Five Point Play: MVPs, Expectations and Predictions

With the season almost a third of the way through, it’s time to bring back an old standby and gauge where Marquette stands to date.

1) Who has been Marquette’s MVP through the first 9 games?

Andrei Greska, Paint Touches: I posed this question on Twitter because it truly can go a few ways. Traci has proven to be impossible to take off the court. Even though his shooting isn’t there yet and he can get lost on D from time to time, the team runs so much better with him at the point. Henry has been quietly putting up absurd lines game after game and is averaging 16.7 and 8.8. Instant offense that one.

Yet, Luke Fischer has been the bedrock. He not only brings the offensive stats, his defense changes games. MU was already down 8 against Iowa when Fischer came out with 2 fouls. When he came back in 4 minutes later the lead had grown to 15. He left a few minutes later with his third foul, sat the rest of the half and saw the lead explode to an unmanageable 27. Now I’m not saying his presence would have changed the outcome of the game, just that this team has no replacement for him. Henry is weak defensively to begin with and doesn’t provide much cover against penetration. Heldt looks like a baby giraffe learning how to walk, skating around aimlessly on defense. Long story short, Fischer’s value over replacement is higher than anyone else on the team right now. His stats are solid and his leadership growing. He’s my MVP.

It looks like Twitter agrees.

Anonymous Eagle: For the attention he draws from opposing defenses, it’s Henry Ellenson.  For how he has dominated because he has been allowed more space to work because of Henry’s presence, it’s Luke Fischer.

The heart and soul of the team is Duane Wilson, though.  He’s the one dapping everybody up when the lineups are announced.  He’s the one in the center of the team circle after lineups.  He’s the one leading the pregame team cheer in the tunnel.

Yes, I’m the one that wrote the article demanding that he stop shooting threes. He’s also gotten AMAZINGLY better at shooting them since that was posted, and even though he’s been coming off the bench, he’s still playing a ton of minutes as Marquette’s only truly experienced player.

Phil Bush, Cracked Sidewalks: I’m assuming the entire freshmen class plus Luke Fischer is not an acceptable answer. If I really have to pick one player as an MVP it’s going to be Traci Carter over Luke Fischer. Luke has been tremendous for Marquette on both ends of the court and has really been a great front court partner with Henry Ellenson, but he doesn’t create offense by himself.  The offense bogs down noticeably when Carter has to go to the bench and there isn’t really a viable long term alternative in either Duane (shoots 3s too much) or Haanif (too many turnovers).  Carter is also the only one that seems capable/willing to feed the post reliably meaning Luke can only succeed with a lot of Carter.  Additionally, Carter has grown significantly even in the first 9 games; he will only get better as the season goes on making the rest of the team, including Luke better.  Lastly, his nickname (The Engine) makes him the MVP in my book.

Mark Strotman, Comcast Sports Chicago: It’s Luke Fischer, and I’m not sure it’s close. Consider this, despite it being fairly early in the season to get into too many advanced statistics: His field-goal percentage is top-10 in the country and his usage rate is 20.4, or roughly the same as Vander Blue’s sophomore season. Simply put, Fischer has individually been Marquette’s best offense and defensive player at a time when they needed someone to complement Henry Ellenson in a high-low fashion. Yes, Ellenson frees up plenty for Fischer inside, but the reverse is also true. Fischer’s also covered up a lot of mistakes this young Marquette team has had on the defensive end. It also doesn’t hurt Fischer’s case that he’s putting together an All-Conference season after leaving Tom Crean. Traci Carter has been huge for stabilizing the offense at a time when it was him or….nobody at the point. But he’s shooting 30 percent from the field. Fischer’s the guy.

JB Bauer, Late Night Hoops: Luke Fischer. He’s been consistently effective and hasn’t forced things on offense, while his strong block percentage of 7.6% and presence down low has helped Marquette limit opponents to a 44.1% two-point field goal percentage.

Unlike all other MU players, his splits against the top opponents (Iowa, LSU, ASU) are as good as his performances against lesser opponents.

Luke’s usage rate of 20% feels reasonably appropriate based on the others on the floor and he’s been converting at an excellent rate (68.5% FG%,  all 2FGA’s and a 63% free throw rate).

Often playing with Henry Ellenson and Duane Wilson, who take 28% and 26% of the team’s shots while they’re on the floor, respectively, Fischer is attacking in high opportunity situations, often with help from others. He’s made 50 baskets this season and 38 of them have been off an assist. An additional 10 were after he grabbed an offensive board, something he’s done often (15% OR%).

