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Where does Jayce Johnson fit for Marquette?

Two weeks ago, Marquette’s social media team released a video of the team playfully attacking the coaching staff after a workout as part of a larger strategy meant to signify the unity within the team and staff after Sam and Joey Hauser announced their transfer intentions.

However, while the video itself was innocuous and easily forgotten on its own, it did appear to reveal two pretty interesting clues about the roster when we got a brief glimpse at Wojo’s whiteboard.

The first was Symir Torrence, the top-50 guard and 2020 recruit, listed under the freshmen column below incoming freshman Dexter Akanno. Torrence had made known that reclassifying to 2019 was an option, but we hadn’t heard much on that front until we saw “Symir RS” in that video.

The other point of interest was what appeared to be the words “Jayce May 4 – OV” written on that same board under a horizontal line. A quick Google for Jayce showed that there was a grad transfer from Utah named Jayce Johnson, so we put 1 and 1 together.

We got the confirmation that our Zaprudering of that innocuous clip payed off when Jon Rothstein announced Jayce was taking an official visit last weekend and even more after Tuesday’s announcement that Jayce Johnson would graduate and transfer to Marquette and be immediately eligible.

But as fun as the backstory is, I still haven’t quite gotten over my initial reaction. Why in the world is Marquette looking for a stationary 5 when there is an urgent need for shooting and defense at the 3/4 position?

Jayce Johnson is as traditional a center as you will find nowadays. He was one of the tallest players in college basketball at 7-feet, 15th to be exact and doesn’t have much, if any of a face up game. He didn’t take any 3s or any jumpers, in fact, 138 of his 148 shot attempts all came within 4 feet.

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It’s not a bad thing for a player to know his role and limitation, shouts to the Milkman, and every team needs players like these on the squad, so it isn’t necessarily an attack on Jayce’s talent or ability. Instead, it’s to establish the fact that he’s a 5 and 5 alone. He will be under the basket at all times.

So when you consider that Marquette was returning over 80% of the minutes played at the 5 spot with Theo John and Ed Morrow, the fit isn’t quite obvious.

Most of Wojo’s tenure, Marquette has played some sort of 4-out system where the center (Fischer/Heldt/Theo/Ed) is the only constant inside the paint, and the other four players do a majority of their work off the ball outside the arc. This is one of the most popular offensive schemes in college and matches up well with the hotness of the “pace and space” era in the NBA.

This general idea of a 4-out offense is that it forces the defense to remain as far away from the paint as possible, giving the offense room to drive to the basket. Ideally, when the defense collapses on a driver, it leaves shooters open (usually in the corners) with a clear look from three if the defense doesn’t rotate or recover quickly.

And to be honest, it has been tremendously successful for Wojo and Marquette with 3 top-35 offenses the last 3 seasons. But the reason it has worked is that there have always been 2 or 3 lockdown shooters on the court at all times.

In 2017, Howard, Sam and Rowsey all shot over 44% from 3 on high volume, with Jajuan Johnson and Katin Reinhardt adding capable snipers. As a team, MU led the country in 3P% at 42.9%.

In 2018, the Treys Amigos obliterated the MU record books from long distance and combining to make 231 triples. As a team, MU was third the country in 3P% at 41.7%.

Last season, Joey Hauser and Sacar Anim each provided capable shooting from the arc, though at a much lower volume that Rowsey. As a team, MU was 12th the country in 3P% at 38.8%.

But with 41% of last season’s made threes transferring, there’s no guarantee that Marquette will once again be in the elite realm of long distance shooting. Markus will be in the low 40s on absurd volume, yes. Koby showed he can shoot at a high percentage his sophomore year, sure. Sacar made the Big East pay last season for daring him to shoot, true. But without having the confidence in Bailey to improve, or Cain to be able to stay on the floor, relying on the outside shot isn’t a no-brainer any more. Which leads us to the question…

Is Ed Morrow primarily going to play the 4?

By adding Jayce, it signals to me that either Ed Morrow is transferring, or the staff will have him playing the 4 much more often this season. There is always the chance that Ed slides into a Matt Heldt-type, spot-minute role, but I highly doubt he would stay if that is what was communicated to him. He came to Marquette with the hope of playing more 4, but saw almost all his minutes at the 5 last season. Cutting those already limited minutes would probably mean cutting ties altogether.

So the only way for these 3 players to coexist while still keeping their minutes up to 2018 levels would be for one of them (Ed) to spend time at the 4. Which doesn’t seem to suit him or this team one bit. Take a look at his shot chart from last season on shots from beyond 7 feet.

Ed Shot.PNG

He can’t create his shot off the dribble and he isn’t a threat to hit a shot outside of the paint. So playing him at the 4 in the current offense will allow teams to completely ignore Ed and use his defender to clog the paint. That in turn will make dribble penetration much more difficult and force Koby and Markus into much tougher, longer, more contested shots. Unless…

Is MU switching to a 3 out, 2 in offense?

