Why Blue stands to gain the most by Mayo arrival

In response to Thursday’s news that Buzz Williams had reinstated sophomore guard Todd Mayo, the first reaction for most was how this helps Marquette. True, after a 47-point outing in a loss to Green Bay Wednesday, any new life injected into the offense would spark at least some change.

Clearly the news helps Mayo, as the 21-year-old sophomore looks to finally put (and keep) his collegiate career back on path for good. It makes Williams’ job easier, having one more body to work with in his rotation, and one who has a knack for scoring. It hurts reserve guards Jake Thomas and Jamal Ferguson, who will almost certainly see their minutes reduced.

But is there one player who, indirectly, will likely see a boost in production thanks to No. 4 reentering the lineup? When the numbers are crunched down to the last percentage point, the answer is clear: Vander Blue.


Todd Mayo’s return will open things up on the offensive end for Vander Blue. (Marquette Athletics)

Here’s why.

When Mayo was announced to have been academically ineligible for the first semester, it was the second domino to fall in an offseason that saw depth at shooting guard dwindle. Because just two weeks into the first summer session, junior college guard T.J. Taylor left the program. One of those two players, more likely a platoon, was expected to help fill the void left by Darius Johnson-Odom’s graduation. In return, it would allow Blue to use his versatility at both the two- and three-guard positions.

But all that was washed away in a matter of months, and Williams’ only option was to use Blue as a two-guard in a “bigger” lineup, with forward Trent Lockett at small forward. Some thought Lockett’s transition to a more perimeter-oriented style of play would open up his guard attributes, but it’s clear he’s more an undersized forward that scraps around the basket than a perimeter guard.

And while the simple move of push Blue “up” one spot to the 2-guard did not seem like a major shift, if one at all, it changed his role. For two years he played the 3-guard alongside Dwight Buycks/Junior Cadougan and Johnson-Odom, but suddenly found himself in a 2-guard backcourt for the first time in his career.

Blue has excelled in his junior season, averaging a team-high 12.7 points and has hit nine 3-pointers in 10 games after making 12 in 72 games his first two years.

But Blue’s increased production is at its best when Jake Thomas or Jamal Ferguson — Marquette’s only two true “shooting guards” — enter the game and Blue shifts “down,” creating a three-guard offense for the Golden Eagles.

Blue has played 269 minutes this season, with 70 percent (188 minutes) coming as the shooting guard in a two-guard, three-forward offense. The other 30 percent (81 minutes), Blue is the third guard in a three-guard, two-forward look.

Because per-game averages won’t be useful here, we took Blue’s numbers at both positions and expanded them to per-40 minute averages.

Vander Blue's points per 40 minutes and FG% by position

Vander Blue’s points per 40 minutes and FG% by position

The first graph is simple and shows plenty. When Blue is back in his “old” position, and when Marquette is playing a three-guard offense, his efficiency is up and his scoring receives a major boost. Blue has averaged 6 points more per 40 minutes when playing the three-guard. One theory is that paying alongside Thomas and Ferguson more shots will be available for Blue. And that matches, as Blue is averaging almost four more field goal attempts (17.8 to 14.0) as the third guard.

Vander Blue's assist and turnover numbers by position

Vander Blue’s assist and turnover numbers by position

But that can’t tell the whole story, as seen by Blue’s passing numbers in each role. His assists are almost doubled as the three-guard, and his turnovers are more than doubled when playing in a two-guard set. Davante Gardner popped up frequently in Marquette’s three-guard, offensive-oriented sets, showing that while Blue is shooting more in those situations, he’s not necessarily shooting freely or, for that matter, the No. 1 option.

For the most part, Blue plays the two-guard with Trent Lockett at the “three,” though forward Juan Anderson has also seen time when Williams chooses to play as big a lineup as he can. Lockett’s offensive struggles would suggest Blue is more open to scoring in such lineups, but those numbers don’t always match up.

What’s more likely is that Blue can open up his offensive game with 3-point threats on the perimeter. Thomas has hit just 32 percent of his outside shots, but he’s drawing attention and it’s opening up the court for Blue.

But it’s not just that Blue’s numbers are better when playing in a three-guard lineup; his shot selection is better and he’s getting to the basket at a higher rate.

Vander Blue shot distribution by position

Vander Blue shot distribution by position

Vander Blue shot distribution by position

Vander Blue field goal percentage by position

The graph to the right shows that Blue, when playing in a two-guard lineup, settles for jumpers more often than not. As the third guard in a three-guard lineup, however, Blue’s shots are balanced out and, notably, he attempts more 3-pointers as the offense spreads out.

Furthermore, Blue’s percentages on 3-pointers and jumpers when in a three-guard lineup are better. The outlier here is the lay-up percentage, but the fact that Blue gets to the basket more in the three-guard set (previous graph) justifies the lower percentage. Already an improved scorer, Blue’s numbers and shot selection are better at the “three.”

So what does it all mean? First, the addition of Todd Mayo and, when he’s back to speed, his likely 20-25 minutes per game mean more minutes for Blue in a three-guard lineup. As it stands, Blue is playing just 9 minutes per game as a third guard, which this year means Marquette’s offense is only “small,” like it has been the last four seasons, less than a quarter of the game.

Blue has enjoyed a career-year through 10 games, and this sample size is large enough to show that Marquette and Blue are best-served when they are running three guards and a combination of two forwards or one forward and Chris Otule.

What’s true also is that this breakdown focused solely on offense. There’s another half to the game that, when Lockett is inserted, makes Marquette a longer defensive team and, perhaps, a better one. But Todd Mayo came on very strong as an on-ball defender last year and, while Marquette will be smaller with a Blue-Mayo backcourt, the offensive numbers justify using it more…which Williams is sure to do.

Mayo won’t be the answer to all of Marquette’s early season woes, but he’s the team’s best outside shooter and, from what these numbers show, make the Golden Eagles’ leading scorer a more efficient, higher-volume shooter.

That in itself could be just as important as Mayo himself returning to the lineup.

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