Everyone has been feeding the Fisch – 5 different players have at least 4 assists to Fischer this season, led by Sandy Cohen (11).

Fischer’s defensive rebounding percentage of 13% is a career-high but still lower than I’d like to see. If he could trade that figure with his 17% turnover rate, I don’t think I could find any complaints.

2) Undoubtedly, this freshman class has had a bigger impact on the team than any since the 3 Amigos. Have they been better/more important, though?

Andrei Greska: I’m going to have to take a pass on this Q. I wasn’t watching the team very closely at that point in time and it’s not right to make a decision solely based on box score stats. I will say this though, when all is said and done, this group will have more NCAA Tourney victories. Not a tremendously difficult bar of 2, I know, but you gotta start somewhere.  

Anonymous Eagle: First of all, how DARE you dismiss the contributions of Dwight Burke.

With that out of the way, I’ve long offered the theory that Tom Crean was veering towards getting fired if the Amigos don’t pan out.  Think about it: Marquette followed up a trip to the Final Four by missing the NCAA tournament the next two seasons while playing with two guys – Travis Diener and Steve Novak – who would end up as second round NBA Draft picks on both rosters.  On top of that, the last memory everyone had of Marquette basketball before Dominic James, Wesley Matthews, and Jerel McNeal debuted was The Western Michigan Game, widely regarded as the worst loss by a Golden Eagles team in the 21st Century.  The year the Amigos debuted also happened to be Marquette’s first in the Big East, so The Western Michigan Game was the last thing everyone remembered before starting on that expedition as well.

So what happens if, coming off those two seasons and specifically coming off that season ending loss, Marquette stumbles out to a sub-.500 record in the Big East in that first season instead of the 10-6 they pulled off?  HOOO BOY, things could have gotten ugly fast.

The Amigos NEEDED to be good immediately, given the context around them.  That kind of necessity doesn’t exist with this year’s class, even though they are being depended on for minutes.  I’d say that Henry Ellenson has definitely been better than any of the Amigos, but the Amigos were definitely more important….. at least at this point of the season.

Phil Bush:  Not to be the guy who nitpicks, but better and most important are two very different things in this context.  Set that aside for now though as it’s a great question because it forced me to go back and look at that 05-06 season, and it turns out….that season looks a lot like this season.  The non-conference schedule sucked and featured an early loss to a well regarded mid-major (‘05 Winthrop = ‘15 Belmont) a road game against a middling Wisconsin team and a very tough conference that required MU to be on night after night.

However, the ‘05 season was different in that while the 3 amigos needed to be good (and were great), they didn’t have to be great all of the time.  Steve Novak was a senior as well as Joe Chapman giving that team strong veteran leadership and in Steve a go to offensive juggernaut (41 points against UConn in Big East opener and national #1 ORtg according to KenPom) that could take the pressure off the freshmen.  There isn’t such a safety valve for this year’s team, though Luke Fischer has some hope in that regard.  This year’s freshman class needs to be better than the 3 amigo’s and I think they definitely will be (remember Wesley didn’t become Wesley until Buzz showed up).  Haanif has been the steal of the class with Carter a close second and Henry is AVERAGING a double double.

Back to the nitpicking, this class is better but isn’t as important as the 3 amigos given the timing….without that 05-06 team performing well, Marquette could have turned into DePaul and maybe the new Big East never happens (Larry Williams doesn’t have the sway to help keep the Catholic 7 together).  Currently there isn’t that kind of pressure; there are good recruits in the pipeline, good talent on the roster and everyone comes back next year (pending a Henry decision).

Mark Strotman: It’s tough for me to really analyze what the Three Amigos did as freshmen considering in 2005 Marquette to me was “where Dwyane Wade went to school” and nothing else. But I’m going to say it’s this year’s current class because of the effect it will have on future classes. In the midst of the Buzz fiasco was the stark reality that his recruiting classes were downright awful, and with the Big East losing its luster when the big boys went to play football, Wojo was taking over a roster void of any real star power (Luke Fischer notwithstanding). And as he was putting together this recruiting class, very quietly he and the coaching staff were touting it up in recruiting circles. For as big as the Henry Ellenson signing was, they LOVED Traci Carter and were absolutely stoked to get Haanif Cheatham. The fact that those guys have played so well in the early going validates a lot for Wojo on the recruiting front, whether it’s to future recruits or fellow coaches in the conference and country. Wojo talked the talk with this class to a lot of people. The fact that they’re walking the walk this early in the season is going to yield dividends down the road. We’ll remember “Wojo’s first class” because of it.

