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

Let’s look back at how the blocking machine played during his junior year.

NCAA Basketball: DePaul at Marquette Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2019-20 season long since 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 the roster in order of total minutes played going from lowest to highest, which means today we move on to the big Minnesotan who was hampered from the get-go by an injury this year..........

Theo John

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

Theo John Traditional Stats

Games Min FGM FGA FG% 3PTM 3PA 3P% FTM FTA FT% OReb DReb Reb Ast Stl Blk Fouls Pts
Games Min FGM FGA FG% 3PTM 3PA 3P% FTM FTA FT% OReb DReb Reb Ast Stl Blk Fouls Pts
30 20.9 1.9 3.4 54.9% 0 0 0 1.4 2.5 56.0% 1.8 3.4 5.2 0.7 0.4 1.8 2.7 5.1

Theo John Fancy Stats

ORtg %Poss %Shots eFG% TS% OR% DR% ARate TORate Blk% Stl% FC/40 FD/40 FTRate
ORtg %Poss %Shots eFG% TS% OR% DR% ARate TORate Blk% Stl% FC/40 FD/40 FTRate
109.9*** 13.8% 11.2% 54.9% 56.0% 9.8%*** 16.7% 6.5% 17.4% 8.9%*** 1.2% 5.1 3.7 73.5%

*** - Denotes a top 500 national ranking per KenPom.com

WHAT WE SAID:

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.

There are three main categories that stand out in the preview that I want to address here. Theo John’s offensive contributions, his improvement in the fouling and turnover departments, and of course his defensive contributions.

Let’s start with the obvious. Theo John injured his right wrist in the exhibition game wayyy back in late October against one St. Norbert (patron saint of childbirth) College. At the time, he was faced with two choices: get season ending surgery and redshirt or play through the pain. He chose the latter. Ben Steele of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel talked about the injury and why Theo decided to play through it in early January. Theo emphasized that he wanted to play through the injury for his teammates and for his family. What an incredible sacrifice. If there’s one word to describe Theo, it’s toughness. You could visibly tell in many games throughout the season that Theo was hurting. If not by actual physical appearance, you could probably go ahead and chalk up any turnover where the ball was knocked out of John’s hands or pretty much any righty missed shot as a visible depiction of his injury. Despite the pain, he managed to be a significant contributor on both sides of the ball.

Although he was a bit less active on offense, he still improved in offensive rating (aka efficiency) from a year ago according to KenPom. Theo may have gotten less paint touches, but he was more efficient overall on the floor. His offensive rating was 109.9 compared to 105.9 last season. One reason he may not have had as many paint touches as we had hoped in the beginning of the year is because of Coach Wojciechowski’s scheme more than anything. The focus of the offense revolved around Markus Howard, while the secondary and tertiary options were senior guard Sacar Anim and Utah State transfer Koby McEwen. There simply wasn’t enough shots to go around for Theo to put up significant scoring numbers consistently, and quite honestly: How much should the coaches be relying on a guy with a busted up wrist to catch, turn, and shoot? I do want to credit him for making the most of it and treating us to some nasty dunks and gritty put-backs.

Two things stressed in Theo’s season preview were that he needed to cut down on his fouls and turnovers. Last season he committed about seven fouls per 40 minutes and had a turnover rate of roughly 20%. Considering he only played about half the game most of the year, one-fifth of the MU possessions while he was on the court ending with him coughing it up is not great. The general consensus is anything below 20% turnover rate is acceptable. This year he clearly made a conscious effort to avoid dumb fouls as best as possible, particularly those nasty offensive fouls that leave you with both a foul and a turnover on the ol’ score sheet. John ended up with an average of 5 fouls per 40 minutes and had a drop in turnover rate to 17.4%. Keep in mind that a lot of the time the Big East Refs™ were still seemingly unsure of how to handle the basketball version of The Totally Awesome Hulk that swatted everything within a 20 ft radius. Theo was punished last season with seemingly nonexistent fouls just for being a menacing dude. The big fella dodged the whistle a bit better this season and that deserves a drink.

Another potential area for improvement that was briefly mentioned in the preview was an increase in assist rate. The thought was: hey, he didn’t really find himself in situations to pass the ball, maybe he’ll have more kick-outs if he gets the ball more this season. Despite getting used less on offense his assist rate still rose, albeit marginally, from 4.4% to 6.5%. This is still nothing to write home about in the big picture but he did average just under one assist per game. We’ll mark it down as a welcome improvement and an area for growth next year. This, of course, entirely depends on how often he gets the ball in the paint which, like last year, will be a major question leading into the season. Just how will Theo be utilized? But that’s a topic for a later time.

I want to close by acknowledging the best part of Theo’s game: defense. He did exactly what you expected him to do as one of the best rim protectors in the Big East. Despite his wrist injury, he still finished 4th in the Big East in block percentage with 8.9%. He sits in 5th on Marquette’s all-time blocks leaderboard and needs just two more to pass Luke Fischer, and become the most prolific MU shot blocker of the last two decades. His strength and athleticism are the main factors that led to many block parties throughout the year. He has a knack for getting his hands on the basketball and it’s very entertaining to watch him swat balls into the third row and be upset that it didn’t get to the fourth. He had his share of flashy moments crushing opponents’ souls but blocking wasn’t his only superpower.

Theo maintained his excellent work on the glass posting a nearly identical rebounding rate from last year. A little bit up on the defensive glass, but a little bit down on the offensive glass. Such is life, and hey: Being one of the 250 most productive offensive rebounders in the country is still pretty dang great. The thing I appreciate the most about Theo is his mental toughness to defend his territory at all costs. He made life difficult for opponents who wandered close to the basket and forced a bad shot or a kick out countless times. Theo’s mere presence made Marquette a better defensive team. Whenever he was on the floor I felt a sense of security that the Golden Eagles would not give up any easy buckets inside of 8 feet. Sure enough, Marquette ranked 51st in the country in KenPom’s 2-point percentage defense at 45.9%. Theo deserves a lot of credit for making it his mission to deny opponent’s the right to the hoop.

Best Game

This one’s a bit difficult because his best statistical game came in the home loss to Creighton. He posted his lone double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds while tacking on two blocks and an assist. His best offensive performance in a win was against Xavier when he tallied 10 points and two assists along with seven rebounds. I chose to place more value on his defensive prowess and will go with his eight blocks and eight boards in the season opener against Loyola Maryland. I know the competition was less than stellar, but eight blocks in a game against D-1 competition is still very impressive. Here’s some Theo highlights from that game for your viewing pleasure.

Season Grade

Theo finished the year as a 5pts/5reb/2blk (it’s rounding, get with the program) guy on 21 minutes a night. There were a lot of what-ifs from this season. What if Theo wasn’t dealing with a wrist injury all season? What if Coach Wojciechowski would have actually tried the two-big lineup that he spent the summer going on and on and on and on about? Could that have taken some pressure off of Theo defensively in the paint? Would that have solved the Ed Morrow problem but still keep Theo more viable due to his injury? What if Koby and Markus found a way to get him the ball more inside? Could he have been closer to a 12/8/3 guy? Quite possibly. One thing I learned from Theo this season is that he’s got more mental toughness than most players. I’m going to give him a grade of 6.5 out of 10. He did exactly what was expected of him being an elite rim protector and pitching in offensively when given the chance. The extra half a point is for battling through the torn ligament in his wrist. Theo recently underwent surgery on his right wrist and should be 100% healthy once next season rolls around. It gives him the opportunity to make his senior year his best one yet.