With the 2018-2019 season in the books, let’s take a few moments to look back at the performance of each member of YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles this year. While we’re at it, we’ll also take a look back at our player previews and see how our preseason prognostications stack up with how things actually played out. We’ll run through roster in order of total minutes played going from lowest to highest, which means that today we turn our attention to the guy who clearly has to be the most improved player on the team this season.....
Sophomore - #4 - 6’9” - 240 pounds - Minneapolis, Minnesota
Theo John Traditional Stats
Theo John Fancy Stats
** - denotes a top 500 national ranking per KenPom.com
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.
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.
Our beloved podcast host Patrick Leary might have come the closest to predicting Marquette’s frontcourt situation this year, even if it wasn’t spot on. No one saw Matt Heldt’s minutes completely disappearing coming into the season since he started over John last year. Whether it be the lasting effects of The Milkman’s offseason foot injury, John’s gradual improvement, or both, Theo John quickly emerged quickly as a dominating defensive presence.
It’s worth mentioning that he’s “only” 6’9” and plays center. That’s not typically what teams want when they’re looking for someone to stave off easy rim opportunities, but John the Baptist proved himself to be the best post defender in the conference by a wide margin. I’m not breaking any news by saying that he could maybe kill a wolf with his bare hands (*quickly scribbles down “Could Theo John Kill A Wolf With His Bare Hands” in a notepad titled “Offseason Content”*), but he left his mark with his surprisingly gifted leaping ability and impeccable timing to swat away shots at their apex. All told, he ranked 17th in the country with an 11.1% block rate, AKA he blocked 11.1% of all shots that were taken while he was on the floor. Couple that with an outright refusal to get backed down in the post, and we’re looking at one of the premier defenders in the country with two years of eligibility left. Seems good.
Offensively, he might’ve been the least important player on the court. It’s not a knock against him, but head coach Steve Wojciechowski tends to let the offense work heavily through the guards. Where John thrived was for the occasional post feed when defenders were cheating out too much which would lead to a dunk followed by a blood-curdling scream or a hook shot that went in a little less than half the time. At one point during the season, he actually responded to a question about his play on offense by saying “I’m trying to dunk it as hard as I can.” His biggest issue on offense was one that plagues many bigs around the country: turnovers. He wasn’t the worst on the team at coughing up the ball, but a teeny bit over a fifth of the possessions that wound up with the ball in his hands resulted in a turnover. He was especially prone to double teams and he never demonstrated an ability to pass out of them. That’s one of those “chicken or egg” scenarios: Was he coughing it up because he was getting doubled, or was he getting doubled because he was coughing it up? He was still a highly useful offensive player overall, but the turnovers put a cap on how productive he could be. That sentence could apply to most member on the team, honestly.
To this point I’ve left out one glaring flaw that affected his play on both ends. Theo John committed A LOT of fouls, committing 7.4 (!!) per 40 minutes, marginally better than his mark of 8.5 (!!!!!!!!!!) last year. If you’re a fan of percentiles both of those numbers are in the zeroth percentile, or, as Scottie Pippen calls it, “Promising enough for me to invest in.” There were three total games in which he committed 2 fouls or less, and he fouled out 4 times.
The conversation about his foul issues among many fans this year would typically begin and end with the way he was officiated. There’s no question that there were numerous occasions in which The Swatter was called for fouls simply by being a Large Adult, but those made up maybe 10% of his total foul calls. He couldn’t keep himself in games even with fairer calls, and it led to him only playing in 48.7% of the available minutes over the year. He not only hurt his team by putting himself on the bench and giving opponents free points at the stripe, but his own development suffered as well. As a freshman those types of overly-aggressive mistakes are acceptable if not desired. That leap from freshman to sophomore year is the one where players often make the biggest improvements, though, so those dumb fouls should have improved way more than they did. I worry that Theo might not fix the issue to the point where he’s playing full games into his senior year. He’ll be a great contributor regardless, but I just want to see more of The Eraser on the court because it’s a lot of fun watching him play.
On January 23 at home against DePaul, a game in which Marquette did not lose, Theo scored 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting and racked up six (count ‘em, 6) blocks along with 10 rebounds, 4 of them coming on the offensive end. We were briefly in Triple Double Watch and it was the best version of him that we’ve seen in his Marquette career.
Season Grade, On A Scale Of 1-10
The rise of Marquette’s defense back to respectability came largely as a result of Theo John’s efforts. That #19 ranked two-point defense (up from 227th last year, Ick!) didn’t just pop up on accident. His ability to completely erase the mistakes of the perimeter defenders gave the guards more confidence to stay on their man and not overly help when a ball handler drives past his defender. He was such a perfect fit for what Wojo was trying to do on defense, and it was damn fun to watch as a fan. His fouling issues need to be the first thing he fixes this offseason, though. Next year’s team especially cannot afford him playing 20 minutes a game. For that reason I’m “only” giving him an 8/10.