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Marquette Basketball Preview Primer: at Seton Hall

Marquette hopes for a repeat of last weekend’s Villanova performance in a matchup that could wildly shift the direction of the season

NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - Jacksonville Photo by Matt Marriott/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Marquette Golden Eagles (11-4, 1-2 Big East) vs Seton Hall Pirates (11-4, 3-0 Big East)

Date: Saturday, January 11, 2020
Time: 3pm Central
Location: Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Markus Howard, 26.8 ppg
Rebounds: Brendan Bailey, 5.1 rpg
Assists: Koby McEwen & Markus Howard, 3.0 apg

Seton Hall Stats Leaders

Points: Myles Powell, 21.4 ppg
Rebounds: Jared Rhoden, 6.1 rpg
Assists: Quincy McKnight, 4.8 apg Rankings

Marquette: #35
Seton Hall: #14
KenPom Projection: Marquette has a 26% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 76-69 (nice) (well, actually not so nice, but you know.)

Tempo Free Fun: The Marquette fanbase does not need to be reminded of why this game carries the weight that it does. From an emotional level, the previous matchup between these two teams resulted in Myles Powell being allowed to finish the game despite his key role in two separate on-courts brawls that resulted in him earning both a flagrant foul and a technical foul which doesn’t get you ejected, Theo John being tossed from the game following a passive role in one of them after being whistled for a deadball flagrant foul for preferring that an airborne Powell did not fall on him, and poor execution on the part of the Golden Eagles to finish. To be clear about that: Marquette still had a lead with under seven minutes to play, and Seton Hall only led by two with 1:58 to play.

From a national media perspective, Markus Howard and Myles Powell are in a fight for a designation as First Team All American this season. The two regular season matchups will go a long way in the eyes of the voters In the various awards and the result of both games will be mostly decided by how these two perform against each other.

From a season evaluation perspective, Marquette just wasted the second best Markus performance of the year and lost at home to Providence in what was supposed to be one of the easier conference games of the year, or at least that’s how it looked in December. All the positives from the Villanova game last Saturday came to a screeching halt, the scarlet letter in the form of a Q3 loss was added to the tournament resume, and the Golden Eagles find themselves in a position where they need to win a tough road game or two if they want to find themselves in good standing for the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. A game against a rival without one of their better players would be a great place to start.

I, of course, am speaking of Sandro Mamukelashvili. He will be out for the game as part of his recovery time for an injury he suffered a few weeks ago. That makes a difference, as he’s a 6’11” guard, official roster designation be damned, and a matchup nightmare in general and particularly for Marquette. An already robotic offense is much worse without him on the court and leaves them with only a few legitimate scoring options.

Seton Hall makes their living on defense, where they currently rank 9th in the country in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency math. The guards do an excellent job of pressuring ball handlers and every one of them has length, with the 6’2” Powell being the shortest guy in their regular rotation. Ultimately, their goal is to funnel drivers into a crowded lane where the dragon Romaro Gill lurks. At 7’2”, his entire purpose is to make life at the rim miserable, and he might be the best in the Big East at doing so.

Put it this way, when he is on the floor and an opponent puts up a two pointer, there is a 15% chance that shot is being blocked by him. That’s the eighth best block rate in the country, and he stands at the top of the block rate chart per KenPom if we narrow the focus to league games only. Even if he is on the bench with foul trouble, his backup is Ike Obiagu, who is also 7’2” and has a block rate of 12.2%. Scoring inside the arc is an extraordinary task for any team that Seton Hall faces, but it will be especially tough for a team, say, Marquette for example, whose main offensive struggle is just that. The least repulsive option for getting buckets is to carve out as many spot up opportunities as they can. This is much easier said than done, though, as the Pirates are among the nation’s leaders in limiting spot up shots. For all of Kevin Willard’s flaws as a coach, he has put together one of the nation’s best defenses this year.

Speaking of Kevin Willard’s flaws as a coach, let’s talk about their offense. They have 2.5 good players on that end with Sandro on the bench. One of them is Quincy McKnight, the Sacred Heart transfer who has emerged as the best game-managing point guard in the conference. He will be running the show when he’s on the floor and his mission is to find tiny crevices in the defense, which he is masterful at doing. The offense runs best when he is allowed to be the coach, and he has enough scoring ability that he needs to be paid attention to when he’s driving. He can’t just be backed off of like a defense could against Aaron Thompson of Butler. When he gets even a little extra attention, that’s when he gets Powell a wide open shot or dumps it off to Gill, who doesn’t have any post skills, but won’t miss any shots when he’s in good position.

As good as McKnight is, he’s not an elite scorer by any means. Marquette could do well by focusing their non-Powell efforts on making life uncomfortable for him. Gill can’t get shots without a good entry pass and Myles can only do so much by himself, barring a God Mode activation. There’s no one else on the team that needs to be worried about. Aside from the sparsely-used Shavar Reynolds, no one else is even an average offensive player.

It’s not that their offense is bad overall; a lot of their secondary sets make really good use of screens that Marquette should be prepared for. Their base offense is just sloppy and leads to dumb shots/turnovers. They will let teams go on big runs when they’re not given good direction, which is an area that the Golden Eagles will need to take advantage of.

Alright the lede has been buried well enough. This game is Markus vs Myles, and were we not incredibly invested in one side winning, this game would probably be a hoot and a half to watch. These are the two best scorers in the nation and they both happen to be on teams that aren’t providing a ton of help on the offensive end. Neither will be able to win this in a three point shooting contest, as Marquette’s defensive strategy of luring players into the arms of its shot blockers is similar to Hall’s. Powell has proven himself to be a much better finisher at the rim throughout the year, but Markus has been able to get to the foul line as well as anyone in the country. Both players have had two poor games and both have had 2 games where they’ve gone berserk.

If one of them is off their game, the other team will win. If the 2 bad games and 2 great games wash each other out, Markus has been the better player so far this year. With his passing skills, Howard has been used more than Myles has and still boasts an offensive rating eight points higher (112 to 104). The best strategy for Howard will involve carving out as many threes as he can and putting the Pirate bigs in foul trouble. Theo John should be camped at the top of the key setting picks and forcing Gill/Obiagu to try and compete with Howard’s quickness. It won’t be a picnic for Howard to try to get shots off over them, of course, but he does seem to have that Jerry Sloan “could get his shot off in a phone booth with Wilt Chamberlain” quality to him.

This Seton Hall team is in the bottom third of the nation at keeping opponents off the free throw line, with Gill and Obiagu being the worst offenders. Getting them either off the court or in poor position will be vital to get Markus going. Stopping Powell will simply be a matter of draping Sacar Anim over him like a cloak with the occasional switch off a screen or double team to make him uncomfortable, or merely hoping that Powell loses his mind and tries to elbow Anim’s head off again.

I truly have no clue what’s going to happen on Saturday. This is a road game against a top 25 caliber team playing a team that has a recent transitive property loss to Long Beach State (shoutout Casper Ware). The home team also has a bad coach and their second best player out while going against a team that beat Villanova a week before. At least two of the wings will need to step up as well. 80% of the result will come down to Markus vs Myles, but there’s still another 20% of the game to consider. Sacar Anim and Koby McEwen cannot combine to shoot 5-for-21 like they did against Providence, because the Pirates will swarm Howard in a much more effective way than the Friars did. My official prediction is that I’ll be really stressed once it tips off.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 7-3, with losses in two of the last three.

Seton Hall Last 10 Games: 7-3, but with wins in their last five in a row

All Time Series: Marquette leads, 19-9.

Current Streak: Seton Hall has won two straight, but Marquette has still won four of the last seven.