With the 2022-23 season long, loooooong since in the books, let’s take a few moments to look back at the performance of each member of YOUR Marquette 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’ll discuss the performance of the guy that was, perhaps, Marquette’s most important player.......
Junior - #13 - Forward - 6’9” - 215 pounds - Chandler, Arizona
Oso Ighodaro Traditional Stats
Oso Ighodaro Fancy Stats
** — notes a top 150 national ranking per KenPom.com
*** — notes a top 500 national ranking per KenPom.com
Let’s start with the T-Rank projection, shall we? I think this provides us with a lot of ground to stand on, much less cover. 66% of minutes played, which is 26.4 minutes per game. 7.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, offensive rating of 117.
I honestly think this is Ighodaro’s worst case scenario, or at least his worst case scenario if Marquette has a successful season. If MU is contending for an NCAA tournament spot and Ighodaro is putting up numbers worse than this, something incredibly weird is going on, most likely in the category of “someone on the team has suddenly turned into an NBA lottery pick” type of thing. That would be fine by me, but I don’t think that’s likely, either.
Ighodaro’s the starting center, or the 5, or the big, or whatever name you want to attach to it. I think he’s going to be great this year, and we’ll get to exactly what that means in a second, but here we’re talking about what’s reasonable to expect from him. Part of this is “I presume Marquette is going to be a good basketball team and thus this is what they will need from him if they are going to actually reach that level.”
So, that raises the question: Who’s playing the other 14 minutes a game in the middle if it’s not Ighodaro? Redshirt freshman Keeyan Itejere? True freshman Ben Gold, who does stand 6’11”? Olivier-Maxence Prosper, who is an inch shorter than Ighodaro but somehow 15 pounds heavier at 230? NAIA grad transfer Zach Wrightsil who played a small ball 5 at Loyola-New Orleans, but is only 6’7” and 215 pounds?
None of these seem like fantastic options for all of Ighodaro’s bench minutes, and there are going to have to be bench minutes. Fouls are going to catch him at some point, probably many points, and he’s going to have to take a breather here and there, especially in Shaka Smart’s high tempo style. But for now, those are the options behind Ighodaro heading into the season. The reasonable expectations for him are, somewhat unfortunately, for Ighodaro to carry an awful lot of the playing time load. I presume he’ll get stat bumps that go along with whatever extra minutes he’s playing north of 26 minutes a night.
And hey, y’know what? This is a preview, I get to hedge my bets. If one of those options turns into a really solid option, one along the lines of the better than very solid option behind Kuath that Ighodaro was a year ago? Then yeah, maybe that takes some (a lot?) of the pressure to perform off Ighodaro. That would be a good thing overall for the team, I think, but for the time being, I think we need expect to see a lot of Ighodaro. Not necessarily “carrying the team” a lot, just literal minutes played.
Why You Should Get Excited
I’m just going to put this here.
LOOK WHERE HE STARTS. HE’S BEHIND THE ARC. MARQUETTE’S CENTER JUST TOOK HIS MAN TO THE LANE OFF THE DRIBBLE AND THEN THREW A NO LOOK BOUNCE PASS TO A BASELINE CUTTER FOR A DUNK. WHAT EVEN IS THAT? WHAT IS THE ACTUAL CEILING HERE?
You know what the wild part about that is? If you slow it down, it certainly looks like Ighodaro’s drive to the middle drew Kam Jones off the wing to collapse on him.... which was letting David Joplin wander around behind the arc. It seems like Chase Ross was available for the dunk because Stevie Mitchell lost him on the baseline, but if that wasn’t available, it’s definitely possible that Joplin was sitting wide open for a triple as well. He had PASSING OPTIONS available to him on a drive. AS THE CENTER.
Think about this, too: Ighodaro felt confident making that pass to a guy that he’s only been playing with for a couple of months. Also: Ighodaro felt confident to make the drive into the middle in the first place.
He’s listed at 215 pounds, the exact same weight he was at a year ago. I’m not saying Ighodaro isn’t stronger than he was last year at this time, I’m saying that there is not an increase in bulk for MU’s expected starting center. Here’s why that’s a possible problem:
Adama Sanogo: 6’9”, 245 pounds
Ryan Kalkbrenner: 7’1”, 260 pounds
Jack Nunge: 7’1”, 245 pounds
See it now? That’s six games of Marquette’s Big East schedule right there, and I haven’t gotten into Eric Dixon (255 lbs.) or even Tyrese Samuel (235 lbs.) yet, or Zach Edey (290 lbs.) and Flo Thamba (250 lbs.) in the non-conference portion of the schedule. That is a lot of gigantic dudes that Ighodaro is going to have to defend constantly all year long. Now, the good news is that Shaka Smart is a defensive minded coach, so I’m sure the plan is not “well, have fun out there, Oso, we’re all depending on you.” He’s going to get help to defend these guys, no matter what.
But banging around with guys outweighing you by at least 20 pounds on the very low end on a nightly basis is an awful way to go through life. It is going to take a toll on Ighodaro, no matter what else happens. How much of a toll is it going to take? How much of his offensive efficiency is it going to sap? How effective is Ighodaro going to be when he has to be the primary guy tangling on the interior all season long?
