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#18 Marquette Basketball Preview Primer: at #15 Villanova

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The Golden Eagles are on a hot streak and in search of their first ever win at Finneran Pavilion.

Big East Basketball Tournament - Semifinals Photo by Porter Binks/Getty Images

#18 Marquette Golden Eagles (17-6, 7-4 Big East) at #15 Villanova Wildcats (17-6, 7-4 Big East)

Date: Wednesday, February 12, 2020
Time: 7:30pm Central
Location: Finneran Pavilion, Villanova, PA

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Markus Howard, 27.4 ppg
Rebounds: Brendan Bailey, 5.7 rpg
Assists: Koby McEwen, 3.2 apg

Villanova Stats Leaders

Points: Saddiq Bey, 15.9 ppg
Rebounds: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, 9.6 rpg
Assists: Collin Gillespie, 4.6 apg

KenPom.com Rankings

Marquette: #23
Villanova: #28
KenPom Projection: Villanova has a 61% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 76-73.

Last Time Out: Marquette bounced back from an ugly loss to open up Big East play by beating then-#10 Villanova, 71-60. Markus Howard dominated early while the Golden Eagles built a 16 point lead. The Wildcats fought back and trimmed it down to eight with less than eight minutes to play, but Marquette was able to staunch the bleeding and keep the margin at right about 10 points the rest of the way.

Since Last We Met: This is going to sound weird, but the two teams have been headed in opposite directions twice since that date at Fiserv Forum. First it was Marquette struggling after their first major win of the season, first falling in overtime at home to Providence in their next game and then taking a fall apart 14 point loss at Seton Hall to drop to 1-3 in league play. At the same time, Villanova bounced back from their loss to the Golden Eagles by winning their next six Big East games and mixed in a non-con victory over Connecticut in there, too.

Things have changed lately, though. Marquette has shaken off that rough start to league play to win six of their last seven and end up at 7-4 in the conference, while Villanova has suffered three straight losses since the calendar turned to February to fall to 7-4 in Big East play themselves. Two of the three losses were at home, one to Creighton and one to Seton Hall, both of whom are top half of the conference squads right now. The third loss was a road trip to Butler, so I suppose VU and MU have that in common now.

Tempo Free Fun: I think we have to start by pointing this out, because it’s so notable. Marquette will be going on the road to face Villanova while the Wildcats are riding a three game losing streak for the second straight season. This is particularly notable, because last year’s skid for Jay Wright’s team was their first three game losing streak in Big East play since January 2013, and it had never happened since The Reformation before last season. Now it’s happened two years in a row, and both times, it’s been Marquette that has to catch the brunt of it.

With that in mind, I think it only makes sense to bring back the bit that we did last year at this time and try to figure out what’s going wrong with Villanova. What you’ll see here in a second is a pair of charts with Villanova’s current statistical marks in the Four Factors of basketball: effective field goal percentage, turnover rate, offensive rebounding rate, and free throw rate. I’ve also tossed in VU’s points per possession numbers for the low low cost of free.99. If you need Dean Oliver’s explanations for everything, they’re right here.

Specifically, each stat is broken into three columns: 1) What Villanova has done in all 11 Big East games so far this season taken right from KenPom.com, 2) what Villanova did against Marquette earlier this season, again straight from KenPom, and 3) what Villanova did during their three game losing streak, as calculated by hand by me. There’s two charts, because we’re splitting their offense and defense into two separate charts, because duh. It stands to reason that there’s something (probably multiple somethings) in these 10 columns that will explain what’s been going wrong for the Wildcats as of late. If we’re lucky, we’ll also see something that Marquette did particularly well the first time around against Villanova and will thus be able to exploit a particular recent weakness as well. That’s just a theory, though, so let’s see what we have, shall we?

First the offense:

Villanova Offense Four Factors

Category Big East games at Marquette Last 3 Games
Category Big East games at Marquette Last 3 Games
Effective FG% 48.5% 41.9% 46.6%
Turnover Rate 13.9% 18.0% 10.4%
Off. Rebound Rate 23.9% 23.8% 20.2%
Free Throw Rate 26.6% 7.3% 27.1%
Points Per Possession 1.04 0.83 1.05

Broadly speaking, nothing is wrong with Villanova’s offense. In 11 Big East games, they’re averaging 1.04 points per possession, and in the three losses, they’re at 1.05. This is actually an improvement! They’re shooting the ball a little bit worse which is probably based on a 27% from behind the arc performance against Creighton and a 38% performance inside the arc against Seton Hall. I think the biggest reason why they’re ever so slightly better is because the Wildcats have been very very careful with the ball over the last three games. They turned the ball over less than 15% of the time in each of the last three games, including a 4.9% turnover rate against Butler. They played a 40 minute basketball game with 61 possessions and only coughed it up three times. I’m actually impressed.

