In 2015-16, much of the conversation regarding Marquette basketball understandably centered on Henry Ellenson. It was in this shadow that fellow freshman Haanif Cheatham was able to put together a strong inaugural season in Milwaukee. Now that Ellenson has departed for the NBA, a new vacancy has opened for the position of “star player”. Haanif Cheatham definitely possesses the tools that would allow him to take that mantle and lead the charge for Marquette in 2016-17.
The Fort Lauderdale native led Marquette guards in scoring with 11.8 points per game on 48.9% shooting from the field and 38.7% from three. His 82% from the free throw line was 3rd in the Big East, while his 60% true shooting was 8th. His 4 20+ point performances were second-most on the team behind Ellenson’s 10. His scoring prowess earned him Big East All-Freshman honors, and helped him place top 10 among Marquette freshmen all-time in nine different categories. The 2.2 win shares he accumulated on the year were fifth-most among freshmen in the Big East last year.
Haanif sets himself apart on a roster full of scorers. A number of them are capable of scoring inside and out. However, Cheatham does it the most efficiently while also being able to get to the line on a consistent basis. His .455 free throw rate and 364 total points produced are both 2nd-highest among returning rotation players.
While Haanif is a prolific scorer, there are some facets of his game that he will have to clean up. The biggest issue is his turnovers. Turnovers were a team-wide affliction, but Haanif had it the worst. He led the team with 2.7 a game. His 89 total T.O.’s were 4th most in the Big East. Coach Wojciehowski indicated in a video on the athletic department’s YouTube channel that he wants Cheatham to decrease his assist-to-turnover ratio from it’s current 2.2-to-2.7 down to about 2-to-1.
Another place that Cheatham could improve is on defense. In the same video, Coach Wojo says that he feels Haanif is the team’s best perimeter defender. However, his defensive rating indicates that he gave up a rotation-worst 105.3 points per 100 possessions last season. This number outpaced his offensive rating by 2 points. The discrepancy was exacerbated in conference play, where he gave up 108.8 points per 100 possessions (2nd-worst in the rotation) with an efficiency gap of -11.2 points (3rd-worst). He was a top perimeter defender on a team that gave up 74.2 points per game, the 111th-most in the nation. So while he surely made strides on defense in his head coach’s eyes, there is still some progress to be made.
Outside of those two issues, Cheatham is far and away one of the best players on the Marquette roster. He can score from almost anywhere on the court and he’s willing to do whatever he needs to help his team get the victory. If he can improve on a great freshman year, Haanif Cheatham will surely be “The Man” leading Marquette on their road to the tournament.