Can Marquette improve the shot quality it allows?

If you have ever wondered how turnovers affect winning and losing, Anonymous Eagle’s deep dive into Marquette’s turnover issues the past few years is a really good place to start. Without giving the whole thing away (and once again suggesting you check it out yourself) here’s the main graph, IMO:

We are left with unrelenting evidence that Marquette is incredibly good when they’re turning it over less than their opponent. That’s not even “Marquette turns it over only a few times,” it’s less than the other team. Marquette could have a turnover rate of 25%, but if they can get the other team to 26% or higher, they win seven times out of 10! Even in Year One, when Marquette finished 13-19 overall and just 4-14 in league play, they still found a way to have a winning record when turning it over less than the other team! Not only is “turns it over less Marquette” cranking out wins at a nearly 73% clip, they’re winning way more than “turns it over more Marquette,” which is the really important issue here.

-Anonymous Eagle

This is a good place to note that this is one of Marquette’s worst teams at creating turnovers on the defensive end not just under Wojo, but in the last 14 seasons.

So to recap, Marquette wins a high percentage of games it wins the turnover battle, but this is one of the worst teams in the country at creating turnovers, so the fact that the offense dips its collective hands in Crisco before games is creating a suboptimal situation where both the O and D turnover rates are bad and getting worse.

Other than that how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

As dire as that situation is, and it is dire, the real reason for my personal angst about Marquette has more to do with the quality of the shots it is routinely giving up this year.

Unguarded Shots

Quality is something difficult to measure empirically, but if you’ve followed me on Twitter, you will know that I’m currently obsessed with how many uncontested shots Marquette has been giving up of late, and how Big East opponents are making them pay.

To my relatively simple mind, it’s easy to understand that leaving shooters open is bad, and doing it often is very bad, but if you wanted to quantify it a bit, Synergy has the D1 average for uncontested spot up shots at 1.059 PPP and at .899 for contested shots. So in 2021, an uncontested shot is 18% more valuable than a contested one.

Marquette is average nationally (in the 45th%) for Points Per Possession given up in the half court on catch and shoots on both guarded and unguarded shots. Still, the volume of both has been much higher than what the D1 or non-MU Big East average is, which isn’t ideal.

However, Marquette lived the noncon on borrowed time. It actually had a better PPP defensively on unguarded shots than guarded ones.

This is both unheard of and completely unsustainable. That’s not an-after-the-fact analysis either, I was saying as much in real time. Check out this exchange from prior to the UCLA loss.

And sure enough the chickens have come home to roost.

Not only is Marquette giving up over 10 uncontested 3s a game, it’s giving up an absurd 1.5 PPP on those shots. We do have to say 4 games is quite the small sample, but in this small sample, MU is basically gifting opponents 15 points. Add in the guarded ones, and Marquette is giving up 4 to 5 more quality shots a game than the average D1 or Big East team.

Of course, spot up shots still only make up 20 to 25% of total possessions a game, so a team can survive such deficiencies if it lock down the interior, cuts back on fouls and creates turnovers. And this team is doing none of the above in conference play, per Ken Pom.

That still leaves us with 65%+ of possessions each game that there’s no real good gauge for shot quality. Enter the appropriately titled

Shot Quality

From the site: “Shot Quality is calculated by multiplying the percent chance a shot has of going in, i.e. the probability that the basket is made and the type of shot, denoted by the no. of points that shot entails – either a 2-pointer or a 3-pointer.”

And to come up with the probability a shot will be made, this site takes 90 plus variables of what makes up a good shot, crunches the stats and comes out with a single quantifiable number.

For example, Jamal Cain leads all MU players (minimum 10 possessions) with a shot quality PPP of 1.06, meaning each possession has been determined to generate a shot quality of 1.06. Seeing as he is selective with shots, is a good 3-point shooter and generally doesn’t take a lot of end-of-clock possessions, this checks out.

Compare that to someone like D.J. Carton, who is the lead ball handler, the focus of defenses and not a great 3-point shooter this season and DJ’s 0.9 SQ PPP makes sense. Of course, realize we aren’t saying Cain is better and should be taking more shots, simply that the quality, regardless of result or circumstances leading up to it, has been better.

So for the purposes of understanding how the D has performed, something like what shot quality offers is exactly what we need and fills in some Synergy gaps, like giving Symir Torrence an uncontested 3 is much better for a defense than giving Cain one. We know the results, but we want to know if the process has been sound and the team is just unlucky, or vice versa.

And sadly, it seems like Marquette is still due for some regression defensively. It currently ranks last in the Big East in shot quality, giving up an adjusted 1.04, the only Big East team over 1.0, and sitting tied at No. 129 nationally with Long Beach and Valparaiso.

As the stat is still not commonly used, I decided to plot the numbers for offense and defense myself, to help visually note where Marquette stands among its peers.

The 10th place team, Providence, is closer to 5th than 11th, where Marquette resides.

The good news is that 3 of its first 4 opponents (Xavier, Creighton and Nova) are the top 3 offenses according to shot quality, so upcoming games should not be quite as rough for the defense. The bad news is that Seton Hall is middle of the road and still was efficient and effective against Marquette.


So to sum it up, Marquette is forcing fewer turnovers than ever, giving up more open shots than ever, and finding itself rather fortunate overall based on the underlying shot quality stats through 10 games. Not great, Bob.

I do think the current 10-day break will be useful to regroup and get some air back in the tires, but the foundation this defense rests upon is still cracked. It is playing a prevent defense to minimize mistakes and easy looks by not gambling for steals and prioritizing interior defense, yet still finds itself with bad eFG% numbers to go along with the paltry turnover hauls. It lets opponents get comfortable offensively and is relying on missed shots to carry the day. That hasn’t worked well of late.

It’s not going to be as bad as it has been the first 4 games, because it’s tough to look worse. But the personnel has been overhauled and the results stay underwhelming. There is no magic wand or substitution pattern that will address the underlying issues.

Big East teams won’t keep scoring 1.5 PPP on open shots all year, but that number is out of Marquette’s control. MU can control the number of quality shots it allows. More effort with fresher legs would be nice, but most teams are in the same boat and only 1 has struggled as much as MU has in the Big East.

Can it improve? Sure.

Do I think it will? Not really.

I’d love to be proven wrong.

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Categories: Analysis, Synergy


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