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The Best & The Worst: Marquette vs Robert Morris

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Rather conveniently, I set myself up with talking points coming out of Saturday’s game.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: NOV 17 Marquette University at Wisconsin
Marquette needs more of this from Ed Morrow and a lot fewer turnovers.
Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I would like to apologize in advance.

By now, some if not all of you have managed to scrub all of the Marquette/Robert Morris game from your memory. Sorry/not sorry, but we’re going to dredge all those bad thoughts up and talk about what happened in that game a little bit more.

As you may or may not remember, heading into the game, I had posted a quick pre-game tweet about what we as fans wanted to see from the Golden Eagles in a game that Marquette was heavily favored to win. Through the first three games of the season, there had been some notable negative trends in how the team had played. With that in mind, obviously you would want to see those repaired or eliminated in a game against what was at the time the opponent with the lowest KenPom.com ranking on the schedule.

I didn’t do anything particularly complicated to figure out these trends. All I did was look at the KenPom.com team page for Marquette and make note of the stats that were somewhere between “not good” to “god awful.” The statistics in question were:

  • Turnovers on both ends, but primarily on the offensive end
  • Rebounding on both ends, but primarily on the offensive end
  • Fouls committed as tracked by defensive free throw rate
  • Two-point shooting percentage

Now, goofball clod that I am, I didn’t screencap the KenPom page at the time, so I don’t know exactly what the numbers for all of those were at the time. All I know is that they jumped out as “Marquette needs to be better at these things more than anything else.”

So, what we’re going to do here under the guise of Best & Worst is look at those four (technically six) categories, see how Marquette performed in them against Robert Morris, and then compare them to their season averages after four games. It’s not the same as comparing them to where MU was before the game when I made note of them, but it’s close enough for what we’re trying to accomplish here.

Offensive Turnover Rate

Season Average: 23.9%, #317 in the country
Vs Robert Morris: 29.6%

It’s never a good sign when a team takes a thing that they’re already bad at and then just spends 40 minutes making it even worse. While Marquette’s dead ball turnovers were a huge problem for the Golden Eagles on their own, they also spent a large quantity of the game hucking the ball over the Colonials while the clock kept running. That’s how Robert Morris racked up nine steals in the game, led by three from Charles Bain. 13% of Marquette’s possessions in the game ended in a steal by RMU. That’s wildly unacceptable, as only two teams managed a season long turnover rate north of 13% for all of the 2019-20 season.

Your key problems for the game: Sacar Anim (5 turnovers), Koby McEwen (4 turnovers), Markus Howard (4 turnovers), Greg Elliott (3 turnovers), and Ed Morrow (3 turnovers). None of these are good, as these four men are largely speaking the guys that you want handling the ball most of the time for Marquette. Some of them are worse than others if you think about it from a turnover-per-minute perspective, with Morrow committing a turnover once every four minutes during his time on the court. That makes Anim’s one per 6.8 minutes positively glacial.

I really don’t have any idea what the coaching staff can do to emphasize the point here any more than they already are. We’ve seen the videos and the open practices where there’s a manager with a stack of balloons and a pin, popping a balloon every time there’s a turnover. Whatever you want to say about negative reinforcement of behaviors, I think we can all say that this tactic is not working to change anything at this point. I don’t know what you do to change things, but we’re rapidly approaching immediate substitution and benching as the only remaining available option.

Let’s put it another way: Marquette scored 0.93 points per possession against Robert Morris, according to KenPom.com’s calculation. If you only look at the possessions that ended with a shot by the Golden Eagles, Marquette was pouring in points to the tune of 1.32 points per possession. This is an absurdly efficient offense...... but they have to keep track of the ball long enough to make opponents pay for it.

Defensive Turnover Rate

Season Average: 16.1%, #301 in the country
Vs Robert Morris: 18.3%

Marquette is very bad at creating turnovers. They were moderately better at it against the Colonials, and quite honestly, I’d be fine with 18% as Marquette’s number for the year. That would have only ranked #200 in the country last year, but it would have been better than what the Golden Eagles actually did a year ago.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time going on about this like I just did about the very bad offensive end of things because things were mostly fine here. I will, however, point out that Marquette’s problems holding onto the ball on offense would be slightly mitigated if they were forcing turnovers on the other end with more frequency. The only defensive possession more efficient than one that ends with a defensive rebound is one that ends with a takeaway.

Offensive Rebounding Rate

Season Average: 27.3%, #187 in the country
Vs Robert Morris: 32.3%

Opponent’s Offensive Rebounding Rate

Season Average: 26.9%, #127 in the country
Vs Robert Morris: 25.6%

I’m pairing these two together for a few reasons. First of all is the obvious one that it’s all rebounding. Second is Marquette showed improvement in both categories! As bad as that game was on a lot of levels, the fact of the matter is that the Golden Eagles did do a better job in a department that I had identified as an area that needed work.

Finally, both are kind of mostly okay. Offensive rebounding is sometimes a very situational thing, where sometimes for defensive tactical reasons, you don’t want to try to get a lot of your misses. If Marquette is thinking “hey, we shoot the ball really well, let’s worry about getting back on defense and not worry about offensive rebounds,” that isn’t the worst thing in the world. The defensive rebounding could maybe use a little bit of work with a sub-100 ranking, but like I said earlier, it was better in this game, and that’s good.

Defensive Free Throw Rate

Season Average: 31.8%, #180 in the country
Vs Robert Morris: 22.6%

Again, an improvement! That’s good news! Fewer fouls by Marquette means two things. One, less free throw attempts by the opponent, so that’s great. Two, it means that Marquette’s keeping the best possible lineup out on the floor as much as possible, because no one is sitting for foul trouble reasons. Obviously, Markus Howard missed a lot of this one because of two first half fouls, but generally speaking low free throw rate = good news for the Golden Eagles.

Two-Point Shooting Percentage

Season Average: 44.0%, #289 in the country
Vs. Robert Morris: 51.6%

This is a very very important detail. As things stand right now, Marquette has the #114 ranked effective field goal percentage in the country, according to KenPom.com. They’ve gotten there by combining absolutely rotten two-point shooting with the 18th best three-point shooting percentage in the country.

You know what’s a good way to make even more three-pointers? Force teams to defend you inside and thus start creating open looks from behind the arc. With nearly 52% of their shots inside the arc going down against Robert Morris, Marquette made a big step in that direction. Whether it’s working the ball inside to Theo John or Ed Morrow to draw defensive attention away from shooters or getting dribble penetration from Koby McEwen or Sacar Anim, a focus on excellent finishing at the rim and inside the arc in general will pay dividends long term for Marquette. It’s going to take more than a few games of quality shot-making to drag that average up from its very ugly start to the season, but hopefully the upward trend is one that continues.