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#10 Marquette Basketball Preview Primer: at Butler Bulldogs

The Golden Eagles begin a three game run of notable tests in league play.

NCAA Basketball: Georgetown at Butler Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

#10 Marquette Golden Eagles (18-3, 7-1 Big East) at Butler Bulldogs (12-9, 3-5 Big East)

Date: Wednesday, January 30, 2019
Time: 5:30pm Central
Location: Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Markus Howard, 24.6 ppg
Rebounds: Sam Hauser, 7.0 rpg
Assists: Markus Howard, 4.4 apg

Butler Stats Leaders

Points: Kamar Baldwin, 17.6 ppg
Rebounds: Kamar Baldwin, 5.4 rpg
Assists: Aaron Thompson, 4.1 apg

Butler Injury Note: After suffering a sprained right knee late against Creighton on Friday, Sean McDermott will be a game-time decision for LaVall Jordan and his squad. He did practice a bit since Friday with a brace on, so that seems to indicate a better than 50/50 chance of playing. McDermott is averaging 10.2 points and 3.6 rebounds per game this season and shoots 44% from behind the three-point line.

Current KenPom.com Rankings

Marquette: #34
Butler: #48
KenPom Projection: Butler has a 56% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 73-71.

All-Time Series: Marquette is 17-22 all time against Butler.

Current Streak: Butler’s current lead in the series is entirely due to a five game winning streak, although they have won seven of the last eight as well. Butler has won six straight against Marquette in Hinkle Fieldhouse since 1991. Marquette’s last win in Indianapolis came back on February 1, 1990.

Tempo Free Fun: The more astute and serious Preview Primer readers may have noticed that I switched the order of things around a little bit here. It seemed important heading into Marquette’s first game as a top 10 team in nearly eight years to identify the fact that their opponent in said game has basically been the sports equivalent of those spike strips that police officers use during a high speed chase over the last couple of years.

To make matters worse, Marquette hasn’t won a game in the building they’ll be in on Wednesday night since the Bush administration. The first one.

There is a certain amount of clarification to be made here, as Marquette did not play Butler at all between 1991 and the Maui Invitational game (aka The Rotnei Clarke Game). So, really, we’re just talking about Marquette not winning at Hinkle Fieldhouse since The Reformation, as MU did win the last game that they played in Hinkle before that layoff in the all-time series. Still, that does mean that Steve Wojciechowski has never coached his team to a win in Hinkle, and that’s something that he’s going to have to do if MU still wants to be ranked in the top 10 next week.

With that said, that’s really the only thing that’s truly on the line in this game for Marquette. No one is going to keep MU out of the NCAA tournament at this point if they drop a road game to the Bulldogs. It doesn’t mean MU can’t win the Big East regular season title any more, it doesn’t mean Marquette’s permanently broken, it doesn’t mean Wojo doesn’t know what he’s doing, it doesn’t mean nine million different things. It would mean Marquette lost a game in a building where Villanova struggles to win. So what? Marquette is probably going to lose a few more games this season. This could easily be one of them, and it’s important to remember that their seven game winning streak coming in is much more important to their season than the result of this game by itself.

Why yes, this is one of the four Big East losses I projected for Marquette at the start of the season, why do you ask?

Butler came into the season as a team with a reasonable chance to contend for the Big East regular season title. Preseason KenPom ranking of #30, picked fifth in the preseason coaches poll in the league, but they did get a first place vote. They have spent most of the season attempting to throw all of that goodwill straight out a window. They had logged losses to Dayton and Saint Louis by the time the first semester ended, blew a nine point second half lead against a now death-spiraling Indiana squad in the Crossroads Classic, got absolutely sandblasted by a Florida team that they already had beaten in the Battle 4 Atlantis, and now have started off Big East play at 3-5, including an amazing tank job of a loss on the road against Xavier.

Somehow, they’re still projected by KenPom to go 9-9 in the league. The fact that they’re favored to win this game ever so slightly probably has a lot to do with that.

To a certain extent, this game is going to come down to which team’s defense ends up screwing it up the worst. In terms of KenPom’s efficiency metrics, MU’s offense (#32 in the country) has the advantage over Butler’s defense (#79), but the same can be said going the opposite direction where Butler (#37) holds sway over Marquette (#51).

Butler’s defense doesn’t do anything particularly notable for being a top 80 squad. Teams score a little too easily inside against them (#215 in the country in two point defense), and they’re prone to letting teams fire off three pointers as well, ranking #249 in defensive volume there. The only thing that they do notably well isn’t a thing they have control over. They’re #86 in the country in free throw shooting percentage defense, and let me tell you what: If LaVall Jordan thinks that he’s going to trick Marquette into shooting 68% from the line to keep that season long mark going in that direction, he has another thing coming. More like several dozen things, if Markus Howard can start getting to the line regularly.

Marquette’s most notable advantage on defense might actually be something that they can exploit on both ends. Butler stinks at offensive rebounding, while MU is a top 35 defensive rebounding team. Now, it’s likely that Butler stinking is by design, as is often the case with teams who are terrible at offensive rebounding but pretty good on defense. They may be abandoning second chances in order to set up on defense. They might also just be bad, as both Joey Brunk and Nate Fowler are top 250 in offensive rebounding rate individually. Butler’s also not a good defensive rebounding team, ranking #154 in the country, or close enough to middle of the pack to call it that. If Theo John can stay out foul trouble (and after the Xavier game, that is a big if, sorry, Theo, it’s not your fault), and Ed Morrow can find a way to be effective, Marquette should be able to Windex their way to a victory.

We should probably address Butler’s shooting for a moment. The currently questionable Sean McDermott is Butler’s most accurate three-point shooter at 44% on the year. If he can’t go, wiping out his six long range attempts per game is going to be a big deal for the Golden Eagles. Aaron Thompson plays a lot, and when he shoots, he’s really good, but he only has 19 attempts on the year. Jordan Tucker and Paul Jorgensen should be giant red flags on the scouting report, even more so if McDermott can’t play. Tucker (40%, 6 attempts/game) and Jorgensen (39%, 5.3 attempts/game) are absolutely the kind of guys that can shoot Butler into a game or into a win. Marquette and their weirdly poor effective field goal percentage defense on the road this season can’t let those two get into a rhythm if they’re going to be more prone to shoot it with McDermott out or even limited.

Other than that, Butler doesn’t have any long range threats. In fact, someone should spend most of the game daring Kamar Baldwin to get into a shooting contest with Howard or one of the Hauser boys. After shooting 37% as a freshman and 33% as a sophomore, Baldwin’s only at 30% this year and just 32% in Butler’s eight league games. In KenPom’s Tier A+B games (which this one is for BU), Baldwin is connecting on just 35% of his 53 attempts. Look, maybe he catches a heater and buries Marquette under an avalanche of threes. His season performance to this point indicates that he won’t.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 9-1, thanks to those jerks at St. John’s

Butler Last 10 Games: 4-6, with losses in their last two games.

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@AnonymousEagle - Hey, that’s us!
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@ButlerWay - our favorite independent Butler site
@BenSteeleMJS - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel MU beat writer
@cf_gardner - The Athletic MU beat writer