JB Bauer:The situations are different and both were very important, but I’ll go with the current class (probably due to nothing more than recency bias).

The 2005-06 class had the advantage of some slick shooting vets and other returners to help get acclimated. This year’s freshmen find themselves in a more challenging situation.

Not trying to knock the 3 Amigos, but the reality is MU’s offense was quite good in 2005-06 and the driver was their shooting. The team had an eFG% of 52.7%. The 3 Amigos were at 46.8% while the rest of the team shot at a 58.3% clip.

3) Have your expectations for this team increased, decreased or remained unchanged since the start of the season?

Andrei Greska: At the start of the season, I thought this team would be a solid bubble team with 3 non-conference losses. To date, that seems to still be the projection, but my outlook has varied widely. After Iowa, I couldn’t logically say this team would meet those expectations and truly had a difficult time seeing them win more than 6 or 7 conference games. A 6-game winning streak later, I’m back to where I started. The Tourney is still solidly within reach, but this team is not a solid Tourney team. The youth and talent will cause some shockers, both positively and negatively. All that said, I’m very pleased with the direction of the team and excited to see this team tested against a very strong conference.   

Anonymous Eagle: Remained unchanged.

Honestly, they’re probably one win better than I expected.  Belmont: Good, and a bad game to start the season for a freshman-laden team, and they still almost pulled off the win.  Iowa: better than Belmont and a bad “first major test” game for a freshman-laden team.  They’ve beaten everyone else, and I kind of expected a split coming out of the Legends Classic games in Brooklyn.

There’s still bad games in front of them, and those bad games are going to be a result of needing a freshman to make a play somewhere late.  Still, the goal of “Make the NCAA tournament” is still on the table and seems eminently achievable at this point.

Phil Bush:  I was told there would be no math.  

I will say coming into the season I was expecting Marquette to win at least one game in the NCAA tournament, not sure that’s going to happen(don’t think they make the tournament) but I think the team will meet my expectations.  Now you might be saying to yourself: “Self, that sounds stupid even for an internet podcaster.”, but let me explain. I think the team will be able to put together a lot of great basketball but the Big East is going to be tougher than I anticipated; meaning that even though this team will be about as good as I expected they won’t be able to win as much as I thought they would in conference.  If the strength of the non-con had been at the end instead of the beginning I think we’d be talking a different story because they’d likely win those games and that would take some pressure off the team in conference.  I think this team will entertain, but just won’t have enough juice to make the big post season.  So in short, my expectations haven’t changed for performance but I’m slightly down on what the results will be.

Mark Strotman: My expectations for the team actually have increased. In the past I’ve been more of a pessimist, but the freshman class really has wowed me and Luke Fischer has made “the jump” to where I’m absolutely giddy thinking about he and Ellenson in Madison Square Garden. As previously noted, the Marquette coaching staff was all-in on Traci Carter as the team’s point guard, and it’s really the biggest reason why my expectations have increased. Initially I figured this team would be kicking the ball all over the court and would have no stabilizing presence in halfcourt sets. But Carter, wild turnovers be damned, has been exactly that. He reminds me a lot of Todd Mayo in the sense that he doesn’t have those freshman happy feet, and while he’s out of control at times it’s more a case of trying to do too much than being overwhelmed by the moment. I covered a team at a time when the point guard position was a strong suit, so I’m all too aware of how important it is. If Traci Carter doesn’t become who he is in Year 1, none of this works. He’s only going to get better, and with the high-low combo of Ellenson-Fischer, so too is Marquette.

JB Bauer: My expectations haven’t changed much, but there are a few things that I’m a bit surprised about, including MU’s defensive free throw rate of an extraordinarily low 23% and the team’s 3-point shooting over the past 4 games being 40/88 for 45.5% (after the first 5 games they were 26/106 for 24.5%).

Overall, I feel that Marquette’s ceiling is somewhat higher than I thought it was coming into the season. There are a lot of things to be optimistic about. My comfort level with Traci Carter getting significant minutes has risen sharply; Henry and Duane are the high-usage guys and both can play better than they have to date; Sandy’s confidence and play has been impressive.

