It’s tough to examine the mundane. When the Three Things article comes after the Indiana game, I imagine a lot more people will read it since it will represent a major stepping stone in this very important season. Marquette Golden Eagles ’s victory on Saturday afternoon against Bethune-Cookman Wildcats was not a stepping stone. Hardly even a stepping pebble. There weren’t a whole lot of ways that this game could go wrong. What happened was expected. Many of you only watched the first half, and only passively at that. You might not have noticed much. I didn’t either, honestly. But I noticed enough, and that’s all that matters.
Before we look at this game with a broader lens, I need to point out that there was a very important aspect of the game in which the Wildcats absolutely tore apart our Golden Eagles.
My god. A truly devastating performance. There needs to be a players-only meeting to discuss how they can come back from a brutalization like that.
Onto what we learned.
1. Lol Markus Howard
After a subpar shooting performance in the opener against UMBC, the All-American contender showed up in a huge way on Saturday. His final line was 37 points on 10-16 shooting with 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 turnovers. Oh, he also only played 27 minutes. Had this not been a blowout, there’s not doubt in my mind that he would have dropped 50.
So far, he’s blowing my expectations for him as a distributor out of the water. I still imagine that Joseph Chartouny will finish the year as the go-to point guard, but he’s been a little slow getting his feet under him so Howard has taken that role to start the year and he has been just tremendous. Despite playing off the ball for the majority of his career so far, there have been no growing pains for him. And it’s not like being the point guard has taken shots from him, either, as he’s launched 32 shots over the first 2 games.
He’s clearly added some strength to his game as well, because on defense he is not letting ball handlers get by him without a fight. There are still a lot of limitations to how good of a defender he can be without size and a knack for getting steals, but so far it doesn’t look like he’s going to be a liability on that end.
Also, I noticed something from the bench a couple times after he made a three.
More bench celebrations, pls.
2. Turnovers Could Be An Issue For The Offense
I know the article implies that I should be saying things that we definitively learned, but it’s tough to draw massive conclusions from games like this. Still, it’s not ideal to cough up the ball on 27.3% of your possessions to a school whose name sounds like the name of a minor character in Red Dead Redemption 2.
4 players committed at least 3 turnovers, including both of the transfers. For as well as the bigs have played overall so far, they had a case of the butterfingers on Saturday. Lazy passes were made and guys didn’t expect the ball to come their way half the time. Part of it was the Wildcats really pressuring the ball handlers, but this could be an issue that puts a cap on how good this offense can be. And it’s going to get tested here really soon. Indiana so far has the 14th highest defensive turnover rate in the nation and Archie Miller tends to have defenses that emphasize creating pressure.
3. The Team’s Size Is Going To Be A Major Asset
Last year, for as great as the offense was, had one flaw. They were not fantastic at scoring in the paint. It was fine, but not as good as you’d think. It got worse over the course of the year, too. It didn’t necessarily matter since they had 3 god-tier shooters, but it was something that was going to need to improve for the offense to keep up with last year’s efficiency.
The team overall only shot 50% from inside the arc on Saturday, but Theo John, Ed Morrow and Joey Hauser combined to shoot 11-16 from the interior. Those are the team’s main size components this year and they’re quickly giving this team another dimension. While Matt Heldt was the most efficient player in the country last year (screw you, De’Quan Lake, I’m ignoring you), the team will have more room to increase the volume of opportunities for shots near the basket. It will take pressure off Howard and Sam Hauser for when they have off shooting night.
Defensively the improvement is so much more pronounced. Last year the team ranked 304th in the nation in 2 point defense. That’s disgustingly bad. They’re third so far this year. No, that will not continue at this rate, but consider the following. In Marquette’s first two games buy games this year (yes I know this game was technically part of the Preseason NIT Tournament and not a buy game, but how about you quit being a pedantic little nimrod and let me make my point) they’re giving up twos at a 29.3% clip. Against the first two last year that number was 62.1%.
They’ve also improved their block rate from 138th in the country to 30th so far this year. Teams aren’t getting the easy layups that they were used to last year, and the John/Morrow combination deserves all the credit so far for locking down the rim. We need this defense to be at least mediocre, but they’re on their way to being good.