I think it is safe to say at this point that the biggest thing that no one could really have predicted about Oso Ighodaro’s development from his sophomore to his junior season was his passing. Yes, we made note of him hitting Chase Ross for a dunk in the preview, but that was more of a “he’s capable of making plays” not “he’s going to finish in the top 500 in the country in assist rate and 17th in the Big East to boot,” y’know? 3.3 assists per game for the big man from Chandler, Arizona, to help propel the Golden Eagles to the 16th best assist rate in the country, putting a helper on just over 59% of their buckets. 3.3 assists per game for Ighodaro, which gave him the 13th best per game average in the entire Big East. Every single guy in front of him? Easily filed into the category of “primary ballhandler” for their team.
It was easy enough to project the other stuff. Yeah, Ighodaro got a little bit better at rebounding, bumping up his defensive rate a little bit. He shot the ball pretty much the same from the field as in 2021-22, because anything over 65% inside the arc is great and you don’t really complain about a change from 68% to 66%. Yeah, he started blocking a few more shots, perhaps because he was able to get a little more comfortable on the floor. Yeah, he turned the ball over a little bit less, again, perhaps he was getting more comfortable both overall and by playing more minutes in a row.
It all fits, it all works with what we saw from him when he was splitting time with Kur Kuath in Shaka Smart’s first season. The passing though, that we didn’t see coming, not really, we couldn’t have seen it coming, not until it was actually happening, and there’s nothing in the algorithmic attempt to project forward that even came close to thinking that he would turn in 119 assists on the year.
It wasn’t just Ighodaro’s ability to hand it off to Kam Jones as he came around a screen that made Marquette’s offense hum. It was his ability to move both with and without the ball. If you tried to limit Marquette’s transition opportunities by swallowing up Tyler Kolek after a missed shot, Ighodaro could just take off up the floor on his own, making the Point Oso statement and throwing everything that defenses were trying to do into disarray. It was his ability to set screens, both in the “I am freeing up my teammate” and the “this is a feint to get you to lose concentration, I am now rolling to the rim” variety that generated so much space for the Koleks and Joneses of the world to operate around him. It was his smoothness, his athleticism that allowed Shaka Smart — and I forget exactly what game this was, but it was late in the season when he mentioned it in a postgame — to direct his team to just invert the offense and run the whole show through Ighodaro instead of through Kolek because the defense was trying to dam up Marquette’s liquidity by making life hard for the point guard.
It’s a weird season to try to put a pin into, if we’re being honest. It was not a statistically dominant season for Ighodaro, even if he did lead the team in rebounding (5.9) and blocks (1.5), all the way up to falling just one block short of a tie for the 11th most in a single season by any Marquette player. It was, however, one of the most special seasons by a Marquette player that we’ve seen in a long time, perhaps specifically because Ighodaro wasn’t the dominant feature on the team. He could burn you if you didn’t take him seriously, but Marquette didn’t need him to do any one thing every night in order to win.... but also the Golden Eagles needed everything that he could do to make the whole show play out the way that it was supposed to go.
Perhaps the most important aspect of what he was doing out there comes by way of what we pointed out in the Pitfalls section of his preview last fall. The question was: Can the guy who looks like he might be built out of pipe cleaners properly defend the much bulkier dudes that he’s going to have to contend with night in and night out all season long? The answer, by way of Hoop Explorer, is oh hell yeah, he can.
When Ighodaro was on the floor, Marquette gave up just 94.1 points per 100 possessions, adjusted for competition level.
When he was on the bench? 103.4 points per 100 possessions.
That’s a nearly 10 point difference, and more to the point, a bigger differential than the -3.0 points per 100 possessions separating MU’s offense with and without Ighodaro. We’re going to remember the offensive stuff, those are the plays that dazzled you and made opposing coaches — most notably new national champion Dan Hurley — say that Ighodaro can play in the NBA, no sweat. But to a certain extent, it was how well the defense played when he was on the floor that was a much bigger component of why MU was able to do what they did this past season.
The best day might have belonged to Oso Ighodaro, who had a somehow very quiet 16 points and 18 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end. Perhaps part of the quietness to it is the fact that Ighodaro had 10 & 10 already at halftime. He also had three assists and a steal as Ighodaro may still just be scratching the surface of what he can do for Marquette.
That’s from my writeup on MU’s trip to South Bend as they came out with a 79-64 victory over Notre Dame. Now, yeah, by the end of the year, that win didn’t look super great as the Irish went 11-21. But they were 7-2 coming into that one, and Marquette was 7-3 and just 8 days removed from a tough overtime loss to Wisconsin. MU needed a win there, particularly after losing the plot late against Purdue and struggling against Mississippi State. Ighodaro was a big reason why Marquette was up just five at the half, and his six points and eight rebounds in the second half helped the Golden Eagles get what was at the time a much needed road win over a quality opponent.
Ighodaro accomplished exactly what I thought would happen from a statistical standpoint, easily outclassing the T-Rank projection probably because he played over 31 minutes a game, much more than expected. He also wowed us with playmaking all over the court, as alluded to in the “Get Excited” section of the preview, and while Ighodaro might tell you that it wasn’t as easy as I might make it here, he held up his end of the game on defense to counter the one true question mark we had heading into the year.
There aren’t really flaws to point at here. Yeah, we can say “hey, he only hit 54% of his free throws” but, uh, “Late Game Oso” might have been the best free throw shooter in the entire Big East this past season, and he was hitting 64% in Big East play overall. That’s one thing, one mitigated thing amongst a myriad of positives that have Marquette fans everywhere salivating over what 2023-24 holds for both the team and Ighodaro by himself.
So yeah, I’m giving him a 10, in what is turning into a trend here late in our review series. Is that a spoiler for our season finale? You’ll have to tune in next time and find out.....