Marquette Golden Eagles (10-3, 0-1 Big East) vs #10 Villanova Wildcats (10-2, 1-0 Big East)
Date: Saturday, January 4th, 2020
Time: 1pm Central
Location: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, WI
Marquette Stats Leaders
Points: Markus Howard, 25.6 ppg
Rebounds: Jamal Cain, 5.2 rpg
Assists: Koby McEwen, 3.3 apg
Villanova Stats Leaders
Points: Collin Gillespie, 15.0 ppg
Rebounds: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, 9.2 rpg
Assists: Collin Gillespie, 4.9 apg
KenPom Projection: Marquette has a 56% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 77-75.
Tempo Free Fun: Before we dive into the Wildcats, I wanted to take a moment to focus on Marquette. We usually don’t talk much about Marquette basketball in these previews, but there is a couple of things I wanted to put out into the light. First, if you haven’t already, go check out the article I knocked together about what appears to be Steve Wojciechowski’s propensity to get blown out on a regular basis.
Second, I think that, for historical purposes, that we have to point out what happened to the Golden Eagles at the start of last year’s Big East schedule after witnessing Wednesday night’s smashing at the hands of Creighton. Last season, Marquette went out to New York to start league play and got blitzed by St. John’s, 89-69. It sucked, and it sucked a lot. After that, Marquette won their next eight games to move to 8-1 in Big East play and 19-3 overall. Losing by 20 isn’t fun, sure, but if things get better from here, then we can all just forget about what happened in Omaha.
With that in mind, last year’s Xavier team at the start of January, the team that MU beat to kick off that run, wasn’t exactly on par with what Villanova is right now. The Wildcats come into Milwaukee on a six game winning streak, and their only losses so far this season are on the road against now-#5 Ohio State and on a neutral floor against now-#6 Baylor. Those are, as the kids say, respectable losses.
They’re doing this with a very balanced offensive attack, with six players averaging between 9.0 and 15.0 points per game. Given the kind of smart and disciplined play you can generally expect from a Jay Wright coached team, mixing in a dose of ‘hell, I don’t know who’s going to be their leading scorer tonight” creates a concoction that’s hard to drink for opposing defenses.
It should be no surprise to you after the past few years of Villanova basketball to find out that the Wildcats are playing at a relatively slow pace, shooting a metric ton of three-pointers, and making an awful lot of them. They currently rank #256 in the country in adjusted tempo per KenPom.com, #42 in terms of how often they let fly from behind the arc, and #84 in three-point shooting percentage. Three of their top six scorers — Cole Swider, Saddiq Bey, and Justin Moore — are all connecting on at least 39% of their long range bombs. That’s a potent enough trio that you can tolerate Collin Gillespie and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl being just under that efficiency break-even mark at 32.9% and 32.1% respectively.
As far as I can tell, in terms of offense, they really only have two weaknesses. The first is that they get their shots blocked a lot. For a team that’s letting rip behind the arc as much as they are, that’s weird. However, even with a very bad block rate, they’re still shooting 55.4% on twos so far this season, which ranks #21 in the country. The other weakness isn’t the fact that they don’t get to the free throw line much, although that’s true. With as much jumpshooting as they do, that’s by design. No, the other weakness is that Jay Wright has already reduced his rotation to only seven guys. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree kind of counts as an eight rotation player, as he’s appeared in 11 of their 12 games, but he’s only averaging 7.5 minutes per game and Monday’s Big East opener was the first time since November 21st that he played more than 7 minutes. The point is that fouls can affect the Wildcats fairly quickly, as they just don’t have a deep bench.
With that in mind, Villanova’s biggest problems are on the defensive end. Don’t get me wrong, ranking #78 in the country in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric isn’t bad by any stretch. They’re actually better than they were last year, but nowhere near the level that they were when they were ripping off top 15 defenses and being established as national championship contenders. They’re about middle of the country in shooting defense, which is their primary problem. They’re a little worse at two-point defense (#205 in the country at 50.2%) than they are at three-point defense (33.2%, #183). However, they are very good at forcing you away from the arc, which is a long-term benefit for Villanova. They’re going to shoot and make a bunch of three-pointers, so if they’re a little rough around the edges on defense but just focus on you shooting fewer threes than they do, then they’re going to come out ahead on a pure basis of three being greater than two.
We have to talk about turnovers before we go. Creighton doesn’t force turnovers very well, ranking #212 in the country and getting them on 18.8% of possessions. On Wednesday night in Omaha, Marquette saw fit to gift the Bluejays a turnover on 20.8% of possessions, even though Creighton’s not good at making that happen. That is, in a word, bad. I bring this up because Villanova actually forces turnovers ever so slightly less often than Creighton does, with a rate of 18.5% of possessions. Marquette, and I can not stress this enough, can not shoot themselves in the foot for a second straight game against a team that has what can generally be thought of as a complete lack of interest in taking the ball away from them. Marquette is undefeated this season when they have an offensive turnover rate under 20%, and just 1-3 against Major Seven opponents when they turn it over more than 20% of the time.
As pointed out in the article I linked to way at the top, Marquette has gotten smashed in the face in all three of those losses, as they are the only three losses that the Golden Eagles have suffered this season. MU is an incredibly effective offense when they maintain possession long enough to put a shot in the air. That’s what happens when you have four guys shooting over 40% from behind the arc and another at 38.5%. I fervently believe that a whole hell of a lot of MU’s problems this season would be solved if they just. hold. on. to. the. damn. ball for 20+ seconds at a time on every possession. We’ll see if they can figure it out against the Wildcats.
Marquette Last 10 Games: 8-2 after losing to Creighton on Wednesday night.
Villanova Last 10 Games: 9-1, with wins in their last six games.
All Time Series: Villanova leads, 24-11
Current Streak: The Wildcats have won 13 of the last 15 meetings in the series, and four of the last five. However, Marquette has won two of the last three in Milwaukee, and Villanova has never won at Fiserv Forum.
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