For a variety of reasons, Marquette's first season under the guidance of head coach Steve Wojciechowski was far from a success. The final record was 13-19, and the roster was promptly robbed of any real college basketball experience by losing three seniors.
We all knew that there was going to be a major talent influx when Wojo's first recruiting class arrived on campus, but the fact of the matter is that we needed to see the talent perform when it mattered. The team finished Wojo's second season with a record of 20-13, an obvious improvement from the year before. But was the team actually better, or did they just look better by snagging lucky wins in the right places?
Before the season started, we identified three areas that Marquette needed a massive improvement on from 2014-15. It wasn't anything groundbreaking or earth shattering, merely the three KenPom.com Four Factor categories where MU ranked as a sub-200 team. Let's see how they ended up in those departments after the end of the 2015-16 season, shall we?
#1: Defensive Rebounding
Last Year: 36.4% opponent Offensive Rebounding Rate, ranked #339
This Year: 30.7%, #225
If your reaction to seeing this major turnaround by Marquette is to say, "well, duh, they'd better be improved at DRebs with Henry Ellenson on the squad," well, you're 100% correct. The Big East's Freshman of the Year was ranked in the top 75 in the country at individual defensive rebounding rate, which is the kind of thing you'd expect to find out about the guy who won the Big East rebounding title this season.
The problem here, though, is that Marquette was still kind of a bad defensive rebounding team. Being ranked #225 just means that you're nine spots clear from the bottom third in the country. The good news is that MU ranked #6 in the Big East at DR%. That only takes the 18 regular season games into account, and in those contests, Marquette finished the season by allowing their opponents to nab 29.8% of their misses, which is exactly the national average and slightly better than their season long average, too.
Would it be better if MU was in the top third of DR%? Obviously, but you have to take your wins where you can find them, and this was a win for Marquette this season.
#2: Offensive Rebounding
Last Year: 29% Offensive Rebounding Rate, ranked #247
This Year: 28.1%, #229
At the base level of "is this an improvement," the answer is obviously no. Marquette grabbed up fewer of their own misses year over year, even if it was just by 0.9 percentage points.
However, relative to the rest of the country, Marquette did improve. Even though the rate went down, MU's rank went up by 18 spots. In other words, everyone else in the country got a whole lot worse at offensive rebounding this season with the national average dipping by slightly more than a point. MU's less than a point slide means that they were doing better than most teams, so the ranking went up.
I feel like there might be a bigger discussion about decreasing amounts of offensive rebounding to be had here. The national average for offensive rebounding rate has falling every single year since 2009, and only a tie from 2008 to 2009 stops that from being "down every year since 2006." That's a discussion for another time, and probably for a smarter website than this one.
#3: Getting To The Free Throw Line
Last Year: 35.8% Free Throw Rate, ranked #205
This Year: 40.5%, #82
Now, yes, part of Marquette's boost in this department may have something to do with the NCAA installing the freedom of movement package of rules for this season. But, and this is a big but, the national average for free throw rate, aka the ratio of free throws attempted to field goals attempted, expressed as a percentage, went down 37.0% to 36.6%. While everyone else was sliding backwards ever so slightly, perhaps because a shorter shot clock led to more field goals attempted while people adjusted to the new rules emphasis, Marquette was busy being a rocket heading straight up the charts.
* * * * *
Those are the three items that we isolated before the season started. Obviously, given that there's Four Factors and two ends of the floor, there's five other components of the game. Did Marquette get better elsewhere on the floor?
Offensive Four Factors
Effective Field Goal Percentage
Last Year: 49.8%, ranked #129
This Year: 52.0%, ranked #76
The biggest thing you can do to affect your eFG% is shoot three pointers very well, or even just mostly well. Those extra half points per made three go a long way towards making you a better eFG% team.
Except Marquette got slightly worse at shooting threes this season (34.4% down to 33.9%), but got much better at eFG%. I think you can pretty much pin that on essentially trading Matt Carlino for Henry Ellenson. While Carlino making 42% of his threes was incredibly beneficial to Marquette's offense, Ellenson making 164 two pointers (aka more than the 129 total makes by Carlino) ultimately pushed the eFG% up regardless of the lack of bonuses for made three pointers.
Also helping Marquette out here was a full season of Luke Fischer. The junior center shot essentially the same percentage between the two seasons (barely under 61% eFG%), but by playing more, he had 52 more made baskets than the year before. Each one of those makes boosted Marquette's eFG% up ever so slightly.
Last Year: 19.3%, ranked #189
This Year: 20.0%, ranked #292
This draws a nice picture of how little variance there is in turnover rate between teams #1 and #351. 0.7 percentage points change year over year resulted in a 100 place drop in the ranking.
Defensive Four Factors
Effective Field Goal Percentage
Last Year: 49.2%, ranked #173
This Year: 48.7%, ranked #106
Slight improvement in this department, going from a middle of the road ranking up to approaching a top 100 team. This should have been a much bigger improvement. After the road game against Creighton, Marquette had a season long defensive eFG% of 46.4%, which had them ranked #42 in the country. MU closed the season by allowing their opponent to shoot over 59% in their final five games, which resulted in the slide from top 50 to outside the top 100.
Last Year: 21.0%, ranked #59
This Year: 19.1%, ranked #108
A slight decline here, but nothing to be overly worried about. As mentioned earlier, a couple of tenths of a percentage point can cause a massive shift in your turnover rate ranking, so keeping it in the top half of the country is fine.
Free Throw Rate
Last Year: 30.3%, ranked #38
This Year: 28.0%, ranked #24
This fascinates me. With an emphasis on freedom of movement for the offensive player and thus a likelihood that fouls would increase, at least ever so slightly, Marquette actually was more effective at keeping opponents off the free throw line than the year before. This is either coaching or the referees not actually adhering to the freedom of movement emphasis. I prefer to think that it's the former, as the latter means that large numbers of NCAA referees are incompetent baboons that should be shot into space.