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2018 NIT Preview: Marquette Golden Eagles vs Harvard Crimson

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The Golden Eagles return to the McGuire Center for a game that counts for the first time since 2014.

Ivy League Basketball Tournament - Championship Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

2018 National Invitation Tournament First Round

#2 Marquette Golden Eagles (19-13) vs #7 Harvard Crimson (18-13)

Date: Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Time: 6pm Central
Location: Al McGuire Center, Milwaukee, WI

Marquette Stat Leaders

Points: Markus Howard, 20.4 ppg
Rebounds: Sam Hauser, 6.0 rpg
Assists: Andrew Rowsey, 4.6 apg

Harvard Stat Leaders

Points: Seth Towns, 16.0 ppg
Rebounds: Seth Towns & Justin Bassey, 5.7 rpg
Assists: Christian Juzang, 2.7 apg

Harvard Injury Note: Seth Towns missed the final 8 minutes of Harvard’s 68-65 loss to Penn in the Ivy League Championship game on Sunday. He suffered a knee injury at that point, with Penn leading 53-45. The Crimson rallied to take a 58-55 lead, but ultimately let that lead slip away down the stretch. As you can see, he’s a critical component for Harvard given his point and rebound totals, but the sophomore from Columbus, OH is also KenPom’s POY in the Ivy League. Chris Lewis is Harvard’s next best scorer, averaging 12.9 points.

KenPom Rankings

Marquette: #53
Harvard: #144
KenPom Projection: Marquette has an 85% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 77-66.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 6-4, with the loss to Villanova snapping a 3 game winning streak.

Harvard Last 10 Games: 8-2, with both losses coming on the road against co-Ivy League champion Penn.

All Time Series: This is Marquette’s first ever meeting with Harvard.

The Stakes: It’s a survive and advance event, so Marquette’s next loss means the season is over. The winner advances to a second round game against either #3 Oregon Ducks or #6 Rider Broncs. If Marquette beats Harvard, the Golden Eagles will host their next game, regardless of opponent.

Tempo Free Fun: Any discussion about what is or is not going to happen in this game has to begin with Seth Towns. The sophomore emerged as a star for Harvard this year following a season ending injury to Bryce Aiken, and ended up taking Ivy League Player of the Year honors. He suffered a knee injury with a little more than eight minutes left against Penn in the Ivy League championship game, and while Towns managed to get himself on his feet and off the court on his own, it was clear that he was in an immense amount of pain.

Two things on this. One: Towns didn’t return to that game, which was on Sunday afternoon. Two: The injury didn’t look all that bad. His leg ended up in an awkward position over a Penn player’s leg while coming down from a leaping attempt at a rebound.

Unless Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker announces something, I’m not convinced that Towns will miss this game. This season alone, I’ve watched Andrew Rowsey get his calf stepped on while he was laying face down on the court and not miss a game, I’ve watched Markus Howard lay motionless for a long stretch after a bad fall and only miss one game, and I’ve watched Danielle King from women’s hoops on the ground, grabbing at her leg and howling in pain, only to return later in that very contest. It would not be unreasonable to think it’s possible that Towns plays on Wednesday night. Stay tuned for updates on that one.

If Towns plays, Harvard will be able to make use of his multi-dimensional talents. He does a little bit of everything, ranking in the top 40 in usage on KenPom, top 250 in defensive rebounding rate, top 450 in block rate, and top 80 in three-point percentage.

Without him..... well, it’s hard to say. Even with Towns, Harvard was a lousy offensive team this season, ranking #243 in offensive efficiency on KenPom. They were a quality three-point shooting team, ranking #144 at 36% and they took an awful lot of threes as well, ranking in the top 90 in terms of rate relative to the rest of their offense. That’s the only thing they did well, though, and they don’t really have anyone else they rely on. Justin Bassey shot 42% on less than three tries a game, and Christian Juzang shot 39% on a little over three tries a game. Harvard turns the ball over on more than 20% of their possessions, and Juzang and Bassey, the two guys that are probably going to have to step up the most without Towns, are particularly egregious in this department. They don’t clean up their misses (#259 in offensive rebounding rate), and they do not get to the line nearly at all (#324). The Crimson are also maddeningly slow on offense, carrying around one of the 50 longest average possession lengths in the country.

Whatever does or does not happen with Towns, Marquette is going to have to deal with Chris Lewis in order to win. The sophomore from Georgia stands 6’9” and weighs 235 pounds. His stats — 13.4 points, 6.0 rebounds — make him sound like a bit like a slightly beefier Sam Hauser, but remember: Harvard plays slow. While Harvard, the team, doesn’t get offensive rebounds, Chris Lewis does, ranking #346 in the country in terms of rate. He’s a dangerously effective inside scorer, connecting on 60% of his shots this season, all inside the arc, giving him a top 100 effective field goal percentage. Lewis is also a more than capable rim protector, swatting a block and a half per game, but in the top 90 in the country in block rate.

What Harvard is good at is defense. Tommy Amaker has them guarding really well, ranking #67 on KenPom in adjusted defensive efficiency. Their core component is ending your possession after one try, ranking #17 in defensive rebounding rate. What makes that exceptionally deadly for them is that they’re also pretty good at forcing you into lousy shots, allowing an effective field goal percentage of just 49%, which is a top 80 number. They’ll make you miss, and when you do, it’s almost always going the other direction. That’s a deadly combo, and it more than makes up for their lack of forcing turnovers and letting teams get to the line way too often.