Anyway, the point here is that there’s nothing wrong with the VU offense in general for Marquette to take advantage of from the last three games. If anything, the Golden Eagles are probably best off ignoring the last three games from a defensive perspective, dusting off their game plan from early January, and then just doing the exact same thing all over again. Quite honestly, Marquette force fed Villanova their worst offensive performance of Big East play this season so far and second worst performance of the season overall, so stick with what works, y’know?

And now the defense, and after a “well, the offense seems to be just fine” section, I’m sure you’re anticipating a massive disaster here, and you are right.

Villanova Defense Four Factors

Category Big East games at Marquette Last 3 Games
Category Big East games at Marquette Last 3 Games
Effective FG% 48.2% 41.7% 57.5%
Turnover Rate 16.0% 13.8% 16.7%
Off. Rebound Rate 24.3% 19.4% 23.6%
Free Throw Rate 23.9% 55.6% 25.1%
Points Per Possession 0.99 0.98 1.17

YEP, THAT’S A DISASTER FOR OL’ JAY WRIGHT. 1.17 points per possession on the defensive end is just not going to cut it in the Big East, and the fact that they played three of the four best non-VU teams in the league in the last three games has very little to do with that fact. It might explain why it happened, but it still is not going to cut it. Interestingly, none of the last three games are their worst defensive outing of the season in terms of efficiency, and only one of them — at Butler — is in the bottom four.

As you can see from the top line, Villanova’s biggest problem right now is their shooting defense. Everything else is just a shade left or right of average. The only thing saving Villanova from allowing an eFG% north of 60% in the last three games is the fact that Seton Hall couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn inside the arc on Saturday, as the Wildcats let both Creighton and Butler go soaring past the 60% mark.

The really bad problem for Villanova — and perhaps very good thing for Marquette — is that Butler and Creighton eradicated the Wildcats defense in different ways. Creighton made 50% of their three-pointers, and probably had more than one VU fan hearing “WRAGGE AGAIN!” echoing in their heads as that game went on. It wasn’t freaky shooting that did this, either. Ty-Shon Alexander and Mitch Ballock are both known quantities in terms of experience in college basketball as well as their ability to hit outside shots. They hit 9 of their 13 long range bombs in the game, which is probably a very bad failure on the part of multiple Villanova players. The Jays were pretty good inside the arc, connecting on 51% of their attempts, but nowhere near as good as Butler. The Bulldogs, led by a 9-for-11 night from Bryce Golden, shot 61.5% inside the arc against Villanova. Just straight up wrecking them inside. Bryce Nze was 5-for-8 on twos, and noted three-point specialist Sean McDermott was 4-for-5.

This is, most likely, where Marquette can benefit the most. Whatever sets or actions that MU can beg, borrow, or steal from the past three games, they need to do it. Earlier this season, Marquette struggled to get shots to fall against the Wildcats across the span of 40 minutes. A little home cooking, both in the form of blue and gold dressed fans in the stands as well as a 24-13 foul disparity which led to — I swear to you this is not a joke — a 30-5 free throw attempt disparity, was extremely beneficial to the Golden Eagles’ cause. Not to say that referees are biased one way or another in any fashion, but it’s basically impossible that MU will get that kind of a favorable whistle again on Wednesday night. Anything that Steve Wojciechowski and his assistants and his managers and his players and his office staff, I really don’t care who sees it, can find to run against Villanova on offense to get high quality shots, they need to do it.

For the record: 12 of Marquette’s 30 free throw attempts in that game came in the final minute as Villanova attempted to foul their way back into a chance to win. It did not work. Still: A 18-5 FTA gap in the first 39 minutes is nothing to sneeze at........ oh, and it’s actually an 18-3 gap because Bryan Antoine did shoot two freebies in the final minute, too. Oops.

Shouts to Mike Roberts, Brett Hampton, and Noted Good Referee Pat Driscoll.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 7-3, with wins in their last three games and six of the last seven.

Villanova Last 10 Games: 7-3, but the losses have been in the last three games.

All Time Series: Villanova leads, 24-12

Current Streak: The Wildcats have won 13 of the last 16 meetings in the series, and four of the last six. Villanova has won seven straight games in their buildings in this series, and the Golden Eagles have won on the road against Villanova just twice since they first met in 1960. Both of those wins - 2008 and 2012 - were at the building currently named Wells Fargo Center, which means that Marquette has never won at Finneran Pavilion.

Follow Along On Twitter

@AnonymousEagle - hey, that’s us!
@MarquetteMBB - The official Marquette team account
@NovaMBB - The official Villanova team account
@BenSteeleMJS - The Journal Sentinel’s beat reporter
@VUHoops - our SB Nation friends that cover Villanova
@becb_sbn - our SB Nation friends that cover the entire Big East