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Marquette’s transition offense plummets

Joey Hauser

(Photo by Ryan Messier/Paint Touches)

Through 7 games this season, Marquette has already surpassed the number of games where it held opponent’s eFG% to below 45% compared to last year. It managed to do so four times in the 2017-’18 season, yet has already logged five games under that 45% marker this year.

This is an incredibly telling stat because every preseason preview on the planet noted Marquette would require a defensive jump to be able to make the leap to the top half of the Big East. Although the sample is small and the opponents pretty soft, the results to date can already highlight an enormous improvement year over year.

But while most just assumed the offense would be great to elite, continuing the results from the past 2 years, it has been this side of the court that has become worrisome going forward. Marquette ranks 131st in eFG% (52.3%) and 248th in TO% (20.8). But even with the small sample caveats, the numbers don’t do justice to how awkward and clunky they have looked for long periods of time, highlighted by going nearly 9 minutes without a point to open the 2nd half against Kansas, allowing a 22-0 run in the process.

The loss of Greg Elliott prior to the season and adjustment period Joseph Chartouny has gone through, adapting to a new team and a higher caliber of play, have hampered Marquette’s ability to put Markus Howard off the ball for long stretches of time, forcing him to be both scorer and creator. The results haven’t been bad, but he just isn’t a natural point guard. Worst of all, it is forcing Howard to have to create for himself way too often.

But without getting too deep into that area, I think a simpler answer for the difficulties MU has offensively boils down to not having very good dribblers. Outside of the 2 point guards, Joey Hauser is the only player on the team that has had any success getting to the basket off the dribble. And as freshmen are wont to do, he turns it over too frequently on his attempts.

Sam is much more comfortable either pulling up for a jumper or simply posting up with his back to the bucket. Jamal Cain and Brendan Bailey have barely attempted it, and have done so with minimal success. The dribble penetration was something Sacar Anim showed a propensity for, but both attempts and efficiency are down for him, shooting just 43.8% around the basket. That leaves just the 3 bigs, and yea, no. You don’t want them attacking of the dribble.

Nowhere is this lack of dribble ability more evident than in transition.

The past two years, Marquette has been an elite transition offense with the plethora of long distance bombers and playmaking guards. Without Rowsey, the team has gone from one of the best, to one of the worst. It’s not hyperbole either.

Capture.JPG

Through 7 games, Marquette’s transition offense is ranked in the 4th percentile nationally, scoring .768 points per possession. Look at the comparisons to the previous two years and the differences are startling. Whereas before teams couldn’t overload on any particular player, the lack of dribbling ability from individuals not named Markus or Joseph makes it a much easier task.

But even outside of what opposing defenses are doing, Marquette has been horrendous at even putting shots up in transition, turning it over at an alarming 23.3% of the time. That means almost once every four trips in transition, Marquette is coming up without even attempting a shot. As Chartouny continues adapting, I expect it to improve a tad, but it still won’t come close to reaching the 2017 number. He’s currently turning it over 60% of the time in transition, which doesn’t seem feasible to continue for a full season.

Looking a bit closer at the personnel, you can see this “poor dribblers” hypothesis flesh out even more. Here are the top-4 players in transition from each of the past 3 years according to usage.

Transition players.JPG

Howard has been better than ever, turnovers and all. Sam’s game has never been to take it to the rim, but rather get to the corner or trail behind the play for an open 3. He has not made the usual shots he kills in transition, but you’d expect that to regress to his natural mean.

Once you start going through the players that show up on this list in previous years, you see that great drivers/finishers have been replaced with poor ones. The Rowsey PUJIT 3 was almost as big a staple as “The Thing” and there is no matching that, we can accept that. But those opportunities that used to present themselves are either not being taken, or not being finished at all. Out of the 8 transition possessions Sacar Anim has used, 2 have been turnovers and 5 have been misses. Scoring .2 PPP is just not going to cut it.

And then going further down to 2017’s numbers, Haanif, JJJ and Katin get that hindsight glow like never before. Those 3 were very frustrating in the halfcourt, but they each had the ability to take the ball the length of the court in transition, and either finish or get to the line.

The transition game has never been a huge part of the offense comprising less than 15% of possessions each of the past 2 years, but it’s at an all-time low this year at just 12.4%, according to Synergy. The return of Greg Elliott could help here, as will experience for players like Brandon and Joey, but the team’s makeup isn’t built for a run and gun offense.

To sum it up, Marquette is getting fewer looks in transition, making fewer baskets, and turning it over more often. When you look at the personnel available, it becomes much less of a question why. I don’t expect them to be in the top quartile as they have been in years past, but being in the top half of D1 with talents like Howard and Sam should be the absolute baseline. They have to take better care of the ball, make more shots and get better results from its wings.

Improving the transition game won’t solve all of the offensive issues, but with better opponents on the horizon, however, that small difference can make a big impact.

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