Photo via gomarquette.com

Generally speaking, basketball teams on the collegiate level are usually guard oriented.  Most teams you see advance in the NCAA tournament, are teams with great one and done guard talent that carries them through the tournament.  Think of college basketball teams in the past that have made runs in the tourney.  I guarantee they had very strong guard play.  Rather it be UConn’s Kemba Walker, Michigan’s Trey Burke, or even this year’s Buddy Hield, guards seem to rule on the collegiate level. However, this strategy of play does not work for every collegiate team.  Marquette happens to be one of the teams this strategy does not work for.

Last year, the Marquette Golden Eagles relied on guard play to win ball games.  Veteran PG Matt Carlino and freshman talent Duane Wilson Jr, Led the team in scoring (Carlino 15 PPG Wilson Jr 11.9 PPG).

Marquette struggled to find their rhythm throughout the year.  They ended the season with a 13-19 record which was 9th in the big east conference.  They struggled on both sides of the ball averaging 65.1 points per game on .43% shooting.  On the defensive end, they allowed opposing teams to average 67 points per game on .42% shooting.  Protecting the paint was issue as they allowed opposing teams to shoot .46% from the paint and 15ft in. The play of Carlino, Wilson, and Anderson earned them a few key wins on the season, however it was clear that the guards could not carry the load themselves.  They needed more talent, preferably in the post, to make things a little easier.

This year, Marquette’s recruiting and coaching staff made sure things would be different.

In the off season, Marquette went out and requited pieces that they felt would help assist Marquette to wins.  They were right.

This past year was a complete turnaround for Marquette basketball.  By the end of the year, Marquette ranked 7th in the big east with a 20-13 record.   The additions of star freshman Henry Ellenson(Forward) as well as freshman talent Haanif Cheatham(Guard) helped assist in a turnaround of seven wins this year.  However, the biggest difference in the teams wins this year came because of how the team played this year.  Instead of playing through their guards, Marquette’s coaching staff decided to switch things up and run the offense through their big men throughout the year.  This year, Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer lead the team in scoring.  Ellenson averaged 17 PPG and Fischer averaged 12.1 PPG.  Marquette also quickly learned that when the big men are fed the ball in the post, it translates to better defense.  Players seem to play harder on defense when they’re involved more on the offensive end. Ellenson helped Fischer protect the paint which allowed the guards to play harder/tougher defense knowing the big men had their back in the paint.

This new strategy helped the growth of the entire team.   This year, the domination of the big men Ellenson and Fischer assisted in making things easier on the guards.  Marquette’s scoring began to come from everywhere. Five of Marquette’s players averaged in double figures for the season (Ellenson 17.0 PPG .446% FG, Fischer 12.1 PPG .608% FG, Cheatham 11.8 PPG .489%, Wilson 11.6 PPG .427%, and Johnson 10.2 PPG 51% FG). This is an improvement from last year where only three players averaged in double figures with only one of them shooting over 41% from the field.

Key wins against LSU, Wisconsin, and Providence help prove my point.

In the game against LSU (11/23/2015) Marquette’s bigs played big.  Ellenson registered 16 points and 11 rebounds, while Fischer registered 19 points and 8 rebounds.   LSU’s defense struggled guarding both big men which helped take pressure off Marquette’s guards and allowed them to find their rhythm in the game.  Junior guard JaJuan Johnson scored 16 points on 60% shooting while sophomore guard Duane Wilson Jr, scored 16Marquette teampoints on .41% shooting.  Marquette shot 51% from the field while holding LSU to 37% as they won a nail-bitter 81-80.

Marquette followed the same strategy when matched up against in state rival Wisconsin. The ball was forced down low to Ellenson and Fischer.  Ellenson tallied 15 points and 11 rebounds while Fischer tallied 12 points and 8 rebounds.  Marquette’s guards were able to find their way within the offensive scored 30 points combined shooting 66% from beyond the arc. Marquette’s defense held Wisconsin to 36.4% from the field 35.3% from the three as Marquette won another nail bitter 57-55.

The game against Providence was yet another example of inside out basketball resulting in a win for Marquette. Marquette held Providence to 38.9% from the field and forced 18 turnovers.  Ellenson finished with 26 points (45% FG) and 16 rebounds.  Fischer finished the game with 12 points and 10 rebounds.  The guards took advantage of their opportunities Haanif Cheatham registered 21 points while JaJuan Johnson chipped in 16 as Marquette won in double OT 96-91.

After a while, it just became clear that the better the big men played, the higher their chances were of winning.  Most games the dominance of Ellenson and Fischer helped open the floor for guards like JaJuan Johnson, Haanif Cheathman and Duane Wilson. Games in which the offense played inside out, Marquette earned a win. However, there were times in which Ellenson and/or Fischer had bad games.  Either the ball was not fed to them enough or they shot below 40% from the field.  Most of these games resulted in key loses this season.

The disaster in Iowa came only a few games into the season.  Ellenson recorded just 3 points on 12% shooting.  Fischer chipped in 8 points as Marquette allowed Iowa to shoot 54.5% from the field. Marquette seemed out of sorts and off their game turning the ball over 19 times.  The leading scorer of the night was Cheatham with 12 points as Marquette got steam rolled; 89-61.

The team’s first meeting with Villanova (Jan 13th 2015), Ellenson played just 7 minutes going scoreless while Fischer scored 11 points and grabbed 2 rebounds.  Ellenson only playing seven minutes assisted in opening up the paint for Villanova’s guards to get to the paint and score or draw fouls.  Villanova shot 30 freethows compared to Marquette’s 17.  Marquette’s defensive suffered dearly, allowing all but one of Villanova’s starters to score in double digits.  Villanova cruised to a 83-68 victory.

The last game of the season came against the Bulter Bulldogs.  Ellenson exploded for 29 points and 8 rebounds but struggled to help other find their rhythm.  Other than Ellenson, no starters for Marquette scored in double digits.  Fischer scored 6 points and on grabbed only 1 rebound.  Most of Marquette’s scoring came from the bench. The bench scored 22 points compared to 23 points from the starters (excluding Ellenson) however it was not enough for the team to earn a win.  The lack of offensive production leaked through the defensive end as well.  Butler shot 56.1% from the field and 40% from 3. They out rebounded Marquette (31-25) and forced Marquette into 15 critical turnovers.  Bulter won this game 95-74.

All in all, Marquette improved and grew as a team this year.  They learned what formula is needed for them to win games as a team.  The seven game difference gives Marquette fans hope for an NCAA tournament appearance soon that has evaded them for the past few years.  With Ellenson declaring for the NBA Draft, some are already writing the team off for next season.  Marquette will look to recruit more talent like Ellenson in order to continue to run the same type of offense and succeed.  Marquette must improve their conference play (8-10) in order to make the tourney and make any noise.  However, if they stick to inside out basketball and continue to take pressure off of their guards, Marquette has a good opportunity to not only make the NCAA tourney, but to advance and make noise as well.

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