4 Stats to Explain Marquette’s Season

Coming into the year, I wrote at length at how Marquette’s potential defensive improvement could paper over potential offensive struggles and help MU overachieve the low expectations en route to a top half finish in the Big East.

And much like Tyler Kolek said to all those doubters, this squad has taken the projected offensive struggles and said “F*** ’em.”

Although it wasn’t projected to be a top-50 offense by either KenPom or TRank, Marquette currently sits as the 19th and 14th best offense in country in both sites, respectively. Look, even if you were most optimistic of Phils, there wasn’t any sane person predicting this team could finish its nonconference schedule as one of the best offenses in the country.

But here we are.

So before the Big East grind begins on Friday, I wanted to explore a few stats that help to explain why Marquette has overperformed expectations to date.

Rim Raiders

With 3 fairly average sized guards, a wing with limited handles and a big man who couldn’t bang down low comprising not only the starting 5, but the majority of the projected minute-getters, having an elite team of finishers at the rim wasn’t something I ever entertained going into the season. I thought there was going to be room for offensive improvement outside the arc, no doubt, but inside the charge circle wasn’t realistic.

So of course we’ve seen an incredible transformation in that regard.

The Notre Dame game perfectly encapsulates the value of making teams pay at the rim. Despite only making 26% of the 23 triples it attempted, Marquette ran away with the road victory quite comfortably by attacking the rim relentlessly.

Of those 33 shot attempts at the rim, Marquette connected on 22. Simply put, for a team that only ranks 145th nationally in 3pt percentage, getting to the rim and hitting an absurd number of those drives has proven to be a formula for success.

It also shouldn’t surprise anyone to see that Marquette’s 53 dunks are the 5th most in the country, and having 14.7% of all shots come via the dunk 3rd most nationally. Sure, it will be difficult to maintain these gaudy numbers over the course of Big East play, but even should the efficiency drop a bit, the process behind the shot selection should remain top notch.

Kam Time

I don’t need to tell you about Kam Jones. If you don’t know about him yet, you haven’t been watching college basketball.

However, even though we knew he had the potential to be a microwave offensively and predicted he would do so this season, the way his transformation to national stardom has come about is kind of surreal. For as big of a weapon as his 3-point shot is, it’s been his ability to finish at the rim that has been most revelatory.

That chart shows just how uncommon his 2-pt percentage is for a player under 6-foot-6. But when you divvy that up one more level, you can see he’s actually even better at the rim, shooting 81.1% on 37 attempts. For a player his size, that’s absolutely mind blowing this deep into December.

And to take it one level further, Kam isn’t some freak athlete who’s killing teams in transition en route to easy finishes. He’s been working against set defenses for a good chunk of his possessions at the rim, carving opponents with his dribble. per Synergy, of his last 19 attempts at the rim, only 1 has come in transition.

This divide between how he started and how he’s going deserves further exploration. Through the first 5 games of the season, Kam boasted a below average ORtg of 99.3, was shooting 25.6% from distance and had gotten called out multiple times by Shaka in post-game press conferences for his shot selection.

Since then, he’s rocking a 136.7 ORtg on 24.1% usage behind an eFG% of 68.4%. That’s all jargon for en fuego.

Drilling into the next level on Synergy, it is beyond obvious what has changed. He stopped settling. He started driving.

Despite averaging around 12 shots a game in both segments, in the first 5 games, he was taking at least 3 shots further that 26 feet each game. In the past 6 games, he’s only taken 3 total. And not only is he not taking those moon shots, he’s converting them into drives at the rim, where he’s both getting much better at drawing fouls and a magician at converting from odd angles.

Simply put, Kam has developed in a way even his biggest admirers couldn’t have predicted.

OMax Value

OMax deserves more than just a blurb, and my half-written draft has like 12 eye-popping stats from him that show how he’s grown, but since that one still needs some time to marinate, I wanted to at least call out this amazing visualization from CBB Analytics showing each player’s On/Off ORtgs.

What that shows is Marquette’s ORtg has been 22.2 pts better this season when OMax is on compared to when he’s off, the largest disparity on the team by a huge margin.

And the reason it needs some love is that this is not necessarily Prosper’s calling card. He’s a gifted defender being asked to play the top of the press, switch 1-5 and generally take on the toughest assignments on a nightly basis. The level of offensive impact he’s providing is quite surprising.

For example, using hoop-explorer, which takes out garbage minutes from the equation and adjusts for opponent quality, MU has been 22.6 pts better per 100 possessions on offense when OMax is on the court compared to when he’s off. During the nonconference part of the schedule last season, MU was actually 10.4 points worse on offense with OMax on.

That 33 point swing tells you way more than any one of OMax’ gaudy offensive numbers will. Prosper isn’t simply a defensive juggernaut, he’s an integral part of the offense, giving this team yet another weapon that wasn’t foreseen coming into the season.

D Bear

There have been way too many offensive stats for my liking, and while the defense hasn’t been top notch this season, it has kept this team afloat through plenty of stretches. And there’s not bigger reason for that than Oso Ighodaro.

Stat stuffing days like the 16 points and 18 rebounds he hung on ND aren’t the norm for him, so he doesn’t always get the recognition, but the impact he has defensively on a nightly basis is both vast and underappreciated.

Here’s a roundup of some defensive advanced metrics and where Oso ranks among them on MU and in the Big East as a whole:

Hoop-Explorer RAPM: 1st/8th
Evan Miya DBPR: 1st/11th
TRank DBPM: 1st/4th
Synergy DPPP: 2nd/20th
CBB Analytics DRtg On/Off: 1st
Sports Reference DBPM: 1st

There’s no real good single metric to capture defensive impact. But take all of these and the conclusion is more than obvious, Oso is the MVP defensively and it’s not close.

Is this real?

Time will tell. A very good 11 game sample is a great start, but not necessarily a slam dunk that good things will continue to come Marquette’s way. What I do feel confident saying is that although both of Shaka’s teams crushed preseason expectations in the noncon, this one is much better set for future success.


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Categories: Analysis

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