After Sunday's victory over Morgan State, Marquette wrapped up non-conference play, and it begins Big East play at DePaul on New Years Eve. 12 games into the Wojo-era, the team has had its ups and downs between losing Dawson and Burton, adding Luke Fischer, and playing a tough non-conference schedule. Here's a quick report card on how the team has fared so far.
Duane Wilson is living up to his potential and has shown his versatility on both ends of the floor. He has excellent court vision on cuts to the basket, has the ability to consistently force turnovers, and simply put is incredibly athletic. Duane has a lot of upside and will be very entertaining to watch over the next couple years.
BYU-transfer Matt Carlino has added veteran leadership during a time of transition, and has shown to be very streaky. At times he can look terrific, case in point being the game against Georgia Tech where he put up 38 points and went 8-14 from beyond the arc. His main weakness is trying to force up shots off the dribble that result in turnovers; against North Dakota he had 1 assist and 4 turnovers. If nothing else, he's another body that can run the point.
JuJuan Johnson is either the most or 2nd most improved player this year, which is partially due to the fact that Buzz didn't play JJJ as much as he should have. With the departure of Todd Mayo (did you know he's O.J. Mayo's younger brother???), MU lacked a scoring presence at the guard position. Johnson has filled in that void nicely off the bench, averaging 13 points over the last 4 games. JJJ has made solid contributions in transition offense, and is making a case to be one of the best jump-shooters on the team.
Derrick Wilson has retained his position as the lead point guard, mainly due to his experience and ability to take care of the basketball. With an assist/turnover ratio of 3.36 (10th best in the country) he's shown how efficiently he can run the offense. He's always been known as a good defensive player, and this year is no different. He's also been able to play amongst the trees and muscle his way in for rebounds. But we all know Derrick's main weakness, and that's the ability to score. He's shot under 50% his entire career from the charity stripe, which has proved to be a liability. In the final minutes of close games, Wojo has been forced to sub out Derrick on offense, and put him back in on defense. He can score on cuts to the basket, but most jump shots end up in Brick City. Unfortunately for Derrick, he does everything well except what the fans want to see.
Juan Anderson gets my vote for Most Improved Player. During his first three years on the team, Juan Anderson consistently showed hesitation on offense. This season, Juan has been much more aggressive with driving to the hoop and drawing contact, which has increased his scoring total by 8 points per game. There have been times where Juan has shaken off jump shots which I wish he would take, but he's shown tremendous improvement in both the half-court offense and transition game this season. To be fair, Juan wasn't in a great position to score before this season, having to split time with Crowder, Otule and Gardner his first three years. This team's lack of depth has given Juan an opportunity to contribute on offense, and he has taken full advantage of it. His aggressiveness has also led to drawing help-side defense and finding open guys underneath the bucket for easy points.
Steve Taylor Jr. has had some growing pains at MU. After a solid freshman campaign, Taylor had off-court issues with Buzz Williams, which kept him on the bench for much of his sophomore season. For the first month of this season, Taylor found himself playing the 5-spot since he was the tallest person on the team, a position that doesn't fit his skill set. He had trouble scoring underneath the basket, and was beat on the boards by taller opponents. With the arrival of Luke Fischer, Taylor can play the 3 or 4 depending on the lineup, and has looked much more comfortable on offense. Since he no longer needs to be the big body inside, Taylor has recognized that he can step back and hit short-range jump shots, and the occasional 3-pointer. With that being said, Taylor needs to show he can consistently hit jump shots in order to draw more attention from the defense.
What can I say, Big Fishy has been nothing short of impressive since December 16. His presence has completely changed the way Marquette plays and how teams play against Marquette. On defense, Fischer has been tremendous at blocking shots as well as redirecting shots in the paint. Additionally, a lot of Fischer's blocks have led to transition offense; against Morgan State he blocked a shot and scored in transition on the other end. The beauty about Luke's game on offense is that he's a match-up nightmare. If he's guarded one-on-one, he can score regularly with his soft hook shot. If he's double-teamed, he can dish it to the open man. In his first two games, Fischer only missed two shots, and went a perfect 8-8 from the floor against Alabama A&M (did I mention he's shooting over 70% from the free throw line?). My only knock on him so far is he has made some questionable passes that led to turnovers, but that will get cleaned up as his on-court chemistry improves with the rest of the team. MU would be absolutely lost without Fischer, and he's on track to being the team MVP.
Overall Offense: B
By default, the 2014-15 squad is much quicker because it's much smaller. This has forced them to score more off of transition and jump shots. Just like last year, Marquette is shooting poorly from long range, a paltry 36% (102nd in the country). The silver lining is it's at least better than shooting 32% last season. If nothing else, this team is much more fun to watch, as they're more athletic, and just about everyone can get up the floor to score in transition. The other positive to take away from this team is that they're doing a great job of scoring in the paint despite their length. Other than poor shooting, guys such as Carlino, JJJ, and even Duane Wilson have had issues with turnovers. Overall, I like the style of play Wojo is running on offense, and it'll only get better with Ellenson next year.
Overall Defense: C+
Nebraska-Omaha scored 97 points at the Bradley Center. There's simply no excuse for that. To be fair, this team was grossly under-sized for the first month, which by default forced them to play a 2-3 zone and leave themselves vulnerable to good shooting teams like Wisconsin. Before Fischer, they were getting killed on the boards, and that has been remedied somewhat since Luke's arrival. Even with Fischer, they're still giving up too many open looks from the elbows, and that will likely plague them the rest of the season. Until they get some size from next year's stud class, they'll be forced to play a lot of zone and help-side defense. Wojo has them playing aggressive on defense which I like, and that has helped force a fair amount of turnovers. Forcing turnovers and winning the battle on the boards won't win every game for them on defense, but it'll keep them in the game.