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Marquette thriving in transition

Photo by Ryan Messier/ Paint Touches

Photo by Ryan Messier/ Paint Touches

It’s been a week since Marquette took down the Badgers and erased Bo Ryan’s empire from existence, but there’s one stat that still has me befuddled. How in the world did Marquette outscore Wisconsin 17-2 in transition?

The Badgers aren’t the Final Four team from last year, of course, but the past 14 years have proven that they value possessions above all, limiting turnovers at all costs. In that game, the Badgers only coughed it up seven times, so it wasn’t like Marquette was gifted those points on a platter. On the other side of the ball, UW doesn’t tend to run out much, but holding any team to a single transition score is quite a feat.

That stat me put me in such a bind that I had to take a deeper look at the game, and the season as a whole. 

To date, the 2015-’16 version of Marquette is the most run-heavy MU team since DJO and Jae were making defenses pay. Here are the full stats, courtesy of Hoop-Math.com.

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The first thing to notice, is that the 2012 team really, really liked to push the ball. The distance from first to second is greater than from second to fifth. However, seeing the big jump from last year to this year is good to see. The team this year is getting to the rim just under 70% of the time in transition and almost completely avoiding settling for 2-pt jumpers in transition, one of the worst shots imaginable. 

While the 3-point percentage isn’t great (33%) in transition, it’s only a point under Marquette’s full percentage. Cutting these shots down a tad, and transferring them in to drives, or even pulling back, would be positive, but in general, there isn’t much to complain about.

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Transition Points

The interesting bit, which isn’t shown in the stats above, is that the run-happy transition game is relatively new. Through the LSU game, Marquette had been outscored on fast break points in each game for a cumulative 57-40 result. I couldn’t find the ASU stats online, but beginning with Jackson State, the tide has turned and MU has a positive variance, outscoring opponents 109-41 in transition. Obviously the abundance of cupcakes helped inflate this total, but the 17-2 disparity with the Badgers shows it’s not simply due to playing the worst teams in Division I.    

(One asterisk I will throw in to the stats above and below, the official scorer made 4 clear errors in the Grambling game, attributing four scoring possessions as fast break points, when by any definition, they should not have been. I won’t take them out, as the deed was done, just know the data is inflated by at least 10 points.)

I immediately attributed the increase transition attempts to Henry Ellenson maturing and Traci Carter being inserted as a starter. Henry has made a few highlights already going coast to coast off of rebounds, while Carter has really pushed the tempo in general, proving to be a gifted driver, always willing to pass to the open man. Digging in to these stats a bit further, it’s not that simple. 

You can check out the full results below, in this ugly, funky table:

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Henry does indeed lead the team with 8 of his rebounds leading to transition buckets, but he hasn’t contributed through steals, either swiping the ball or finishing the break. Traci has scored all of his transition buckets in the last three games, and set up 10 transition buckets all year, but overall, there has been plenty of blame to go around.

Jajuan Johnson has shown more consistent flashes of productivity this year than any other, particularly on the break, where he has a great ability to finish at the rim. He leads the team with 12 scoring possessions, translating to 26 points.

Duane Wilson has been a thief, with 7 of his steals leading directly to points. Haanif Cheatham has also proven to be valuable in transition,  scoring on 9 fast break possession. 

Heck, even Luke Fischer has gotten in on the act. He only trails Johnson in converting rebounds into fast break points, scoring 7 times this year. (He’s also scored four times in transition off a made bucket, though three of those were incorrectly assigned as fast break points.)

Of course, there are always trade offs.  You tend to see teams that like to run get beat on the offensive glass more often, as the wings leak out early and leave holes on the floor. This has indeed been the case the last few weeks. While Marquette has scored almost half of its transition points in the last three games, it has given up offensive rebounds to opponents 32.3% of the time.

Thanks to Anonymous Eagle for charting the information below:

That number is high, but not absurdly so, and the results on the other end have more than made up for it the last few weeks.  

There will be two more cupcakes where Marquette should pad its transition stats. We’ll come back to this some time in January, once we have a few data points from conference games, to see what adjustments were or were not made.

For now, just sit back enjoy scenes like this. 

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Categories: Analysis

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