What’s up with Marquette’s offense?

(Photo by Anthony Giacomino/Paint Touches)

Blowout losses suck. They hurt in real time and bring out the worst in fans. But at the end of the day, bad nights happen to the best teams.

Blowout losses where you see tendencies that have crept up for a few games now rear their heads again require a deeper dive than a “shit happens” shrug.

Let’s start with the good old eye test. For almost 2 months now we’ve been treated to champaign basketball. Quick cuts. Multiple passes. Determined drives. Marquette was the top offense on KenPom and TRank for over 3 weeks straight. It wasn’t some flash in the pan based off a Baylor-like blowout.

The past 3 games has most definitely not been that. Again, without using stats, it just doesn’t look as free-flowing and fun as it had for so long. Listening to Shaka’s post games, he keeps reiterating that there is a bit too much iso-ball and not enough movement of the ball.

The question we are all wondering is why? I can’t say I have a clean diagnosis but once more, Shaka has pointed us in the right direction. Against Villanova and Butler, MU wasn’t able to overcome the switching defense well. A team that excels in P&R settings by identifying the open player when teams overload on the ball, it hasn’t been able to make opponents pay for straight switches.

So when Oso gets a mismatch against a smaller player, it hasn’t regularly turned into an advantage for Oso who has been reluctant to shoot, but rather has stalled the ball and forced 1 on 1 action from the player passed out to. This isn’t to say this is all on Oso, of course, just an example of what the switching D has meant.

It has also forced Kolek to become more of a scorer, and to be honest, he has excelled. If it wasn’t for Tyler elevating his scoring both at the rim and from the arc, we’d definitely be talking about an actual panic, rather than a disturbance to the force.


But enough with the eye, let’s see what the numbers tell us. I wanted to split the results from the last 4 games with that from the previous 4. Why the last 4? Even though the DePaul game was a laugher, the 2nd half was based off of a lot of 3 point success (particularly from Joplin). I don’t think the offense was as crisp as the end numbers showed.

Now this is where I’ll tell you a 4 game sample is mostly noise. A single made 3 shifts percentages and ORtgs significantly, so don’t focus TOO much on any one number, just the general trends.

Last 4 games:

There’s a reason Tyler has elevated himself nationally in terms of individual awards. He’s been playing at a phenomenal level for a while, but the scoring the last 4 has pushed him from elite passer to just plain elite.

But outside of him (and Joplin’s DePaul burst) the core has been underwhelming bordering on pedestrian.

What did it look like the previous 4 games?

Juuuuust a tad different.

And again, this is a 4 game sample where Marquette also went 3-1 with an away loss to a top-20 team. It isn’t the loss per say that has brought on the angst, but the general trend.

The biggest thing that stands out for me is the volume difference for Kam, Oso and OMax particularly from inside the arc. In the last 4, they’ve combined for 45 attempts. In the previous 4 they combined for 80. An almost 50% reduction in 2pt attempts isn’t commensurate with the decrease in minutes.

Why focus on 2pt attempts? That’s been Marquette’s bread and butter all season. The 3s have been fine, though nothing special. But the eFG% dominance has been built on the back of being the best 2pt shooting team in the country (still true today BTW).

Of course, there’s a reason why these 3 players haven’t been able to put up as many shots, teams have been more than happy to pack the paint and dare Marquette to beat them from deep. True to this team’s season-long philosophy, the players have mostly been hesitant to take “bad” shots. It’s just that “better” shots aren’t being generated, so you just get tougher shots from “worse” shooters.

Again, this isn’t singling anyone out, I think outside of Kolek, there hasn’t been a consistent player the past 4 games. It’s simply that Oso/Kam/OMax have shown to be extremely capable of much better output at much higher quality. Marquette needs more from them.

And then broadening the scope, Kam shooting 27% from 3 along with 10 fewer attempts from 2 during a stretch where he had a hip/knee/side injury that almost kept him out of a game probably isn’t a coincidence. He does have some streakiness in him, so he’s had cold stretches from distance this season, we just haven’t seen the same burst to the rim and acrobatic finishers that have made him one of the best scoring guards at the rim.


It’s easy for me to sit here and say, be more aggressive. I haven’t been playing 30+ minutes of high level basketball for a season. Fatigue is also at play here. Shaka noted that he cancelled shootaround at least once recently because he felt his guys were spent.

Of the “Core 4” only Tyler has ever played this many minutes in a season.

