Measuring Marquette’s Player Growth

Al McGuire was known to say the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores. College basketball has a much different landscape in the 50 years since Al’s time, but I think coaches will mostly say the adage still holds true. Outside of the handful of one-and-dones, experience is a robust elixir to to a lot of youth’s plagues. Coaches everywhere will always tell you that they want to get old and stay old.

Shaka is no different. He has been very clear that he’s trying to build a program based on retention and growth. He is self-selecting freshmen that aren’t yet polished and will require a few years in the program to reach their potential. In a few years, he’ll have a strong foundation of players who are well versed in his system and will allow the program to thrive.

This only being Year 2 at Marquette, having lost two 5th year seniors off the roster and only having brought in 1 player in Zach Wrightsil (who won’t see the court again this season), it makes absolute sense that MU currently ranks 299th in experience, per KenPom. But ranks don’t always do a great job of telling the whole story.

Putting all D1 teams in a bell curve in order to best visualize it, I took Bart Torvik’s data, which utilizes seasons played rather than nominal titles to gauge experience, and plotted MU along with the rest of the Big East. Seeing it this way, I do sympathize with Big East coaches in the preseason 9th place ranking. The least experienced team in the conference, by a wide margin, was losing the bulk of it’s scoring and relying on in-house talent to step up and fill the gaps. It just wasn’t a likely outcome.

And yet here we are, with Marquette ranked 25th in KenPom, 10th in TRank and having easily dispatched of a much “older” Seton Hall team that was pegged for an NCAA bid in the preseason. By almost anyone’s measure outside of the Al (and I’d wager inside as well), Marquette is well ahead of schedule. Why is that?

Reading Ben Steele’s recap from Tuesday night, this Shaka quote hit the nail on the head.

“All of our freshmen, they come in here and they really want to play more. I showed our guys after the game, the box score from last year against Seton Hall at home. When Stevie Mitchell played three minutes. David Joplin played two minutes. O-Max Prosper went 0 for 5 from the field and played like 12 or 14 minutes. Oso Ighodaro played 14 minutes and shot one time. Got zero rebounds.

“There’s real growth amongst the guys in our program that are returning players from last season. Every single guy. And, for our freshmen, they’re just getting started. They’re 14 games into their career. They are contributing members of our team right now in critical games. But the reality is they have to keep getting better and owning what goes into effecting team stops on defense and team scores on offense.”

Obviously there’s a million ways to go about measuring growth, but I thought I’d dive into one aspect from each of the starting 5 that I’ve been most surprised by from last season to this.

Kam Jones ATR

I’ve spoken at length multiple times, but Kam’s transformation from one of the best long distance shooters to one of the best finishers at the rim requires consistent praise. Here are the top-10 finishers at the rim in the Big East this season, with a minimum of 50 shots taken, plotting those 2s taken against the 3s taken to best visualize how unique Kam is.

He’s become one of the best finishers at the rim in the country, while still maintaining a healthy volume (and percentage) of 3s. You just don’t see this type of combination very often.

He’s already taken 18 more 2-pointers and 8 more free throws than all of last season in less than half the games, and connecting at a significantly better percentage on both as well. Simply put, the growth in his game has been astounding.

Point Oso

With a bevvy of no look assists under his belt already this season, the nickname his teammates dubbed Ighodaro with since last season, Point Oso, has more than fit the bill. But even outside of the backdoor dimes he keeps cutting teams up with, his security with the ball despite heavy handling responsibilities bears mentioning.

Last season, Oso assisted on 9.1% of field goals while he was in the game, and turned the ball over 17.7% of the time, both decent enough numbers for a big man. This year, though, he’s basically inverted them assisting on 19.1% of made baskets and only turning it over 10.3% of the time.

It’s a niche stat sequence, but of all high major players to have notched at least 40% of their team’s minutes, only 5 can boast ARates over 15 with TORates under 11.

Having Oso create for others has really opened up the floor and made every single movement from his teammates a possible bucket. The importance of his creative impact can’t be understated.

One more chart. Here’s a list of all the 6’9″ or taller players at MU since 2008, sorted by assist % and TO rate. Oso’s combo at that size is truly unique.

