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Sometimes It’s Not Complicated

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You don’t have to dig deep to find Marquette’s problems this season.

Providence v Marquette Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

So, if you’re like me, you woke up on Sunday morning trying to figure out what the hell is going on with Marquette men’s basketball this season. You’ve got games like Purdue, where the Golden Eagles look like absolute killers out there, and you can chalk USC up there, too. Then there’s games like Davidson and Kansas State, where Marquette maybe didn’t look the best for 40 minutes, but they did enough/figured out how to win, and that’s all that matters.

Then there’s Marquette’s five losses this season, which are all embarrassing in one fashion or another. Sometimes it’s merely the final score that was awful, or sometimes it was a major component piece of the game that just makes you stare at it and go “what the holy hell is going on here with this team?”

And thus, answers and explanations are necessary. If not necessary, they’re at least desired. That’s how my brain works at least.

With nothing particular to do until MU’s women’s team tips off at 2pm today, I fired up the coffee maker at 6:30am and started to dig in to try to find something that could explain why the men’s team has been all over the place this season and now sits at 1-3 in Big East play.

It didn’t take me long.

My first stop was KenPom.com, because it should always be your first stop when you want easy access to a wealth of statistics in one spot. I wanted to look at MU’s Game Plan page, because it gives you the single game breakdowns for the Four Factors on both ends of the court, plus efficiency for both ends, as well as shooting percentages for both two-pointers and three-pointers. On top of all that, each column is sortable so you can see a team’s best and worst performance in a particular category with just one mouse click.

It’s pretty handy.

Marquette’s five losses are their five worst defensive performances of the season.

Like the title of the page says, sometimes it’s not complicated.

It’s more detailed than that. Not only are MU’s five losses their five worst performances on defense in terms of efficiency, they’re also MU’s only five games where they’ve allowed more than a point per possession. It’s worse than that. MU’s worst performance on defense in a win was against North Dakota State, where they allowed 0.96 points per possession, or 96.4 points per 100 possessions if you want to think of it that way. Saturday’s game against Seton Hall Pirates was MU’s best defensive performance in a loss, as they coughed up 1.03 points per possession, or 103.4 points per 100 possessions. The next best one was Providence this past Tuesday, coming in at 107.3 points per 100 possessions.

Marquette doesn’t have any average defensive performances. They’re either good or they’re bad. There’s no “well, they allowed a point per possession, that’s about the national average, so that’s fine” game. Either they’re locking teams up, allowing less than a point per possession and winning, or they’re getting sandblasted, giving up more than a point per possession, and losing.

Ready for the bad news?

You’re probably asking “That WASN’T the bad news?” Yeah, it’s not.

Four of Marquette’s losses are in their five worst offensive efficiency performances of the season.

The lone outlier victory there is Robert Morris, where Marquette pulled a 15-2 run out of their butt in the middle of the second half and still had to fend off the Colonials at the end. The loss that doesn’t match up is Providence, where Marquette scored 105.9 points per 100 possessions and gave up a lot worse than that on the other end.

I guess if you wanted to find a silver lining here is that Marquette has beaten Major Seven opponents this season while having a below average offensive day. They were below a point per possession against both Villanova Wildcats and Davidson, but the defense was enough to carry them through there. However, when three of the losses — including against Seton Hall yesterday, MU’s worst offensive performance of the season at just 82.4 — come with Marquette not even mustering 90 points per 100 possessions, it’s hard to take that seriously as a silver lining.

Generally speaking, either Marquette knows what they’re doing on both ends of the floor against a particularly opponent and they win, orrrrrrrrr they have absolutely no idea what to do on either end against an opponent and they lose. That’s really troubling. You should be able to figure out at least one end against an opponent, no matter who it is. “Well, we’re going to struggle to do X on offense, but I’m confident in our ability to do Y on defense, so let’s worry about that and cross our fingers that’s it’s enough,” or maybe vice versa, depending on your opponent. That’s not what’s happening for Marquette this year. When something goes sideways for them, it all goes sideways for the Golden Eagles, all at the same time.

I honestly meant to spend a lot of time trying to find something interesting and deep and thoughtful to talk about here. But instead, I found a glaring problem on the first shovelful of my dig. Is it getting outcoached? Almost assuredly. At the very least, it’s a failure to understand or know what your players are capable of accomplishing when a gameplan is being assembled. Is it getting outplayed? That’s probably a lot of it, too. You don’t have two of your three worst performances on offense and defense in the same two games — Wisconsin and Maryland — without a failure to execute at the highest level possible.

Is there a solution for Marquette across the next 15 games — 14 Big East games remain, plus one guaranteed Big East tournament game — to make sure that there are more games after that? I don’t know. There’s not an easy and obvious solution, that’s for sure, not with major failures on both ends at the same time on a regular basis. The only thing I can say for certain is that a lot of people at the McGuire Center need to put their big boy pants on and take care of their business if they want to play more than those guaranteed remaining 15 games this season.