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#10 Marquette Basketball Preview Primer: at Villanova Wildcats

The Golden Eagles can claim a Big East regular season championship if they win what was already regarded as the hardest league road game of the year.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Wisconsin v Villanova Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

#10 Marquette Golden Eagles (23-4, 12-2 Big East) at Villanova Wildcats (20-8, 11-4 Big East)

Date: Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Time: 8pm Central
Location: Finneran Pavilion, Bryn Mawr, PA

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Markus Howard, 25.3 ppg
Rebounds: Sam Hauser, 6.9 rpg
Assists: Markus Howard, 4.0 apg

Villanova Stats Leaders

Points: Phil Booth, 18.4 ppg
Rebounds: Eric Paschall & Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, 6.1 rpg
Assists: Phil Booth, 3.8 apg

KenPom.com Rankings

Marquette: #24
Villanova: #30
KenPom Projection: Villanova has a 59% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 73-70.

The Stakes: Quite simply, Marquette can lock up the #1 seed in the Big East tournament and at least a share of the Big East regular season championship with a win. A loss would be Villanova’s fifth in league play, and with Marquette holding just two defeats and three games remaining after this one, the Wildcats wouldn’t be able to do any better than pulling even with the Golden Eagles. The #1 seed then goes to MU by way of the season sweep. So, y’know, no pressure or anything.

Last Time Out: Markus Howard torched the nets for 38 points as Marquette picked up the 66-65 victory over Villanova at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee on National Marquette Day. The Golden Eagles led by as many as 15 midway through the half before the Wildcats made a run to take a 55-53 lead with 6:16 remaining. Marquette bounced back to retake the lead, and held a one point advantage with 44 seconds left. Villanova elected to play defense, Saddiq Bey induced a horrifying and horrible Markus Howard turnover as the shot clock wound down, giving the Wildcats 12 seconds to win.

And then Phil Booth lost his mind, drove into traffic, had to make a hurried bad pass, and Jermaine Samuels missed a last second shot badly.

Since We Last Met: Well, to put it bluntly, there is a distinct chance that Marquette broke Villanova. They won their next game, beating Providence, 85-67, which is a very good bounce back win by any measure. They then went on the road for their next three games, and it has been one disaster after another. First, a 71-65 loss to St. John’s where Nova led 48-34 with 12 minutes left. Then, an 85-73 loss to Georgetown where the Hoyas led 42-28 late in the first half and 58-43 at one point in the second half. Finally, the Wildcats got bit right in the butt by Xavier on Sunday afternoon, surrendering a 17-0 run in the second half to turn a three point Villanova lead into a 14 point Musketeer advantage. The wild part about this? Technically, Xavier’s run ended at the 6:26 mark, as Villanova would be the next team to score...... but that didn’t happen until there was 3:37 remaining. I’m not saying that VU could have rallied after the run, but they also wasted three minutes before finally breaking it.

Villanova hasn’t lost two consecutive Big East games since February/March of 2013, and January 2013 is when they last lost three straight games. It’s been SIX YEARS. It was during Ryan Arcidiacono’s freshman year. That’s how long it’s been since Villanova has struggled this much right in a row.

In summary:

Tempo Free Fun: To even the most casual observer, I think it’s pretty clear that something has been wildly off with Villanova over the last three games. I mean, they hadn’t lost back-to-back games in Big East play since The Reformation, and now they’ve lost three in a row. Something’s clearly off.

So, in an effort to try to identify what exactly that is, as well as see where Marquette might have excelled at taking advantage of that in the first meeting between these two teams. I’ve created two charts, one looking at Villanova’s offense, and one looking at Villanova’s defense. It breaks things down looking at first their points per possession, then each of the Four Factors: effective field goal percentage, turnover rate, offensive rebounding rate, and free throw rate. It also investigates their two-point shooting, their three-point shooting, their three-point rate (what percentage of their shots are threes), and their assist rate (what percentage of their made buckets are assisted). Each chart breaks down three ways: Villanova’s league averages through 15 games as noted on KenPom.com, their performance specifically against Marquette earlier this season, and their performance over the last three games.

First the offense.

Villanova Offense

Category Overall League vs Marquette Last 3 Games
Category Overall League vs Marquette Last 3 Games
Points/Possession 1.14 1.07 0.96
eFG% 53.6% 48.2% 43.8%
TO% 14.9% 13.1% 16.0%
OR% 29.0% 29.4% 27.8%
FTR 32.3% 26.3% 26.4%
2pt% 54.1% 50.0% 47.8%
3pt% 35.5% 31.0% 27.5%
3PA/FGA 55.5% 50.9% 61.2%
Asts/FGM 58.7% 43.5% 68.3%

Uh. Guys? The Roving Death Sphere is no longer roving, nor distributing death, nor a sphere.

