’s connecting on 64% of his attempts.

Bunch also plays fewer than 45% of Grambling State’s minutes because he grabs fouls to the tune of 7.4 per 40 minutes. In other words, he’s basically the answer to the question “What if Theo John was four inches taller?”

There’s also the aforementioned DeVante Jackson, coming in at 6’9” and 200 pounds. That makes him “Tall Man” not “Big Man,” though. For a guy that tall, he doesn’t particularly rebound it all that well, although he is third on the team in per game average. He’s also in the top 500 in assist rate, which definitely doesn’t make him look like a traditional big in any fashion. I’d call him a stretch four, but he’s not really stretching the floor with as little as he’s shooting the outside shot. Terreon Randolph (6’8”, 220 lb.) appears to be Bunch’s primary back-up, although the season began with the starting lineup going in the other direction. Randolph is a much better offensive rebounder than Branch, but it’s Branch that cleans the defensive glass at a much, much higher rate. Randolph doesn’t block shots, draw fouls, or commit fouls at nearly the pace that Branch does, so it would appear to be to Marquette’s overall advantage to have Randolph on the floor.

Head Coach: Donte Jackson, who hails from Milwaukee. He attended Hamilton High School and played for UWM for one season before transferring to NAIA Central State, so don’t be surprised if you hear a big cheer when he is announced during starting lineups. Jackson is in his third season at Grambling State, which is also his third season as a head coach at the Division 1 level. He has a record of 40-36, but went 126-63 at previous stints at his alma mater and Stillman.

More Local Connections: There’s probably going to be a sizable Grambling cheering contingent at this game. Not only does Jackson hail from Milwaukee, but he has a player from Milwaukee, senior forward DeVante Jackson, who went to Brown Deer High School. On top of that, senior center Travon Bunch is from Racine, and freshman guard Trevell Cunningham is from Chicago.

All Time Series: Marquette leads, 5-0, with all five games coming in this century. The most recent outing was in 2015, as mentioned above. Marquette made eight of their first nine attempts from behind the three-point arc and jumped out to a 23-2 lead. Jajuan Johnson popped off the bench to lead everyone scoring with 20 points as MU won 95-49. Marquette had 30 assists on 34 baskets in that game.