It’s nearing March, which means the NCAA Tournament is right around the corner and I want to start looking deeper at potential teams I see making runs or busting in the tournament. I will be taking a look at each teams offense, defense, roster, and other things giving my full analysis on each team. I will be avoiding the consensus top teams who will be on the 1-2 line, but focusing in on teams who will be off the top seed lines, but still could make deep runs or just a team I see completely flopping and getting upset early. The first team I want to look at is the Marquette Golden Eagles.
Let’s start by summarizing Marquette’s season. They currently sit a top the Big East at 12-2 and bode an overall record of 23-4. Both their conference losses have come to St. Johns. They just seem to have Marquette’s number, but Marquette could have easily won the second meeting. That doesn’t matter though. They have a 2 game lead over Villanova with 4 games remaining. However, they do go to Villanova this week. Marquette then closes with Creighton at home, at Seton Hall, and home against Georgetown. I expect them to win three of these four and finish 26-5 and 15-3 in Big East play. What happens in the Big East tourney does not really to matter as conference tournaments have so much luck and other factors to them. Marquette is probably looking at a 3 seed, could fall to a 4, and maybe somehow could get a 2. Though more than likely where projections stand they most likely end on the 3 line. To reference their vegas odds, they currently sit at 50/1 to win the title. I think this is a great number worth taking a shot at and does not at all reflect the season they have had and would personally have them around 35-40/1.
Now let’s take a look at their offense. Everything starts and ends with Markus Howard. The junior guard is having a sensational season averaging 25.3 points a game. He is the most lethal and dangerous scorer in the country. He has gone over 40 three times including over 50 once. He even had 40 in a half vs Buffalo. He can get hot at any moment and honestly is capable of carrying Marquette to a final 4 himself. He’s a lethal point shooter also with a knack for getting to the line where he is automatic. The thing with Marquette though is with even as good as Howard has been which is probably a top 5 player in the nation their offense still has other important and good pieces. In terms of national rankings, Marquette has the 19th most efficient offense. They have one of the more elite and efficient offenses in the nation. They have experience with 3 upperclassmen in their starting 5 and then Theo John who played minutes last year and freshman Joey Hauser who has been very good. Markus Howard and Sacar Anim make up the backcourt. Anim will handle the ball a lot when Marquette is running sets with Howard off the ball trying to get him off of screens. They run Sam Hauser at the 3 with his brother Joey at the 4 and finally Theo John plays the 5. Four of their starters shoot 39% or higher from three and then Theo John mans the paint and offensive glass. This offensive is obviously run through Markus Howard, but the whole concept is the drive and kick because everyone the perimeter is a threat from 3. When teams press up really hard on Marquette to stop the 3, this is where Howard is at his best driving to the basket and getting fouled or hitting one of the Hauser brothers on the roll because the defense doubled on the screen. Their so effective and efficient with their sets because they have 4 guys generally out there all who you cannot leave open for three. They rank 5th nationally as a team shooting a clip of 39.9 basically 40%. Trying to double Howard can be effective, but if the guys around him are hitting their threes then Howard will have no problem dishing off. Eventually teams have to respect the supporting cast and then Howard one on one is just going to take over games. He’ll take over games when he is doubled team. If he’s on, it pretty much is over for the other team. The thing with Howard and both Hauser brothers is that they all have true shooting percentages over 60%. Howard takes 36% of their shots and still is extremely efficient from the field. That’s why they are so dangerous because they have a high volume shot guy with a high usage rate except he is extremely efficient and gets to the foul line a lot. The way he scores is threes and foul shots and this is the most efficient way of scoring. Marquette’s offense is so well run and coached. They play efficiently and their tempo ranks 120th in the nation. They don’t play fast. They take smart good shots. I’ll touch on one bench piece in Joseph Chartouny. He’s a grad transfer from Fordham who gives Marquette a little scoring off the bench. His three point shot has not quite been there, but he can get a bucket and make plays in short spurts. In terms of rebounding, Marquette is about average in offensive rebounding, but defensively they rebound the ball quite well ranking 69th nationally. With how well they shoot the 3 and play offense the offensive rebounding numbers are fine. The thing that is huge is how they are able to hold their own on the defensive glass even with a lack of size. They focus on rebounding more rather than fast break. One concern however is the fact they rank 213th in turnover percentage. This is a little alarming because they play at a slower pace so turnovers in the halfcourt are a little concerning. I think however they are quite capable and have showed they can take care of the ball so hopefully the spotlight of the NCAA tournament will lock them in some more. The only other concern I want to just mention with Marquette is their lack of depth. This isn’t a really deep team as they rank 242nd in bench minutes. The thing though is this doesn’t really concern me because their starting five is so good and their bench guys know their roles.
Now it’s time we take a look at the Marquette defense. The thing with Marquette is people generally just assume this is a bad defensive team. That was the case last year as they struggled extremely hard at stopping one. Last season in terms of defensive efficiency they ranked 182nd where as this season they rank 41st. That is a massive improvement in just a year with basically the same roster. They are about 10 points better roughly on the defensive end and this is the main reason this team is where they are at right now. Scoring was never an issue last season as they ranked 12th in offensive efficiency last season vs 19th this season. Clearly their offense has been just fine, but where this team has become good and an actual threat in March is on the defensive end. This is a team that mostly plays man defense and honestly the biggest improvement I’ve noticed is the sheer effort alone. This just team looks way more engaged and giving more effort on the defensive end. Also, having Anim at 6-5 next to Howard instead of Andrew Rousey like years past is huge. Marquette no longer gets completely exposed on dribble drive because Anim is able to match up with opposing point guards and actually has the physical size to keep guards out of the lane. In years past, Marquette has just been destroyed by opposing point guards because they haven’t had any bigger guards. This small roster change has actually benefited Marquette a lot. They are an above average rebounding team also ranking 69th in defensive rebounding percentage. They also force teams to take longer possessions and neutralize fast break way better than they did last year. I think the biggest thing for this team’s defense is can they continue this effort level and also being strong at continuing to be better at defending dribble drive action.
Finally, I just want to talk about a few things that are not necessarily stats related or show up on the stat sheet at all. The first thing is just how this team fairs in close games. For starters, they are 3-0 in overtime games and also recently held of Villanova in a close one. This team knows how to win close games and a lot of it is simply Markus Howard is just a lights out closer. He’s probably the guy I would want most with the ball in his hands closing a game and Marquette has the luxury of having him. The other thing I want to touch on is what could potentially be a good/bad draw for this team. I think ideally they’d be happy to avoid UVA as the one seed in their region because of how good they are at defending the three. The key for Marquette is for them to be able to matchup with a team and shoot as many threes as they want. I actually would find it extremely interesting if the Golden Eagles ended up as the 3 seed in Duke’s bracket and saw them in the elite 8. It would be an awesome matchup as Marquette could try and shoot Duke out of the tourney. Ultimately this is a team I really and can see making a deep run to the final 4. They have the most exciting player in the country and should be awesome to follow in March.