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Marquette Basketball Preview Primer: vs Providence Friars

The Golden Eagles welcome the Friars to town with an eye on staying unbeaten at Fiserv Forum.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 11 Butler at Providence Photo by Andrew Snook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Marquette Golden Eagles (11-3, 1-1 Big East) vs Providence Friars (9-6, 2-0 Big East)

Date: Tuesday, January 7, 2020
Time: 6pm Central
Location: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, WI

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Markus Howard, 25.8 ppg
Rebounds: Jamal Cain, 5.0 rpg
Assists: Koby McEwen & Markus Howard, 3.1 apg

Providence Stats Leaders

Points: Alpha Diallo, 13.7 ppg
Rebounds: Alpha Diallo, 8.8 rpg
Assists: Luwane Pipkins, 4.5 apg Rankings

Marquette: #31
Providence: #73
KenPom Projection: Marquette has a 78% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 77-68.

Tempo Free Fun: Alrighty. So. We have to try to figure out what the hell to make of Providence this season. In their first 12 games, they went 6-6, and that’s not because they created the world’s hardest non-conference schedule. They lost at Northwestern (currently 5-8 and falling) in the Gavitt Games, then lost at home to a Penn team that’s not an Ivy League contender this season, and then followed that up by going out to the Wooden Classic and dropping games to Long Beach State (5-11, headed to the bottom of the Big West) and Charleston (actually favored to win the CAA). After barely beating Pepperdine (headed towards the bottom of the WCC), they came back to Rhode Island and lost their in-state rivalry game at URI, and then 11 days later got absolutely shelled by Florida at Barclays Center.

That sucks.

Since then, they’re 3-0, with wins over Texas, Georgetown, and a surprisingly lively DePaul. The Texas and Georgetown games were demolition jobs at home, while they escaped Wintrust Arena in Chicago with a one point win to move to 2-0 in Big East play.

Go ahead, make sense of that. I don’t even know where to start.

The Texas game is the baffler, because the Longhorns are 10-3 with losses to Georgetown and a very good Baylor team. Then again, other than a win over a seemingly collapsing Purdue squad, Texas doesn’t actually have any quality wins this season. So maybe that tells us more about UT than it does about PC.

The Georgetown game somewhat explains itself. While the Hoyas had gotten on a six game winning streak since James Akinjo transferred amidst a slew of legal issues that led to the departures of three more players, Mac McClung missed the game with the Friars due to some sort of eye issue. If my math is right, that left Georgetown with just six scholarship players, and that is absolutely how you get blasted on the road in your conference opener.

The DePaul game, like the Texas game, may tell us more about the Blue Demons than it does about the Friars. Everyone got very excited with DePaul beat Iowa, Boston College, and Minnesota on the road and then held on to beat Texas Tech in overtime at home. That was almost enough to get them ranked, but then they went and blew a Sunday afternoon game to Buffalo. Since beating Texas Tech, they’ve gotten super-DePaul-ish, struggling with Cleveland State in an inexplicable road game as well as doing the same against Northwestern at home. They’ve started off Big East play 0-2 and are projected to go 6-12 in the league.

So yeah, Providence is 2-0 and have won three straight games against top 70 KenPom opponents. They also beat three straight teams that might actually be not good and getting worse. While this might all be a false front for what the Friars are this season, that’s actually bad news for Marquette. The worst possible thing you can face is a bad team that’s feeling confident about themselves. That’s a recipe for a loss that’s just going to keep getting worse because eventually the bad team is going to go back to being bad.

While that’s a general and essentially esoteric reason to be worried about playing Providence, here’s a real reason to be worried about Tuesday night’s game: Providence is a good defensive team, and they’re good because they create turnovers, and specifically, they create steals. The Friars currently have the 44th best defense in the country according to KenPom’s adjusted efficiency system. They rank #29 in the country in defensive turnover rate, creating a turnover on 23.5% of possessions, and on 13.6% of possessions, they create a steal. That’s the sixth best steal rate in the country per KenPom.

For those of you trying to forget about it through the use of large amounts of psychedelic drugs, Marquette’s one true weakness on offense is their ability to hold onto the ball. They currently have a top 40 offense per KenPom, but rank just #170 in terms of offensive turnover rate. I don’t know if you want to call it good news or bad news, but MU’s turnovers are very closely split right down the middle between steals and everything else. On one hand, because PC gets so many steals, it’s good news that Marquette’s problem with turnovers isn’t specifically because they get it stolen a lot. It’s bad news because MU still isn’t very good at preventing the ball from being stolen.

It’s a team effort for the Friars, too. Alpha Diallo is the top dog in this department, adding a top 90 steal rate to his other very impressive credentials. Maliek White ranks in the top 200 per KenPom, while Luwane Pipkins and AJ Reeves are both in the top 300. If you really want to panic about things, Pipkins, White, and Reeves are probably the three most likely guys to end up defending Markus Howard in this game. Howard is actually much better about turnovers than he was last year, but getting defended by that crew of human chainsaws doesn’t sound like a good way to keep that trend going.

Okay, good news! Let’s close this out on good news, and the good news is that in general this season, Providence absolutely stinks on offense. #132 in the country per KenPom, and thanks to lousy two-point shooting and barely passable three-point shooting, they rank #240 in the country in effective field goal percentage. Effective field goal percentage is the defensive thing that Marquette does exceptionally well, so that’s fantastic news. In addition to those black marks for the Friars, they’re also bad at letting their shots getting blocked (Mr. Theo John, your table is ready) and if you can believe this, they’re actually worse at turnovers on offense than Marquette is this season.

All of this sounds like wonderful reasons, even in light of PC’s defensive prowess, why Marquette should cube Providence like cheese. However, the astute reader will have already noticed that I said “in general this season” in the previous paragraph. Yeah, there’s a reason for that, and I apologize for lying to you about closing this out on good news.

Believe you me, I understand the idea of Small Sample Size Theater, and this is absolutely Small Sample Size Theater, but it has to be pointed out: Providence is currently the most efficient offense in the Big East when you only look at league games, and they have the best effective field goal percentage in the league as well. This is because they have the best three-point shooting in the league at 40%. They went 10-for-25 against both DePaul and Georgetown, so that’s a whole thing. Luwane Pipkins is 6-for-14 in the last two games and 10-for-20 in the last three. He’s a career 35% three-point shooter and shooting 33.7% for the season even with this hot streak. After going 3-for-14 in the five previous games, Maliek White has connected on five of his last nine attempts from long range, including a 3-for-4 outing against DePaul. He’s a career 33.8% shooter hitting just 33.3% this season.

The good news is that regression to the mean is a thing. The bad news is that Marquette has to make that happen. It’s well within their abilities, but they have to take the Friars seriously to do it. “There are no nights off in this league” is a cliche, to be sure, but it’s a wildly accurate one.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 8-2 with wins in six of the last seven games.

Providence Last 10 Games: 5-5, with wins in their last three and four of their last five.

All Time Series: Marquette leads, 19-9.

Current Streak: Marquette has won three of the last four matchups against Providence, including both meetings last season, making the Friars winless at Fiserv Forum.

Follow Along On Twitter

@AnonymousEagle - Hey, that’s us!
@MarquetteMBB - Official MU account
@PCFriarsmbb - Official PC account
@becb_sbn - our SB Nation friends that follow the whole Big East
@BenSteeleMJS - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel MU beat writer