This Isn’t Just Your Same Old Marquette Team

Posted by Justin Kundrat on February 15th, 2019

Despite being ranked 10th in the national polls, Marquette is continuously overlooked and forgotten, a filler team of sorts between the elite teams and the dark horses. The Golden Eagles are lost in the shuffle — they stand behind the Dukes, Kentuckys and Virginias, places ahead of Michigan State, Purdue and Kansas, yet ranks last among all in recognition of a successful season. It’s easy to see why, too. Steve Wojciechowski‘s program has come to be known for elite offenses without any semblance of defensive ability, resulting in just one NCAA Tournament appearance in the last five seasons. So what’s different this year? It isn’t Markus Howard, despite the junior’s scintillating 43.8 percent three-point shooting and headline-grabbing 40+ point performances — rather, it’s the defense.

Markus Howard Has Led the Quiet Marquette Renaissance

Many have been quick to blame Wojo’s coaching for the team’s chronic under-performance on the defensive end of the floor, but now that the ship has seemingly righted itself, perhaps the blame should have gone to his personnel. The Golden Eagles of years past rolled out lineups that featured the 5’11” Howard and 5’10” Andrew Rowsey in the backcourt and a physically unimposing center tasked with anchoring the post. Per HoopLens, lineups featuring both Rowsey and Howard gave up a staggering 1.17 points per possession, compared to 1.02 PPP from any other lineup combination. It didn’t matter how much offensive firepower the duo provided because opponents shot an astonishing 67 percent against them at the rim (18th nationally).

With a new season came a new cast of characters as well as player development. Now, Howard finds himself surrounded by several long, multi-positional players. On the wing, junior Sacar Anim has quietly taken a massive leap forward in his on-ball defense and is playing smarter — his improved footwork has led to a drop from 4.1 fouls per 40 minutes to 2.4 F/40. While not evident in the box scores, Wojciechowski has tasked Anim with defending everyone from point guards to stretch forwards and rarely suffers from the painful lapses that allow easy baskets.

Another revelation this season has been freshman Brendan Bailey. At 6’8″ with a skinny frame, Bailey is the kind of mobile defender that every team wants. He doesn’t yet contribute consistently on the offensive end, but his presence is felt just about everywhere else. Watch here as he corrals a point guard before switching onto the burly Kalif Young to successfully deny the entry pass.

Bailey is a unique prospect who sometimes disappears just long enough to be forgotten about, but make no mistake, a player with his combination of size and quickness goes a long way in shoring up roster holes.

Last, but certainly not least, is the evolution of big man Theo John, who is making himself felt every minute he is on the floor. With a 6’9″ 240-pound frame, John is exactly the anchor and post presence that this team needs. Lineups with the burly sophomore on the floor allow just 0.86 points per possession, per HoopLens, compared to 0.96 PPP when he is off the floor. This is especially astounding when we consider that the team’s defense fared 0.05 PPP worse with John on the floor a season ago. John has turned into an immovable force this season, making opponents think twice about attacking the rim and punishing them when they do. The center has the mobility to lure guards into thinking they have space to get a shot off before quickly closing in on them:

And he isn’t shy about doing the same thing to players his size either. John’s 12.3 percent block rate, which ranks 10th nationally, has made a world of difference for the Marquette defense.

Like Bailey, John does not contribute very much offensively, but a lineup consisting of Howard and the Hauser brothers doesn’t need help offensively. The Marquette squad that let its opponents score with ease around the rim is no more, as opponents are converting just 57 percent of these attempts this season, good for 280th nationally. John’s presence comes at a cost though: at 7.4 fouls committed per 40 minutes, he is only managing 19.8 minutes per game. Nevertheless, if Marquette can avoid significant foul trouble, it appears that things might be different this time around.

Justin Kundrat (165 Posts)

Villanova grad, patiently waiting another 10 years for season tickets. Follow Justin on twitter @JustinKundrat or email him at justin.kundrat@gmail.com


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