#1 - Marquette Golden Eagles might have figured out how to play defense.
It’s only one game, but it’s very clear that the Golden Eagles played one hell of a defensive game against UMBC on Tuesday night. No matter what you want to say about the game or the performances in it, you can not deny the fact that Marquette absolutely housed the Retrievers in terms of shutting down their offense.
One of the newer features on KenPom.com is an archive of single-game records, both best and worst, for every team during the entire history of the website, which now dates back to the 2001-02 season. In other words: There are 17 full seasons worth of Marquette games tucked into the system.
Here is where MU’s defense against UMBC ranks in various stats:
- Defensive Efficiency - 10th
- Effective Field Goal Percentage - 5th
- Two-Point Shooting Percentage - 5th
That is RIDICULOUS.
I want to make this clear: UMBC was a perfectly capable shooting team last year, ranking #114 in eFG% and #40 in three-point shooting percentage. They were a crummy two-point shooting team, ranking just #244, and that hurt their offensive efficiency, putting them at #206.
To a certain extent, Marquette should have been able to shut them down, especially since a lot of that shooting ability came from their three now-departed seniors. Except MU was a terribly shooting defense team last season, right down to being one of the 50 worst two-point shooting defenses in the country. I’m not going to start planning a parade because Marquette held UMBC to just 23.5% shooting inside the arc..... but I am going to point out that Mount St. Mary’s shot 69.6% on twos in Game #1 of the 2017-18 season. Will MU be the #3 effective field goal percentage defense for the rest of the country? Almost assuredly not, but the signs of improvement on that end of the court are absolutely there.
#2 - Markus Howard is hellbent on winning Big East Player of the Year.
This Marquette team is too loaded with talented offensive players to absorb a lot of 5-for-16 shooting performances from Markus Howard. We’re going to start there. We have to acknowledge that Howard just could not get in rhythm all game long.
It doesn’t matter. He was still fantastic in the first game of his junior season.
Head coach Steve Wojciechowski said it after the exhibition game, and it applies again here: I’m not going to worry about shots not falling. There’s going to be a lot of games where shots do fall this season. It will all average out. It will be fine.
Instead, what we’re going to focus on here is everything else that Howard did, because he appears to be taking Shamorie Ponds getting tabbed as Preseason Player of the Year in the Big East extremely personally. Markus Howard finished this game with eight rebounds and seven assists. I’m going to say it again, but slightly differently: Markus Howard was two rebounds and three assists short of a triple-double. He is going get at least one at some point this year, and it’s going to be NUTS.
Howard played 32 minutes and committed just two personal fouls, one of which was absolutely attempting to draw a charge and just did not get the call. He made it to the free throw line four times, one of which was an early and-1 that elicited a gigantic fist pump from Wojo. Perhaps most important of all: Howard’s two turnovers in the game still qualify him, in terms of rate, for the lowest turnover rate of his career. If this dude — and I realize how crazy this sounds for someone who has been so good through his first 65 games — is figuring out how to put it all together, then the rest of the Big East is totally screwed.
#3 - Wojo is fully prepared to defy all expectations of what constitutes a “normal” basketball lineup.
Heading into the season, the prevailing thoughts on the depth in the Marquette frontcourt was largely “Matt Heldt and Ed Morrow will hold down a majority of minutes at the five.”
Those two guys played a COMBINED eight minutes. Not only that, but Matt Heldt did not even enter the game until there was just 1:02 remaining on the clock in the second half. One more time for those of you in the back: Marquette played 32 of the games first 39 minutes without anything even resembling a traditional rim protector.
For example, when Morrow left the game for the last time with a shade over 14 minutes remaining, the lineup that Wojo left out on the floor was Markus Howard, Joseph Chartouny, Jamal Cain, Sam Hauser, and Joey Hauser. You tell me who’s playing the five there.
Time will tell if that lineup works night in and night out on the defensive end. There’s an awful lot of length there, so it’s possible it works. There’s also an awful lot of offensive firepower potentially there, so there’s a better than 50/50 shot that a gameplan of “wave a whole mess of arms around on defense and oh by the way, you dorks have to defend all five guys as shooters, so have fun with that” is actually wildly successful.