#1 – Marquette has to be perfect to win.
OK, now let me explain. I don’t mean perfect in the sense that they have to win out, I’m not expecting that at all. I also don’t mean they have to shoot perfectly to stay in games (although if they did ever do that, it honestly wouldn’t shock me). I just mean they have to play a perfect game of Marquette basketball. And it’s super doable! They’ve been on the cusp twice in the last four games!
So, there are a few requirements for this “perfect game.” First, Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey need to both play well. “Wow, this guy’s a genius, what a novel idea!” You’re probably saying this sarcastically right now, and yeah, I know I’m not breaking your mind, but look at the close losses to Villanova and Xavier. Against VU, Howard did the bulk of the lifting, Rowsey didn’t play well, and despite making it close, Marquette fell pretty well short. Against Xavier, Rowsey had 31 points while Howard had 13 and shot 1-8 from behind the arc. It’s pretty rare that both of them can have a strong night shooting the ball. Against Providence, Rowsey shot pretty poorly despite getting to the foul line, and it took 52 points from Markus Howard to get a road win. Herculean? Absolutely. Necessary? I dream of a day when it won’t be. There’s evidence in non-conference games as well. Against Wisconsin, they both shot efficiently from the field, scored in the mid-20s, and we all remember what happened then. Against Georgia, Howard shot pretty well, Rowsey did not and was pretty bad in other areas as well, and it ended up as a tight 7-point loss. The issue here is that even if one of them is having a rough night offensively, they can still get their points simply by how much the team relies on one of them to shoot the ball. That’s where the next couple of points come in.
Sam Hauser, whose shooting is honestly just as good as the Splash Brothers Jr. (not his shot creating, just shooting), should take a bit heavier load off of the backcourt’s shoulders in terms of scoring and playmaking. More on this in a minute.
Lastly, at least one of the first-year players needs to step up on the offensive end with a big game. Jamal Cain, Greg Elliott and Sacar Anim have all been excellent defensively, but too often they defer to the shooters on the other end of the floor. I think I would too if I was a freshman on a team with two of the most ridiculous scorers in the country, but the proof is in the pudding. There are a combined six games this season where a player who was not on last year’s team has scored in double-digits. Six! Out of 16 tries for all three of them for a total of 48! Two of those games were against Chicago State (Anim and Cain).
The few other times that one of those guys provides an offensive spark, it’s been a tremendous advantage for Maruqette. Against LSU in Maui, Anim had 12 points off the bench on 5-7 shooting before fouling out, which seems like a better alternative to Markus Howard’s 10 points on 3-9 and 0-5 from 3. They won that game largely because of Rowsey and Hauser, but Anim shot the ball on seven possessions and scored on five of them. Pretty good. Against Xavier, we discovered that Jamal Cain is the best corner-3 shooter in the history of basketball, and maybe of any sport. In a game against a top-10 team in which Howard struggled greatly and Hauser didn’t shoot nearly as much as he should have due to foul trouble, you would think that Marquette got blown out, right? Well, they didn’t because of Cain. He was 5-8 from the floor and 4-6 from behind the 3-point line for an efficient 16 points! Marquette only lost by 4, so you have to assume that if Howard plays a little bit better or Hauser takes a couple more shots, Marquette wins that game.
It seems simple, but that’s why this is frustrating. It’s things that we know this team is capable of, yet rarely seems to accomplish. Last night was another good example. Marquette has Villanova on the ropes down the stretch mostly because Howard just refuses to miss, but Anim and Elliott had 14 and 13, respectively, that helped make up for Rowsey’s subpar performance. Four of Anim’s buckets were from baseline cuts in the first half, something he’s been really great at recently. Lots of Elliott’s points were due to his ridiculous athleticism around the basket.
So, I’m not breaking any news here. If teams make shots, they win games. What a concept! But for Marquette, even having two of the best 3-point shooters in the country, that seems to be a difficult task. That’s why I’m saying they have to play the perfect game in order to compete and beat teams of that caliber. Make your 3s and it opens up the floor to getting shots inside, which then takes pressure off the outside shooters. Like Matthew McConaughey says in The Wolf of Wall Street, “revolutions.”
