Yes that happened, now what?

After the last few shocking Marquette victories the past decade, I’ve written or Tweeted about my disbelief in what my eyes witnessed. And while is certainly true that Tuesday night’s dismantling of Baylor felt dream-like and literally too good to be true, I wanted to dive a bit into what the game may or may not say about this MU squad going forward.

Not A One Off

I can’t lie to you and say the analytics saw this coming, as Vegas, KenPom and every other computer with a blog had Baylor favored by at least 3 points.

Or should I say, almost every computer. Bart Torvik’s site has a feature where you can take out all of the preseason weighting (the inputs that guide the preseason ratings and fade away as more games roll in) and it will spit out the “unadjusted” spread. And wouldn’t you know, that model had MU favored by 1.9 points going into the game.

That’s not to say it’s foolproof or that I went ahead and put my mortgage on MU winning or covering, but what I did want to highlight by bringing this up is that this result isn’t a one off of a magical night. No, Marquette won’t beat another top-10 team by 20+ points for another decade or 5, but the underlying metrics did tell us the team has played well above its preseason rankings.

It still has the best performance against Purdue this season. It still came closest to knocking off Mississippi State. It still hasn’t broken a real sweat against sub-100 teams. That’s not a fluke.

To not simply rely on one model, take a look at how MU’s rating has progressed on Haslametrics this season.

On KemPom, MU started the season ranked 76th and has moved up to 33 as of Wednesday morning.

Big blowout wins over great teams will juice those numbers for a while, no doubt, but the foundation laid in the first 7 games goes to show that this Marquette team isn’t a bottom third Big East team.

So What Happened?

Outside of general trends, I was very curious to see what specifically Marquette did to put up such crooked numbers. And thanks to the wizardry of the of data viz king @JGTrends, we get a granular breakdown of when MU was scoring and how efficiently it did so.

We’ve highlighted time and again (and heard from Nevada Smith directly) how important pace is to this offense. Sure enough, Marquette scored 21 points in the first 10 seconds, and did that at a blistering 1.32 PPP. It’s one thing to run and gun against LIU and CMU, quite another to get 16 possessions against a national title contender, with only 7 of those coming off of steals.

This aggressiveness set the tone early, and allowed Marquette to get comfortable on the offensive end, which hasn’t always been the case this year. Don’t just take my word from it, either.

According to CBB Analytics, MU is most efficient at scoring when it is shooting in the first 10 seconds of the possession, and on average, 40% of its possessions are coming in this time frame.

But what allowed Marquette to not only keep a lead, but expand it, was the way it was able to finish out possessions late in the clock. On the season, MU averages a 1.02 PPP in possessions that end within 20 to 30 seconds. Against Baylor, not only was MU incredibly efficient, scoring 1.83 PPP, it actually saw more possessions (17) end in this time frame than in the 0-10 second one. Usually, we see twice as many quick shots than last 10-shots, so the efficiency and volume are notable.

Thinking about the start of the 2nd half, Baylor scored on each of its first 7 possessions leading into the U16 timeout, and yet didn’t make a dent into the deficit, which stood at 26 with 15:22 to go, same as it was at halftime. And it turns out 8 of MU’s 16 points in that span came in late clock situations that have normally proved less than fruitful this season.

That’s a lot of numbers in a row so let’s pull back a bit. This year, Marquette has been at its best when it can run and attack unsettled defenses. It hasn’t normally gone deep into possessions and when it has, it hasn’t scored very efficiently. Against Baylor, the quick strike paid dividends off of all the forced turnovers, particularly in the first half, but what sealed the game was the scoring at the end of long possessions.

Now, one game does not change the perspective on this. MU will continue to force the action on opponents whenever possible and will probably not repeat the feat of scoring 31 points in 17 possession with 10 or less left on the shot clock. What it does show is that when it plays unselfishly and looks for those one-mores, as Shaka calls them, there is no need to settle for the first semi-open look or to force a perimeter shot.

Shot Location

No one embodies this better than Kam Jones. After the Purdue and Mississippi State games, Shaka had personally called out Kam’s shot selection, saying that even though he liked the confidence to shoot, Kam had to recognize he didn’t have to pull at the first available moment.

And although it may still be a work in progress, against Baylor, even Bill Raftery was giving Kam plaudits for using his shot potential to get defenders off balance and attack the rim. This shot chart is a beautiful mix of shots from Kam, and doesn’t even include the times he drove and was fouled.

The 4 free throws he took were tied for the 2nd most he’s taken in a game in his career, and it now makes back to back games where he’s drawn multiple trips to the line.

However, Kam is just embodying what Marquette did extremely well as a team.

We mentioned before that Marquette had been very successful at taking great shots (those coming at the rim or in the corners) and while it’s efficiency was much better at the rim than from 3, we got a sprinkle of what making those 3s does for this team.

And here is where I will once more point out that Marquette built a 20+ point lead while shooting below 30% from 3. This wasn’t one of those fluke games where a team just can’t miss. With a minute left in the first half, Marquette was only 4/14 from distance, a chilly 28.5%, before Jop and Kam buried 2 more threes on back to back possessions.

This team has a bevvy of good finishers at the rim and a creator in Kolek that puts those finishers in terrific position to score even when the shooting isn’t always there.

PrOMax

Every single individual deserves a callout. TK’s 11 assists. Jop’s shooting. Oso’s tenacious D. Every freshman balling out at one point.

But what Olivier-Maxence Prosper did was the type of performance that gets more than a cursory glance from the national media. It wasn’t that he just scored a ton of points (24 on only 12 shots) or played the 5 extremely well for a decent stretch. But he was as aggressive and confident as I’ve ever seen him against a top-tier opponent.

This dunk attempt was the embodiment of his spirit on Tuesday, fearlessly going directly at a defender, who needed a hard foul to avoid ending up on a poster.

For the season, OMax is hitting 66.7% of his 2s, with the second highest volume behind Oso and doing it while heading up the effective full court press. I don’t think he’ll end up as a 40% shooter from distance this season, but all we asked for in the offseason was to be about average, and that seems well within range.

And being able to do all that while being 6’9″ and the heaviest player on Marquette is what had him as a fringe NBA prospect after last season. That’s not to say one game is enough to vault him into draft status, but being able to dominate the way he did against pro-type guards will surely have scouts looking a bit closer.

OMax is only 8 free throw attempts away from matching last season’s total. It signals that the aggressive attack minded player we saw last night isn’t an aberration. Should he continue this type of play as we get deeper into the season, don’t be surprised when he starts popping up in late 2nd round mocks.

Conclusion

This Marquette team is playing the exact type of basketball Shaka told us he wanted. The results this season probably won’t ever match the Baylor highs, but the defensive tenacity, unselfish offense, and overall energy level are repeatable each and every night.

Right now, Marquette is probably a 2nd tier Big East team behind only UConn and Creighton. But at the rate the freshmen are developing, I can’t wait to be proven wrong once more.

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Categories: Analysis

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