To be clear, even with this skid, Villanova is still the most efficient offense in the Big East according to KenPom.com. It’s just... well, Marquette was able to put enough of a clamp on them to win, and they have just gone completely stone cold in the last three games. Over the past three seasons, Villanova has been the aforementioned death sphere because they’ve been one of the 10 best shooting teams in the country, ripping teams apart inside the arc and doing megawatt damage outside it, too. Both against Marquette and in the three game losing streak, their ability to knock down shots from anywhere on the floor has all but evaporated. To make matters worse, they’ve gotten increasingly desperate to shoot their way back into games, taking more and more three-pointers to increasingly worse results.

Look at that. Did you ever expect to see a three game stretch where Villanova shot UNDER 28% FROM BEYOND THE ARC? That’s what they’ve been up to lately. And they’re taking over 61% of their shots from back there!! That’s nuts, both in terms of how many they’re taking and in terms of how completely dumb it is to be doing that while doing their collective best Bobby Drake impression. Eric Paschall, the poster boy for “oh, he can hit those shots now? This team isn’t fair” a year ago has hit just six of his last 20 attempts (30%), and Phil Booth, the theoretical guiding light of the team, is just 5-of-25 (20%) during the losing streak.

And now the defense.

Villanova Defense

Category League average vs Marquette Last 3 games
Category League average vs Marquette Last 3 games
Points/Possession 1.05 1.08 1.11
eFG% 51.2% 57.8% 53.4%
TO% 17.2% 19.7% 14.0%
OR% 28.0% 25.9% 23.9%
FTR 26.8% 19.6% 44.4%
2pt% 50.2% 57.6% 45.9%
3pt% 35.1% 38.9% 37.0%
3PA/FGA 41.9% 35.3% 45.6%
Asts/FGM 59.2% 50.0% 62.5%

Let’s be honest: This is less of a problem than the offense completely drying up. The differential between the season average and the last three games in points per possession is only .06 as opposed to .18 over there on offense. You could make an argument that allowing teams to shoot a wee bit better from three-point range over a three game stretch is a prolonged aberration more than it is anything else, especially when the two-point defense is actually somehow better than normal.

The problems are deeper than that. Villanova is letting teams shoot more threes than they normally do, even though Marquette went under the VU average in their game. Check out that assists to made field goals number, though! Villanova’s season average in league play is the worst assist rate allowed in the Big East, and they’re just letting any old Markus, Sam, or Joey pass to the open man right now.

I don’t want to make a big deal out of what’s going on with Villanova’s defensive free throw rate over the last three game because ultimately, free throw rate doesn’t have that much of an impact on your team. HOWEVER, we can’t ignore the fact that Villanova is 1) apparently handing out engraved invitations to the free throw line and 2) the way Jay Wright has been handling his roster this season is not conducive to needing to deal with guys in foul trouble. Eric Paschall, Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, and Jermaine Samuels have all fouled out of one of the last three games. That’s four of the seven guys that play at least 18 minutes a game for Jay Wright, and.... uh, well.... those are the only seven guys that Wright has been playing every night. Things have been going so badly for Villanova that Jahvon Quinerly has played more than 13 minutes in the last two games, and he hasn’t played that much in back-to-back games since......... December 22nd against Connecticut and January 2nd against DePaul. It’s literally his heaviest workload of league play! This, after playing less than 10 minutes for the six previous games!

FUN FACT #1: Jahvon Quinerly was named Preseason Big East Freshman of the Year.

FUN FACT #2: Jahvon Quinerly will not be named Postseason Big East Freshman of the Year.

Anyway, what does all of this mean for Marquette? Well, odds are that Villanova is going to come out of the locker room with a full head of steam. All three of those horrible losses came on the road, so perhaps it’s just something of a scheduling fluke that bit them in the butt. Maybe they return a bit more to form back at The Finn.

The good news regarding that is twofold. First, Marquette should be coming out of the visitors’ locker room with a full head of steam themselves given the fact that they can claim at least a share of the regular season title with a win. Second, Marquette knows that they can beat Villanova even when the Wildcats are good, because they already did that in Milwaukee. If MU can essentially repeat their performance against Nova from the first meeting, then everything’s probably going to be just fine in terms of the chances of pulling out a W.

Even if they don’t, it’s not even a big deal! Marquette is playing with house money at this point, and any combination of Marquette wins and Villanova losses totaling up to two gives the Golden Eagles at least a share of the championship. You can’t ask for more of an opportunity than to crown yourselves while slaying the dragon, though.

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

Villanova Last 10 Games: 6-4, with losses in their last three games and four of their last five

All Time Series: Villanova leads, 23-11

Current Streak: The Wildcats have won 12 of the last 14, however the Marquette win at Fiserv Forum earlier this season snapped a three game winning streak by Villanova.

Follow Along On Twitter

@AnonymousEagle - hey, that’s us!
@MarquetteMBB - The official Marquette team account
@NovaMBB - The official Villanova team account
@BenSteeleMJS - The Journal Sentinel’s beat reporter
@VUHoops - our SB Nation friends that cover Villanova
@becb_sbn - our SB Nation friends that cover the entire Big East
@cf_gardner - The Athletic’s beat reporter