The Fiserv Forum played Harlem Shake tonight. I just really needed to start this article with that nugget. I don’t have a way to tie it into the game, though. Think of your own funny comment.
The game tonight was never really in question. Marquette started sluggishly, as they worryingly have done for most of the year. After a sustained run to close the half, Marquette found themselves with a 13 point lead at the break. DePaul immediately went on an 8-0 run to open the second half and the lead pulsated between 4 and 11 for the rest of the game.
Marquette didn’t shoot as many threes tonight as I thought they would. Less than a third of their field goal attempts came from beyond the arc, when normally that number is north of 40%. If I read that sentence to a coach from the 80s, they’d probably say something that would qualify as a slur of some kind and then make me practice 15 foot jumpers.
The defense performed on par with expectations tonight, which is to say it was very good. Sam Hauser in particular blocked Max Strus’ path at all times as if the basket was the NBA Draft. Femi Olujobi and Paul Reed were good, but limited as they combined to take 15 shots in the paint. Given that pounding the ball inside is a big part of DePaul’s game, I consider that a win for Marquette.
Now, the turnovers. *gulps down whiskey*
Marquette turned the ball over on almost 27% of their possessions. Marquette’s season average was 19.4% headed into today, good for 202nd in the country. That’s not good. It will continue to be one of the biggest issues with the team as we creep closer to March. Markus Howard in particular coughed it up eight times. That’s fine in a game like Creighton or Buffalo where the ball is going to him on every single possession, but when he plays the role of “game manager” like tonight (yes, 23 points on 10 shots counts as game manager by his standards. He is that good.), those sloppy passes can’t happen. It’s an issue that continues to plague the team (his Big East turnover rate is equal to that of his entire freshman year) and is a ticking time bomb that I fear is bound to blow up at an important time.
The team also shot 15-for-35 from two point range. That’s an aspect of our offense that has been masked by the willingness to shoot a lot of threes combined with the ability to make them, but the team overall has struggled when the ball gets in the paint. Tonight’s poor numbers were anchored down by Sacar Anim’s 0-for-9 shooting night. He’s shown the ability to bounce back from rough showings like this, but I would still like some consistency out there.
Those last two paragraphs were pretty negative. I’d like to turn it around. It’s not that the above statements aren’t true, but seeing Dave Leitao’s dumb face puts me in a sour mood. Let’s talk about something fun.
Theo John is an emerging star. He’s come a long way from the foul-prone Hulk Smash freshman that he was last year. The timing on his shot contests is damn near impeccable. Even at 6’9” he just will not let opposing bigs post up on him without a fight. Now instead of the, “Just run at him and he’ll foul us” strategy, teams are needing to actively avoid him to get shots over his paw, and he’ll still swat balls out of the gym. It’s amazing to watch.
Did you see that move he made on the fast break? Markus saw him break free on a fastbreak and John did a Euro step with a hesitation pump, all at full speed, to get an easy layup. He’s learning not to use the Brute Force Method every time he gets the ball, and showing legitimate skill doing so. And don’t look now, but by my count he’s made 21 of his last 32 free throws. While 65.6% isn’t something to hang on the fridge, he’s not Ethan Happ at the stripe anymore. If that can somehow translate to a legitimate outside game, we’re looking at a Big East Player of the Year contender in a couple years. But for the time being, he’s becoming the consistent fourth scorer that Marquette badly needs.
I decided to take a deeper dive on Theo tonight, but Sam Hauser deserves just as much praise for his performance. Things are really starting to click for him.
It wasn’t pretty, but Marquette covered, which is something that great teams do. Marquette finishes this relatively easy stretch of games Saturday at Xavier. After that, there are a lot more coin toss games, so the Golden Eagles need to take care of business like they did tonight.