Synergy: Two areas to watch between Murray State and Marquette


(Photo by Ryan Messier/Paint Touches)

We have already provided a general scouting report for Marquette’s opening round opponent Murray State, and highlighted how absurd Ja Morant’s passing ability is, but we’re not done.

Here are two areas of Thursday’s game that will go a long way toward determining the winner.


If you’ve read anything on the matchup up to this point, you will be well versed in Murray State’s prowess in transition. But I think these stats will really drive it home.

As a team, Murray State was 4th in the country in transition efficiency, scoring 736 points in 595 possessions, a 1.237 PPP. But it wasn’t just the efficiency that stood out, it was the volume.

The Racers raced out into transition on 23.4% of all possessions. Only 4 teams in the top-100 of transition PPP cracked 21% of possessions in transition. In terms of volume, only 63 teams had at least 500 transition possessions, Murray State was the best, and the only one to top 1.2 PPP.

However, Marquette has faced other teams that like to run and gun quite a bit, to uneven success. Of the opponents that have cracked 500 transition possessions this season, Marquette has gone 3-3 with wins over Buffalo (12th), Creighton (14th) and St. John’s (20th). Obviously MU did lose to Creighton and St. John’s as well.

Digging in a little deeper, there was no clear correlation with transition points given up and final result in those 6 games. Against Buffalo, Marquette gave up 29 points, 34% of the total and won. Against St. John’s in the first meeting, only 13.5% of the Johnnies’ points came in transition and Marquette still got blown out. Obviously it is better for Marquette not to give up a ton of quick points, that killed them at home against Creighton, but it hasn’t exactly been a deal breaker.

Team Fast Break Total Points % Result
CU H 26 66 39.4% L
Buff H 29 85 34.1% W
STJ H 13 70 18.6% L
STJ A 12 89 13.5% L
STJ N 7 54 13.0% W
CU A 7 104 6.7% W

Still, even though Murray as a team isn’t exactly unique, Ja Morant as a player is.

Of all players with at least 30 possessions in transition, Morant ranks in the top 17% with a 1.202 PPP. He led the country in transition points with 268, a full 53 more than the second best player. To put that in perspective, the gap between 1st and 2nd was greater than the gap between 2nd and 29th. But even that doesn’t come close to telling the story.

He ranked 30th in the country in transition PPP for players with over 100 possessions. And still, that doesn’t do him justice.

Morant led Division I with 223 total transition possession, one of only two players to broach that mark this season. That he did it with such efficiency shows you why NBA scouts are drooling over him.

But wait, there’s more.

Of the 185 made field goals in transition by players other than Morant, a full 50% of them were assisted by Ja. So of the 273 total makes, only 82 (30%) weren’t made or assisted directly by Morant himself. He is a one man wrecking crew in transition.

Everyone knows it by now, but turnovers will be the determining factor. If Marquette continues it’s current form and turns it over 20% or more of the time, it will require an all-time effort from Markus (like Buffalo) to counteract the easy baskets.

In this particular matchup, Murray will have the heavy advantage.

Spot up shooting

According to Synergy, Murray State is the best team in the country defending against catch and shoots. Not top 10 or top 5, simply the best with opponents only scoring .793 points per attempt on 26.8 FG% and 39.5 eFG%.

This is definitely where you’ll usually hear the caveat about not facing the caliber of a shooting team like Marquette, and while that is true, it does not diminish the significance of the Racers’ prowess. The next two teams on the list were Houston (a 3 seed) and Virginia (the best defense in the country).

On the other side, Marquette is in the 99th percentile, 3rd in the country, of all catch and shoot teams, scoring 1.24 PPP on a robust 574 possessions. We literally have 2 teams matching up elite strength vs. elite strength.

But I needed to dig a little deeper in this analysis to see who might gain the edge. For Murray State 41.1% of the catch and shoots were labeled as unguarded by Synergy, which means they were fairly wide open. That’s right around the 50th percentile of ungaurded spot up shots allowed for all D1 teams. Not bad, but not exactly elite.

I mention this because, as has been reinforced over and over, there is too much variability to label a team as a good defensive team against the 3. Teams can be good at limiting opportunities, and Murray is, but once the shot is up, there’s a lot of luck involved. This is not me looking for silver linings, I said as much about Marquette’s D earlier in the year.

And Murray has been one of the luckiest teams this year. Teams are only shooting 29.5% on unguarded catch and shoots against the racers, with the 3rd worst PPP (0.873) in the country. So the open looks Murray has given up haven’t really come back to bite them.

As for Marquette’s D on open catch and shoots, it fell back down to Earth the last 3 months as expected, giving up 1.093 PPP, right at the 50th percentile. A 1 game sample won’t necessarily even out a season’s worth of data, but a capable team will definitely be able to capitalize on the good looks they are given.

And Marquette is more than capable. Of the 43.8% of unguarded catch and shoots MU took, it boasts a 1.222 PPP on  41.4 FG% and 61.1 eFG%. That’s a great number, but not exactly elite.

The elite label would fall on guarded catch and shoots, where Marquette led the country in efficiency this season. Only 3 teams cracked 1.20 PP on guarded spot ups, and MU topped them all at 1.254 PPP. Between Markus, Sam and Joey, and now Sacar, any one of them is capable of making Murray pay, open or not.

All of this is to say, Marquette will definitely have its chances to put shots up on the Racers. The advantage is nowhere near as clear as Murray’s transition prowess, but I would tilt this in favor of Marquette. An off shooting night for MU, however, might spell certain doom.

As is common to hear in the NBA, it’s a make or miss league.

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Categories: Analysis, Home, Synergy


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