#1 – The defense might be worse than last season.
Last year, Marquette ranked 165th in KenPom in defensive efficiency. That’s pretty bad. Nearly worst in the Big East bad. (Thanks DePaul.) Through two games this season, they’re ranked 102nd. Not as bad! But based on the team’s performance vs. Purdue, it feels like the stats are lying. Well, the stats don’t lie, necessarily, but they certainly feel deceptive.
The issue isn’t scheme or effort, but physicality. I just can’t see a team with this makeup of players being able to stick with quality teams (no offense, Mount St. Mary’s) on the defensive end for an entire season. Matt Heldt and Theo John are tough inside, albeit a little too slow for quality, athletic big men (as evidenced by each of their five fouls last night). On the perimeter, Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey are too small to keep up with bigger guards but too important offensively to not play a bulk of the minutes. Sam Hauser and Haanif Cheatham will have to step up on that end of the floor against better and bigger teams, because there were few bench minutes to be had last night. I know it’s a small sample size, and one game of being outmatched shouldn’t be the death sentence for the team’s defense, but I get the sense that it’s a trend we’ll see continue. After all, their top three players in defensive rating are no longer on the team (Jajuan Johnson, Luke Fischer and Duane Wilson). Those were the best defenders at each level of the floor (mid-range, post, and perimeter), so Marquette will have to have a next-man-up mentality on defense to get the job done.
#2 – Andrew Rowsey is going to be the primary ball handler – and we should be glad.
Through two games, Rowsey looks to be the main distributor in the offense for Marquette. Prior to the season, I would’ve preferred it to be Markus Howard just so he can use this season to grow as a ball handler (I think I still would like that, seeing as he has two years left after this one), but Rowsey has been excellent through 80 minutes of Marquette basketball.
After five dimes in the opener, he one-upped himself with six assists last night. It was encouraging to say the least because at times it felt like he was the only offense Marquette had (his 25 points led the team). Brewtown Andy fired off a theory tweet after the Lindenwood exhibition that Rowsey would have to be the conference POY in order for Marquette to go dancing, and while it’s a little dramatic, he’ll have to be damn close. And that’ll likely mean he needs the ball in his hands. And I’m cool with that.
THEORY: if #mubb makes the NCAA tourney, Andrew Rowsey might have to win Big East POY to make it happen.— Anonymous Eagle (@AnonymousEagle) November 4, 2017
For the record: With Wednesday night’s games yet to be logged on the website, Rowsey is the #5 player in the country in the KenPom Player of the Year rankings.
Howard is likely going to be more effective on catch-and-shoot jumpers anyway, and any time he gets in the lane, it’s more likely to be a floater rather than a kick-out (speaking of which, he had a beautiful stop-and-go move last night that I’d like to see more of). Rowsey is much less afraid of going at people off the dribble, whether it works out or not. We know how adept he is at drawing fouls, so if he can take someone off the dribble and draw contact, great. If he can pull off #TheThing, even better. But I also trust him more as a passer. Because he’s more mobile with the ball, he’ll cause more defenders to sag into the lane, leaving lots of room for kick-outs. There were moments last night when a turnover would be the result of his aggressiveness with the ball in his hand, but I’m sort of alright with that. Unless you’re Chris Paul, which Rowsey most certainly isn’t, turnovers likely mean you’re attacking and at least trying to intiate some offense. With this team, I’ll take that. If no one on this team ever tried to get to the rim and open things up, they would be taking contested threes for days. If Rowsey keeps this going and can average between four and five assists a game, Marquette has a much better chance at success.
#3 – These freshmen will really have to earn their minutes.
I’ll make this one quick, because it’s a relatively obvious point to make. The newcomers aren’t going to get a lot of playing time against opponents like Purdue, especially not this early in the season. Theo John and Greg Elliot got a little court time against the Boilermakers (10 and 12 minutes, respectively), and Jamal Cain didn’t even see the floor. John’s time was cut short due to foul trouble, so it’s possible he could’ve played more of a role against Isaac Haas, but especially for the guards, it’ll be tough to crack the lineup when the starting perimeter players are so vital to the offense.
After a pretty deep team last season, Steve Wojciechowski will have a short lineup this year, and if four of the five starters are going to consistently play more than 30 minutes every night, opportunities will be few and far between for the new guys. John has the best chance at getting playing time until Froling is able to play, so if he can make an impact by then he’s likely to stick in the rotation. The problem is that he’s fouled out in both games, so he needs to play smarter to earn that spot. Of course, it’s normal for freshmen to not get a ton of action early on, but this team has basically no experience coming off the bench. Markus Howard fouled out last night, and there’ll be spots when Elliot and Cain are counted on to play big minutes due to foul trouble. If they’re not getting minutes this early in the season, I worry about times like that later when they get a baptism by fire.
Unfortunately, I don’t see this changing soon, at least not for another week, as Marquette will go to Maui and play at least two quality teams. It’s not a secret that this team is going to go as far as the new guys (and we can include Sacar Anim in there) can push them. There will be opportunities between now and the start of Big East play, but the young guys will have to take full advantage.