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2021-22 Marquette Men’s Basketball Player Preview: #2 Emarion Ellis

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We kick off our individual previews for the year with one of the three freshmen who followed Shaka Smart to Milwaukee.

Emarion Ellis
Ellis is the gentleman making the block here.
Kelsey Kremer/The Register via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The 2021-22 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 in alphabetical order, then the two underclassmen transfers, then the two super-seniors on their extra year of eligibility, and then finally the three returning players, going in order of average minutes 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, as we always do:

  • Reasonable Expectations
  • Why You Should Get Excited
  • Potential Pitfalls

With that out of the way, it’s time to talk about the first of the five freshmen and the first of three gentlemen who are in Milwaukee expressly because of who the new head coach is and was.........

Emarion Ellis

Freshman - #2 - Guard - 6’5” - 185 pounds - Davenport, Iowa

Let’s just be up front about it: Emarion Ellis is a Golden Eagle right now because he wants to play for Shaka Smart. The Iowa native committed to play for Smart back in July of 2020 when he was the head coach at Texas. He signed his letter of intent in November, but when Smart elected to move his employment to Milwaukee, Ellis was not far behind him. The news on Smart being Marquette’s hire was official on March 26th, and it became public that Ellis was coming with him on April 13th, just a little over two weeks later. That is not very much time at all to completely reconfigure your college decision and expectation, but it’s clear that playing for Smart meant a lot to him. It also doesn’t hurt that Davenport is on the eastern edge of Iowa and this move brings Ellis’ college career much closer to home than Austin, Texas.

Ellis comes into college ranked #110 in the 247 Sports Composite system. He is the #8 combo guard prospect in the country and the top player in the state of Iowa. It would seem that the Composite is being weighed down by outside forces, as 247’s internal system marks Ellis as the #84 player in the country and the #6 combo guard. Rivals says he’s the #92 prospect in the country and the #24 shooting guard in the Class of 2021, while ESPN merely states that Ellis is a four-star prospect.

Here’s what 247 Sports’ Jerry Meyer said about Ellis in a scouting report published on July 28, 2020:

Up and coming prospect with tremendous upside. Great length for a point guard. Has thin frame and needs added strength and mass. Has a burst of speed, can wiggle through traffic and is a good finisher off one foot. Has a low release on jumper and not known as a shooter but projects as an at least keep the defense honest shooter. Sees the court and is developing as a playmaker for others. Has a knack for rebounding. One on one defense has room for improvement but has good hands and is an opportunistic defender.

Reasonable Expectations

We have to take two things into account when trying to figure out how Emarion Ellis fits into this year’s Marquette team. #1, he’s a freshman, and #2, Marquette is woefully thin in terms of experience at guard and wing.

Let’s start with the lack of experience part because that might play the biggest part here. Yes, Greg Elliott is back with Marquette, but there are reasonable questions to be asked about Elliott’s health and physical fitness to play major Division 1 basketball minutes as a result of his series of injuries. That’s it in terms of returning guards or wings, but we do have two transfers that will help. Darryl Morsell is clearly going to get all the minutes he wants because that’s what you do for a guy who elected to spend his bonus year of eligibility with you, and Tyler Kolek has a year of quality experience at George Mason... but it’s at least reasonable to wonder how well he fits into a Big East squad.

That’s it for experienced college guards. Quite honestly, just to get through the season, at least one and probably at least two of Marquette’s freshman guards are going to have to be contributors. Maybe not notable contributors, but they probably not going to be allowed to just sit quietly on the bench and learn how the game is played at that level from over there.

Thus, the pathway is open for decent minutes for Ellis right out of the gate. T-Rank’s projection for him says about 12 minutes a game and 3.5 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.1 assists. I’m definitely not turning that down, and there’s definitely a possibility that he easily surpasses that. After all, he is a freshman, and the fact of the matter is that Marquette does not need major things from him.

Why You Should Get Excited

Of Marquette’s three freshman guards, Ellis is probably the best athlete. Shaka Smart has made repeated references to the conditioning levels needed to play with the pace and energy that he wants his first MU team to show on the court. Without saying anything negative about anyone else, if you’re already the most gifted athlete, then you’ve got a little bit of an extra advantage when it comes to getting yourself to the point that Smart wants his players to be at to contribute.

I mean, look at that picture at the top of the page. Sure, I don’t know anything about the guy he’s blocking or the team that Assumption was playing or how much Ellis’ high school coach let him freelance. The fact of the matter is that Ellis is still capable of making a play like that. Sure, there’s a question about whether or not he can pull that off at the high major level, but you can’t teach the mental and athletic instinct that gets a guy to the point where he realizes he can do that and then does it. That’s the kind of thing that can be the difference in order to get you minutes on the court.

I also want to point out the “good hands” and “opportunistic defender” part of that scouting report from Jerry Meyer. Smart has publicly stated he wants his teams to create at least 32 deflections per game. Having good hands and taking advantage of opportunities are two things that are very important when it comes to creating deflections on defense, and if Ellis can make that happen, then that’s going to get him on the court more and more.

Potential Pitfalls

We have to swing back to item #1 way back in the Expectations department: Ellis is a freshman. As the old saying goes, the best thing about freshmen that they become sophomores. Maybe Ellis takes a minute to figure how how things work the best at this level. Maybe the core talents of the other freshmen are more important to what the Golden Eagles need on the floor and that leaves Ellis sixth in line for backcourt/wing minutes.

None of these are a bad thing, of course. These kinds of things happen to freshmen all along. However, Ellis is on a team that is probably going to struggle to win games at times this season. If he himself is struggling to make a positive impact on the court, it’s very easy to see how the coaching staff is going to look in a direction that gets them the best possible team and the best possible opportunity to win. If Ellis is the best athlete but more of a raw talent than an immediately ready to contribute high major guard, that could easily lead to a season of very little on the court action for him.