This coming weekend, us Marquette basketball junkies will have the opportunity to get the first taste of meaningful basketball since Ja Morant legally conquered the school in March. This weekend, the Golden Eagles squad will attempt to play its way out of the Wichita region in The Basketball Tournament (TBT). Interest in the Marquette alumni team has slowly grown over time since they are a) very good, and b) acquiring more well-known players. This year is no exception with an addition of Andrew Rowsey accompanied by #TheThing. He will essentially be replacing Travis Diener from last year’s team. Of all the regions that TBT has to offer this year, the Wichita region has by far the most intrigue and everyone who has followed college basketball over the last 10 years should be tuned into all of it. I won’t do a preview of every game, but I do want to give a brief overview of who the main competition for the Golden Eagles team will be.
Self Made (Kansas Alumni Team)
Players You May Know: Perry Ellis, Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson, Darrell Arthur
The Marquette alums are a worthy #1 seed in this region given their previous performances in TBT, but Self Made boasts by far the most talent in the field and they’re the #3 seed. With Ethan Happ being eliminated (heh) Perry Ellis might be the best player left in this field. If you don’t remember him beyond his former meme status, he was a crafty power forward during his time at Kansas. His footwork is tremendous and he is quicker than about every big that has to face him. Oh and he also shot 44% from three point range during his senior year on 64 shots. In order to stop him that quickness needs to be matched step for step to force him to be physical. This wouldn’t be a huge issue, except 6’8” Trend Blackledge appears to be MU’s best bet to be guarding the biggest man on the floor, which is another topic.
6’9” Darnell Jackson and 6’10” Landen Lucas will probably be splitting time at center, with Lucas receiving the lion’s share of the minutes. Both are large men and would be a matchup nightmare for the Golden Eagles. keeping the ball out of their hands in the low block will be paramount and Jamil Wilson will have to play a lot bigger than what he’s used to.
The two main ball handlers will be Tyshawn Taylor, a former Tom Crean signee at Marquette, and Elijah Johnson. Those two played together on the 2012 Kansas team that reached the national title game and they feed off each other tremendously. Tyshawn is one of the fastest point guards that I’ve ever seen along with being much longer than the typical point guard. He creates a lot of havoc on the defensive end and works well as a distributor. He can be a little too flashy with the ball, though. If you want a perfect encapsulation of the Tyshawn Taylor Experience, watch this clip from the 2012 Final Four game where Tyshawn gets a steal in the most important defensive possession of his life and immediately throws the ball away to give the Buckeyes another shot to tie. Getting the smaller guards like Rowsey and Maurice Acker over that size via three pointer will be the key to getting the offense going.
This is a team with a lot of size at all 5 positions. Their defense, anchored by former defensive X-Factor Travis Releford, will look to stave off almost any run while looking to run good offense to get Perry Ellis as many open looks as he can get. This is their first TBT, though. We learn year after year that it’s not enough to just pack your team with star power. They need to 1) actually show up to play and 2) be able to all play together, but if members of 3 different teams can all come together, they will be the team to beat at this tournament.
Aftershocks (Wichita State Alumni Team)
Players You May Know: Conner Frankamp, Cleanthony Early, Shaq Morris, Toure Murry
With these games being played at Charles Koch Arena, aka Wichita State’s home court, the Aftershocks will feel right at home as the #2 seed. This team features a bevy of players from the golden age of Shocker basketball that started in 2012. Players like Zach Brown (not the band), Tekele Cotton, and Rashard Kelly are all great representations of the casual fan’s view of Gregg Marshall basketball. They are monsters on the defensive end that will make any game ugly for opposing offenses. That intensity gets matched on the offensive end with dunks like this. Or this. Or this. You get the picture. Trying to get around them to score is like going bowling in a minefield. A levelheaded point guard like Derrick Wilson might need more minutes against these vipers.
The whole team will be able to defend together at a high level, but their ability to score cannot be underestimated. The main scoring threat will be Cleanthony Early. He is a slim 6’8” sharpshooter with enough quickness to get around even smaller defenders. If he ever gets the ball in isolation in the corner, then there’s a 90% chance he’s scoring somehow. His first step is just deadly which helps him get to the bucket with ease despite limited handling skills. Jamil Wilson will be circled and underlined for this assignment and my mouth is watering thinking about it. That matchup will be so much fun to watch.