Honestly, this is like that GIF of the woman analyzing all the floating numbers, because all the information is obvious, but it’s just right on the brink of being all put together.
#2 – Sam Hauser needs to be more involved in the offense.
What? WHAT? Connor, this is crazy! He’s got a perfect role on this team, and he does it so well. Yeah, I know, but it’s because he does it so well that I think he’s due for a bump in usage. And I’ll keep this one short of you’re still with me after that novel for #1.
Here’s the deal. Sam Hauser is the 23rd most efficient player in the country according to KenPom. He’s averaging 14 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 3.1 assists. That’s good! It’s also on an 18.2% usage rating. I kinda feel like Marquette would benefit from that being 4-5 percentage points higher. I’m not asking him to bring the ball up the floor, but if matchups favor it, running to offense through Hauser maybe open some things up for Marquette. Howard, I have noticed, does a great job moving off the ball. Rowsey, not as much, but he’s also got the ball in his hand most often. So, when Rowsey’s on the bench and not creating, I would love to see Hauser have an opportunity to facilitate the offense. He’s a great passer! The dude just doesn’t make mistakes, like, ever.
For example, last night he only took 8 shots. In some countries, that is a crime. Even if Howard was getting to the rim well and the driving force behind the comeback, Hauser still should’ve been more involved with Rowsey on the bench. In addition to his 13 points, he had four assists, another telling sign that he can make plays and find open teammates.
Even if it’s something as simple as a pick-and-pop with one of the guards, I’d like to see his usage rate go up. Because he’s such a consistent player, I don’t think his efficiency would go down, at least not significantly. Even if it’s just a couple more pick-and-pops with one of the guards every game, I am #TeamSam.
#3 – Marquette should play small more often
Down the stretch against Villanova, I realized that Marquette didn’t have Matt Heldt or Theo John in. I love that. I think it benefits Marquette so much more. I’m not going to use numbers to defend myself because I’m not an analytics guy. I never have been, and I never will be, not even when the robots take over. It simply just makes more sense for a team whose strength is shooting and weakness is inside defense.
I don’t think playing the combination of Heldt or John an extended number of minutes is going to be a big difference in keeping other teams from scoring inside the 3-point line. I love them both to death but I just don’t. If it was, Marquette wouldn’t be ranked #306 in the country in two-point defense at this point in the season. I understand the match-up implications in a game like, for example, Georgetown, where they’re all 9 feet tall, and why head coach Steve Wojciechowski would need to play those two pretty frequently to try and check Jessie Govan (which, to their credit, they did a pretty good job of that). But against a team like Villanova, whose tallest player is 6-9, there’s no need! Running with a lineup of Howard, Elliott, Anim, Cain/Hauser and Hauser/Froling seemed to work really well. Marquette wasn’t going to stop Villanova from scoring regardless of who was the tallest Golden Eagle on the floor, so utilizing the most athletic and fastest offense to try and score points in a hurry seemed to work well. If Harry Froling or Hauser is the man setting the high ball screen for Howard or Rowsey, either the guard is crafty and fast enough to get to the cup, the screener is a relatively mobile big man or good shooter, and the guys on the wings are likely going to be good at getting the the rim. That last part would be true, I think, even if Heldt or John were on the court, but if someone was driving to the lane, Heldt or John’s defender wouldn’t have to worry about them shooting.
I’m not saying that they should stick with these kinds of lineups for 80% of the game. I think it’ll work really well in spot minutes where Marquette just needs to score points in a hurry, much like last night and against Xavier. And of course, there are other matchups in the Big East like Govan, for instance walking double-double Angel Delgado, who comes to the BMOHBC on Tuesday. My point is with this argument is that I think a lineup that features a lot of shooters and athletes would work much better for a team that either gets hot and needs momentum or gets cold and needs athletic guys to get to the rim/foul line. We’ll see in the coming weeks if this type of lineup really starts to show itself more on the floor.