With the 2021-22 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, and today we move along to the guy that I would call the biggest success story amongst MU’s returning players.........
Sophomore - #13 - Forward - 6’9” - 215 pounds - Chandler, Arizona
Oso Ighodaro Traditional Stats
Oso Ighodaro Fancy Stats
** — Notes a top 500 national ranking per KenPom.com
So here’s a fun fact about this Marquette basketball season. I think we can all agree that Kur Kuath is going to get to play all the minutes at the 5 position that he wants to/can play. He’s here on a bonus season of eligibility, and there’s no reason to recruit him without telling him “you can play all you want.” All of this makes sense.
But at the end of the day, Kur Kuath is going to have some issues here and there defending some guys. He’s going to get into foul trouble, and obviously he can’t possibly play all 40 minutes all season long just on basic principle anyway. That second part goes double if Shaka Smart succeeds in running a system that’s focused on athleticism and speed and energy.
Kur Kuath is the presumed opening day starter at what you would call the center position at 6’10” and 215 pounds.
Oso Ighodaro is 6’9” and 215 pounds. From nothing other than a physical appearance on the court, these two guys are almost the same. Whatever Marquette wants to do on defense relative to whoever is playing the 5, nothing much changes from Kuath to Ighodaro.
It’s completely reasonable to think that Ighodaro is going to vacuum up whatever minutes at the 5 that Kuath leaves behind. Heck, he might even get some time at the 4 whenever Justin Lewis is on the bench, too. Chalk Ighodaro up for “reliable bench contributor” in your head, whatever that comes out to for you.
Why You Should Get Excited
We saw flickers of Ighodaro’s athleticism last season. In the rare minutes that he actually got to play, every so often we got to see him do something that made you say “oh, dang, he can do that kind of thing? Lemme see more!” And then we didn’t actually see more of it.
What if he gets turned loose for 10 minutes a game? What if he perfects the art of catching lobs in pick and rolls and jamming it home? What if he gains a knack for the putback slam? What if he’s got springy legs and can rack up blocks and rebounds at an amazing rate?
It seems like this coaching staff wants to maximize the athleticism of the entire roster and use it to create opportunities on both ends of the court. It certainly looks like Ighodaro — someone who was called a guard (!) by his club team back in high school — has more than enough athleticism to fit into the program. It’s only a matter of getting it figured out on the court against live opponents.
I know I made a big deal about Kur Kuath and Oso Ighodaro being the same physical guy on the court. The fact of the matter is that Kuath is in his sixth year of college hoops thanks to a redshirt year at Oklahoma and two years of junior college before that. He knows what to expect. He knows how it goes. He’s been through seasons of Big 12 basketball.
Ighodaro hasn’t. 38 total minutes of college experience, nearly half of which came against Marquette’s two worst opponents. He just does not have the night-in, night-out level of understanding how it works. That’s not his fault, there’s nothing he can do about that. But what it means is that there are going to be mistakes and errors. I don’t mean in the “I gave up a dunk because coach told me to challenge for deflections constantly” kind of errors, I mean the “I blew an assignment because this is my 12th college basketball game ever” kind of thing. They’re going to happen, that’s just how it goes.
Ighodaro can’t let it affect him, and thus affect his playing time. We’ve already seen mention in The Athletic that bad body language isn’t tolerated in the MU practice gym. I’m not worried about it affecting him mentally as a result.... but at some point, if the mistakes keep happening, the coaching staff is going to look for answers somewhere else on the roster.
In just 582 minutes spread across 32 games, we went from “Well, Oso Ighodaro is going to have to play for this team, I hope it works out okay because we really don’t know if he can actually do this at this level” to “Well, Oso Ighodaro’s the starting center next season, can’t think of anything that’s going to stop him, no reason to worry about that part of the floor.” Heck, by the time that we’re writing this review of his season, Shaka Smart and his staff have already pretty much told Oso and the universe in general by way of adding 6’7” Zach Wrightsil as the transfer for the only available scholarship right now that they’re going to go into next season with Ighodaro as the primary reliable option in the middle and that’s totally cool with everyone involved.
Who saw it coming? You? I didn’t. All the way up to the point of I was kind of shocked that the MU coaching staff opted for Wrightsil coming out of the portal instead of someone who can play the 5. That’s how much they love what Oso Ighodaro did and became this season: They are now entrusting him to do even more next season. Maybe I’m reading it wrong, but that’s certainly what it looks like to me.
