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#21 Marquette at Creighton: Three Things We Learned

Kind of a mixed bag here

NCAA Basketball: Marquette at Creighton
Better part of this picture from overtime: The empty seats because people left before the game was over, or the guy in the white shirt?
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

#1 - Marquette’s play away from Fiserv Forum is still a problem, or at the very least a major question mark.

After the St. John’s game, we talked about it being time to worry about Marquette when they leave the friendly confines of Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee. While the Golden Eagles came away with the win on Wednesday night in Omaha, there was nothing in how MU handled Creighton to dispel any fears that anyone might have had.

Just to recap, here’s what MU’s Four Factors looked like for all of their non-home games after the St. John’s game:

Away From Home Four Factors

Marquette Category Opponents
Marquette Category Opponents
48.0% eFG% 56.5%
16.8% Turnover % 14.7%
25.0% Off. Reb. Rate 26.5%
25.4% FT Rate 38.7%
1.00 Pts/Possession 1.17

And here’s what they look like from only the Creighton game:

At Creighton Four Factors

Marquette Category Creighton
Marquette Category Creighton
69.5% eFG% 63.8%
17.5% Turnover % 11.3%
27.6% Off. Reb. Rate 17.1%
50.8% FT Rate 40.0%
1.32 Pts/possession 1.30

The defense on the road is still a massive problem.

There are a couple of catches here, both regarding MU’s problems on defense and MU’s apparent road success on offense. To a certain extent, the stats on both ends of the court are assisted by Creighton’s mere existence. The Bluejays are an absurdly great offensive team, so it was always going to be a problem to keep them under control. However, they shot better than their season average which was already top five in the country. Creighton already was an offensive outlier relative to the rest of the country, and for whatever reason, Marquette’s defense allowed them to be even better than they were.

That’s obviously bad.

On the flipside, Creighton is not a good defensive team, coming into the game at #121 in the country in KenPom.com’s defensive efficiency metric. They’re all the way down to #148 after playing Marquette, which does tell you an awful lot about how badly Marquette torched them. However, part of the torching has to do with the fact that Creighton’s not particularly great in the first place, and when you let the basketball equivalent of Firestorm, The Nuclear Man, get into a rhythm because you’re bad on defense, that’s how things like “Markus Howard breaks the Big East single game scoring record against you” happens.

Marquette returns to the road next week Tuesday night against Georgetown. The Hoyas are passable on offense and not good on defense. We’ll see what the Golden Eagles manage to put together against them.

#2 - Markus Howard can have a good game at the same time that he’s having a bad game.

With good reason, everyone is going to remember this game largely because of Markus Howard. Sure, Sam Hauser’s going to get some long term memory love, but if you were watching, you’re not going to forget the time you saw a Marquette star put up 50 points for the second time in his career.

Howard connected on 15 of his 26 shots on the night, which is objectively amazing at 57.7%. His two-point shooting was fine (5-for-12) but his three-point shooting was absurd at 10-of-14 for 71.4%. Seventy-one percent, on a task where you’re doing just fine if you screw it up two times out of three. He finished with an effective field goal percentage of 76.9%, which is just inhuman. There are just three players in the country with an eFG% better than that for the season so far, and UCF’s Tacko Fall has the most shots out of the trio with 80. In 14 games.

[Aside: I know Tacko Fall is not the bulkiest dude on the planet, but we may want to consider firing Johnny Dawkins for cause if the 7’6” Fall is averaging less than five shots a game.]

Where were we?

Oh, right. In his free time on Wednesday night, Markus Howard grabbed two rebounds (a very good number for a sub-six-foot guard) and dished a game high — not team high, game high — six assists. He also had a block, his first of the year and just his fifth of his career.

He also had nine of Marquette’s 14 turnovers.

Which is really bad.

Marquette was A-OK as a team in the turnover department if you refer back to the Four Factors chart above for a moment. After MU’s struggles with ball control early in the season, I will happily take any turnover rate under 20%, and under 18% will do the job every day of the week. A turnover rate under 18% is roughly top 100 territory, and that’s super.

What’s not super is nine turnovers by one player in a game. Especially when it’s a game that goes to overtime. Those are precious, glorious possessions, filled with the promise of hard earned points, especially in road games like this one, and Marquette just can not afford to have that happen.

Well, usually can’t afford to have that happen. Howard’s other worldly attack of the net more than balanced it out in the end. But what if he didn’t have 53 points? What if he missed two shots, and Marquette loses in regulation while he’s turning the ball over that much? Is anyone really that excited about a 33 point performance with all of those giveaways? Probably not.

The good news is that Howard didn’t end up pressing to make up for his turnovers, at least not in the counterproductive kind of way. You can press all you want when you shoot 71% on three-pointers, honestly. Marquette can get into a lot of problems very quickly if things go the other way. Imagine if Howard had had those nine turnovers while going 2-for-15 against St. John’s. That would have been very ugly.

#3 - Markus Howard was unreal, but Marquette may have won the game because of the supporting cast.

I don’t really have a cogent overall point here, but after making the point after the St. John’s game that MU needed a secondary scorer in the worst way, I wanted to highlight some “not Markus Howard” good to great performances in this game.

  • Sam Hauser. No, not just for his triple to tie it. Did you realize that he finished the game with a double-double? 13 points, his highest scoring output over the last four games, to go with 10 rebounds. He also had three assists, and his 3-for-8 (37.5%) shooting performance from long range shakes the elder Hauser out of the 2-for-12 funk that he was in.
  • Theo John. His two missed free throws near the end of overtime were his only two missed shot attempts of the game as he made both of his field goals and his first freebie. He closed with six rebounds, his best glass cleaning performance in the last four games, and had four blocks, the first time he had recorded a block at all since the Buffalo game. Don’t let Howard’s 53 and Hauser’s buzzer beater let you forget about the patently absurd chasedown block on Ty-Shon Alexander that John had late in regulation. Beyond being amazing to watch it ricochet off the backboard back out to the free throw line, it was actually pretty crucial. Howard had just committed a turnover with Marquette down 3. If Alexander converts the lay-up, it’s a five point game. Instead, it went the other way, Marcus Zegarowski fouled Howard, and bang-bang, it’s a one point game with two minutes left. Thanks to his four block performance, Theo John is now ranked #22 in the country in block rate on KenPom.
  • Joey Hauser. Ho-hum, just a 13 points, five rebound performance from the redshirt freshman. After going 3-for-4 from behind the arc in this game, Hauser is now shooting exactly 50% from long range for the season. Just chugging along on his pace to be one of the 10 best freshmen in Marquette history, that’s all.
  • Joseph Chartouny. Just a seven point, five rebound performance from the grad transfer from Fordham, along with an assist and a steal that immediately turned into a fast break bucket for him. He hasn’t quite turned into the lethal defensive threat that we were expecting after three straight years ranking in the top 35 in KenPom in steal rate, including two top two finishes the past two seasons, but he’s still snagging steals, and his offensive rating is nearly a career high. FUN FACT: One of Chartouny’s five best senior year only comps on KenPom? Dwight Buycks.