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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Behind enemy lines: Marquette

Marquette guard Haanif Cheatham will be a tough cover for the Commodores in their season opener. Photo credit: Mike Carpenter/Marquette Wire

The Vanderbilt Hustler sports editor Robbie Weinstein and the Marquette Wire sports editor Jack Goods discuss the state of the Golden Eagles ahead of Friday’s men’s basketball season opener in Annapolis, Maryland.

Robbie Weinstein: Despite losing Henry Ellenson early to the NBA, Marquette still has quite a bit of talent. What are expectations like for Marquette this year?

Jack Goods: This is a weird year for Marquette, especially after losing [Ellenson] to the draft. They’ve definitely got talent. I just don’t think that the expectations are very high, and that might be related to how young they are and how a lot of them haven’t played together for very long. Or it might have to do with the fact that they haven’t made any tournament in three years. So the level of optimism for the program isn’t great.

They’ve got a ton of really talented guards; I think they’re going to be a really strong three-point shooting team, but with Ellenson gone they don’t have a power forward. They’re playing very small, and their center, Luke Fischer, had real foul trouble last year. So if that happens, then their only other big man is a sophomore, Matt Heldt, who played minimally last year. If they’re good, it really comes down to if they’re able to keep Fisher on the floor for a long amount of time and the guards clicking. But it’s a team where if one little thing goes wrong, then I think that they can kind of fall apart pretty fast.

RW: What have you made of [third-year] head coach Steve Wojciechowski so far?

JG: I don’t think the jury’s out on Wojciechowski just yet. I’ve been very impressed with his recruiting; he’s brought in some top-notch players, starting with Henry Ellenson, Markus Howard, Sam Hauser and now looking at Joey Hauser, his brother, a highly ranked prospect for 2018. So he’s proven to me that he’s an elite recruiter, and it’s just a matter of whether that can work on the court. He’s got the talent, and it hasn’t all come together yet.

But it’s so early, and he still has remnants of [former head coach] Buzz Williams’ team. So he’s not even to the point where he’s using his full roster, it hasn’t gotten to the full image of his program yet. It’s not like he’s on the hot seat or anything like that. Fans are a little frustrated and with maybe a year or two more with no tournament will be frustrated, but I just think it’s a little early to say anything too drastic.

RW: In the preseason, Marquette had a big win over Division II Rockhurst and, more significantly, a closed-scrimmage win over Dayton in which Haanif Cheatham played very well, although Dayton was missing one starter. Do you take anything from the preseason, especially that scrimmage win?

JG: I think that scrimmage shows that Cheatham is arguably their best player. He’s definitely their most dynamic scorer. He played a little big of point guard last year, but I think he’s almost exclusively going to play at shooting guard this year. He’s great at both shooting from the outside, pretty strong from mid-range, pretty strong game of driving to the basket. I think that the scrimmage showed me that he can take the next step this season, and I don’t think it’s unrealistic to think that he is a serious candidate for breakout player of the year in the Big East. I don’t think too much of the scrimmage, but playing well is obviously a good sign.

RW: What kind of a role do you think USC grad transfer Katin Reinhardt will have on the team? Since he’s a productive player who nobody has really seen work with this team yet, how much of an X-factor do you think he is for them?

JG: I think that he is arguably the key to them being a good team, because he is going to be playing that “stretch-4” role because they’re going to be playing small a lot. He’s more naturally suited to be a 3 [small forward]; he was a 3 at USC. He certainly has the three-point game, so that “stretch-4” role will work with that aspect of his game, but it’s just a matter of whether he can really defend power forwards.

I liked what I saw from him in the exhibition against Rockhurst, although you obviously take everything with a grain of salt from that. I think that he was a really nice get for Wojciechowski, especially when they had a couple of open scholarships, and they really needed a veteran who could play that position. So I really liked that move for now. I was hoping that they’d be able to get a more natural power forward at some point, but they’re so much better off having Reinhardt than not having him on this team.

RW: With Marquette’s 20-13 record last year, normally you would think that that record would get a team in the Big East at least into the NIT. But it looked like they had a very weak non-conference schedule, and, while it looks a little bit better this year, there are still a lot of teams that are ranked 250 or below in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings. Is this a concern?

JG: It was definitely a concern last year. I looked at their schedule and thought, “Well they have to beat Belmont, Iowa and Wisconsin,” and they did end up winning the Wisconsin game. But they had to do pretty well in the conference because they weren’t going to impress anyone with these other wins. I do think this year’s a lot better. Early on they’re going to get some pretty solid opponents in Vanderbilt, Michigan and either SMU or Pitt.

If you look at the cupcake teams, they may not be great, but they’re better than last year. Last year, they scheduled literally the worst teams you possibly could find in Division I basketball. It was tough to watch, because you just knew they were going to beat up on these teams. I think it was done on purpose because they had a really young team, they were throwing Ellenson into the focus of the team as a freshman and tried to ease everybody into the season, but that kind of backfired a bit. At least now you have teams rated in the 200s in KenPom instead of in the 300s; that may not be a huge jump, but it’s at least a little bit less of a concern. That and the fact that since you have those chances for more signature wins, that makes it a little bit better.

Last year in their preseason tournament, the games you thought were going to be chances for signature wins were LSU and Arizona State, and neither team ended up being very good. They won both those games, but they just weren’t impressive at the end of the day. Whereas if you beat Michigan, you beat SMU or Pitt, I think there’s a little bit more that comes with that.

RW: This is a neutral-site game, so how has Marquette’s performance away from home been in recent history?

JG: Last year, their neutral-site games were in Brooklyn against LSU and Arizona State, and they played well in both games, especially coming off a tough start to the season with a loss to Belmont and getting blown out by Iowa. They really bounced back quite well, but the thing about those games was that they were so much about Ellenson; he was named the MVP of that tournament. Without him, it’s really tough to say how that’s going to affect their offense. I assume not well.

You never really know if you get a year more [of progression] from the guards who were around him last year, and you also add two or three weapons to this team who were not on the team last year who could really play a key part. Reinhardt’s one of them and Andrew Rowsey, a transfer and three-point specialist from UNC-Asheville, is another. So it’s tough to analyze what the team is going to be, because so many of their key players we haven’t seen yet. Or we just saw them grow as the season went along last year. Traci Carter was their point guard last year as a freshman, and early in the season he was not good because he was a freshman point guard. But by the end of the year he was solid, and coming into this year I feel pretty good about him. So I think it’s really hard to project much from previous years to this year.

RW: How do you see this one playing out? If you have a prediction, you’re welcome to give it.

JG: I think Marquette’s going to win this game. I think Vandy is in a similar position now, losing their two best players. So I don’t think Marquette’s going to be at a disadvantage by having to adjust to a new unit. I think they have the weapons to beat a team that’s just slightly below them in Ken Pomeroy’s preseason ratings, and I think it’ll be a really strong night for their shooters. They shot really well against Rockhurst, mostly because they were able to create space. It wasn’t even about taking advantage of size, although obviously there was a talent discrepancy. I think you’ll see a lot of screens from the guards, and they’re talented enough so that it’s going to be very tough for Vanderbilt to stop.

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