Here’s the thing about Ighodaro that stands out to me: His season was sneaky better than you think it was. If I had to summarize the split between Kur Kuath and Oso Ighodaro on the court this season, I would say that Kuath was MU’s defensive option at the 5, while Ighodaro was the option that brought the most to the table on the offensive end. I would wager that most of you if not all of you would agree with that generalized statement. We’ll talk about Kuath’s end of that equation next time out, but the fact of the matter is that the summary of Ighodaro as “the offensive option” doesn’t actually fit! It’s not that it’s wrong, because when you’re top 40 in offensive rating, top 500 in offensive rebound rate, and shoot 68% from the field for the season, you’re one hell of a productive player on offense. Sure, Ighodaro didn’t have as good of a block rate as Kuath did this season, but when you’re in the top 160 in the country in that department as Ighodaro was per KenPom.com, you still had a damn good season protecting the rim.
Yeah, there’s things he can work on, the season wasn’t a 100% perfect smash hit home run. If Ighodaro’s going to climb his minutes past 18 a game like he was at this past season, he’s going to need to rebound the ball better.... but that goes for Marquette’s whole team. He needs to stop fouling so much, because 4.4 fouls per 40 minutes is acceptable when you know you’re only going to play 20 minutes, that’s only two or three a game.... but it’s much less acceptable when the team might be asking you to play more next year. Given his position on the floor, Ighodaro needs to start getting to the line more as well. Don’t get me wrong, his Free Throw Rate was the best on the team amongst regular rotation guys, but he was only drawing 2.6 fouls per 40 minutes, and I feel like a guy banging around the middle to grab rebounds and score inside should be doing better than that. This is an especially important point since Ighodaro shot 74% from the free throw line this season. We thought he was a productive and useful player this past year.... what is Ighodaro’s ceiling when he starts getting opposing bigs in a little bit more foul trouble and thus giving him more freedom to operate inside?
Obviously, Oso’s lone KenPom.com MVP award of the season has to get attention for this. 14 points on a perfect 6-for-6 from the field, plus a season high 11 rebounds and an assist in just 20 minutes as Marquette beat Jackson State, 83-54. It’s his only double-double of the season as well as of his career so far, not to mention one of just two double digit rebounding games this year. As awesome as all of that is, I feel like Marquette would have beaten JSU with or without that performance on that particular night, so I don’t know if that’s the right pick. It was the game that Kur Kuath had to leave in the middle to get stitches after he got clocked after halftime, so that is a point in favor of this game.
While I generally don’t like giving this award to a game that Marquette lost, I feel like we can make an exception here. It’s hard to ignore Ighodaro carving Creighton for a career high 22 points on 10-for-12 shooting on New Year’s Day against Creighton. Yeah, he was the one who didn’t foul Alex O’Connell and thus let the Jays send the game to double OT where MU eventually lost, but I’m assigning that to the coaching staff telling him to not foul not a mistake by the big man. He also had five rebounds, an assist, and a block in 33 minutes of action.
I think it’s clear that Ighodaro went way past “reliable bench contributor” this season, as he was essentially 5A with Kur Kuath. If one of them was having a big day, then Shaka Smart went with that guy as the center as much as possible. It’s like the Golden Eagles made Ighodaro an associate starter, if you want to assign a phrase to it. Sometimes that meant that Kur Kuath vacuumed up the minutes instead, like when Oso only played 12 minutes on the road against Villanova, but sometimes it meant that Ighodaro played 27 minutes in back-to-back outings against Butler and DePaul late in the season. His athleticism was on display display wheeling to the bucket to catch and stuff Tyler Kolek passes, and Smart occasionally even went out of his way to point out that his choices of how he wanted the team to play were actually limiting what we were seeing from Ighodaro. I can’t think of a single spot where mistakes from the Arizona native were actually limiting to his playing time this season.
I’m torn about how to grade this. I’m trying to grade this against what we expected from him at the beginning of the year, and while it’s clear that this was a successful season from numerous angles, I’m not quite comfortable with going all out for a guy who averaged 5.5 points and 3.3 rebounds a game while playing less than half the time. I can’t help but feel that the best possible score should be reserved for “we could not possibly asked for a better season,” and there’s at least a little wiggle room here to say that Ighodaro could have done better than he did.
With all of that said, I think this was a terrific season from him and can’t wait to see what he does next. I’m giving him a 9 for 2021-22, and if he can do that again next year, I think we’re all going to be very excited about what that means for the Golden Eagles.