What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he (or she) answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: Brewtown Andy from Anonymous Eagle, SB Nation's fine blog for all things Marquette.
1) Marquette surprisingly opened the season with a loss to Belmont and needed OT to take out IUPUI on Monday night. What was the source of Marquette's struggles in those games? Is it just a case of new players struggling to fit together or are there potentially bigger issues at play here?
ANDY: I could point to a lot of statistical issues that could help explain what happened in each game, but I think it can be explained very simply: Marquette has one player - redshirt sophomore Duane Wilson - that has played significant college minutes for a full season. The rest of the roster is five freshmen, two guys in Jajuan Johnson and Sandy Cohen that honestly didn't play a whole lot last year, and Luke Fischer, who joined the team in December last year after sitting out a full year because he transferred in from Indiana. (Side note: a top 100 center deciding he's had enough of Tom Crean after 3 months and electing to come to Marquette is a constant source of entertainment for Marquette fans.)
MU went on a trip to Europe in August, so the guys got to know each other, but the games were far from anything that you'd call competitive. These two games have been their first chance at having to pull together and make the smart, right play on every single possession, so it's not surprising that there's been a giant pile of growing pains.
Also, outside of Sandy Cohen, they're shooting 5-35 on three-pointers. Literally, if they're 8-35, which is still an absolute trash average, they're sitting on two regulation wins right now.
2) This is Year 2 under Coach Wojo. Year 1 was a bit of a struggle for the Golden Eagles (13-19), but what are the expectations like for Year 2? What's the general fanbase opinion of Wojo so far?
ANDY: I think most people are well aware of the massive roster rebuild that Wojo's pulling off here. There's an understanding that Buzz Williams essentially came up empty on two straight recruiting classes before bugging off to Blacksburg with most of a third class (btw, nice loss to Alabama State, Brent), so it's going to be up to the young guys that Wojo's brought in to provide wins for the team. I get the feeling that most people look at the talent in the recruiting class, combined with what pieces that Wojo inherited and the belief that he's developing as a coach and have capped expectations at "Make the NCAA tournament."
Now, that doesn't mean that people aren't thinking bigger and better. Moments after Duke finished off Wisconsin in the national championship game in April, multiple Marquette players took to Twitter to talk about #Houston2016, which, of course, is the location for this season's Final Four. It falls into the category of "dream big," of course, but given the high profile of the recruiting class, it's hard to stop yourself from dreaming.
As far as Wojo himself goes, I think most people are firmly staked to trusting in Wojo to properly set the foundation of his tenure as Marquette head coach, and so he's still firmly in honeymoon territory. I think the Scrambled Eggs podcast had a good insight in their most recent episode: Wojo's had 15 years of getting good at recruiting and thinking up drills to do in practice, but only 34 games of being The Guy making the final call on what happens during a game. He might be a little slow to make an adjustment here and there, but he's had 15 years of learning from one of the best, so the sense is that he'll figure it out.
3) One of the biggest reasons expectations are higher for Marquette this year is the arrival of a very highly-touted freshman class, headlined by 5* recruit Henry Ellenson. What makes Ellenson so dangerous and what should Iowa fans know about him (and any other new faces on the Marquette squad)?
ANDY: One of my favorite podcasts is The Post Atomic Horror Podcast. They're reviewing all of Star Trek, episode by episode, and one of the pet peeves of the show is when Star Trek tells you things about what's going on, when they could be showing you instead. So, I'll show you what makes Henry Ellenson so dangerous.
To give that highlight from MU's European trip some context: Ellenson measures in at 6'11" and 245 pounds. He's a gigantic dude, but he's got the strength, agility, court awareness, and handles to pull something like that off without even thinking twice. That's what makes him dangerous.
He's also got a variety of post moves to get himself all sorts of close in jumpers and leaners, he vacuums in rebounds like a black hole (averaging 9.5 per game, top 300 on KenPom in both Off/Def rates), and he throws outlet passes like he had a Wes Unseld poster on his wall as a tween.
The other new face that you have to know is Haanif Cheatham, pronounced HAH-neef CHEE-tum, a 6'5" guard from Fort Lauderdale. He's been in the starting lineup for both of MU's games and might have been the most important player on the court during the second half of the win against IUPUI. He scored all nine of his points after intermission and added a steal, but maybe more importantly, he looked the part of a savvy veteran making moves to guide his team through the treacherous waters.
