Marquette is 2-0 and has looked damn good in doing so, using strong second halves to bowl over Vanderbilt and Howard. The defense has been ferocious at creating turnovers, and the offense clinical in converting those turnovers to points.
Most impressively, Marquette has used the three-point arc with gusto and efficiency, hitting 42.3% of 52 long-range shots. It really has been a blast to watch this team in the small samples we have been given.
Is it too soon to dive headfirst on to the much roomier bandwagon?
Heck no, there’s no better time than the present.
Let’s start with the caveats. We know Howard is a low major opponent with a KenPom rank in the 280s, so a 32 point victory isn’t some celebratory result. As for Vandy, they have a new coach and lost two players to the NBA draft. They could be anywhere from bubble to awful, and we won’t really know for while. So maybe pasting the Commodores on a neutral court won’t end up being the eye-popping result that it looks like at this point in time.
And even though Marquette has run away with the games in the second half each time, the first halves of both games left a lot to be desired. It trailed Vandy by 1 at the half, shooting poorly from distance and allowing Vanderbilt some decent looks. The Golden Eagles played a sloppy, disjointed first half against Howard, and were rather fortunate to be up by 11. A few shots rim out to start the second half of either game, and we could be talking about a much different feeling.
But we’re not. Marquette’s shots went in. Again. Again. And again. A 12-2 run against Howard and a 15-4 run against Vandy in the first 5 minutes of the second half took relatively close games and put them in the comfort range. That Marquette kept the pressure on and made them in to laughers isn’t accidental, either. The back-court depth and waves of shooting Wojo has at his disposal means the drop-off from starters to bench isn’t severe. Depending on who’s hot, it may even be an upgrade.
But let’s slow down a bit. It doesn’t make sense to look at two individual, unrelated results and try to squeeze every last drop of significance out of them. Teams have great and awful two game stretches all the time. That these turned out to be comfortable Ws isn’t enough to invigorate a fanbase. The underlying themes leading to these results, though, may be just what the doctor ordered.
Here are the 3 reasons I think it’s safe to jump on-board:
Shooters, shooters everywhere
Seth Davis broke down the Vanderbilt game and came to the conclusion that Marquette had the makings of an NCAA team. However, he warned of possibly getting 3-happy, settling for jumpers and not attacking the rim. I couldn’t disagree more.
While it is definitely true Marquette has taken a high number of 3s relative to the past few years, the vast majority have been “good” shots. “Good” not just because of the location or the ball movement preceding it (which is the case) but because the people taking the shots have historically been proficient at the skill. Of the 8 players who have taken at least 4 treys, only Duane Wilson and Andrew Rowsey have connected on 2 or less. They are a combined 1-10 on the season, a number that is dreadfully lower than their career averages. While I wouldn’t say chuck at will, they are good to very good shooters and the averages will come around in the long run.
As for the rest of the crew, you can’t pinpoint who exactly will have the hot hand on a given night, but the abundance of capable hands mean Wojo can mix and match until he finds the right combo. Freshman Markus Howard looked lost against Vandy, and like a saavy veteran against Howard, nailing 3-4 treys. With the amount of depth behind him, there isn’t this intense pressure to be perfect on a nightly basis.
And can we talk about Sam Hauser. A top-100 freshman coming in, I thought he’d play some spot minutes and contribute irregularly. Yet there’s this tall white kid, making it rain effortlessly en route to seven 3s in 11 attempts. He’s been so good from distance, every shot feels like it’s going in. I haven’t had that feeling from a Marquette player since at least DJO’s rookie campaign.
In Sam, Markus, Andrew, Katin, Jajuan and Haanif, you have an abundance of shooting riches, something rarely seen for the Blue and Gold this decade.
One of the biggest deficiencies in last year’s squad was the number of possessions given away by turnovers, specifically unforced live-ball turnovers. Those hurt more because you aren’t just giving up an opportunity to score, you are giving the opposition a chance for a quick, easy bucket on the other end.
Through a very small sample size, this problem has been more of a nuisance than a full blown issue. Marquette has committed 12 turnovers in both games, a rate of 16.1% which is a top-90 mark nationally at this early juncture. Through 2 games last year, Marquette had 31 turnovers and would finish the season with a TO rate of 30%, the 292nd worst mark in the country.
Giveaways are a two-way street though, and while Marquette has been frugal at giving it up, it has no qualms about picking your pocket and giving you a wedgie for good measure. The Golden Eagles have created 31 turnovers through 2 games, with 21 of those coming on steals, good for 14% of all possessions. That’s really, really good.
So is this:
Obviously, this takes more than turnovers into account, but the quick defense to offense transitions have been a revelation. The gap will close when Marquette faces better ball handlers and stealthier defenses, but the game plan for overcoming rebounding deficiencies is clear. Take chances, push the pace, get to the hole. The idea will be to get opponents to not crash the boards as aggressively in order to keep Marquette from running out. Rebounding will still be an issue all season, but the active defense will contain some of that damage.
This is crucial. My idol John Gasaway explains in detail just how important experience is at the college level. Even the Kentucky’s of the world with 5 stars mopping floors have had trouble without the requisite experience to go along with the otherworldly talent.
Last year, three of Marquette’s four main ball handlers were freshmen. Traci, Haanif and Henry may have been great statistically, but it was too much responsibility too soon to expect advanced results. Hence the turnover issue as outlined above. But that’s not the case this year, not by a large margin. The four MU players with at least 60% of minutes played this season are a 5th year senior, a senior, a senior and a sophomore. They have five combined turnovers this year.
It’s so much more than turnovers though. Experience is confidence in your ability, intelligence in your rotations, and leadership in adversity. It isn’t a guarantee for success on its own, but when combined with the talent of Hauser and Howard, makes for much steadier results.
The 2016 team had the talent to erase a 16-point deficit on the road at top ranked Villanova, but the fragility to lose to freaking DePaul at home at the buzzer. This is not that team. The ceiling remains just as high, but the floor nowhere near as low.
Despite the plaudits and the lopsided point differential, 176-120, Marquette fans are wary of going all-in after 3 straight years of frustrating results. I get it. I was the first one to burn down the ship after the Iowa debacle. This is not that team. The results may or may not follow suit in New York the next few days, but the foundation is there.
Marquette has what it takes to be good all season, not just now. Hop on and enjoy the ride.