Point guard duties will probably split between recent graduate Conner Frankamp and 2013 starter Malcom Armstead. Frankamp is usually looking to score first off the dribble. He’s not the greatest distributor in the world but he will never cough up the ball. Or cough on the ball, for that matter. Very polite, always covers his mouth. His risks are very calculated and it can make him very frustrating to play against when he’s hot. The problem is that he is a terrible defender that serves more as a passive resister than a ball stopper. Malcolm Armstead is about the opposite of all those these except his propensity to have the ball. He is a titan defensively, attempting to grab steals at the slightest opportunity. He’s a better distributor than Frankamp, but can take some of the dumbest risks. The perfect example is when he cost the Shockers the 2013 Missouri Valley Tournament title by dribbling the ball out for the final 10 seconds by being heavily guarded by every single Creighton defender. Here’s the video. It’s cringey. The key for Marquette’s defense will be to force both of these players into uncomfortable positions. Andrew Rowsey particularly would need to step up on that end. The typical Shocker offense hinges on strong play from their guards.
In terms of big men, Shaq Morris and Garrett Stutz will be holding down the low block. Morris will be making an emotional return to his former home court following the unfortunate death of his mother (Here is a link to Morris’ tweet with the GoFundMe page for her funeral expenses, if you feel the urge to donate), so there will be a warm welcome for him and hopefully some good moments throughout the weekend. As a player, he showed steady development throughout his Shocker career to becoming a star in his 2018 senior campaign. He is as strong, if not stronger, than Theo John with outside shooting ability. He would be yet another challenge for Blackledge, who will assuredly need an oxygen tank after this weekend. The best way to beat him is to take advantage of his aggressive defensive style. Crafty players like Mo Acker and Dwight Buycks will have to find ways to get to the basket and draw enough contact to force the refs’ hand.
Stutz is a seven footer that can stretch to the three point line. I’m honestly not sure how he didn’t get an NBA nod given his skillset and his high usage on a #5 seeded NCAA tournament team. He also missed a shot to tie VCU in the first round of 2012. It ruined my bracket that year because I had the Shockers going to the Final Four. It really upset me, so please tell me that you feel bad for me.
I’ll mention Toure’ Murray because I really enjoyed watching him play even though he wasn’t as great as I thought he was. He’ll probably get limited minutes but he has the potential to make a good impact.
Oh, and the coach for Aftershocks? Karon Bradley, who appeared in 48 games for Marquette back in the day, including 22 of them in the 2002-03 Final Four season. Fun, huh? With noted 2002-03 Golden Eagle Joe Chapman coaching the MU alumni, I suspect the connection might get mentioned on TV once or twice if the two teams meet in the regional final.
Much like Self Made, Aftershocks’ size can be a real issue for the Golden Eagles. Stutz and Morris could completely bully everyone on the inside with Cleanthony Early lighting up from the outside in front of a crowd that will be raucous. That’s not a guess on the crowd, either. TBT is giving the regional winners 25% of the ticket income, and Wichita’s prize is north of $69,000, over $45,000 more than any other regional site before TBT got started last weekend. Also like Kansas this is the first TBT for the Wichita State alumni, but all of the main contributors on this team played between 2012 and 2017, so there won’t be as many continuity issues. Still, with a style of play that will depend on working together as a unit, there won’t be much room for mistakes. The Golden Eagles would need to take advantage of every window of opportunity against them.
Purple And Black (Kansas State Alumni Team)
Players You May Know: Marcus Foster. Unless you avidly follow Big 12 basketball, that’s about it.
Wait, THAT Marcus Foster?
Yup, the same Marcus Foster that dominated the Big East as a Creighton Bluejay. If you recall, he transferred to Creighton from Kansas State, but there is no Creighton alumni team so he has to make do with what he has. If P&B wins their first round game against Colorado’s alumni team (Remember Xavier Johnson? Probably not, but he’s on that team), they’ll play the Golden Eagles, should our boys in gold make it that far. I wouldn’t be too worried about them if it weren’t for Foster. As we are all well aware, he is the type of player that can take over a game. If Rowsey is ever placed against him, I will immediately get terrible flashbacks. Behind Perry Ellis, he’s probably the second best player in this region. Besides Foster, though, there isn’t too much to get worried about. Thomas Gipson and DJ Johnson are both certifiably #thicc and can score well down low, but they’re not really second/third scoring options on a good team. Curtis Kelly is a good defender, I guess. I’m more just spitballing at any sort of reason that the Golden Eagles could lose that doesn’t include Marcus Foster. Not really going too well.
The Wichita region is loaded with star power. Even if Marquette had nothing to do with any of these teams — and given this is TBT where one of the #8 seeds has already advanced to the quarterfinals, that’s entirely possible — I would still be blocking out my Saturday to watch all these teams play. Getting through this region will be this squad’s greatest challenge yet. The spark that Andrew Rowsey’s offense can provide is a gigantic boost for a team that could use more star power. But the Marquette alumni team has played together for multiple go-rounds, they know how this tournament works, and they spend more time practicing together than just about anyone. Plus the depth they have at the wing position is the best of all their likely competition. I think the Marquette alumni fight their way past the homecourt advantage and beat the Aftershocks and punch a ticket to Chicago.