Marquette Courtside: Running The Options

Everyone knows Markus Howard can score. Gaudy games like his 52-point performance against Providence last year and 45-point showings against No. 12 Kansas State and No. 14 Buffalo this season are obvious examples. Marquette, however, cannot live on Howard alone. It has sometimes, like in that Providence win and the second half against Buffalo. Other times, like when Howard went 7-for-29 against No. 12 Wisconsin, it tried and only barely succeeded. Still other times, like when he went 2-for-15 against St. John’s, Marquette looked like it desperately needed a reliable second scoring option.

While most folks think Sam Hauser can be that guy, his numbers have been up-and-down at best. Since the K-State game, when he all he did from the floor was miss two shots, he has a 4-for-10 shooting night against UTEP where he went 0-for-6 from outside, a 10-point game against St. John’s where he really didn’t start doing damage until late in the contest, and a 1-for-8 outing against Xavier with 0-for-6 outside shooting again. Last year, Sam fought injuries. Given the inconsistency thus far, one has to wonder if maybe he’s a little beat up again. At a time of year when averages start getting difficult to move, he’s dropped from a high-water mark of 17.3 points per game down to 13.5.

We’ve mentioned the St. John’s game twice now. With Howard and Sam Hauser both struggling, Marquette looked lost against the Red Storm. That’s why usage was notable against Xavier.

Sure, Howard got his, hitting 10-of-21 shots and going 6-for-15 beyond the arc. But early on, before we knew Sam Hauser would struggle, Sacar Anim got the ball plenty. With moves to the basket, work off the dribble and pull-up jumpers, Anim had his second-best scoring performance at Marquette, pouring in 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting. Anim has off nights, too — he went 1-for-10 against Buffalo — and he doesn’t always distribute the ball as much as he should, but I think that’s partly the result of his role in the offense. If he were to validate himself with a few more games where he scores like he did against Xavier, Anim creates another matchup problem and forces teams to commit more resources to the drive, better opening things up outside for Howard and Sam Hauser.

Meanwhile, we haven’t brought up Joey Hauser yet. It’s time to stop being surprised when he puts up double-digits, having done so in five of his last seven games, while averaging 16.5 points through two BIG EAST contests. Hauser the Younger isn’t the smoothest-looking player yet. He’s long and rangy, but still has moments where he looks out of control. On one of three assists Sunday, he got the pass off to Howard while stumbling to the ground near the post. Still, if Joey is doing those sorts of things when he’s not looking totally comfortable, imagine what he’ll do once he gets settled. It’s not like Marquette is afraid to go to Joey, as he’s averaging just under seven shots a game. But he looks like he’s for real, and if teams don’t give him proper respect, Steve Wojciechowski and Marquette shouldn’t be afraid to let him take over. A stretch where he hit three-straight threes in the first half against Buffalo was a turning point. It almost certainly will happen again at some point.

Let’s not neglect Theo John, who has showed signs of breaking out down low, but has struggled with foul trouble in his first two BIG EAST games. John is ever so close to being a dominant presence. He just needs to stay on the floor. In my mind, I can hear Wojo say he just needs to keep working hard.

Depth of scoring, or just depth, period, is something new and different for Marquette this year. It puts more pressure on the coaches to do two things: First, they must identify matchups they can exploit in

the run-up to games. That determines which offenses they should run. Not every play should be set up for Howard or Sam Hauser, given what other guys have shown they can do. Secondly, when it becomes clear someone has a hot hand, there have to be in-game adjustments. This is especially the case with teams sometimes entering kitchen-sink mode defending Howard. You can’t “coach flat,” going in with one gameplan and continuing to run with it. You have to constantly observe, adjust and see what does and doesn’t work, while also not straying too far from the things you know work best, or thing, which is Howard. No one said it was easy.

Because Marquette’s defense is improved this year, there’s more scoring in transition off turnovers and steals, so points alone aren’t always the best way to measure offensive usage. Still, Marquette will be at its best when every option on the floor is a viable one in a half-court offense. Xavier coach Travis Steele said his team “shut down” Marquette in the half-court. I somewhat disagree. Maybe he felt that way because Sam Hauser struggled, and Howard didn’t explode. But Anim got the job done, and more than just in transition. If Marquette can get to the point where opponents need to take all five guys seriously when MU’s on offense, they’re going to be nearly impossible to stop. The scary part is, each of the five starters have shown they’re up to that task at times. It’s the team’s responsibility, as well as the coaches’, to show it on a consistent basis.

COURTSIDE SPLINTERS

LESS HELDT, MORE MORROW: With John in foul trouble against Xavier, Wojo had to look to different options down low. Matt Heldt saw six minutes of time, while Ed Morrow, who can be used in different ways, was on the floor for 20. Given the situation, it’s possible Heldt simply had to spell Morrow. But it was pretty clear who the better player was. Morrow got 10 rebounds in those 20 minutes. Even though he only had two points, and committed two traveling violations, he had a nose for the ball and an understanding of how the offense would work, setting screens on the block to spring Anim to the basket. Meanwhile, Heldt drew two fouls, and when he wasn’t getting pushed around, he looked slow and awkward against Xavier’s bigs.

Heldt is a fan favorite, particularly for the shrinking percentage of Marquette attendees who hail from outstate Wisconsin or even suburban Milwaukee, many of whom see a lot of themselves in Heldt’s Neenah roots. But he hasn’t bulked up like anyone hoped and it’s difficult to see a reason to consider him worthy of minutes over other options. Even though Morrow gives up a little height, his instincts and physicality make up for it. You can’t really say the same for Heldt. Good kid, but with what Marquette is trying to accomplish right now, he’s best used late in games that are already decided, not in the first half of conference contests, and if so, only by necessity.

FOX TRAX: A lot of Milwaukeeans were frustrated to find out that they couldn’t see Marquette play Sunday because of the current Tribune Broadcasting/Spectrum cable dispute. Spectrum’s claim that Tribune is demanding double their previous fees, and is offering above inflation, makes me side with the cable company on this one. Let’s face it, though: Do you really want to see “The Masked Singer” that badly? As long as they get it figured out by Packers season next year, I’m fine without it. If only they’d shave the cost of those channels off our bills while we don’t have them. That won’t happen, though.

THANK U, NEXT: Marquette will head to Omaha for a game against Creighton at 6 p.m. tomorrow night, then plays a big game against Seton Hall Saturday at 1 downtown.

Photo: Getty Images

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