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Marquette Basketball Big East Tournament Quarterfinals Preview Primer: vs St. John’s

These guys again, huh?

UCLA v St. John’s Getty Images


#2 Marquette Golden Eagles (23-8, 12-6 Big East) vs #7 St. John’s Red Storm (21-11, 8-10 Big East)

Date: Thursday, March 14, 2019
Time: 6pm Central
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Markus Howard, 25.0 ppg
Rebounds: Sam Hauser, 7.1 rpg
Assists: Markus Howard, 4.0 apg

St. John’s Stats Leaders

Points: Shamorie Ponds, 19.7 ppg
Rebounds: LJ Figueroa, 6.3 rpg
Assists: Shamorie Ponds, 5.3 apg Rankings

Marquette: #30
St. John’s: #70
KenPom Projection: Marquette has a 63% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 77-74.
Because I Know You’re Asking Right Now: According to our previous previews, the game in New York was a 50/50 game with a slight advantage to Marquette, while the game in Milwaukee was a 75% chance for the Golden Eagles.

The Regular Season Meetings: As any Marquette fan is probably remotely aware of right now, St. John’s swept the season series between the two teams. The first game was a bit of an asskicking, with the Red Storm handing Marquette an 89-69 loss in Carnesecca Arena to start off Big East play for the Golden Eagles and snap an eight game winning streak. The game in Milwaukee was much closer, although it wasn’t always that way. Marquette trailed by 15 in the second half, but battled and battled their way back. Sacar Anim dropped a three-pointer with 32 seconds left to put Marquette up, Shamorie Ponds answered by getting into the lane and scoring, and MU’s final possession ended in an ugly fashion when Markus Howard rushed a shot after fumbling possession of the ball on the right wing. Your final: 70-69, marking MU’s first loss at Fiserv Forum on the season and snapping another eight game winning streak.

Since Last We Met: That second game was on February 5th, and it moved St. John’s to 5-5 in Big East play on the season. How did they respond? By going 3-5 down the stretch including losses in each of their final three regular season games to finish 8-10. What’s more annoying about losing to St. John’s twice this season: The fashion in which Marquette lost both of those games or the fact that — and let’s just be honest about this here — St. John’s is just not a very good basketball team on a night-in/night-out basis?

The Stakes: There’s a lot at stake for both sides, although it’s a bit more “real world consequences” for the Red Storm and a bit more ephemeral for the Golden Eagles. Bracket Matrix shows St. John’s as a #11 seed in the NCAA tournament right now, and the compilation of 100 brackets has them being able to bypass Dayton and the First Four. However, the Johnnies are only listed on 79 of the 100 brackets, so that takes a bit of the edge out of being seven spots clear of the cutline. On the other end of the court, Marquette is guaranteed a spot in the NCAA tournament no matter how this game or any other games that they might play in New York would happen to go. However, the Golden Eagles have inexplicably lost four straight games to close the regular season after compiling a 23-4 record in their first 27 contests. It is not unfair to anyone involved to say that MU needs a win here to restore sanity and confidence in the minds of the coaching staff, the players, and the fans.

Tempo Free Fun: Okay, well, let’s start with the issue that caused Marquette’s first three losses on their current four game losing streak: Turnovers. While it appears that Marquette may have solved that issue against Georgetown in the regular season finale, the fact of the matter is that the Hoyas are actually bad at forcing turnovers, so that’s not necessarily a sign that the problem is fixed.

Item #1: St. John’s is pretty good at forcing turnovers, ranking #45 in the country in rate according to KenPom and second in the Big East when you only look at league games.

Item #2: Marquette turned the ball over on 16.7% of possessions in the first meeting between the two teams this season, which is a perfectly acceptable number. The Golden Eagles are coughing it up on 19.5% for the whole season and 19.0% in Big East games. Anything under that is obviously a good performance in that regard. There is a slight note here, though. Marquette committed 12 turnovers in the game, which is fine, but seven of those came in the second half as St. John’s took an eight point game at the break to a totally different level by outscoring MU by 12 in the final 20 minutes.

