With the 2015-2016 season now in the books, we take a moment to look back at the performance that 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 roster in order of total minutes played (lowest to highest). Onwards we go, to the freshman from Philadelphia...
#21 - Freshman - 6'0" - 175 lb.
* - Denotes top 500 national ranking
What I Think We'll See
Show of hands: Out of those of you who watched any and/or all of the Europe games in August, how many of you thought that Traci Carter looked like a kid who suffered two knee injuries in high school? Not asking who knew that it happened to Carter, just if he looked like it.
Because I didn't see it.
What I saw was the player that prompted play by play man Thomas Bilde to dub Carter "The Engine." Carter was a starter for all four games in Europe, and he exemplified the up-tempo game that head coach Steve Wojciechowski has said that he wants to play. If Carter wasn't grabbing the rebound and taking off, he was running and looking for the outlet pass from whichever one of his teammates was ripping down the rebound, darting and dashing into the frontcourt with his eye on the rim if he could get there or looking for an open teammate to dish to if the defense was closing off his lanes.
Hell, forget whether or not Carter looked like a guy with two knee injuries. If you showed video of those European games and asked a random stranger on the street to identify the two freshmen in Marquette's starting lineup, it'd be damn hard for them to figure it out.
As evidenced by the same starters for all four games in Europe, plus four of them staying together for the first scrimmage at Marquette Madness, Wojo has apparently given Carter the keys to the car this season. Carter averaged 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists on the Europe trip. Knock that back by 25% because of pace of play and level of competition: 10/4/4 from a freshman point guard? Oh, baby, I'll take that all day. If Carter figures out a way to shoot 50% from three point range like we saw in Europe, too? WATCH OUT.
What I Want To See
I'll be fine with that 10/4/4 that I just mentioned. That's REALLY good. To give you an idea of context here: No one did that for ANYONE in the Big East last season other than Kris Dunn, and he was all the way up at 16/6/8. Honestly, it'd be like imagining Derrick Wilson with a jumper, as DW had 3.9 rebounds and 4.7 assists last year to go along with 5.6 points. Who's not signing up for that immediately? We're probably not going to get it, but getting close will be more than fine.
The key for Carter is turnovers. He had an assist to turnover ratio of 1.3 in Europe. That's no good, and it was largely masked by the pace of play and the low level of competition in the final three games. In fact, as memory recalls, Marquette's first game against Haukar was close in some part due to turnovers from Carter. He's got to clean that up. Via KenPom, Marquette was quietly one of the best teams at finding the open man in the country last year, ranking sixth in the country with an assist on over 64% of their made field goals. If they did that while being lousy, you know that Wojo's going to want to see that if they're going to be better.
What I Don't Want To See
The X factor on Carter's playing time is Haanif Cheatham. We didn't see the freshman from Florida at all in Europe due to the NCAA dragging their feet on his transcripts. Cheatham provides a bit more size to the point guard spot, but probably doesn't have the physical body type that Carter has at this point in his development. It's conceivable that Carter will end up ceding some minutes at the point to Cheatham across the width and breadth of the season, and it's in fact likely to happen.
Carter looks like he should be able to handle himself just fine on the court so, without taking anything away from Cheatham, I don't want to see the minutes tip entirely towards Cheatham. Looking at the long term development of the Marquette program under Wojo, the faster that Carter becomes a perfectly reliable Division 1 point guard, the better off everything is going to be.
There's also the turnover issue that I bumped up against already, and of course, the "i" word that I'm not going to type out.
I blocked a guy on Twitter this season for declaring that Dylan Flood performed better for Marquette than Traci Carter.
Yeah. That happened. Someone legitimately attempted to claim that a walk on that played a grand total of 11 minutes in two seasons was overall better than Traci Carter.
I'm fine with disagreeing with someone. I'm fine with having a rational argument. I'm fine with leveling criticism at Carter for his play this season. There's specific points to make that are all worthwhile: He shot just 19% from three point range in Marquette's 11 most difficult games, and a underwhelming 31.4% for the season from long distance. Carter had the highest turnover rate on the team, coughing it up on 29.1% of all the possessions when he was on the floor. He was incredibly foul prone, racking up fouls at a rate of five per 40 minutes of action.