Of course, the obvious solution to that is just don’t miss. That’s where Marquette’s distinct advantage comes in. See, one of the things that Harvard is willing to do as a defense is let you shoot threes. They’re allowing teams to take 40% of their shots from behind the arc this season, and that’s just over the line into the bottom third of the country. As you may have noticed this season, Marquette likes taking a bajillion threes per game. 45% of MU’s shots are long range shots, and only two teams — William & Mary and Purdue — have made a higher percentage of their launches.

So:

  1. Marquette’s incredibly suspect defense is tasked with stopping an offense that’s slow and largely ineffective, and.....
  2. Marquette’s incredibly potent offense is facing a strong defense, but one that actually lets teams do the one thing that MU does essentially better than anyone.

I think I figured out why KenPom says the Golden Eagles are gonna win by more than 10, guys.

Team Watch: Here’s a stunner for you: We’ve already seen a team record for three-pointers made in a season. Marquette is sitting on 354, which is already shooting way past last year’s record of 336 in a season. Right now, this is the 3rd most accurate three-point shooting team in MU history at 41.5%. It’s going to be nip and tuck with the current fourth best mark of 41.3%, set in 2009-10. This squad is currently the best free throw shooting team in Marquette history, draining 79.6% of their attempts, surpassing the record of 78.1% set — wait for it — last season. This year’s team is one of the best ballhandling teams in Marquette history, ranking with the 4th fewest turnovers per game at 12.1 an outing. The 2013-14 team was at 12.0 and the 2010-11 team had 12.3, so there’s a lot of potential for movement there.

Greg Elliott Watch: The freshman from Detroit has the seventh most blocks by a freshman with 22, and is trailing teammate Theo John by just one. Up next is current MU women’s basketball assistant coach Scott Merritt, who had 25 in 2000-01.

Theo John Watch: With a block against Creighton, John now has the sixth most blocks by a Marquette freshman all to himself at 23. He’s chasing Scott Merritt at 25.

Sam Hauser Watch: I feel so bad for the sophomore from Stevens Point. After assembling one of the greatest freshman shooting campaigns in Marquette history, he’s doing the same thing as a sophomore and is being completely overshadowed by Markus Howard yet again. Hauser has 91 made threes, which is the second most by a Marquette sophomore, trailing behind wherever Howard’s new sophomore record is at any given moment. It’s also the 4th most in any single season, trailing Steve Novak’s all time record, and wherever Howard and Andrew Rowsey happen to be. Hauser’s 179 attempts from long range have surpassed Duane Wilson for the seventh most by a MU sophomore. Next up on the list is Dominic James at 184. Hauser is currently sitting on 472 points after his 4 point outing against Villanova, which is the seventh best sophomore total in MU history, passing Mike Moran at 470. Dean Meminger is next at 475.

Andrew Rowsey Watch: Rowsey now has a team high 110 made three-pointers on the season, which is the second most by a Marquette senior, the 2nd most in any MU season, and just the second time any Marquette player has splashed 100 triples in a season. Steve Novak’s senior year record of 121 is the only total left in front of him on both charts. Rowsey is up to 273 three-point tries this season, which breaks Novak’s senior year total of 259 as the program’s all time record. Rowsey’s campaign is just the seventh time a Marquette player has attempted 200 or more three-point shots in a season. After going 5-for-5 against Villanova from the free throw stripe, Rowsey passed Rube Schulz for the seventh most made free throws by a senior with 150. Davante Gardner is up next at 157, and that mark is the 10th most in any single season. Rowsey’s accuracy is absurd, as he still needs 12 more attempts from the stripe to get into the senior top 10 in that department. Rowsey passed Jim Boylan and Dominic James for the seventh most assists by a MU senior with 146. He’ll need four more helpers to tie Derrick Wilson for sixth. With 22 points against Villanova, Rowsey became the 49th MU player to ever hit 1,000 career points, the seventh to do it in just two seasons, and the fifth player IN NCAA HISTORY to score 1,000 points for two different teams. He’s now up to 1,014 points in a Marquette uniform, which has him tied with Luke Fischer for 46th place all-time, and he’ll be chasing Tony Miller and Dwayne Johnson at 1,027 in this game. Rowsey already has the third best senior scoring season in MU history with 643 points, vaulting past Darius Johnson-Odom and Wesley Matthews. Next up is Tony Smith at 689, so Rowsey is going to need either A) an explosion or B) a Marquette victory to move up further. On the all time single season chart, Rowsey sits at fifth place all time with George Thompson at 664 up next.

Markus Howard Watch: It’s official: This is the best sophomore scoring season in Marquette history. With 4 points against DePaul, Howard is up to 633, and that has surpassed the one and only Dwyane Wade at 571. That quickly jumped him up the 10 single season scoring chart all the way up to #7. Howard’s 102 made three-pointers are the most by a Marquette sophomore, passing Steve Novak’s 89, and he trails only Rowsey right now and Novak’s senior year record of 121 on the all-time chart. Howard’s 256 three-point attempts is now the most by a Marquette sophomore, surpassing Novak’s record of 207. 256 long range attempts in a season is also the sixth 200+ attempt season in Marquette history and the 3rd most in any single season by any Marquette player, trailing Novak’s senior season (259) and wherever Rowsey’s current total sits. His 219 made field goals are the third most by a MU sophomore, surpassing George Thompson (200) and coming up next on Dwyane Wade (223). Howard’s 473 total shots on the season is a new sophomore record, passing Wade at 458. He’s coming up quick on the top 10 in makes and shots on the all-time single season chart as well. Howard is the sixth player to record 1,000 career points for Marquette in just two seasons, just barely beating Rowsey to the punch. He’s up to 1,043 right now, which means he has already passed Tony Miller, Dwayne Johnson, Ron Curry, and Rube Schulz to land in 41st place all-time. Chris Crawford is at 1,048, and Scott Merritt is joined by Jae Crowder at 1,049.