He also makes me desperately want Wojo to recruit guys named Dewey and Howe.
4) What does Marquette like to do defensively?
ANDY: There's two answers here. There's what Wojo wants to do, which is play an aggressive attacking man-to-man defense. Then there's the 2-3 zone that Wojo was forced to switch to because the man-to-man just wasn't cutting it after three halves of basketball. The way they played the zone against IUPUI was an attacking style, at least from the guys up top in the zone, which caused a bunch of dysfunction in the Jaguars offense. I'd expect Marquette to open up in the man-to-man on Thursday, but if it's not working properly, then the zone won't be far behind it.
5) What are the 2-3 things that Marquette absolutely needs to do in order to beat Iowa on Thursday night?
ANDY: One, hey have to shoot three-pointers better. With two big men over 6'10" in Ellenson and junior Luke Fischer, Marquette needs to start hitting three pointers with a much better frequency just to keep the floor as balanced as possible and give those two dudes a chance to work some magic inside, like the pass that Ellenson throws in highlight #3 in this video.
Two, they can't turn the ball over so much. MU had 13 turnovers in the first half against IUPUI on Monday night, and on the season overall, slightly more than one-fifth of all of their possessions are ending in a turnover.
Three, they have to slow down. Not tempo wise, because I think that Wojo actually wants to play at a faster tempo than they have been. I mean the freshmen need to not be going completely banana sandwich every single time they're trying to do something on the court. Not to pick on Ellenson, but he's got the best example of this: With 15 seconds left in the Belmont game, Marquette was down one. Henry got the ball on the elbow and promptly exploded his dribble into a stationary Bruins defender for the offensive foul. Three of his seven fouls this season have been offensive fouls, and given that the refs are supposed to be allowing freedom of movement, I think everyone would benefit from a big bowl of SLOW DOWN.
6) How much did you enjoy seeing Wisconsin lose to Western Illinois on Friday night? How bitter is the Wisconsin-Marquette rivalry anyway? Iowa fans have plenty of dislike for Bo Ryan and the Badgers, but we don't have to share a state with them, either.
ANDY: I enjoyed the hell out of discovering that Bo Ryan took his 23rd home loss in 15 seasons to a team that was picked to finish DFL in the Summit League, but technically speaking, I didn't see it. As a general rule, I don't watch Wisconsin basketball, except for the 40 minutes a year when they're playing Marquette. I think the only other time where I watched Wisconsin play at all last season was the national semifinal game, but I was making the objective choice to watch 38-0 Kentucky attempt history as opposed to going out of my way to watch Wisconsin. As a rational adult, why would I spend my free time consuming an entertainment product that I actively loathe?
I suppose that's a way of saying that it's pretty damn bitter, at least on our side of the aisle. I mean, we have a yearly feature entitled "Badger Hate Week."The last two years have definitely entrenched people on the Marquette side, at least the MU fans who live in Wisconsin. It's been two straight years of "Why can't you just cheer for the Badgers in the tournament because they're from the state you live in?" BECAUSE WE DON'T LIKE YOUR STUPID TEAM OR THEIR STUPID COACH, THAT'S WHY.
It also hasn't helped that those two seasons have coincided with the worst back-to-back seasons of Marquette basketball in this millennium, and the worst single season in 23 years.
The worst - the absolute worst - is when Badger fans accuse Marquette fans of Little Brother Syndrome. I don't know how a program that didn't make their first Sweet 16 appearance ever until 2000 can be portrayed as something to inspire jealousy, but that's Badger fans for you.
7) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
ANDY: I think it's still too early in the season for Marquette to pull off a win against a veteran Big Ten team like Iowa. I think it will be close, I think it will be entertaining as all get out, and I think we'll be able to point at about five things that went shockingly bad for Marquette that allowed the Hawkeyes to win. 77-70, Iowa.
Thanks for being a good sport, Andy, but I still hope your team gets mollywhopped tomorrow. You can check out the AE crew at Anonymous Eagle. You can also follow AE on Twitter at @AnonymousEagle. The Iowa-Marquette game is in Milwaukee, WI on Thursday, November 19, and is scheduled to start at approximately 8:15 pm CT, with TV coverage from FS1.