I'm not going to lie to you and tell you that he was a perfect basketball player. That'd be ridiculous.
I am going to tell you that he was pretty damn great for a freshman point guard.
Sure, he turned the ball over a whole bunch. He also finished the season ranked #45 in the country in assist rate, aka the percentage of possessions while he was on the floor that ended with a bucket with Carter getting the helper. As a freshman. Less than 50 players in the country were better at finding the open man while they were on the floor than Carter. Even with all those turnovers, Carter just barely missed an assist to turnover ratio of 2:1, and in the process, he ended up as just the third Marquette freshman to ever record 150 assists in a season, and just the fourth to crack 100. In fact, he finished 30 assists shy of one of the 10 best overall seasons in Marquette history, and remember: he played less than 60% of the time.
If you think it sounds like I'm being an apologist for Carter's turnovers by countering it with assists, I have another card to play. Traci Carter finished the season ranked #75 in the country in steal rate, or the percentage of defensive possessions while Carter was playing that ended in a steal by him. That's not the best mark on the team, mind you, that belongs to Jajuan Johnson. But it's still damn good, and again, still only a freshman. He had 48 steals, which is the fourth most by a freshman in program history. Remember when we were praising Duane Wilson for his freshman campaign a year ago? Carter had 10 more steals than Wilson, and he played significantly fewer minutes.
We should probably address that 31% three point shooting a little bit. That's his season long mark and there's no getting around that. However, 14 of his 22 makes and 40 of his 70 attempts came during the conference schedule, and if you're scoring along at home, that's a 35% shooting percentage. Remember: anything over 33.3 from distance is good, because it means you're effectively shooting better than 50% based on the points you're scoring per shot. Yes, his 8-29 (27.6%) shooting before league play started is really really bad, but he improved dramatically as the season went on, and isn't that what you want from a freshman? He also had a dramatic improvement on his two point shooting, going from 11-37 (29.7%) in the first 12 games of the season to shooting 20-49 (40.8%) in the 18 game Big East schedule. There's clearly room for improvement there, but showing a jump as the competition level also jumped is also very good.
Best Game: It'd be easy to say his 10/7/7 with four steals in 22 minutes against Maine, except, y'know, it was against Maine. Marquette won that game by 37, so let's be fair: Carter could have played his 22 minutes exactly like this kid and MU still pulls out the victory. Instead, let's go with the game that single-handedly gave us hope for Traci Carter as a shooter: Marquette's 75-69 home win over Butler. It was a big game for the Golden Eagles, coming in at just 3-5 in Big East action and coming off a terrible outing against Stetson. Carter posted a career best 15 points, with all of them coming on five made three pointers. He tacked on three rebounds and four assists, and only turned the ball over once to help pump some life into the season. Carter did all of that in just 21 minutes off the bench, and posted a Offensive Rating of 155, his biggest non-Maine rating of the season.
Season Grade, on a scale of 1-10: The worst fear for Carter - losing playing time to Haanif Cheatham - didn't really come into play this season. The two freshmen ended up starting 19 of Marquette's 33 games together, and Carter averaged 27 minutes a game when he was starting. Sure, there's the other 14 games, but it's not like Cheatham was the one taking Carter's starting spot away in those games.
Really, if you think about it, that Derrick Wilson comp that popped up in the preview ended up being pretty useful. 6/4/5 from Wilson a year ago, 5/3/5 from Carter here. The difference is that Carter doesn't have the physical stature to rebound like Wilson did (although the numbers weren't that far apart), and Carter was a bit of a butterfingers. If you have to use "senior year Derrick Wilson" as a starting point for a collegiate career, you're probably doing pretty well, all things considered.
It turns out that the 10/4/4 hope wasn't really that far off, as only the scoring didn't work out for Carter. The turnovers that caused problems in Europe reared their ugly head in a big way, though. Ultimately, though, things worked out pretty well for Carter, and you could argue that he ended up with one of the better freshman seasons in Marquette history. If you wanted to argue for that, you could even argue that he actually had an underrated, given the attention that was being distributed to other freshmen on the team.
Given his improvement at shooting as the season went on and his consistently great job at rummaging up assists, I have to end up feeling pretty good about the big picture for Traci Carter. I'll give him a 7.