Marquette Golden Eagles (5-2, 1-0 Big East) vs Seton Hall Pirates (4-3, 1-0 Big East)
Date: Thursday, December 17, 2020
Time: 8pm Central
Location: A very empty Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Marquette Stats Leaders
Points: Koby McEwen, 15.7 points/game
Rebounds: Theo John, 7.9 rebounds/game
Assists: D.J. Carton, 3.3 assists/game
Seton Hall Stats Leaders
Points: Sandro Mamukelashvili, 20.4 points/game
Rebounds: Sandro Mamukelashvili & Jared Rhoden, 7.4 rebounds/game
Assists: Shavar Reynolds, 5.6 assists/game
Seton Hall: #53
Game Projection: Marquette has a 64% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 73-69.
Tempo Free Fun: The 2020-21 season did not get off to a good start for Seton Hall. They rallied from down 11 with 8:24 to play on the road against Louisville in their opener and led by 1 with 40 seconds left before losing 71-70 when Takal Molson missed the third of three free throws at the horn. They followed that up by falling behind 37-28 to Iona in the Gaels’ first game under the direction of Rick Pitino before going on a 27-4 run in the second half to win easily. Then they went to Rhode Island and gave up a 15-2 run to close the game and lose by 13 to the Rams. Then they went to Omaha to play then-#21 Oregon on a neutral floor and gave up an 11-1 run in the second half after trailing by six at halftime and ultimately lost by 13. Then they went to Penn State and needed to rally from down eight with under two minutes to go to force overtime against a team that had their coach resign just before their season started. The Pirates ended up with the 98-92 win coming out of Happy Valley, but considering that they were trailing by double digits for most of the first half and by as many as 19 points repeatedly, it’s hard to see that as an all-around victory. Y’know, yay, you rallied and won, but what were you doing giving up a 19-2 run to trail by 19 after only nine minutes in the first place?
It’s probably for the best that they didn’t face Baylor as previously scheduled.
Since prevailing against the Nittany Lions, Seton Hall smashed Wagner by 33 and started Big East action with a nine point win over St. John’s at The Rock that was closer (five point game, St. John’s ball with 55 seconds to go) than the final margin makes it look. Still, a three game winning streak is a three game winning streak, and that’s how they come into Thursday night’s game against the Golden Eagles.
As expected, Sandro Mamukelashvili has morphed into a full blown star for Seton Hall following the departures of Quincy McKnight and Myles Powell. The 6’11” Georgian is leading the team in scoring by a fairly wide margin at 20.4 points per game, and is tied with Jared Rhoden, the #2 scorer, for the team lead in rebounds, too. 2.6 assists per game is pretty damn great for a guy shooting it nearly 15 times a game, and maybe even more so for a guy the size of Mamukelashvili. He’s being asked to step outside and shoot it more this season by head coach Kevin Willard, raising his three-point shooting attempts from 2.7 each of the past two years to 4.7 per game this year. As you’d expect, his shooting percentage is down, but it’s still great. Mamukelashvili shot an outstanding 43% a year ago and he’s “only” knocking down 39% of his treys this season. Because most of his shot attempts do still come inside the arc, chasing him around the court is going to be priority #1 for Marquette’s defense in this game. The good news is that between Dawson Garcia and Justin Lewis, Marquette has the mobile big men to do this while not sacrificing anything on the interior because, at least in theory, Theo John will still be protecting the rim.
At #34 in the country, I have to wonder if Seton Hall’s adjusted offensive efficiency per KenPom.com is slightly elevated through false means. The Pirates are currently ranked #15 in the country in Free Throw Rate, as they have a free throw attempt-to-field goal attempt ratio of 47.4%. That’s a very “there’s only seven games of data and one of them was an 86% against Wagner” kind of number as Arkansas State led the country in FTR at 48.1% a year ago, and only two teams cleared 45%. While the Pirates are not going to be able to feast on scoring points while the clock is stopped at that pace all season long, it still does tell us that they’re getting to the stripe an awful lot. Going one step down the line there, that means that they’re drawing fouls at a pretty good rate, and I mention all of this to point out that Marquette’s defense hasn’t exactly been judicious about their fouling so far this season. While Free Throw Rate is the least impactful of the Four Factors, “having everyone available to play serious defense all game long” is still a pretty important part of having a good defense. The Golden Eagles are currently carrying around the best KenPom adjusted defensive efficiency of the Steve Wojciechowski Era, even after butting heads with the shooting monster that is Creighton’s offense on Monday, and they’ll need everyone available to keep that going against the Pirates.
We pointed out in the Creighton preview that the Bluejays do not create turnovers on defense as a way of gesturing at Marquette’s very serious turnover problem in their two losses this season. In four of their five wins (Eastern Illinois is the outlier at 20.9%), MU has kept their offensive turnover rate under 19%. In their two losses, the turnover rate has been north of 27%. That’s a huge gap! The good news is that Seton Hall’s defense is actually less turnover prone than Creighton’s is, at least so far this season. It’s safe to say that Marquette should be able to control that issue against the Pirates. Still, Shavar Reynolds will have to be contended with, as the 6’2” senior guard currently ranks #226 in the country in steal rate.
Defending the three-point line is going to be an intriguing proposition for the Golden Eagles. Seton Hall is currently knocking down 35.5% of their long balls while attempting a fewer amount of them that they tried a year ago. We can call that “The Myles Powell Effect,” as last year’s Big East Player of the Year shot more than half of his attempts from behind the arc. With no more Powell on the roster, the Pirates aren’t letting it go from deep as much any more. However, it appears that the spirit of Myles Powell is alive and well on this team this season. We already mentioned that Mamukelashvili is hitting his shots. However, Myles Cale and Jared Rhoden are not. Those are the only other two SHU players averaging more than three attempts from behind the three-point line per game, and both men are not getting it done. Rhoden, a career 30% three-point shooter, is sitting on 30.8% this season, while Cale has fallen off from his career mark of 33% to a woeful 28.6% on four attempts per game. Let’s be clear: Neither of these guys should be shooting it all that much based on their career numbers. Now they’re being called on to carry the team in that department and it is not going well. Marquette can not afford to let either guy get hot. MU can also not afford to let Shavar Reynolds (53%, only 15 attempts on the year) or Takal Molson (37.5%, 16 attempts) get quality looks at the rim. Those two guys are going to hit shots if they get chances to take them. Like I said at the top, it’s intriguing as to how Marquette is going to deal with “guys who shoot a lot but are bad” and “guys who don’t shoot a lot but are good.” We saw “having a bad start to the year, but usually a very good shooter and should not be allowed to have clean looks” Mitch Ballock go wild against the Golden Eagles in the first half on Monday night, so it’s hard to say what the game plan is going to be against Seton Hall’s potential threats.
All Time Series: Marquette leads, 19-11.
Current Streak: Seton Hall has now won four straight in the series, including a win last Leap Day that snapped a three game winning streak for the Golden Eagles in Milwaukee.
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