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Two statistics carry Marquette in conference play

Depending on who you talk to, Marquette has surprised many with a 10-3 conference that pits them in second place in the Big East with five games to go.

Superb offensive efforts from Darius Johnson and Davante Gardner, a defensive clinic by Jae Crowder and the emergence of Junior Cadougan, Vander Blue and Jamil Wilson have all contributed to the Golden Eagles’ success. But there are two key statistics that have pushed Marquette to the top of the Big East and in position for a potential No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Here they are:

Two-point field goal percentage: 49.5 percent (2nd in Big East play)

For a team playing with one player taller than 6-foot-6, Marquette has been excellent from inside the arc. Outside of Syracuse, which boasts six players taller than 6-foot-7 in its rotation, no Big East team has been better from two than the Golden Eagles. Davante Gardner, shooting 58 percent from two in Big East play, certainly has been a major reason for Marquette’s success, but the numbers go deeper than that.

In four games since Gardner went down with a knee injury, Marquette has shot 52.8 percent from inside the arc. That number would tie them with Syracuse for the best mark in conference play. The defenses Marquette has faced are ranked fifth (Seton Hall), 6th (Notre Dame), 11th (Cincinnati) and 16th (DePaul) in field goal percentage defense.

One major reason has been Marquette’s ability to play faster in Gardner’s absence. Applying full court traps and pushing the ball on opponent’s missed baskets, Marquette’s “sequence” offense has thrived with its current roster. Leading the way is Cadougan, whose assist numbers have been off the charts. To have a player with his court vision and knack to push the ball up the court whenever possible has made Marquette’s transition work to a T, and the numbers prove that.

At the same time, however, Marquette has also been efficient in half court sets.

Vander Blue's speed has been crucial for Marquette's efficient transition offense. (Marquette Tribune Photo)

In Gardner’s absence, Marquette’s two-pointers have come from two main sources. Crowder is shooting 57.7 percent from two, putting himself in open areas on the court to receive passes and being one of the strongest finishers in the conference in traffic.

Since Gardner went down, Crowder’s three-point numbers expectantly have diminished (2-of-13), but consider that Crowder has made an astonishing 72.4 percent of his two-point shots in that span (four games). Marquette desperately needed some sort of interior presence to keep the offense balanced when Gardner went down, and Crowder has provided it.

In a season that has seen key players step up when called upon, Blue has done just that. His outside shot won’t be used in any coaching videos in the near future, but that isn’t where Blue has helped. He is shooting 50.8 percent from two this Big East season and, like Crowder, has seen that number increase since Gardner’s injury.

In the past four games, Blue is shooting 57.5 percent from two. Marquette’s fastest player has been the beneficiary of the increased pace and he has responded with excellent numbers. Blue is also being smarter with the basketball, taking shots that come to him instead of making up his mind to shoot before he even starts dribbling and attacking. His turnover numbers the past four games (1.8) are fewer than his 2.1 season average.

Lastly, this aggressive style and commitment to paint touches has helped Marquette get to the free throw line. Only Villanova has gone to the free throw line more times than Marquette, and the Golden Eagles have succeeded there shooting 74 percent. In four games without Gardner, Marquette has gone to the line almost as much with him but has made 82.1 of its attempts.

Logic assumed that, with Gardner on the bench, Marquette would be forced to rely on the 3-pointer more, but the second-place Golden Eagles are shooting 28.1 percent (16-of-57) from behind the arc in the past four games. Instead, they have stayed with the game plan, initiated transition offense and worked hard in the paint.

Assists per field goals: 67.4 percent (1st in Big East play)

Buzz Williams’ ability to transform the Marquette roster into 12 athletes has been remarkable, and maybe nowhere is it seen best than with this statistic. Including non-conference games, only one team in the country (Denver, 67.2 percent) has averaged more assists per field goal than Marquette (65.6 percent).

Just as impressive is that the Golden Eagles have raised this mark in conference play, something only one other top-10 team in this category (UC Irvine) can say. For Marquette to have kept up this statistic that Williams constantly references is impressive, to say the least.

Leading the way has been Cadougan, whose 33.0 assist rate is fifth in the Big East. His 5.6 assists per game is fourth best and his assist-to-turnover ratio (2.2) is third among Big East point guards. His aforementioned ability to push the ball with ease has led to big numbers in all three categories, but his recent aggressiveness driving to the lane has drawn defenders away and allowed him to find Marquette “bigs” in the paint, who we have seen do a great job finishing.

Not to be forgotten is Blue, whose 22.5 percent assist rate is fifth among non-point guards in the Big East. His assist numbers have dipped as his scoring has increased the past four games, but Blue’s ability to drive and find open shooters has improved drastically since last year, when his assist rate was just 15.1 percent. As the point guard-by-default in the Blue-DJO-Mayo back court, Blue’s numbers are impressive.

There are few Big East point guards better in transition than Junior Cadougan. (Marquette Tribune Photo)

Of the top 10 scorers in the Big East, Johnson-Odom (second in scoring) ranks third in assist percentage (18.5 percent). The two players ahead of him, Villanova’s Maalik Wayns and Providnec’s Vincent Council, are both point guards. You have to go all the way down to Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant, 24th in scoring, to find a non-point guard with a better assist rate than Johnson-Odom.

These three guards have led the way to make Marquette one of the best passing teams in the nation. Again, superb transition offense has inflated some of these stats, as neither Blue or Johnson-Odom could be considered point guards, but those numbers count just the same.

In four games without Gardner, Marquette’s assist rate is “down” to 64.3, but that mark would still put them as the eighth best team in the country in that category. Making that number even more impressive is that three of those games (Notre Dame, DePaul, Cincinnati) could be considered relative blowouts where isolations and unassisted baskets are more likely to occur down the stretch.

What it means

There are plenty of reasons why Marquette has 21 wins in 26 attempts and defense, which was not mentioned, is one of them. But this conference season has featured a Golden Eagle team averaging 74.8 points and 17.7 assists, both of which are the best marks in the Big East.

In this author’s opinion, the two stats above have been the main reason’s for Marquette’s success. Getting back Gardner will only help both numbers, further improving the Golden Eagles’ already efficient offense, and carry the Golden Eagles into Madison Square Garden in three weeks as one of the hottest teams in the conference, if not the country.

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2 Comments on “Two statistics carry Marquette in conference play”

  1. GoldenZebra12
    February 14, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    Another fantastic article Mark, keep up the good work buddy.

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