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Marquette Basketball Preview Primer: vs St. John’s

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The Golden Eagles return to Fiserv Forum with an eye on a third straight victory.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 31 Butler at St John’s
Well, I’m using this St. John’s mascot picture for the rest of time.
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Marquette Golden Eagles (13-5, 3-3 Big East) vs St. John’s Red Storm (12-7, 1-5 Big East)

Date: Tuesday, January 21, 2020
Time: 8pm Central
Location: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, WI

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Markus Howard, 28.2 ppg
Rebounds: Brendan Bailey, 5.5 rpg
Assists: Koby McEwen, 3.2 apg

Marquette Injury Note: Greg Elliott was still on crutches and in a walking boot during Saturday’s game against Georgetown. He is still listed as doubtful in the official Marquette game notes.

Marquette Absence Note: This will be the last time that we mention Ed Morrow’s leave for personal reasons in these previews. Presuming that he does not return to the team in time for Tuesday night’s game, that will be the third straight contest that he has missed. Thus, we will all presume that he’s just not going to be available until which point that the athletic department announces that he is.

St. John’s Stats Leaders

Points: LJ Figueroa, 14.7 ppg
Rebounds: Josh Roberts, 6.7 rpg
Assists: Nick Rutherford, 3.2 apg

KenPom.com Rankings

Marquette: #32
St. John’s: #77
KenPom Projection: Marquette has a 78% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 79-71.

The Stakes: Marquette already has one Quadrant 3 loss on their resume this season after losing in overtime to Providence. As of Monday morning, this game against St. John’s figures to be a Quadrant 3 game for the Golden Eagles in terms of NCAA tournament profiles. It also figures to be MU’s final Q3 game of the season, as everything else currently appears to land in either Quadrant 1 or Quadrant 2 the rest of the way. I’m not saying that this is a must win game for the Golden Eagles. I am, however, saying that Marquette already has one home loss that they’re trying to dig their way out from underneath, and having a second one would be a very bad thing.

Tempo Free Fun: If someone can successfully encapsulate St. John’s men’s basketball this season in a sentence, maybe two, please speak up. I don’t think I can do it. I mean, I’m going to prove that I can’t in a moment, but I don’t see how I could possibly fit it all together.

Here’s a fun way to think about the weirdness going on with the Red Storm this season: They are 2-2 this year against teams that are currently ranked in the top 15 in KenPom, with non-con wins over West Virginia and Arizona, but league losses to Butler and Seton Hall. They are also 0-3 this season against teams ranked between 70 and 100 in KenPom, falling at home to Vermont, on a neutral court to Arizona State, and on the road to Providence.

Either St. John’s is the world’s best example of the boxing cliche “styles make fights,” or they are the most up and down and left and right and all over the place team in the entire country. I’ll believe either one, you just tell me which one it actually is.

St. John’s is probably the owner of the two biggest “OH MAN, ALMOST” games in Big East play this season. In their league opener against Butler, the Johnnies gave up a 25-2 run that put the Bulldogs up 39-16 right at the start of the second half. Shortly thereafter, SJU kicked off what would turn into a very very very long 32-5 run that had them up 54-49 with about four minutes left to go. Ultimately, they took the 60-58 loss, and we’re left to wonder if the absence of Mustapha Heron from that game due to a sprained ankle was the difference maker.

The argument that it wasn’t came on Saturday. St. John’s found themselves up 13 on a ranked Seton Hall team at Madison Square Garden at halftime, and up 14 points with 17:36 to go. A 14-2 run by the Pirates flipped that on its head pretty quickly, and even though it was tied with 81 seconds to go, the Red Storm left their part-time home with an 82-79 loss. That’s two of the three teams in the Big East that are currently ranked in the top 15 of the Associated Press top 25, and the only Big East squads in the top 15 in KenPom’s rankings. St. John’s was thisclose to getting wins against both of them, but instead they went 0-2 as part of their 1-5 start to league play. Saturday added a nice layer of dumb to everything, as DePaul, the only team that St. John’s has beaten in conference action, went ahead and beat Butler. Go figure, huh?