Unlike the 4 out offense we’ve seen the last 3 seasons, a 3-out offense relies much less on dribble penetration and much more on inside out passing. It allows you to play to post-oriented players together down low without forcing either out to a range they aren’t comfortable with.

But it isn’t some magic elixir. Here’s a basic primer that lays out what roster composition is best suited for this type of offense.

The 3-out 2-in motion offense is most effective when you have two players who are comfortable and make good decisions in the low post.

It means you have players who are active in the post, know how to cut and move without the ball, and can make smart passes.

This isn’t a great offense for teams who rely on dribble penetration as there is so much activity in the paint by having two post players.

While both Ed and Theo show flashes of vision with their passing, neither could be described as smart passers.

Both had assists rates under 5%, the lowest on the team of any player playing at least 20% of minutes. In fact, both were in the bottom 6 of all Big East players last season in terms of assist rate, on a team full of knockdown shooters. And Jayce was also below 5% at 4.6% last season, so that’s not likely to change overnight.

So I’m not really convinced that Marquette will change it’s style of play all of a sudden. But I do think we’ll see Ed at the 4 at least 5-8 minutes each game, depending on the matchups. There is just too much uncertainty at that spot, even if this is a less than ideal solution for the time being.

Here are some random reasons I’ve seen on Twitter to try and make sense of Jayce’s addition.

MU needs rebounding badly

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Let’s get 1 thing straight, Theo will be the starting center on this team barring injury. He’s a defensive game changer (more on that in a bit) and already proved his worth time and again. So ignore that part.

As for needing more rebounding, that’s definitely a legitimate concern. Sam was the best rebounder on the team, and Joey was very good in his own right.

However, Koby was actually a phenomenal defensive rebounder at Utah State, grabbing 18.5% of available rebounds on defense, which would rank 2nd behind Sam on Marquette. And my thought was that we would see a heavy increase of minutes for Jamal Cain at the 4, as he’s a tremendous athlete with natural rebounding skill.

Jayce, to be fair, is on another level than anyone Marquette has seen. He grabbed 27.5% of defensive rebounds (a top 25 mark in the country) and 14% of offensive rebounds (a top 30 mark in the country). He alone could help transform Marquette from an adequate rebounding team, to a behemoth, particularly playing alongside Ed.

That could be the strategy during their shared court time, too. Just put it up and watch them grab it. Before you scoff at the notion, check out Howard’s numbers on missed 3s the first two years.

I don’t have the 2019 numbers, but it’s safe to say adding Jayce will only make Markus’ 3 that much deadlier, as a miss doesn’t mean the end of the possession over a third of the time, historically. And frankly, be ready to see a lot more misses from the team as a whole than we have grown accustomed to the last 3 years.

Adds toughness defensively

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We’re big John Fanta fans, and it’s great to hear an outside perspective, but this is the kind of rationale that should have been put to bed last year. Marquette’s “toughness” was never lacking, and, more importantly, neither were the results. Marquette ranked 19th in the country last year at 2pt% defense, the best finish for any Marquette team in the KenPom era.

And Theo John’s emergence as an elite shot blocker is one of the main reasons. Not only did he reject shots at a top-20 level (best in the Big East and 17th in the country), his presence altered shots and dissuaded teams from attacking as much.

It’s not a direct comparison, but his Defensive Player Impact Plus Minus, which measures the impact of one player on a team’s defense using box score metrics and plus minus data put him as one of the top 20 most impactful defenders in the country.

Capture.PNG

Marquette’s defense was 4.66 point better per 100 possessions with him on the court than when he was off. No one on the team or even in the conference came close.

And that was without getting the benefits of a friendly whistle. Which leads us to…

Theo and Ed are too foul prone

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This is probably the most convincing reason for Jayce’s addition to me. Theo had a great run of 5 games in January where he stayed out of foul trouble and played 25+ minutes, but was only able to do so 3 times the rest of the season. He committed 7.4 fouls per 40 minutes, which means he’d be fouling out even if this was the NBA.

Ed was better, but nowhere near safe. His 5.7 fouls committed per 40 were only better than John and Heldt, who barely played.

And without Heldt (and now both Hausers), that would mean having someone like Jamal or Sacar needed at the 5 in case of foul trouble, which is not a sentence that inspires much confidence.

Thinking about it this way, it does make more sense from Marquette’s perspective. I still don’t see why a player like Jayce would want to transfer from a team where he was a starter guaranteed at least 20 minutes a game, to a bench role where he will have to fight to even get to 15, but that’s not for me to answer.

Marquette is still in desperate need of wing shooting, but at least now it has a pretty great insurance policy in Jayce Johnson should Ed or John be forced on the bench for stretches of time.

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One Comment on “Where does Jayce Johnson fit for Marquette?”

  1. Matt Connell
    May 13, 2019 at 10:07 pm #

    Morrow did not come to Marquette to play the 5, and Johnson fits the bill right away to help keep a rim protector in the game when Theo is in foul trouble, Jayce Johnson will bring a ton of D1 experience and do the dirty work needed to compliment a winning team. Hats off to Wojo in adding a much needed defensive big man after the 2 transfers.

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