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GOLDEN EAGLE: Marquette not concerned with being undersized

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Photo by Mike Cianciolo / michael.cianciolo@marquette.edu

You don’t need to tell Marquette it is a small team. Every player knows the roster is extremely undersized and aware sophomore center Luke Fischer will not be eligible to play until the team’s matchup against Arizona State Dec. 18. The Golden Eagles know even with Fischer active, they will have only two players taller than 6-foot-7 (Steve Taylor is the other), for the entire season.

Coach Steve Wojciechowski has not been dealt a great hand with the lack of post players on his inaugural roster, but he emphasized a collective mentality when addressing the big men he has to work with.

“Obviously we’re an under-sized team and that can affect you in a number of different areas,” Wojciechowski said at his team’s media day. “Obviously with post defense, when you’re playing against other teams with great size at multiple positions that can prove to be challenging. I think on the backboard, rebounding, that’s going to be a real challenge for us.”

“We’re going to have to do it collectively,” Wojciechowski continued. “We’re going to have to figure out ways to guard outstanding post guys collectively. We’re going to have to figure out how to rebound as a team. It’s not going to fall on any one guy’s shoulders, it’s going to fall on all of our shoulders.”

Taylor will likely be the guy manning the paint for the first month of the season. He said he was not overly concerned about having to change his style of play at center because he knows he will be a problem for opponents on the other end.

“(Playing center changes my style) a little bit, but it works in my favor because the five’s got to guard me so I think it’s going to be a good change for me,” Taylor said.

Entering his junior season, Taylor said one of the things he emphasized during offseason workouts was post defense, specifically learning how to play more with his feet and less with his hands. He also said he hopes to be tougher during the 2014-15 season.

Fellow big man Fischer has noticed a difference in Taylor’s play during practices. He said he has worked diligently on learning how to play against taller opponents.

“He feels like he’s a bigger guy now,” Fischer said. “He’s been working on finishing high with hook shots and stuff like that and exploding to the rim. He’ll be going up against seven-footers for the first couple games so he’s definitely learning to play down low more than he has been before.”

The glaring issue for Taylor is his health. The forward underwent surgery to remove a benign growth on his right knee in May 2013. Taylor played in only 23 games the following season and averaged 10 minutes per game as he was in and out of the lineup.

The player who could hold the key to Marquette’s season is Fischer, who was named Mr. Basketball in Wisconsin during his senior season at Germantown High School. The big man originally committed to Indiana, but transferred to Marquette after missing most of last preseason with a shoulder injury and logging only a few minutes in his freshman season with the Hoosiers.

Fischer said he is very excited to begin his new chapter as a Golden Eagle, and said he is using the time off to work on getting in better shape. Fischer said the one advantage of being ineligible to play (per NCAA transfer rules) is that he gets more work in the weight room than he would have if he was on the floor every night.

“I think (I’ve worked on) definitely lifting and getting stronger,” Fischer said. “Because I can’t play in the first semester, I’ll be in the weight room more than the guys who are playing right away. Hopefully that will be an advantage when I get back.”

One player who is expected to take a big step in 2014 is sophomore Deonte Burton. Listed at 6-foot-4, Burton would be defined by some basketball pundits as a “tweener,” meaning his size and skill set enables him to play both guard and forward.

Burton’s primary role will likely be at the small or power forward positions, but he said he is comfortable playing any position, since he never had a defined role for most of his career.

“I see myself playing everywhere and wherever the team needs me to play I will gladly play,” Burton said. “I’m comfortable (playing multiple positions) because I’ve never really had a position, I’ve always wandered.”

The other two players who will see various roles in the rotation are senior Juan Anderson and freshman Sandy Cohen III, both listed as 6-foot-6. Anderson said he expects his team to cause plenty of match up problems for opponents.

“Everybody sees we’re under-sized on the defensive end, but people have to guard us as well,” Anderson said.

Playing strong defense down low starts up top with the guards. Wojciechowski said he hopes his guards are able to limit opponents’ points of entry into the block.

“The other thing is some of our best post defense should be our ability to put pressure on the ball,” Wojciechowski said. “We have a number of guys in our program that can put outstanding pressure on the ball and be outstanding defenders. Hopefully they can disrupt the vision of the passers and the ball handlers enough where they maybe don’t see the guys inside.”

Anderson emphasized the importance of each member of the team being ready to assume different roles within the rotation.

“We’re going to do what we have to do, whether I’m at the five or the four or the three,” Anderson said. “Wherever I can be productive is where coach is going to put me.”

When asked a follow up about possibly playing center, Anderson simply nodded his head and replied, “Yeah.”

It is not as far-fetched as it seems. Anderson is the second-tallest player on the roster until Fischer returns, and Taylor cannot play all 40 minutes. Do not be surprised to see a lineup in the early going that features the lanky senior as the center, as bizarre as it sounds.

“It is really crazy, I don’t see (Anderson) as a big man, I see him more as a three,” sophomore guard John Dawson said. “But, everybody’s willing to play any position that we need to in order to succeed.”

That is the type of year it will be for the Golden Eagles. Collectivity, versatility and continuity will be essential, especially on the block, if Marquette wants to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

“The best part of basketball is you have to adjust to how your team is built,” Burton said. “I think we’re going to be really good because teams still have to hold us.”

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