While we were busy making preparations for the biggest meal of the year (mmmmm, pie), Marquette wrapped up their time in Maui and made the trip back to (surprisingly sunny!) Milwaukee after a successful run in the Maui Invitational. The Golden Eagles took home third place in the tournament after a 94-83 win over VCU, an 80-66 loss to #6 Wichita State, and a 94-84 victory over LSU. Overall, a pretty solid trip for MU. I had plenty of time laying on a couch over the weekend to reflect on the tournament, so here’s three things we learned about this team.
#1 – The newcomers are immensely valuable.
Call it youthful exuberance. Probably the most important and certainly the most pleasant revelation from Hawaii was the spark that the Golden Eagles’ freshmen plus Sacar Anim provided off the bench throughout the tournament. The young guys were a nice burst of energy off the bench, especially against quality teams in a unique environment. Not once did they look overwhelmed or out of place. Of the three games in the tournament, VCU was the best example of the four of them, as they played some important minutes off the bench. Their length and energy was a great counter to VCU’s aggressiveness and speed. Their stats won’t blow you away (unless you’d be impressed by 5 fouls from Theo John), but the idea that they can come in and get some stops for Steve Wojciechowski means that this team’s youth may not be a burden after all.
In particular, Anim and Greg Elliott had a great series of games. Against Wichita State, it’s tough to pick out what anyone did well, because there wasn’t a ton of it, but Anim and Elliot played valuable defensive minutes (-6 and -3 +/-, respectively, which is pretty decent when you look at everyone else’s) to try and nip Wichita State’s run in the bud. The LSU game, though, was particularly impressive for both. Anim played 24 minutes, and despite fouling out, was crucial on the defensive end. He guarded LSU guard Tremont Waters for most of the second half, holding him to 1-5 from behind the arc and using his length to make everything more difficult. Yes, Waters finished with 39 points, so this is all relatively speaking, and remember that no one else scored more than 13 for the Tigers. Offensively, Anim had his best game, going 5-7 from the field for 12 points, with bonus points for some impressive finishes at the rim. Elliott was great as well in his 17 minutes of action, but in a much more low-key way. He primarily defended off the ball, but used his wingspan to keep his man in check and get in the way of some passing lanes. He was 2-3 from the floor for 4 points, and finished with a game-high +13.
#2 – The three-pointer will be the X-iest X-factor this season.
I guess this isn’t saying much because we knew how dependent on the three this team would be, but the Maui Invitational was a good three-game sample of how dramatically it will help and/or hurt the Golden Eagles from game to game this year.
Marquette took more threes than twos in every single game from Maui this weekend, which, if they’re making them, makes them almost unstoppable. The problem against Wichita State was that they stopped making them. And in the second half, it became painfully obvious that this team will have to dig themselves out of big holes with the trey, and if it’s not hitting, they’re done for. They actually didn’t shoot outstandingly against VCU, going 13-36 (36%) behind the arc, but they were 8-21 (38%) in the second half when they needed buckets from their scorers (Markus Howard was 4-9, Sam Hauser was 3-6. Andrew Rowsey was only 1-4). The second half success against VCU was largely an effort by Howard to do everything imaginable, but a significant chunk of that was good shooting which kept Marquette in the game and eventually allowed them to pull away.
Wichita State is a more somber story, one of failure and loss and a lot of missed shots. Marquette didn’t shoot well in the first half, going 5-16 (31%) from deep, but they balanced that from two-point range, shooting 46 percent overall. They went to the half down 5 and Hauser sporting three fouls in just three minutes of action, but the game still felt manageable. And for a while in the second half, it was. Wichita State never went up by 10 in the half until there were less than 10 minutes left, and even then, Marquette was fighting. Howard hit a three to cut it to 6 with 8:10 to go, but after that, Marquette went cold. From that point on, they were 3-13 (23%) from the field, including 1-7 (14%) from three-point range, and that one was from Rowsey with 20 seconds remaining to cut the lead from 17 to 14.
I’m not breaking any news here, but you have to make shots to win, and for a team that prides itself on shooting, they certainly shot themselves in the foot down the stretch. And I know, it’s Wichita State, one of the best and most complete teams in the country, even without Markis McDuffie. But that’s part of my frustration! Marquette was right there for much of the game. Howard was 1-6 from three in the second half and Hauser was 0-3. That’s out of character for them, and even though Wichita State is a great defensive team (they also made things tough for Marquette inside, as the Golden Eagles were 5-14 (36%) on layups), those are two 40%+ shooters (although not Howard this season), and some shots have to fall for Marquette to win. C’est la vie.
LSU was a weird game, as Marquette shot 8-14 (57%) from three in the first half, but only 3-10 (30%) in the second, yet were still able to pull away. They were 9-12 (75%) on two-pointers, much better than the Wichita State game, and Rowsey shot (AND MADE) 16 free throws in the second half alone, which is kind of insane.
#3 Marquette doesn’t have to play fast.
This is one quick (ha ha, get it) observation I had, and the stats are there to back it up. It’s understandable for the default thought with this team that they have to move fast to win. Two undersized guards are their best backcourt option, and they need input from way too many new guys to not try to maximize their possibilities to score in a game. Look at the VCU and LSU games, which were pretty fast-paced. They had eight and six more possessions than against Wichita State respectively, according to KenPom. It doesn’t seem like that much more, but the first and last game MU played in Maui felt faster and little more out of control.
They played that way too. Did you know that Marquette didn’t turn it over a single time in the second half against Wichita State? Well now, thanks to StatBroadcast, you know. They turned it over actually pretty frequently in the first half of that game, on 24 percent of their possessions to be exact. But when the Shockers clamped down on the defensive end, Marquette had to work the ball around for a good shot. I think a lot of the time, they did get an open look, but the shots just weren’t falling. A half without turnovers, especially against as good a team as WSU, is ridiculously impressive.
Let’s look at the other two games. They turned it over 17 times against the Rams, good (or bad?) for 22 percent of their possessions. LSU was almost the same, 16 TOs for 21 percent. Yeah, they won both of those games, but that’s because they were hitting their shots. Watching both of those games was like watching a tennis match. VCU and LSU turned it over 15 and 17 times, respectively, so it was a sloppy, back-and-forth game, but points in transition I don’t think will be Marquette’s strong suit this year. They can slow the game down and work out of their halfcourt offense to find open looks. They did it against one of the best teams in the country. And yeah, they lost by 14, but do you see this team shooting 23.5 percent from three-point range in every critical half they play? I don’t either. If this team can do anything, it’s shoot, so if they can control the tempo and limit their turnovers, shots will drop and they’ll score points. And that’s how you win games.
One last thing I learned: Tremont Waters is stupid good. Everyone point and laugh at Georgetown.