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If loving Marquette is wrong, I don’t want to be right

Since I have noticed myself developing a serious man crush on Marquette over the past couple weeks, I thought I would take a closer look at their advanced metrics to either validate my feelings or tell me I should stop sitting outside of Buzz Williams’ house at night.

On the offensive end, the Golden Eagles are scoring 1.16 points per possession and rank ninth in Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings.  They’re making 55.3 percent of their two-pointers and 36.6 percent from beyond the arc, which adds up to an impressive 55.2 eFG%.  To add a bit of context, their two-point percentage hasn’t finished over 51.0 percent since 2003.

Aside from Darius Johnson-Odom’s lethal step-back jumper, how can such an increase be explained?  For starters, Marquette has continued to be aggressive in attacking the rim, a trend that began last season and continues to pay dividends this year.  After taking at least one-third of their shots from three-point range for seven straight seasons, the Golden Eagles dropped that number to 26.1 percent last season and currently stand at 28.8 percent this year. 

Not surprisingly, their relentlessness has been rewarded with frequent trips to the free throw line.  This season’s 46.9 FT Rate is slightly up from last year’s 44.3 mark, which was good for 37th in the nation.  Marquette has posted a FT Rate of at least 42.0 in six of their last seven games, including an absurd 82.7 against Mississippi

 

The Golden Eagles have also continued their trend of low turnover rates, with their current 17.2 mark ranking 33rd nationally.  Last year’s 18.2 TO% was actually the worst of the Buzz Williams era, which speaks to the quality of their guard play during that span.

Defensively, they have held six of their eight opponents to 0.88 points per possession or less and currently rank 15th on KenPom.  Outside of their struggles on the defensive glass, they rank in the Top 30 in the eFG%, TO%, and FT Rate. 

While they have typically help opponents to a low FT Rate under Buzz Williams, the improvements in eFG% and TO% have been substantial.  In fact, their eFG% has ranked outside the Top 200 in Williams’ first three seasons at the helm.  The three-point defense has shown improvement, but the two-point defense has dropped from 50.0 percent just a couple seasons ago all the way to 40.8 percent this season.  What’s even more interesting is that it hasn’t been accompanied by a significant change in block percentage.  Consequently, it’s not unreasonable to expect some normalization here, but don’t count on a complete relapse to their average from the last three years either.

I say that because this drop in shooting has coincided with a strong increase in turnover rate, which sits at 25.4 percent for the year.  The Golden Eagles have really ratcheted up their on-ball pressure, and thanks to improved depth, they are able to sustain that pressure for virtually the entire game.  In the win over Wisconsin, they were relentless against Jordan Taylor, forcing him into five turnovers and two offensive fouls, both of which relegated him to the bench for key stretches of the game.  In all, Marquette’s defense posted a 20.5 TO% against the Badgers, which is no small feat against a Wisconsin squad consistently amongst the national leaders in that category.

The only chink in the armor appears to be on the glass, as their OReb% has fluctuated over the season, going as high as 45.6 percent against Mississippi and as low as 23.5 percent in their first matchup with Norfolk State.  What’s more concerning is that they have consistently struggled on the defensive glass with four of their opponents posting an OReb% of 40 or more. 

Part of that has to do with a general lack of size on the roster with just two players over 6-foot-7 playing major minutes.  In fact, a pair of 6-foot-6 players, Jae Crowder and Jamail Jones, have the two highest DReb% on the team at 19.4 and 17.9, respectively.  They could certainly stand to get more rebounding from Chris Otule and Davante Gardner inside, but rebounding will likely have to be a team effort for Marquette.  That said, this potential weakness is one to watch as Big East play approaches.

In addition to the many reasons to like the team as a whole, some of the individual performances have been equally impressive.  That all starts with seniors Johnson-Odom and Crowder.  Both guys are as tough as they come but have the game to back it up.

DJO is shooting 62.2 percent on twos and 42.4 percent on threes, draws seven fouls per 40 minutes, rarely turns the ball over, and is an adept passer.  He can play well on or off the ball and isn’t afraid to get into guys defensively.  He is a legit Big East POY candidate to be certain, and this team will ultimately go as far as he and Crowder lead them.

Crowder is another do-it-all player, and his 132.7 ORtg is among the best in the country.  Like DJO, he can shoot it from two-point range (68.2%) as well as from deep (42.4%) while rarely giving the ball away.  His DReb% of 19.4 has improved from last season, and he gives the team another solid defender. 

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In addition to their sustained aggressiveness on both ends of the floor, the thing I have been most impressed with is the depth on this team.  Even though Crowder was saddled with foul trouble against Wisconsin and starting point guard Junior Cadougan was suspended, other players stepped up, and the team never missed a beat.  When Otule played just two minutes against Washington after spraining his knee, the same thing happened.

You can look down the roster and point out key contributions from virtually every player: 

  • Vander Blue has bounced back from a disappointing freshman season with a 42.1 FT Rate, 25.2 assist rate, and 4.4 steal percentage.
  • Junior Cadougan is in the Top 25 in assist rate at 38.4 percent and boasts a 59.5 FT Rate. 
  • Todd Mayo (O.J.’s brother) has apparently inherited the “care about defense” gene in that family and came up big with 14 points against Wisconsin
  • Davante Gardner still can’t play extended minutes, but his 125.8 ORtg is third on the team.  He’s superb on the offensive glass, draws 6.6 fouls per 40 minutes, and is hitting 64.0 percent from two-point range and 82.6 percent from the stripe.
  • Chris Otule has also been an effective offensive rebounder and boasts a 10.1 block percentage.
  • Jamail Jones has the team’s second-best DReb% and a 3.5 steal percentage.
  • Jamil Wilson hit a big three-pointer against Wisconsin and played well in relief of Otule against Washington.  He also has the second-best block percentage on the team.
  • Derrick Wilson had some flashes of outstanding on-ball defense against Jordan Taylor, playing a season-high 20 minutes with Cadougan suspended.
  • Juan Anderson grabbed five boards in just seven minutes against the Badgers.

The players above have allowed Williams to utilize a liberal substitution pattern with no fear of a significant dropoff, and so far the results speak for themselves.

Rob Dauster of Ballinisahabit wrote about the Golden Eagles after their last-second win over Washington, and the gist of the post was that while people continue to tout Marquette’s toughness, the talent level of the team has almost become an afterthought.  On some level that’s really doing this team a disservice, but it also speaks to the identity the team has established over the past few seasons.  Ultimately the difference is that the depth of talent has caught up to the grind-it-out mentality, which has manifested itself into a team that is the constant aggressor on both ends of the floor.  Whether that can also manifest itself into a Big East Championship remains to be seen, but for now, Marquette has the look of a Top 10 team and one not-so-secret admirer.

Follow me on Twitter (@AndyBottoms) for more of my thoughts on college basketball.

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