Is it time to get the pitchforks for the MU D?

Wojo solo

Photo by Anthony Giacomino/ Paint Touches

I caught a mild stomach bug Tuesday night and wasn’t able to Tweet much during or after the Purdue game, but I thought there wasn’t much more needed than this:

In going back through the data today, I was sorely mistaken. Not only did Marquette have a poor 7 minute stretch in the 2nd half, they had a poor 18 minute stretch to start (lol) the 2nd half. How poor? Purdue scored on 26 of its 29 possessions in that stretch. Not 26 points, mind you, 26 times for a total of 55 points. You don’t have to be a math wiz to understand that’s bad. But without having the full data, I’d venture a guess to say this was historically bad for Marquette. 

Marquette could only force 3 empty possessions in basically an entire half. I’d say it’s so bad, that it’s not entirely attributable to futility and there is a smidge of bad luck to make these eye-popping numbers possible. A terrible defensive performance, a tremendous offensive output from Purdue, and a itty bit of bad luck to not get a miss or a stop more in that time. 

But enough about that, the big question for MU is whether this was a bad (lol) half or a sign that the defensive issues that haunted last season are back with a vengeance. 

I guess that answers that. 

Cracked Sidewalks is not a fan account prone to hyperbole. If you have followed their work for over a decade now, you know the writers there are all intelligent and analytically focused. And whatever you may think of them, they are rational. Go scroll their feed for a quick peek at where they land on the overarching Marquette D question. 

For now, I think it’s a little early to start hitting the panic button, and not just because the season is 2 games old. A lot of people have been pointing to the egregious 2 pt% Mt. St. Mary’s posted in the opener (69.6%) as a sign that the 2nd half Purdue issues weren’t just noise, but a a blaring distress signal. Being bad against both cupcakes and Tournament teams would definitely be a sign of bad things to come, but I think peeps are cherry picking the poor data. 

Marquette was up by 34 points with about 10 minutes left against The Mount when Wojo pulled Hauser and Howard, leaving a lineup of Anim, Cheatham, Elliott, Cain and John. Prior to those subs, The Mount was shooting 9/16 from 2, a good number but nothing panic inducing. The starters had also held The Mount to 5 of 23 shooting from long distance, something you’ll take each and every day from a defensive standpoint. So when you dig in a little, you see that Marquette let off the pedal completely and put in as inexperienced a lineup at it could put out at one time. Forgive me for not caring how they fare. 

So when it comes to just last night, it truly was a tale of two halves. In the first, Purdue was held to 53% shooting, including 0-5 from distance, for a team that led the Big Ten in shooting last year and returned 4 players hitting at over a 40% clip. More importantly, Marquette forced 8 turnovers and was able to convert that into 9 points. on the other end. Big man Isaac Haas had caused plenty of issues on both ends, but Marquette was able to get him in some foul trouble and feasted when he was out. All in all, this was a perfectly acceptable, dare I say positive defensive performance. 

So what changed in the second half? For starters, Haas came out attacking Heldt effectively, with Purdue scoring on its first 5 possessions of the half. Crucially, Marquette gave up 2 offensive rebounds in those first 5 trips, allowing Purdue to score, keep the momentum, extend possessions and further wear down a short-benched Marquette team. That will come in to play later, too. 

Around the U12 timeout, Wojo and the staff changed up the straight man to man defense in the post and began doubling the bigs inside. I can’t blame them, as Marquette was getting worked and also getting into foul trouble, but the results weren’t great. The defensive rotations were ok, not great but not awful, but Purdue was able to carve Marquette up anyways finding both open cutters and open shooters.

So now Purdue wasn’t just beating Marquette up with punches to the body, but the 3-pointers also started falling. All 4 of Purdue’s 3s came in a 5 minute stretch from the 13 minute mark, to the 8 minute mark. From there Purdue lived at the free throw line, Howard fouled out, and Marquette wasn’t able to even close in on a late comeback. 

But the reason I’m not as fatalistic about the defense as others is that the issues weren’t the same ones we saw last year. Marquette held Purdue to 4 points in 7 possessions on the pick and roll. Dribble penetration wasn’t Purdue’s primary line of attack, but Marquette did a good job to limit that in the instances where they did attempt it. Purdue pounded the paint with posts and passes, and Marquette didn’t have an answer. 

Now, that’s not to say it’s a good thing. But simply put, the issues that plagued Marquette defensively last year haven’t proven to be the Achilles heel this year. Yet. Two games leads to massive overreaction both positive and negative. I’m not going to Hot Take you and tell you Marquette’s D is actually good, but it’s not correct to to assume it has not improved from last season.     

I’ve liked what I’ve seen in 50 of the 70 competitive minutes played. That does lead to a different, though related concern, depth. Cain and Elliott aren’t quite ready to produce on either end yet, and John has been too foul prone to make an impact. That means Marquette has been running with about 6 players. No matter how good those 6 players are, that’s going to lead to fatigue, and the first place that will show up is on the defensive end. 

This will be relevant at least until Froling is eligible in late December and/or when Elliott and Cain can contribute. So for the near term, I do expect to see stints defensively where Marquette looks like it’s defending in quicksand. That’s not to excuse bad defense, just a reality. It will be up to Wojo to find a substitution pattern to give his guys a breather and limit those inept stretches. 

Depth is also an issue when it comes to fouls. Heldt and John both had 4 fouls with over 10 minutes left. That will force Hauser to the 5, and while he wasn’t bad there, it takes a toll on him and on his offensive production. Markus has also shown to be foul prone thus far in his career. If Marquette has to bench those 3 out of necessity fairly often, this team will be bad on both ends of the court. 

In sum while I think the panic shown today is a bit much relative to the performance on the court, the depth and foul issues will be present in most games early on in this season and will exacerbate any existing defensive issues. 

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One Comment on “Is it time to get the pitchforks for the MU D?”

  1. BuckyBadger
    November 16, 2017 at 11:14 am #

    If this team under performs again it is time for Wojo to go. He can recruit fairly well but he can’t coach the talent. I miss the days of Marquette running the floor and playing a tough style of basketball. This shooting 3s and playing no D isn’t for me.

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