Well, if you’ve been getting the shakes from a bit of Marquette men’s basketball withdrawal since The Basketball Tournament ended, then Sunday was pretty nice for you. Marquette kicked off the competition aspect of the 2019 trip to Europe with a game against something called Sant Julia All Stars. If you were watching on Instagram Live, then God bless you, because I wasn’t getting a whole lot out of that video, so I only watched some snippets.
The big item is that the Golden Eagles came away with a win, 86-70. How they got there is, of course, the most interesting part, and thanks to the athletic department tweeting out a first half and a final box score, we can poke at that. I don’t really have a plan of attack here, so I’m just going to keep going until I run out of things that I found interesting from Sunday’s game. Just to be clear, this is all box score related thoughts and has nothing to do with how the team looked on the court. I didn’t watch anywhere near enough to get a solid impression of anything in that regard.
Here we go........
- Five Golden Eagles scored in double digits, led by [drumroll] Jamal Cain with 16 points. Second was Brendan Bailey with 15, then Theo John and Jayce Johnson with 13, and finally Sacar Anim with 11. Yes, that’s right, Markus Howard had just five points on 2-of-8 shooting, including 1-for-5 from long range. Just like we all expected.
- Your starters for the evening, at least as designated by asterisks in the box score: Markus Howard, Sacar Anim, Dexter Akanno, Theo John, and Jayce Johnson. I don’t know what part about that you want to focus on the most here: Freshman Dexter Akanno jumping to the front of the line or Theo John apparently shifting to the 4 in order to make space for the 7-foot grad transfer from Utah at the 5.
Is this going to be a permanent starting five? Almost definitely not! Steve Wojciechowski has a long long long history at Marquette of having an opening night starting five and then having to throw that lineup in the trash and do something different by the time December 1st rolls around. Look no further for evidence than Joey Hauser coming off the bench in games 1-3 last year and then starting every single game after that.
Is this even evidence that Wojciechowski wants to play both John and Johnson together most of the time? Almost definitely not! At most, the pair played 15 minutes of a 40 minute game together, and it probably didn’t shake out that way. That’s not much.
- In a game played with four 10-minute quarters, no one played more than Sacar Anim, who logged 24:14 of action. Markus Howard played 23:02, and no one else was over 22 minutes. On the other end of things, Dexter Akanno — yes, noted starter Dexter Akanno — ended up with the least amount of action with 13:14. Jayce Johnson, also fresh out of the starting lineup, played just 15:10.
- During the 2018-19 season, Marquette’s three biggest flaws as a team, at least in terms of KenPom.com Four Factors components, were turnovers on both sides of the ball as well as letting their opponents get to the free throw line much too often.
Well, let’s see what happened there in this game, shall we? Turnover rate on offense: 18.8%. Turnover rate on defense: 17.5%. Defensive free throw rate: 52.4%.
The offensive turnover rate is a little bit down from the 2018-19 number, but it’s still not great. The defensive number is up a wee bit, so that’s good news. That FTR number is an absolute disaster.
It wasn’t good in the first half, when it was 40.6%, and a second half FTR of 64.5% is ridiculously awful. Let me make this perfectly clear with some context: Last season, Marquette finished #252 in the country with a defensive FTR of 35.9%. Three teams finished the season with a defensive FTR north of 50% with Tennessee State finishing last at 54.0%.
- To follow up on that, the offensive turnover problem maybe wasn’t as bad at the full team level as it looks at first glance. Six of MU’s 15 turnovers came from one place: Markus Howard. Before we move on here, I want to point out that nine turnovers spread across nine guys is probably fine. Six turnovers from Howard, a guy who had at least three turnovers in each of Marquette final seven games of the season — y’know, when they went 1-6 — is very bad. Six turnovers in just 23 minutes of playing time? One turnover every 3.8 minutes? In a game that was, for the most part, the rough equivalent of a November or December buy game? That’s really bad.
- It’s probably way too soon to completely panic about Howard’s turnover problem in this one exhibition game played halfway around the world. He took just eight shots in the entire game, and just one came in the 12 minutes he played in the second half. If Howard was spending more time playing distributor than looking to score, that’s long term good for the Golden Eagles. Remember, Marquette returns just one non-Howard player — Sacar Anim —that averaged more than 20 minutes per game last season, and only two — the other is Theo John — that averaged more than 15 minutes. This is something of a reclamation project on both sides of the ball for Wojciechowski and his staff. If Howard racked up turnovers trying to make plays with teammates that just aren’t perfectly sync’d up with him right now, that’s fine. For now. If he made turnovers trying to create shots for himself.... well, that’s a major problem on multiple levels, no matter what time of the year it is.
- Can I circle back to the defensive free throw rate thing for a second? If the grotesque free throw numbers for Sant Julia All Stars are the result of Spanish FIBA referees calling the game ultra tight, that’s fine. It’s probably good in the long run for the Golden Eagles to have the game called in a foreign (ha ha, get it) manner.
- I didn’t watch any of the end of the game, so I have to ask the question: What the hell happened? We don’t have play-by-play stats, but we do have a largest lead note. Marquette led 80-53 at some point in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter. In fact, it had to be closer to the mid-way point than the start, as the box score gives us scores at five minute intervals, and MU led 82-56, nearly the same score, at the five minute mark of the final frame.
From that high water point of leading by 27, Sant Julia All Stars closed the game on a 17-6 run, including 14-4 in the final five minutes. Look, it didn’t matter in the slightest as Marquette won by 16. Maybe Wojciechowski said “hey, let’s get weird” and threw John, Johnson, and Morrow all out on the floor together and it didn’t go well! Up 27 in an exhibition game in Europe is a good time to get wild with your lineups.
But if that didn’t happen, if MU was putting out a group of five that would make standard sense in the regular season and they coughed up 11 points of their lead in about five minutes in the process, that’s bad.