Marquette Golden Eagles (14-5, 4-3 Big East) at #13 Butler Bulldogs (15-4, 3-3 Big East)
Date: Friday, January 24, 2020
Time: 8pm Central
Location: Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN
Marquette Stats Leaders
Points: Markus Howard, 28.4 ppg
Rebounds: Jayce Johnson, 5.6 rpg
Assists: Koby McEwen, 3.2 apg
Marquette Injury Note: Greg Elliott is still listed as doubtful in the Marquette game notes after suffering an ankle injury against Providence on January 7th.
Marquette Roster Change Note: It would certainly seem that head coach Steve Wojciechowski had a meeting with Ed Morrow on Thursday before the team departed for Indianapolis to talk about his future relative to his indefinite leave for personal reasons. That would certainly explain why the team announced that Morrow was no longer a part of the team on Thursday morning.
Butler Stats Leaders
Points: Kamar Baldwin, 15.4 ppg
Rebounds: Bryce Nze, 7.0 rpg
Assists: Aaron Thompson, 5.1 apg
Butler Injury Note: Christian David suffered a torn ACL during Butler’s 76-61 road loss to Villanova on Tuesday night. The 6’6” Canadian was averaging 14.6 minutes per game for the Bulldogs before only playing five minutes against the Wildcats, and wraps up the year averaging 2.6 points and 1.8 rebounds per game.
KenPom Projection: Butler has a 71% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 72-66.
The Stakes: Virtually none. If Marquette wins, they beat a team ranked #13 in the AP poll, #15 on KenPom, and #9 in the NET. If they lose, they lose a road game to a consensus top 15 team, which is a totally normal thing that people do on a regular basis. If they win, it’s great. If they lose, it was the most likely outcome. It’s a “Fistful Of House Money” game for the Golden Eagles, and you always like to see those pop up on the schedule. There’s no downside.
Tempo Free Fun: To paraphrase James T. Kirk: I’ve never trusted LaVall Jordan, and I never will. I could never forgive him for injuring my small adult son, Markus Howard.
I am, of course, referring to the very end of Marquette’s 79-69 victory over Butler last season. With 42 seconds remaining in that game and Marquette leading by eight, Jordan Tucker fouled Markus Howard. Mind you, Butler had been trailing by 15 a minute earlier, and while I might not be very quick on the draw on this whole “math” thing, I think that if Butler was going whittle away seven points every minute, they miiiiight not have enough time to actually catch the Golden Eagles. Anyway, the point is that it took them 11 seconds to foul after Kamar Baldwin had scored to make it an eight point game, and then they did it anyway, even though the game was very quickly approaching if not already past the point where it was over and decided...... and Markus Howard came away from that Jordan Tucker foul 1) off balance and 2) grabbing at his leg as if he had hyperextended it.
Three days later, Howard would struggle with a groin issue (well, would you look at that), but Marquette would get the 76-58 win over Providence. The Golden Eagles would win just one more game for the rest of the season, and you can easily argue that a large part of that is because Howard had suffered that groin injury that was needlessly caused by Butler’s dumb fouls.
And what did Butler get out of that? Not a damn thing.
At the time, I wondered if BU head coach LaVall Jordan was trying to mitigate his team’s damage in the NET, as there’s a portion of it that treats all margins over 10 points the same. In theory, if the Bulldogs kept it under 10, that would be good for their NET and might keep them alive for the NCAA tournament!
Well, they didn’t, as Marquette won by exactly 10, and it didn’t, as Butler would lose their next two games and four of the next five, including by 21 at Villanova and by 23 at the Big East tournament against Providence. That landed them in the NIT, where they lost on the road to Nebraska, featuring Dead Man Walking head coach Tim Miles.
So to be clear: Butler did a dumb thing by fouling late in a game that was over, didn’t help themselves at all with it, and ultimately injured the Big East Player of the Year and cost themselves NCAA tournament share money as a result.
I haven’t forgiven LaVall Jordan for this, and I never will.
So, yeah, the game on Friday.
Butler has been an exceptional defensive team this season. Don’t look at their points per game, because that’s not what we’re talking about here. They have been ruthlessly efficient on the defensive end, ranking #19 in the country on KenPom.com in adjusted defensive efficiency. I realize that it’s an adjusted for competition level and location number, but Odin protect us, 89.9 points per 100 possessions is a terrifying level of defensive pressure.
Yeah. So. Butler has four losses on the season, three of which have been in their last three games. Losing at home to Seton Hall is kind of not great, since they were ranked #5 in the country at the time, and losing at Villanova this past Tuesday.... well, that’s kind of okay, although the 76-61 margin really isn’t. The befuddling one is the 13 point road loss to DePaul, thereby gifting the Blue Demons their only league win of the season so far.
Those three losses in Big East play have a commonality: Butler’s defense sucked.
Thanks to the handy dandy KenPom.com Game Plan chart, I can authoritatively tell you that the last three games have been the three worst defensive performances of the season for Butler in terms of points per 100 possessions. The Bulldogs have given up raw unadjusted totals of 114, 116.3, and 118.6 points per 100 possessions in their last three games, and their worst performance of the three was in fact against DePaul.
Before the last three games, Butler had given up more than 96 points per 100 possessions on just one occasion: a 68-67 neutral site victory over Stanford. They gave up 108.9 and luckily scored 110.5 to balance things out by the final horn. There isn’t one particular part of Butler’s defense that was failing them in the last three games, which might actually be good news for Marquette. If Jordan’s defensive schemes have suddenly turned into BB-8 constantly extending a new robot arm to fix a newly failing circuit in Poe Dameron’s X-Wing, the fact that they have no idea what to fix from game-to-game would be a thing to exploit, potentially. Conversely, even if they have an idea of what to fix, MU head coach Steve Wojciechowski now has three straight games of film to watch and figure out exactly what Seton Hall, Villanova, and yes, even what DePaul did to crack the Butler riddle.
That’s about it for real weaknesses for Butler. Up until January 15th, they were a really scary team seemingly destined for a top two seed in the NCAA tournament at worst. The big question for this game is whether or not the Bulldogs are going to bounce back after two straight road games and play like they were in the first 16 games of the season. If they do, then Marquette almost assuredly takes the loss to the #13 team in the country here. If they don’t..... welllllll, then things are really looking good for Marquette, don’t you think? Let’s all cross our fingers and our toes and hope that the MU coaching staff found something that they can attack in the last three games of film on the Bulldogs.
For all of Butler’s problems on the other end of the court, Kamar Baldwin has been pretty great for them on the offensive end. He has scored over his season average in all of the last three games, and he’s shooting 51.3% inside the arc in those contests. His three-point shooting has been iffy, knocking down just two of his 12 attempts in that stretch. He hasn’t been going wild with attempts, though, as Baldwin has stayed right about on track with his season average in that area. It’s not a guarantee that his cold streak outside is going to keep going, and the fact that he shot 6-for-9 against Seton Hall and Romaro Gill is really impressive. I’m not sure Marquette would want to try to induce him to only shoot threes in this game, but it might be a better result than letting him get to the rim anyway.
Marquette Last 10 Games: 7-3 and riding a three game winning streak.
Butler Last 10 Games: 6-4 and riding a three game losing streak.
All Time Series: Marquette is 19-22 all time against Butler.
Current Streak: Marquette won both meetings a year ago, but that still means that the Bulldogs have won seven of the previous 10 games between the two.
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