Johnson, Morrow, John switching off as Marquette plays two bigs

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Photo by Katerina Pourliakas

Graduate transfer Jayce Johnson (34), junior Theo John (4) and redshirt senior Ed Morrow (30) are all post players.

Head coach Steve Wojciechowski said the Golden Eagles’ identity starts with defense and rebounding.

“We have really good athletes that can play very good individual defense,” Wojciechowski said. “We have experience so they should understand the concept of team defense. We’re big and physical pretty much at every position. So we have to be a really good rebounding team as well. That has to be our identity.”

Marquette will have the luxury of increased depth in two positions that have the biggest impact on defense and rebounding: power forward and center. Junior Theo John, graduate senior Jayce Johnson and redshirt senior Ed Morrow are all set to play significant roles in the post this season.

“Ed, Jayce and Theo are all really good college basketball players,” Wojciechowski said. “When the game comes, you play the lineups that give you the best chance to win. If two of those guys on the floor at one time are giving us the best chance to win that game, they’re going to play a lot.”

That means going against the basketball trend of using two big men to playing with more guards, which typically allows for more spacing, quicker pace and more 3-pointers. The upside of having more post players is often higher-percentage shots, better rebounding and more sound defense.

“You could have a guy take four threes in one possession just because we are trying to get every offensive rebound,” John said. “(When) you have 7-foot, 6-foot-9, 6-foot-7 (players), your chance of getting an offensive rebound goes up.”

Wojciechowski said the number of minutes the two bigs will be on the floor depends on the quality of basketball they’re producing.

The team works to make sure playing more post players doesn’t create any spacing issues.

“The way we play it doesn’t actually affect our spacing that much,” redshirt sophomore Greg Elliott said. “Coach harps on it a lot: spacing, spacing, spacing, being in the right spot. So that’s really second nature to us. We’re always adding something to where we can still have space even though there’s two bigs out there on the court.”

John said spacing is only a problem when someone is in the wrong spot.

“Spacing is important,” assistant coach Jake Presutti said. “Those guys have done a good job so far in practice, they know where they need to be. Whether one is screening, the other is spacing out in the dunkers spot on the baseline, those guys are understanding that they have to move as one.”

Spacing often involves playing one post player higher on the key and one lower on the key, a high-low strategy.

Redshirt senior Ed Morrow’s willingness to take a shot outside of his range could help playing high-low. While Morrow played close to the rim last season, he said he is comfortable anywhere on the court. But ultimately he said he prefers playing within 15 feet of the basket.

“That’s my money area,” Morrow said. “If I need to take a shot outside of my range, I’m willing to take it and I’m willing to make it. It’s just wherever coach wants to put me.”

Morrow is not the only one willing to expand his range. John said he attempted at least 200 3-pointers a week in the offseason. While not his specialty, John said he won’t be reluctant to take the shot.

“If I’m left wide open, I’m not going to hesitate,” John said.

If spacing does become a problem the Golden Eagles can’t overcome, it could mean scoring fewer points. However, Presutti said he doesn’t think Marquette will sacrifice points playing with two bigs, partly because the they can score in the post.

“They’re going to be great screeners for our guards. They are going to be great ball movers. They can roll, pop, hit and chase … keep the ball hitting multiple sides on the offense,” Presutti said. “I think the more movement we create, the more opportunities there will be for everyone.

Unlike many stereotypes about post-heavy teams, Wojciechowski intends to keep a quick tempo.

“We want to push the pace,” Wojciechowski said. “One of the things we need to do collectively is get in better shape. When you’re going five-on-five, the tendency is to conserve. What you want to do is create habits that will be there during the game. We’ll be a transition team, but I think we will be more in the half-court as well.”

John, who said he loves running up and down the court, said all of Marquette’s bigs have no problem running in transition. Morrow sees opportunity with running the floor.

“(We are) guys that rebound the ball at a high level, especially out of Jayce, Theo and myself, and just being able to spread the floor and defend multiple positions (will help),” he said. “That’s something obviously we won’t be able to show until we start playing.”

The post players are hoping to force mismatches with smaller teams across the country.

“Not a lot of teams do play a two-big lineup, so it’ll be good for us,” Johnson said. “On defense I know we can lock down on guard. As long as we can, were going to get those advantages on the offensive end with two bigs.”

A quick guard could be a nightmare for a slow big, but John isn’t worried about that.

“Our bigs move our feet very well,” John said. “That was probably one of our main focuses all summer. The second thing is, they still have to get to the hoop and put a shot up. With all that extra length, it’s going to be even harder to do.”

On the defensive end, more zone defenses are a possibility.

“(The) last couple of years, we have not played a lot of zone,” Presutti said. “With two bigs, there is potential that we can play more zone this year. We can look at potentially a two-three zone where we keep that rim protector in the paint. Those guys are mobile enough that they can play the fours in the zones. It’s also a potential to keep teams off balance coming out of timeouts with a zone as well.”

If a guard gets past star guard Markus Howard, who is 5-foot-11, there’s a backup plan now. John said having two rim protectors gives the team room for mistakes.

“The (guards) know that we have their back if they get driven (on) or shook,” Johnson said. “We’re there to block the shot and help and then they can help us.”

While Wojciechowski has a game plan with two bigs on the floor, he said he is ready to adapt in game.

“As Mike Tyson said, everybody’s got a plan until you get punched in the mouth,” Wojciechowski said.