Marquette is playing better than it has all season


(Photo by Ryan Messier/Paint Touches)

I’ve been sprinkling some disparate thoughts on Twitter, and felt it made more sense to round them up into one coherent post. 

Basically, it started with a hypothesis that I think is widely shared and agreed upon MU faithful that changing the starting lineup after the Georgetown debacle jumpstarted this team back into national relevancy and the NCAA Tournament. To test that, I wanted to see the G-scores, as calculated By Bart Torvik, not just the final result. Winning doesn’t mean you played well, losing doesn’t mean you played poorly. 

G-Score is probably the best measure I’ve ever come across to measure and easily convey how well a team played, result be damned. The first link has the long post explaining the parameters, but basically, it measures how efficiently a team played both in terms of its own season and in relation to all of Division I, from 0 being the worst to 100 being a perfect game.

Using a 5-game moving average of G-Score, which will smooth out some of the small-sample kinks from 1 individual game, Marquette is currently playing it’s best 5-game stretch of the season, with an average G-Score of 93.4. That alone confirms the belief that Marquette is playing well, but comparing that to the average after the Georgetown shows you just how dramatic a shift it is. After the meltdown in DC, the 5-game average was 62.8. That’s not just drastic improvement, that’s a different team all together. 

And in case you want to follow the hip train of thought from national pundits, no that is not just due to playing weak opposition. Using any ranking (RPI, KenPom, TRank), the last 5 games were more difficult than the previous 5. So not only is Marquette playing much better, it is doing it against better teams.  

Here’s a chart listing the best and worst stretches of the season, as measured by a 5-game moving average of G-Score. 

  Top 5     Bottom 5
Mar. 4 93.4   Feb. 11 62.8
Jan. 24 91.6   Feb. 18 67
Jan. 28 90.6   Nov. 26 75.4
Jan. 24 90.2   Feb. 7 76.6
Jan. 14 88.6   Nov. 30 76.8

It’s good to see the stats match the eye test, but that just led me to another question. Why? I’ve been a pretty big advocate of Heldt as a defensive aid, and also mused that Rowsey and Howard had to play together, so the easy theory was that changing the starting lineup to include all 3 was the main reason.

On Feb. 16, Marquette’s AdjD was at 104.3 on KenPom, ranked 168th. Today, the AdjD is at 102.3, good for 131st. So it has improved, though it can still be labeled as poor overall.  (And don’t get me started on the pick & roll defense.)

So what about playing the two gunners from the get go? It’s a bit more difficult to prove this, and I still have yet to find a site noting NCAA +/- stats, so I took out the old calculator and decided to track Marquette’s +/- when those two were on the court. I was shocked by what I found.

In the last 5 games, Howard and Rowsey have played together 76:31, in which time Marquette is outscoring opponents by 25. However, if you take away the first Xavier game, MU is being outscored by 1 with those two sharing the court.

Breaking it down a bit further, I found an even more intriguing stat.

Marquette is jumping out to quick (and large) leads right out of the gate with these two in the starting lineup. Whether it’s a direct correlation, I can’t prove one way or the other, but it definitely hasn’t hurt. In my opinion, as amazing a shooting team as this team is, seeing a few shots go in early works wonders on both ends of the court. And there is no better way to ensure some splashes than spreading the court with Rowsey and Howard.

This may be a bit of chicken/egg, but…

It seems like the team has found an identity. It isn’t so much who starts, but how the minutes are distributed, seniority be damned. You play hard, you get the ball to shooters, you don’t hesitate. Steve Wojciechowski and the staff deserve a lot of credit for making these adjustments and getting all parties to buy in. 

Winning is obviously a big component, but the eye does not lie. Marquette is playing better than it has all season. 

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