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Flashes of defense highlight Wichita State loss

2017 Marquette Madness

Photo by Ryan Messier/ Paint Touches

Having played without Sam Hauser most of the half and without Markus Howard for the final 6 minutes, there was a lot of optimism on Twitter at halftime of Marquette’s showdown with Wichita State. More than just that, the defense seemed to be putting together it’s best performance of the season against the KenPom’s 4th best offense. 

That was fun while it lasted. 

Wichita State finished shooting over 65% from inside the arc, with an eFG% of 59.6%. Those would constitute a season worst game for most defenses, but for Marquette, these were about middle of the road. 

In case numbers aren’t your thing, take a look at the shot chart from the game:

Laughing is the only response available. The Shockers had so many dunks and layups, Synergy almost ran out of room. I’ll repeat what I said in the original Tweet, with the first half foul trouble, the abysmal shooting and overall lack of D, I don’t really understand how Marquette was able to keep it a single digit deficit for the majority of the game.  In fact, T-Rank had Marquette’s average +/- at -5.1, meaning that in all actuality, the majority of the game was a 2-possession deficit. I don’t get it.

So I went back through the game and came across a stretch spanning  around 5 minutes where Marquette put together 9 consecutive stops and held one of the best offenses in the country to 1 point, all without 2 starters on the floor. (Remember when Marquette only put together 3 stops in 18 minutes of the 2nd half against Purdue). I wanted to see who was to blame/credit for the last part of the first half and see what could be taken from this game and applied going forward.

Here is the shot chart for those final 8 minutes. 
Last 8.JPG

In total, Wichita State scored 10 points in the final 8 minutes of the first half, but 9 of those 10 points came in the final 3 minutes. Those middle minutes saw a few open misses from Wichita, but mostly, it was legitimately good defense that stymied the Shockers.

The single person most responsible for this is Matt Heldt. He gets glossed over often on both sides of the floor, but he is Marquette’s rock defensively. His positioning and good, foul-free contests forced Wichita into 3 misses on short 2s, which you can see in the shot chart above. But even on plays where he didn’t make the final impact, his IQ and positioning make a world of difference.

Take a look at this play, a perfectly designed cut that leads to an easy layup.

John is so focused on sticking to his man, he doesn’t notice the cutter flying past and doesn’t even see the ball flying past his head. He’s a freshman in his 4th collegiate game. This is expected. Now watch Heldt on the same exact play.

He sees the play unfolding in advance, and instead of sticking to his man, patrols the paint with his arms out wide to prevent an entry feed. This will never get on a highlight reel, and I would never have noticed this in real time, but these kinds of plays are huge difference makers. As much power and potential as John has, he doesn’t have the experience or foresight to see the play and prevent the entry. 

But there was another important contributor in that play, and another one of the big reasons Marquette was able to string together so many consecutive stops, and that’s Jamal Cain. He was Marquette’s most highly regarded recruit but had seen the fewest minutes, even getting a DNP against Purdue. But go back and watch that clip again and see why he can mean so much to Marquette right now. 

He falls asleep a bit and lets his man free on a baseline cut. If that’s any other player on Marquette defending, that’s an easy layup and possibly an And-1. Yet, even though he’s late and takes a bad rout to catch up, his mere presence with his tentacle arms is enough to deter the shot from taking place. Again, no one on Marquette has his length and speed, he changes the game defensively just by being on the floor.

One of the big problems is that he’d have to take someone’s spot to see more minutes. The only reason Cain saw such continuous run at all was because Hauser was in foul trouble and was glued to the bench. Cain only played 2 minutes in the second half after playing 10 in the first. He’s too small for the 5, not playing over Hauser at the 4, nowhere near the ball handler or shooter to play the 1 or 2, so he’s stuck fighting for minutes at the 3 with Cheatham, Anim, and Elliott.

For now.

Look at this perimeter D on Landry Shamet, one of the best guards in the country and a future NBA draft pick and tell me you wouldn’t like to see a bit more of him on the perimeter.

Again, even without great positioning or anticipation, he’s able to hound Shamet into a turnover on the merits of his length alone, and that leads him to an easy deuce. I understand why Wojo and Co. don’t throw him into the fire on the perimeter, as he gets lost on screens and doesn’t quite read the game as well as others do at this moment, but the physical tools alone make him a fantastic change of pace defender. 

I’d also like to see Anim get some more run. He isn’t the athlete Cain is, but knows how to read the game, contests well without fouling and is able to anticipate passes to get a hand on them. His big steal yesterday turned sour when his layup was blocked twice, but at this point in time, I’d put him as a better defender than Cheatham. He too only logged minimal minutes (4) in the second half.

Why? The main issue as to why Marquette didn’t utilize Anim and Cain more to try and stem the Shocker surges is that it completely breaks down the offense. These two are getting left wide open on every single drive, making it tough for any of the scorers to finish at the rim. I’m not just saying open as in with good looks. 

Clean look.JPG

I mean no one within 15 feet open.

Clean look2.JPG

With no real shooters to threaten defenses, Rowsey and Howard will get hounded everywhere they go, inside or out. That’s why you need them (and Hauser) on the floor at the same time. This sacrifices all length and the defenses is demonstrably worse, a true catch 22.

And one more thing, Marquette’s struggles have come at the hands of two elite teams that are making them pay for every defensive lapse. I normally snooze through cupcakes, but these games are going to be vital for the development of Cain and Elliott and even Anim to gain comfort and confidence. I would like to see some lineups with just Howard/Rowsey and Hauser with Anim/Elliott at the 2, Cain at the 3 and Heldt at the 5. From there you can mix and match players depending on who’s hot, but the important part is to try to get a second lineup that Wojo trusts and is able to play some defense without basically sacrificing all the off the offense.

Marquette will win some games on shooting alone, but will lose more than a fair share that way as well. Run the rooks some offense, get their feet wet, and hope to reap the rewards in February and March.  

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