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Did Marquette collapse in 2019, or just revert to the mean?

I tend to be a pessimist when it comes to sports teams I follow. More than it being any sort of rational/analytic-based projection foundation, it’s quite simply a coping mechanism for the inevitable downfall. You can’t get hurt quite as badly if you are constantly anticipating the bottom to drop out. (Or so I tell myself.)

So when I wasn’t quite as giddy about Marquette’s hot start as most last season, it had less to do with me doubting the team or the coach, than simply bracing for possible impact.

When the guys from RealChillyPodcast had Ryan and I on in December (prior to the Buffalo game), I stated quite plainly that my expectations for Marquette were still between a 4 and 8 seed, with only limited untapped offensive potential to draw from. (Go to the 26:45 mark for this portion of the discussion.)

And to be honest, even as Marquette climbed into the top-10 of the AP poll, there were plenty of analytic-based signals that not everything was seashells and balloons.

So why am I bringing all this up over 6 months after the season ended? Stay with me.

I (and the basketball world at large) have been working off the thesis that #mubb collapsed down the stretch last season, but what if I told you it wasn’t a collapse, but a reversion to the mean?

Now there is no denying how detrimental the groin and wrist injuries were to Markus Howard and the rest of the team. There was no other playmaker on the squad, so when Markus not only continued to force the action at a high rate, but actually increased his usage, mirrored by a decrease in efficiency, it was a recipe for disaster. I have recommended it a few times, but Anonymous Eagle’s breakdown of Howard’s stats and the team’s play post Butler is as must read as it gets. Please read it again if it’s been a while.

And if you really don’t have time to digest it, just look at these pre and post injury stats. They do tell a whole story right there.

So trust me, up until the last 2 hours or so, and probably until eternity, you won’t get anything other than a direct correlation between Howard’s injury and the 1-7 finish that followed.

But in doing a bit of preparation for the upcoming season, slicing and dicing some efficiency numbers by month, I stumbled upon a very intriguing set of data. Instead of lumping the entire season before the injury together, as I’d done before, or even breaking it down by month, which was my original intention, I just cut up the season into 3 parts (and lopped off the NCAA Tournament game, which requires its own separate analysis).

Of particular interest were the middle 11 games, which is where Marquette seemed to really hit its stride, and the final 11, where it lost all sense of direction (supposedly).

Capture.JPG

But if you look beneath the hood, it’s wild how similar those offensive and defensive numbers look. Adjusted offense was within 0.7 points, and the Adjusted defense was almost identical. The ranks of those adjusted metrics were only 5 spots apart for both O and D. And yet, all of that added up to 5 additional losses in the same amount of time.

That doesn’t really jive with the way we’ve talked about Marquette all offseason. But the reality is that Marquette was never as good as its AP Poll rankings said it was.

If we look at it from a GScore persepective, which measures how well a team played in an individual game, there is a bit more meat behind the collapse bone, as the lows definitely came fast and furious, but during the early portion of Big East play, Marquette wasn’t playing particularly well, yet still found ways to win.

Gscore.JPG

The 6 sub-90 consecutive GScores in January all led to wins, which was the best streak for Marquette since at least 2009. Marquette was a good team that had the intangibles to look like a great team in the win/loss column.

Even with an injured Howard, Marquette managed to be tied or take a lead in the last 5 minutes in 5 of the 6 losses (against Georgetown, Seton Hall, Creighton, Villanova and St. John’s).

All of this is to say, Marquette was never as good as this article I wrote in late February would have you believe, but not as bad as the ultimate 1-7 record down the stretch show, either. It probably should have lost against Creighton, and probably one of the Wisconsin/Louisville matchups early in the season. It probably should have won one or 2 of the 5 games listed above.

That it didn’t lose those early games and that it did lose those late ones changes the narrative of the team plenty, but doesn’t do much to change the fact that in the end, Marquette’s record ended up matching up its analytics pretty well.

What do we do with this information in October of the following season? Stay tuned.

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Categories: Analysis, Home, Offseason

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