They are young and in elite shape, sure, but when you’re Oso and are taking a beating night in and night out for 30+ minutes for weeks at a time, even Todd Smith can’t really help you until you go through it.

Remember it was right around this time last season when Kolek started to be “figured out” by opposing coaches. I’m sure scheme changes were part of it, but being the lead ball handler for such long stretches for the first time ever also took a toll physically and mentally.

The other 3 may be going through something similar. Which isn’t to say it can’t be overcome and to pack up cuz the season’s over. Just noting that Shaka has mentioned early/mid February being the most difficult stretch for a reason. He has altered routines for a reason.

All teams/players go through this, it isn’t something particular to Marquette, and it isn’t an excuse. It just has to be managed and played through and may be hitting MU a bit harder than the other top Big East teams because so much of the team is experiencing it for the first time.

Which is, in my opinion, why the minute distribution against Butler that seemed out of the ordinary may prove to be crucial.

Ben Gold Emergence?

I’ve lumped OMax, Oso and Kam together a bunch of times already in this piece, but looking at MU either with stats or just your eyes, Oso’s importance is significantly higher, simply because there is no one else on the team that can do what he does on the inside (and out) defensively.

There’s a reason his On/Off splits on D this season don’t look anything like anyone else’s. Here’s a visualization of raw, unweighted defensive ratings with each player on and off.

And it’s also a reason why Ben Gold had only cracked 10 minutes played twice in Big East play before last Saturday. Oso is irreplaceable.

Single game plus minus is very volatile and not predictive in the slightest, but when you start increasing the number of games, patterns can emerge. You’d expect Oso to have very good splits as he plays 30+ minutes a night and the team is very good with only a handful of losses, but only Kolek’s chart matches as closely as Oso’s.

Marquette is 0-5 in games where Oso is in negative territory, and 19-1 when he’s positive for +/-. Not news or anything, but a reminder that as Oso has gone, this team has gone. Which is what made Butler, and now UConn, more concerning than a single game blip.

With his noted struggles (and possible fatigue) the past 4 games, which again, Shaka himself noted unprompted after the Villanova him, getting him more rest isn’t just important, it’s probably necessary.

Seeing Gold play a combined 37 minutes in the past 2, compared to 40 in the previous 7 is probably not coincidental. And you can see that Gold has responded well.

His 10 pts in the first half against UConn were highlighted by a pump fake at the arc that got his defender flying, only for Ben to take it uncontested to the rim for a finger roll. Oso isn’t a threat from the outside, so just Ben’s presence on offense completely alters the scheme and spacing of opposing defenses.

It is predicated on Ben hitting from the outside at a bit higher clip than his season average, 30.3%, so not a sure thing, but it is good for this offense to have a weapon that hasn’t yet been neutralized possibly emerge this late in the season.

That still leaves us with the defensive end questions, but even there he has looked more comfortable defending the post. Could be a result of a larger run/sample, could be wish casting on my part, could be noise. But if Shaka trusts Ben enough to consistently be able to have him out on the floor for a few 3-4 minute streches, to the tune of 12 or so minutes a game, I think it could be quite a load off of Oso’s plate.


I’m sure the X and Os are left wanting in this analysis, but I’ll leave that with someone a bit smarter on that stuff.

What we can see, and hopefully have shown, is that Marquette has seen struggles not just in results, but in the process from 3 of its 4 key pieces. I think they can play better going forward, but getting a bit more from the bench, particularly Gold will be crucial to try and get Marquette’s groove back.

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Categories: Analysis


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4 Comments on “What’s up with Marquette’s offense?”

  1. John
    February 8, 2023 at 1:44 pm #

    Kolek is concentrating on scoring instead of distributing the ball like he use to. That is the problem

    • February 8, 2023 at 1:47 pm #

      Not sure if this is sarcasm or not. Kolek’s raw assist numbers are actually up over the last 4 games and his assist rate is up by over 10 % points.

  2. February 9, 2023 at 9:28 pm #

    Against Nova and Uconn definitely looked like the offense was struggling with the length of those teams as well. Starting line up of Kolek, Kam, and Stevie can be kind of short. Wonder if we will see Jop or Ross start in the future.

  3. February 9, 2023 at 9:30 pm #

    Against Nova and Uconn definitely looked like the offense was struggling with the length of those teams as well. Starting line up of Kolek, Kam, and Stevie can be kind of short. Wonder if we will see Jop or Ross start in the future.

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