Lots of youth and inexperience, though, and I continue to expect plenty of bumps in the road.

4) Will Owen wear red in 2016 (score prediction for Badgers game and why)?

Andrei Greska: As a father of two under two, I know how impressionable kids that age are. Anything you tell them is true. Everything you tell them is regurgitated. That’s why I started indoctrinating my kids young.

Unfortunately for Owen, this team doesn’t have the right mix of experience just yet to pull this one out. It will be close, no doubt, but I see the home-court tilting this one in favor of the Badgers 73-68.

Anonymous Eagle: I intentionally waited on writing this until after the Badgers played UWM on Wednesday night, and OH BOY OH BOY was I rewarded.  Some people might say “oh, this is just going to piss them off.”  I say that this is the second sub-100 KenPom team that the Badgers have taken the L against at home this season.  UW-Madison hasn’t lost to a sub-100 non-conference KenPom team at home since South Dakota State in 2005-06, and now they’ve done it TWICE.

The Kohl Center Mystique is gone.

You want actual, real, non-ephemeral reasons?  Okay.  This is the worst shooting Wisconsin team in the KenPom era, posting an effective field goal percentage of 46.2%.  Making things even worse is the fact that the Badgers are shooting fewer three pointers than at any other point in the KenPom era.

75-69, Marquette wins.

Phil Bush:  Gawd I hope not.  As the genesis for the format of this question, I can’t tell you how important it is Marquette win this game.  The wife character has “casually” left pictures of various toddler Badger outfits on electronic devices throughout the house.  Kids are impressionable and I can’t think of a more horrible way to set him up for mediocrity and disappointment in his life.  #noredforowen

Personal problems aside, I am actually optimistic for Saturday, even more so after the performance against San Jose St.  The team has been on a roll, but needed a good bump to make sure they were focused and ready for Saturday.  I think they got that message, and there are a number of players from this state that understand what this rivalry means, they’ll be ready.

This version of the red grinches of the west are beatable and inexperienced.  With the exception of Koenig and Hayes, their national championship player experience consists of players who sat on the bench while Duke beat them.  I can’t imagine that goes a long way toward making you a better player.  Wisconsin has more issues matching up with Marquette defensively than Marquette does against Wisconsin.  I think we’ll enjoy watching Happ trying to guard Fischer and Brown or Hayes on Ellenson.  Also, this year’s Wisconsin is not very good at 3pt shooting unlike years past (31.7%) which makes me feel better.  One other fear playing in Madison is the propensity for Dracula’s dad to get the officials to call the game in a way that favors 1897 style basketball, however I’m not as worried about that this year.  Marquette has been playing decent defense but doing so without committing fouls which will be critical to keep players like Traci, Luke, and Henry out of foul trouble.

I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, and this team is prone to getting out of sorts given it’s youth, especially given the hostile environment of the Kohl hole, but ultimately I think our talent triumphs.

I think Marquette wins 78 – 67 and Owen wears his finest Marquette outfit in the BC next year.

Mark Strotman: I’ll never forget my senior year at the Kohl Center, the day Paint Touches really took off. We were seated in the upper deck at a table that was ready to tip over and on chairs so rusty I probably should have gone for a tetanus shot. The entire afternoon we watched as Darius Johnson-Odom and Todd Mayo diced up the Wisconsin defense to end the Badgers’ 23-game home winning streak. As we sat in the press room after the game watching the page views pile up I remember the pure excitement and adrenaline rush I had, like, ‘Wow, maybe this website can be something.” Anyway, sorry to get all nostalgic, and I wish I could give some more analysis into this year’s game, but seeing as it’s at the Kohl Center again and I’m writing for Paint Touches for the first time in awhile I figured I’d take a trip down memory lane. And because of that, I’m going with the same final score as 2011: Marquette 61, Wisconsin 54.

JB Bauer: Not unusual for Bo Ryan, but the bench is very short. I’m hoping Marquette stays true to getting the ball inside to Luke and Henry, resulting in early foul trouble for Vitto Brown and Ethan Happ (both get called for approximately 5 fouls per 40 minutes).

I don’t know if MU will be in the discussion come tournament selection time, but I do know Saturday’s game is their only chance in nonconference play to be credited with 1.4 wins by the RPI. Big game.

Marquette wins 70-66.

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