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Can Rowsey and Howard play together?

Howard Rowsey horizontal

(Photo by Anthony Giacomino/Paint Touches)

In trying to analyze last season’s Marquette team, I keep hitting this major block and having to start over. The Marquette team that beat Villanova and that season-long stats portray is not the same team that played down the stretch and into the NCAA Tournament. Sure, they wore the same uniforms and had the same coach, but the personnel was significantly different.

So much so that it’s tough to make any accurate projections going forward. For example, in the final 7 games of the season, Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey, MU’s most potent and productive offensive forces, were inserted into the starting lineup and shared the court for just under 120 minutes. In the previous 25 games, they had only seen 62 minutes together, and only 3 games saw them log at least 5 concurrent minutes.

If you just look at the first 13 Big East games, they shared the court for a little over 23 minutes. They then logged 21 minutes together in the 14th game against Xavier at home, a rout from start to finish.

Again, that is not simply switching things up, it completely alters the dynamics of the team as both Howard and Rowsey were accustomed to playing lead guard, subbing in for each other about 75% of the time. This was not a late season tweak. It was a dump the bag and pray it works.

And it did. Marquette won 4 of its last 5 and made the field of 68 with some room to spare. But my interest in last year isn’t in re-living a fun few weeks, but rather trying to extrapolate what that small sample may tell us about this year. And it’s not just those two. Sam Hauser and Matt Heldt each saw significant increases in their own playing time as well near the end of the season. Seeing as both are slated to play significant roles this season, it would make that sliver of a season that much more interesting.

To start off, I limited the analysis to the conference season and the postseason, as the roster was too fluid during the non-con portion to accurately assess and the weaker competition can skew the stats a bit. By the time the Big East season started, the quality of opponents was fairly stable and the roster pretty much set.

Here are the changes in the minute distribution for the returning starters with the “post” signifying the stats from the games after the lineup was altered completely:

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All four saw increases in playing time in the last 7 games, but Heldt and Rowsey’s changes are particularly notable. Projecting the minute distribution for this season, I think we’ll see Rowsey remain at about 75% of minutes with Howard joining him at that mark as well. There simply isn’t another PG on the team outside of those two, so one of them will be on the floor at all times (as was the case for most of last season). Hauser will see another uptick, as his versatility and rebounding prowess, not to mention tremendous shooting ability, makes him almost irreplaceable. Getting over 80% of minutes would probably be a safe bet. Heldt may also see a small uptick from the 52% he posted, but foul trouble is always a concern. He averaged 6.3 fouls per 40, so unless that comes down a lot, and with Theo John and ultimately Harry Froling waiting in the wings, I don’t see Heldt taking a big leap in minutes.

Still, we have established what a baseline for minutes might be. That 5th starter was intended to be Haanif Cheatham, but his injury and the improved play from Sacar Anim may change it up a bit. Nevertheless, this quad played the bulk of the minutes at the end of last season and will continue to do so this season.

How well did they play together? That is the real question.

Capture.JPG

The chart above show their before and after splits, with green signifying an increase and red a decrease. The biggest takeaway I had was that those are some tremendously positive ORatings. Yes, Rowsey’s did fall significantly, but that tends to happen with a 70% increase in minutes, not to mention an Ortg of 140 would be 13 points better than the national leader for a full season (using at least 24% of possessions). In fact, the Ortg of 116.9 would still be in the top 30 of the country (at that usage) for a full season.

In that vein, I can’t emphasize too much just how incredibly efficient Howard was last season, taking it up another notch in the final stretch. While maintaining a very high usage of 27.9, he boosted his assist rate, lowered his turnover rate and shot over 60% from 3, taking almost 6 treys a game. Having another ball handler to take some of the burden off and free him to spot up more often.

I want to key in on this a little more because it may have gotten lost in the shuffle of Howard’s season, but while he was great creating shots off the dribble, he was other worldly as a spot up shooter.  According to Synergy, he was 15th best in this department, but his 122 points on 71 possessions was significantly more than his spot-up peers above or below. (Only 1 other player in the top 20 had 70 possessions.) While he probably won’t be in that stratosphere again this season, getting him even more spot-up opportunities is imperative. 18 of those 71 attempts (25.3%) came in the final 7 games, so he did see a slight uptick down the stretch. With defenses sure to gameplan around him and pressure him much more on the ball, running him off screens and into spot up opportunities will be a way to increase his usage as efficiently as possible.

And while Rowsey and Howard will end up with more possessions, the early indications from the exhibitions, scrimmage, and practice all point to Hauser as the bedrock of Marquette once more. He put up great numbers on a very low usage in his freshman campaign and with ball dominant players like Jajuan Johnson and Katin Reinhadt gone, he will have ample opportunities to take the next step. He did shoot 47% from 3 in the new-look starting lineup, but his work inside of the arc maybe even more important early on as teams crowd the backcourt.  

On this note, Howard and Rowsey weren’t big distributors to each other last season, with each totaling 8 assists to the other. Of course, that has a lot to do with the limited of time they played together as 14 of those 16 assists came in the final 7 games. Still, only 3 of those helpers came off drive and kicks.  For the most part last season, when either drove to the basket, the result was rarely a long-distance attempt by the other. While all assists count the same, drive and kicks tend to create the most space. With defenses locked in on both Howard and Rowsey beyond the arc, space will be at a premium.

As you can see, we’re over 1,000 words into this post and have yet to mention 50% of the possessions, and frankly, it will stay that way. Marquette’s defense was really bad last season by almost any measure. With two small, offense first guards projected to play over 75% of minutes, it will probably stay that way in 2018. Now, any type of marginal improvement will be most welcome, but the evidence we have doesn’t really correlate into improvements. 

And that is why having an offense firing at all cylinders will be crucial. If you can’t stop ’em, outscore ’em. Here is the shot chart for the final 7 games from last season for the 4 amigos. As you can see, the perimeter shooting was other worldly. 

4amigos.JPG

Having those 3 elite shooters, combined with a big that doesn’t turn it over and a longer guard that can slash and finish at the rim proved it could work in a small, though crucial sample. As teams prepare for this new-look Marquette, spacing and execution will be even more important. 

Howard, Hauser and Rowsey have to be great at once for this team to make its way into the NCAA Tournament. They have been in small spurts. They can be in 2018.   

 

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