OMax O Impact

Again, this isn’t anything revelatory, but OMax Prosper’s presence continues to be one of the defining factors in what has turned out to be a top-10 offense, which no one could have seen coming after his first year in the program.

Per Hoop-Explorer, Marquette scores 123.5 pts per 100 possessions, filtering out garbage time and adjusting for opponent quality, a number that would rank first in the country. When he’s off the floor, MU’s offense only puts up 106.9 pts/100, still good but merely in the 90s nationwide.

At this point last season, the offense was 12.1 points worse with him on the floor than when he was sitting.

On/Off stats are obviously flawed and less than half a season’s worth is a tiny sample that can and will change pretty dramatically, but for the time being, the visible difference OMax makes with his presence on the offensive end is one of the biggest improvements we’ve seen from one year to the next.

Tyler Off the Dribble

Tyler’s progression from one of the best passing point guards in the country to a more-than-capable scorer on top of being a top-3 passing point guard is a huge reason for Marquette’s progress this season, and has been more dramatic than even most MU fans will acknowledge.

He’s raised his ORtg a whopping 22 points from a well-below average 92.3 to a well-above average 114.3 while seeing his minutes and usage both tick up. A decrease in turnovers will do that for you, no doubt, but his shooting has not only reverted to his George Mason days, it’s actually gotten better, from 35.9% in 2021 to 38.5% this season.

Taking it one step further, Kolek’s accuracy on dribble jumpers in particular has made the biggest jump. It’s a small sample and there’s always luck involved with these kinds of shots, but last year, Tyler ranked 51st out of 54 Big East players with at least 20 attempts, putting up a meager 0.431 PPP on 65 dribble jumper attempts.

Through 14 games and 22 possessions, Kolek currently leads the conference in this category, having already surpassed last year’s point total in 1/3rd of the attempts.

Shaka and Nevada stressed over and over how deadly his shooting was in practice. We are now getting to see some of that play out in front of all our eyes.

Stevie Specialist

If you follow enough Marquette Twitter people or read enough boards, it won’t take long to find the inevitable comment that Stevie Mitchell’s spot might be better served by (insert Jop/Chase/Sean here). Stevie does the least amount of work that shows up in any box score stat, whether basic or advanced, that’s just the truth.

But what Stevie does better than any other Marquette player that might fill that space is understand his role and execute it at full throttle each and every night. Against one of the Big East’s best guards in Kadary Richmond, Stevie hounded him into an inefficient 9-point outing, and even turned 2 steals into an easy 4 points on the other end.

Of the 36 5-man lineups that have played at least 200 possessions together this season, Marquette’s starting 5 has put up the 2nd best Net Rating in the country at a pretty ridiculous +37.8 pts, meaning the offense scores almost 38 more points than the defense allows per 100 possession.

Stevie isn’t necessarily the driving force behind the efficiency, but his defensive ability and willingness to sacrifice makes him the perfect 5th option. And not for nothing, but Evan Miya’s DBPR (Defensive Bayesian Performance Rating) which measures a player’s defensive value to the team while he’s on the floor lists Stevie as the 2nd most impactful defender at 1.32

It most definitely is not broke, there is no need to fix it.

Conclusion

Obviously there are more stats and more players that deserve a callout, but for the sake of brevity (lol), here’s a look at 3 all-encompassing stats measuring both O and D impact, comparing last season to this one.

This kind of across the board growth on both ends of the floor is extremely uncommon. I don’t think we’ll see anything like that from 5 separate players ever again.

But it does goes to show why Marquette has been as good as it has been to date. The retention of core players allowed them to better understand their fit in the schemes. Their individual work put them in a position to exploit areas opponents weren’t preparing for. Its cohesiveness as a unit has been a sight to behold.

There is still plenty of season left and nothing has been won yet. But through the end of the calendar year, it’s time to give credit where credit is due.

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Categories: Analysis

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  1. Stevie Mitchell’s “want to win” mentality leading has led to success in new role with Golden Eagles - eGreenews - December 30, 2022

    […] pointed out by Paint Touches, there are 36 different five-man starting lineups that have played at least 200 possessions […]

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