Item #3: Marquette turned the ball over on 13.6% of possessions in the second meeting between the two teams this season. That’s obviously even better. There is a slight note here, as well. MU committed seven turnovers in the first half and finished with nine for the entire game. I think it’s safe to say that the seven turnovers were part of the reason why Marquette trailed by 10 at the half in that game, which again, they only lost by one point at the end.

Let’s call that “inconclusive” as to whether or not Marquette has a turnover problem against the Red Storm. If you smash together the first and last half that they played: Good! The middle two halves? Bad!

As was the first two times around, I maintain that Marquette’s advantage against St. John’s lays in the fact that SJU head coach Chris Mullin is desperately afraid to use his bench in any fashion. In the blowout in New York, only seven players saw more than five minutes of action, and in Milwaukee, only seven players got on the court at all for St. John’s. In both circumstances, one of the seven was Sedee Keita, and he missed St. John’s regular season finale for disciplinary reasons and did not even travel to Xavier for that game. He returned to the lineup last night against DePaul in the first round of the tournament, but not until Marvin Clark II picked up his third foul early in the second half. Keita and Bryan Trimble were the only bench players to get more than five minutes of action in a win over the Blue Demons.

In a game that ended at nearly 11pm Central time on Wednesday night, Mustapha Heron and Justin Simon played 38 minutes while Shamorie Ponds played 36. Mullin didn’t really have a choice, as the game was close through the first 30 minutes, and the final margin wasn’t exactly indicative of the fact that St. John’s was up 17 with four minutes left. But Thursday’s game will tip off 18 hours after that one ended, and playing two games with essentially zero bench in a 24 hour period can not be particularly good for anyone in the Red Storm rotation, particularly when Marquette is coming in rested.

Part of the reason that Marquette was able to make a 15 point rally in the game in Milwaukee is the fact that fouls just started stacking up on the Johnnies. With consecutive outings of 105 points per 100 possessions, I don’t think I need to convince you that St. John’s has a rotation that can defend Marquette incredibly well for 40 minutes. But in that second half in Fiserv Forum, Marquette racked up 118 points per 100 possessions while fouls began to mount against the Red Storm. An inside attacking mentality is the way to beat the Red Storm. They’re going to be more fatigued in this game than either of the first two games, that’s just a fact of life. They already struggled to contain the Golden Eagle offense when those fouls stacked up and Mullin didn’t have anyone on his bench to turn to. Marquette’s going to be rested and in desperate need of proving that they can play a quality 40 minutes of basketball.

One final thing. Marquette probably needs Markus Howard to not try and live up to his Big East Player of the Year trophy in this game. His career averages in five games against St. John’s: 11.0 points, 3.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 3.0 turnovers. Howard is shooting just 26.2% from the field, and just — I swear to you this is true — 14.7% on two-point shots. His effective field goal percentage is just 35.4%. He has attempted just 10 free throws in five games, and just five total this season. He averages nearly seven attempts per game this year and already has the third most made free throws in a Marquette season ever. But he just can not get to the line against the Johnnies for whatever reason. If Howard attempts to prove in 40 minutes why Val Ackerman handed him a trophy yesterday, the math of it says that it will end poorly for him and for Marquette. The Golden Eagles have a coterie of talented players around Howard that can carry the offense in lieu of him attempting to dominate the game. Sam Hauser, Joey Hauser, Sacar Anim, perhaps even Theo John if the Golden Eagles are successful at powering the ball inside to create fouls on the Red Storm. They need to be the ones that put MU into the semifinals for the first time since 2010.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 5-5, with losses in their last four games.

St. John’s Last 10 Games: 4-6, with losses in their last three games and four of their last five.

All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 20-14

Current Streak: St. John’s holds the advantage at two straight games with the wins in the regular season. It was the first time since Marquette went 3-0 vs the Johnnies in the 2015-16 season that either team had won consecutive games in the series.

Follow Along On Twitter

@AnonymousEagle - hey, that’s us!
@MarquetteMBB - The official Marquette team account
@StJohnsBBall - The official St. John’s team account
@BenSteeleMJS - The Journal Sentinel’s beat reporter
@RumbleSBN - our SB Nation friends that cover St. John’s
@becb_sbn - our SB Nation friends that cover the entire Big East