There was a flurry of (actually informative and reasoned) discussion on Twitter this morning following the collapse at Butler on Monday, that really had me thinking as to what adjustments could be made to upgrade the defense from laughable to somewhat passable.
Marquette doesn’t need the defense to be elite, great or good to make the tournament this year, which is still priority No. 1. The offense is firing at efficiency rates never before seen at Marquette in the KenPom era (since 2002). All that would be needed to complement the electric offense is non-catastrophic defense. Bad would work. Sub 100, not so much. For example, Indiana is sitting at 13th on offense, one spot ahead of Marquette. It’s defense is also far from good, rating 84th, but that’s still 45 spots ahead of where the Marquette is. Indiana is currently an 8 seed in ESPN’s Bracket, MU is in the First Four Out. Like I said, a little improvement on defense will go a long way.
So the question becomes, what needs to be done to make a marginal improvement that will make all the difference?
The answer? Um, heck if I know.
Some zone at times might help disrupt the opponent’s flow, but I doubt it would be a full-time answer. Not only is Wojo loathe to use it, it would aggravate an already festering wound that is giving up offensive rebounds. Switching every screen was tried in parts, with Haanif Cheatham tasked with taking charge of the arc, but that didn’t really help, as Butler just attacked through the wings and the post. One Follower on Twitter suggested fouling every possession, though that may pose some issues with foul trouble.
The difficulty lies with the fact that the personnel just doesn’t cut it. I went on a little tangent on Twitter reminiscing on the 2010 team that had 0 height but all the heart. It was a fantastic perimeter based offense that maximized its potential with decent defending. But this team doesn’t have a Lazar Hayward to body up anyone and everyone. It doesn’t have a Jimmy Butler, who wasn’t yet Jimmy Buckets but whose defense was already swallowing up players of all sizes. The perimeter defense wasn’t great back then, but it wasn’t a turnstile into the paint like we’ve seen at times.
Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey can’t compare with Acker, even though they all share the sub-6-foot designation. Jajuan Johnson is pretty much steal or bust at this point, while Haanif is being given the heaviest assignments and the heaviest minutes. It’s taking a toll on him on the other end. Katin Reinhardt isn’t great, and Sam Hauser is still learning on the job, excelling for a freshman but prone to get beat off the dribble.
And then we have Luke Fischer. Wojo had some harsh words for his senior big man, calling his lackluster defensive performance in the second half a mystery. But it wasn’t a mystery, it was just bad. It was slow. It was soft. And it was lazy. And this time, you won’t have to take my word for it. I brought video proof.
Butler’s Wideman is a very good low post player, shooting 67% on 2PT shots this season, but this one is on Luke. He gets caught off-balance on a poor ball fake, lets Wideman dribble from the arc to the paint, then offers no contest on the spin move.
Kelan Martin is a very physically strong player, but there is no way someone Luke’s size should be getting moved a few feet at a time with a slight forearm to the chest. Luke is afraid to foul, I get that, but he had the position on Martin. If he stands his ground at the 5-second mark (or better yet, falls on the push) Martin gets stopped right away and the defense can get re-set. Instead, Fischer shuffles along with Martin, who then makes a little spin and finishes through Fischer.
I left in the commentary from Len Elmore, so I suggest you listen to the clip with volume, as he hits the nail on the head. Yes, Howard has to do a better job of not getting crossed over. But Luke never even thinks about going over to cover, and is stuck out at the arc for the entire play. Most likely, Luke doesn’t come close to contesting, but the lack of effort displayed is dismaying.
Every one of these clips comes with Marquette still comfortably ahead, even if the lead is dwindling in each. This is the meat of Butler’s run, and the first two clips in particular gave the Bulldogs some quick, easy points to build off. That is not to say that the run should be placed on Fischer’s shoulders, I’m not saying that at all. What I am saying is his defense was nowhere to be found when Marquette needed it most.
So if Fisch wasn’t the answer, could Heldt do any better? Depends.
On one hand, Heldt played one 2-minute stint in the second half and Marquette was a -5 in that time time-span. So it doesn’t look promising that he would have been any better on D, while his offense comes at a steep downgrade to Luke’s. But taking a look at each possession, I happen to think Wojo was hasty with the hook.
The seal comes a tad late, but with good positioning. That’s a shot JJJ finishes more times than not.
Heldt doesn’t get credit for this, but this is a shot Rowsey makes 70% of the time. In fact, 70% of the ball was already in the cylinder. Dems, the breaks.
Nothing Earth-shattering, but a solid front and contest, preventing penetration.
Again, nothing that will make a highlight reel, but two solid, fundamental plays to stop the dribbling penetration and then force a tough shot. This time, don’t listen to Elmore, it was Hauser who couldn’t corral the board, not Heldt.
Here is a made 3 from Tyler Lewis. I’m putting this on Rowsey, though, as he was too deep and thus late to contest.
There was one more transition lay-in in this burst where Heldt didn’t feature before he got pulled for the rest of the game. So even though I wouldn’t call him great on either end, he should have been a net-0 if you’re taking the process into account. For those wondering, Luke finished the half at -15.
But I’m not done with Matt, watch this and then scroll back up to any one of Luke’s clips:
Heldt comes with a great double down low that nearly forces a turnover, and then does a ridiculously good job of getting in position to absorb the contact and contest the shot. He keeps his arms straight and doesn’t foul on the release, and is like a tree trunk, not budging despite the contact, which helps to prevent the whistle from being blown. This is the type of play Fischer just can’t make. That would have been a foul or a bucket. Guaranteed.
One more for good measure:
This is a one game sample, true, but I think I’ve seen enough over the course of the Big East season where I wouldn’t mind seeing Heldt play 15-20 minutes regularly, about 3-7 more than his current average. The offense does take a hit when he’s out there. A big one. He can’t create the lanes like this.
More importantly, he’s a non factor even in the paint, so his defender can roam and contest drives without hesitation. He isn’t a good passer and can’t do anything posting up.
That’s a big trade-off and not a light point to breeze over. You are taking an elite offense and willingly hampering it. But in situations like Monday, where you have a big lead and can afford to have some dry spells, I think Heldt can and should be used more frequently. He swallowed up Angel Delgado and Andrew Chrabascz, two of the best big men in the league. Matt Heldt is legitimately an asset defensively. Wojo should have given him more run against Butler. The small ball lineup was -3 for the game, and -4 in the second half, so not bad, considering, but still not great.
Luke Fischer is a fourth-year senior who has shown exactly what he is, he isn’t changing these last 6 weeks. If Wojo wants the defense to improve, he should give Heldt more run going forward.