Here’s the good news for MU as they square off against the Johnnies: The Red Storm can not shoot. Like, at all. They rank #316 in the country in effective field goal percentage, #326 in three-point shooting percentage, and #279 in two-point shooting percentage. The important thing to note about the three-point shooting number (28.8% as a team!) is that new head coach Mike Anderson has definitely drilled a message of “DO NOT SHOOT THREES” into his team’s head, because they’re in the bottom 30 of the country in terms of how frequently they let it fly. Now, with that said, Marquette is going to have to actually do some work to make sure that the Johnnies come in on their season average. LJ Figueroa is canning 35% of his threes on the year and Mustapha Heron’s at 36.1%. Those are both somewhere between “totally fine” and “actually pretty good,” so it’s shocking that St. John’s is awful as a team. Figueroa is only hitting on 27% of his threes in league games, while Heron is at 26%. If there’s anything from the previous six SJU games that the MU coaching staff can steal for a defensive gameplan on those two dudes, I highly recommend that they do it.

What St. John’s does do very well on offense does help out their awful shooting. They don’t create problems for themselves, ranking #26 in the country in turnover rate. Minimizing mistakes is always a solid plan to counter your bad shooting. The other thing they excel at is gathering up their own misses. 33% of SJU’s misses end up back in their hands, which is the 56th best rebounding rate in the country. Josh Roberts and Marcellus Earlington are both top 70 offensive rebounders per KenPom.com, so Marquette will need to put a body on those two dudes any time a shot goes in the air. It is important to mention that when you only look at league games, the Johnnies are actually the worst offensive rebounding rate team in the league, only grabbing up 25% of their misses.

Also helping the St. John’s offense is their ability to create turnovers on defense. If the other team can’t get a shot up, they can’t score, and that’s always going to help your offensively stunted team. The Johnnies rank #17 in the country in defensive turnover rate, forcing it out of their opponents’ hands on 24.1% of possessions. Now, that sounds like it should be an absolute nightmare for a team like Marquette that has been a bit butterfinger-y this season, but as our own Ben Snider pointed out yesterday, the Golden Eagles have been very good about minding their p’s and q’s on offense as of late.

There’s two ways to look at how St. John’s operates in terms of shooting defense. They’re pretty good at forcing misses, ranking #54 in the country in eFG% defense. That’s going to carry you a long way in terms of efficiency, and it gets the Red Storm all the way up to #52 in the country in KenPom’s adjusted defense metric. However, they are absolutely trash at defensive rebounding. Even though freshman Julian Champagnie ranks in the top 400 in the country in individual defensive rebounding rate, SJU is #308 in the team category. Opponents get to nearly 32% of their own misses on average against St. John’s this season, and that number has wobbled up to 36.1% in Big East games. Marquette is a pretty good shooting team (or great if you only look at their three-point shooting) and a perfectly fine offensive rebounding team. This should end up all being a positive for the Golden Eagles, but it will require effort to get good shots for everyone on the roster, quality positioning in the paint to grab those misses if they come, and of course, a lack of fouls from Theo John and Jayce Johnson.

One thing to watch: Mike Anderson is a disciple of Nolan Richardson and thus favors the 40 Minutes Of Hell style of defense. As such, he does deploy a pretty deep rotation. If you ignore the fact that Rasheem Dunn missed the first three games of the year while the NCAA puttered about regarding his eligibility and that Heron missed three games with his ankle injury, Anderson has been going 10 deep on his roster almost every night. If he wants to play high tempo and frenzied defense, regular substitutions to keep everyone fresh have to be the name of the game. Figueroa leads St. John’s in minutes at 27.6 per game, so the Golden Eagles will have to be on their toes to remain aware of who is on the floor at any given moment and thus what matchups are most advantageous.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 7-3, with wins in their last two games.

St. John’s Last 10 Games: 5-5, with losses in five of their last six games and each of their last two.

All Time Series: Marquette leads, 21-14.

Current Streak: St. John’s took both regular season meetings to give one side of this series consecutive wins for the first time since MU took all three meetings in the 2015-16 season. However, MU currently has the advantage in the streak department with the victory in the Big East tournament last year.

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