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Marquette vs St. John’s: Three Things We Learned

High quality offense, nifty defense, but who was watching it?

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Marquette
mmmm, interior defense
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

#1 - Ball movement is back

11 days ago, against these very same Johnnies, I lamented on how Marquette did not get any production from guys not named Andrew Rowsey, Markus Howard, or Sam Hauser, and that a lack of ball movement was to blame for the struggles of the so called “role” players. If you watched the game against St. John’s last night and missed the one on February 10th, then you probably think I am an idiot.

Last night, the ball zipped around the court and, as one would expect, it showed in the statbook with guys whose names are not Howard, Rowsey, or Hauser scoring 42 of Marquette’s 85 points. Marquette racked up 22 assists on 31 baskets compared to last time we played St. John’s where we had 12 assists on 28 baskets. It’s not just that Marquette racked up a lot of assists, but it’s who got them and who was receiving the passes. Marquette had four players with three or more assists and was led by Andrew Rowsey with eight. This spread of assists is a result of good ball movement which does not allow the defense to bog down on one singular player. Another improvement in the ball movement was the drive and kick game. Normally Marquette is not a particularly strong drive and kick team, however, last night Sacar Anim and Greg Elliott were both very effective when driving and dishing to an outside shooter or cutter. The same can be said for Andrew Rowsey, who had one of his better assists to turnover ratios of the season (Eight assists and two turnovers). Overall, this was the exact type of offensive night we needed without Markus Howard, our best scorer, in the game.

#2 - Where were y’all?

Upon seeing the crowd last night, I became extremely worried that the entire student population had decided that a win or go home game against the hottest team in the country coming off either the best or second best road win of the season was not important enough to attend. However, that is ridiculous so I came up with some other more reasonable explanations for why the crowd was so puny.

1. The Joker kidnapped all the students in a ploy to lure Batman to an abandoned warehouse and defeat him. Likelihood: 4/10

2. There was a mix up at all of the bars before the game and every mixed drink was made with Everclear (190 proof) instead of the patron’s preferred liquor and everyone passed out in the bars and missed the game. Likelihood: 6/10

3. Marquette is secretly a front to help communist spies infiltrate our society and all the students/spies were too busy celebrating the day that Karl Marx published his Communist Manifesto (February 21st) to go to the basketball game. Likelihood: 8/10

4. There was a mix up with the game shuttles from campus and they accidentally drove all the students to the local Wauwatosa East vs Kettle Moraine high school game instead of to the BMO Harris Bradley Center where they got to see my Alma Mater Wauwatosa East beat Kettle Moraine 61-54. Likelihood: 7/10

I am sure it was one of the causes listed above and not the fact that the students were too lazy or didn’t feel that Marquette had a chance to win without Markus Howard. So next game, for the regular season finale, let’s make sure to stay away from the Joker, double check our drink order, renounce communism and all its works, and correct our bus drivers to make sure we ALL get to the game against Creighton on March 3rd because that game will probably decide if Marquette is dancing this season.

#3 - Zone strikes again

We all knew that Marquette was going to run a lot of zone in this game. Knew? Hoped? Prayed? Something like that. Without two diminutive guards on the court, the 2-3 zone defense has been pretty effective for Marquette, at least over the past two games. The strong suit of the 2-3 is the ability to stoutly defend the interior, where Marquette has been awful defending this year (316th in the country at two-point defense). While running the 2-3 predominantly last night, Marquette held St. Johns to a mere 44.1% from inside the arc, this is a massive upgrade over the 54.4% (!) that we normally allow and an insane improvement over the 73.3% (!!!) that SJU shot in the first meeting. Even though St. John’s shot 42.3% from three, higher than their normal 34.2%, many of those makes were against our man to man defense in transition or when the game was essentially over.

Any way you slice it, the zone defense was very effective last night. Not only was the zone effective but it was not run as a traditional 2-3 in many possessions. In a traditional 2-3 defense when the ball is passed to the corner the lower wing defender guards the ball handler and the top defender (mostly Rowsey in this case) retreats to the elbow to guard the entry pass to the high post. However, last night on a couple of occasions Marquette trapped the corner pass with the lower wing defender and Rowsey. This seemed to catch St. John’s off guard and lead to at least one steal that I can remember. This type of gimmick may be effective on occasion and a good change of pace when the opposing team gets comfortable against the zone. Speaking of zone gimmicks, last night it seemed that Marquette would set up in a 2-3 and then right before St. John’s initiated their “offense” Marquette would man up. I am not sure if this was a result of bad communication or a plan by head coach Steve Wojciechowski to confuse the St. John’s players. The way Wojo mixed defense the whole night in order to keep St. John’s off balance I would not be surprised if this was another gimmick to make the Johnnies feel uncomfortable. Considering that we’re talking about college basketball players and zone defense here, sometimes “uncomfortable” is all you need.