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Indiana Will Be A Litmus Test For What Marquette Basketball Is This Season

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This isn’t a secret and this was always going to be the case, but the first two games have shown signs of what the Golden Eagles need to be.

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

When the Marquette non-conference schedule was finalized, we always knew that the Gavitt Tip-Off Games trip to Bloomington to face Indiana was going to be the first true test of the 2018-19 season.

This isn’t intended as a slight against UMBC or Bethune-Cookman. The fact of the matter is that Indiana is a Major Seven program, and 23 of MU’s 31 regular season games are going to be against Major Seven teams. That’s essentially three-quarters of the schedule, so yeah: the first stage of that is going to be fairly important in terms of seeing what Marquette is really made of this season.

However, we’ve seen some things from Marquette in the first two games that tell us that we need to see if they can recreate that style of play against Major Seven teams.

After ranking #165 and #182 at the end of the year in KenPom.com ‘s defensive efficiency metric, everyone and their pet rock knew that Marquette needed to figure out a way to improve their defense in a major way to go along with the top 15 type of offense that the Golden Eagles are capable of executing. Whatever we knew about Marquette under Steve Wojciechowski, this was true: He can coach and develop players in terms of offense. In terms of defense? That was up for debate, and Marquette’s ceiling in 2018-19 was going to be completely determined by whether the defense improved.

Let’s dig into last season a little bit. In five games against teams of similar comportment as UMBC and Bethune-Cookman, this is what Marquette’s defensive profile looked like:

Effective Field Goal Percentage: 48.2%
Turnover Rate: 22.3%
Offensive Rebound Rate: 26.9%
Free Throw Rate: 33.2%
Two-Point Shooting Percentage: 50.0%
Three-Point Shooting Percentage: 30.2%
Points Per Possession: 0.95

There’s some good there — the turnovers, for example — but there’s an awful lot of “well, this is going to be a massive problem against higher caliber opponents” that we saw over and over again once Big East play started up. To be honest, some of those massive problems reared their heads in these five games. Remember going to overtime against Eastern Illinois? Remember trailing Northern Illinois with 13 minutes to go?

Through two games this season, against similar level of opponents, and these numbers are plucked straight from KenPom.com:

Effective Field Goal Percentage: 29.4%
Turnover Rate: 19.0%
Offensive Rebound Rate: 27.7%
Free Throw Rate: 26.0%
Two-Point Shooting Percentage: 29.8%
Three-Point Shooting Percentage: 19.1%
Points Per Possession: 0.69

Now, yes, there’s a lot of Small Sample Size Theater going on here, and that’s absolutely the point that I’m getting at here. Through 80 minutes of basketball, Marquette has shown themselves to be wildly better on the defensive end than they were last season. Even when you adjust for level of competition, that marked improvement is still there.

That’s where Indiana comes in.

Keeping in mind that Indiana has played two teams worse than the two teams that Marquette has played this season, here’s what Indiana’s offensive profile looks like in the same categories:

Effective Field Goal Percentage: 61.5%
Turnover Rate: 17.7%
Offensive Rebound Rate: 34.8%
Free Throw Rate: 34.8%
Two-Point Shooting Percentage: 69.0%
Three-Point Shooting Percentage: 31.0%
Points Per Possession: 1.19

You can see the potential problems here.

Look, Marquette might lose this game to the Hoosiers. It’s a road game and the Indiana faithful will assuredly be jumped up and ready to go for their biggest non-conference home game of the season. Indiana looks to be a quality team this season with the one-two punch of Juwan Morgan and Romeo Langford. It’s early in the season, and even against mid-major squads, we’ve seen some rough patches from the Golden Eagles. Quite honestly, it’s fine if Marquette loses the game.

What’s not fine is if Marquette loses while letting the Indiana offense run rampant. Heck, it’s not fine if Marquette wins while letting the Indiana offense run rampant.

Can the Golden Eagles turn in a respectable defensive performance against a Major Seven opponent? That’s the question on the table, and the answer is going to tell us an awful lot about what Marquette is going to be doing in March.