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Marquette Basketball Preview Primer: at St. John’s

Ugh, do we have to do this

Villanova vs St. John’s Photo by Porter Binks/Getty Images

Marquette Golden Eagles (18-11, 8-9 Big East) at St. John’s Red Storm (15-15, 4-13 Big East)

Date: Saturday, March 7, 2020
Time: 11am Central
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Markus Howard, 27.6 ppg
Rebounds: Jayce Johnson, 5.5 rpg
Assists: Koby McEwen & Markus Howard, 3.3 apg

St. John’s Stats Leaders

Points: LJ Figueroa, 14.3 ppg
Rebounds: Julian Champagnie, 6.3 rpg
Assists: Rasheem Dunn, 3.5 apg

KenPom.com Rankings

Marquette: #29
St. John’s: #73
KenPom.com Projection: Marquette has a 56% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 77-76.

The Stakes: Oh god I have to actually type this out, don’t I? Okay. Marquette has to win this game in order to finish at exactly .500 in Big East play this season. Also, a win here would guarantee that Marquette avoids the 7/10 game in the opening night doubleheader at MSG in the Big East tournament. There’s circumstances where the Golden Eagles pull that off if they lose, but for the love of all that’s holy, let’s not do that.

Last Time Out: The Golden Eagles threw together a 17-2 run that bridged across halftime (shouts to Nick Rutherford’s technical foul) to rally and take a lead in Milwaukee. They led by 14 when St. John’s went on a 10-0 run, but at that point, Marquette had enough of a lead to weather the storm, both Red and otherwise, and lock up the 82-68 win.

Since Last We Met: That loss dropped St. John’s to 1-6 in league play and kind of sealed their fate in terms of what they were going to be this season. The wins over West Virginia and Arizona made the Red Storm big question marks heading into Big East action, but 1-6 with only a win over DePaul kind of tells you things. 2-9 with only two wins over DePaul definitely does. And yet, since that point, St. John’s has home wins over a strengthening Providence team and an absolute smashing of Creighton on March 1st. Sure, that means they’re 2-4 in their last six. Sure, they had to shoot 64% on three-pointers to beat the Jays, and holding Creighton to just 15% on long range shots helped, too. An aberration, sure, but it still happened, and don’t think that head coach Mike Anderson won’t be hammering that into his players’ heads on Senior Day at Madison Square Garden.

Tempo Free Fun: Okay, look. Yes, last time around, Marquette outshot the Johnnies. They had the better effective field goal percentage, the better two-point shooting percentage, and the better three-point shooting percentage. That had a big impact on the fact that Marquette won the game.

The Golden Eagles also had an absurd number of free throw attempts.

Marquette shot 33 free throws in the game, connecting on 26 of them, which is good. Well over their season average in free throw rate, but right about on average for shooting percentage. St. John’s, on the other hand, shot just nine free throw attempts, making six of them.

I don’t want to alarm you, but the major reason why Marquette beat DePaul in Milwaukee was because of a massive free throw advantage. From the preview for the DePaul game earlier this week:

The big difference between the two teams did come at the foul line. Marquette connected on 29 of their 35 free throw attempts in the game, while DePaul hit 12 of their 23. It’s never a bad thing when you make more than the other team attempts. Markus Howard and Koby McEwen on their own made 21 of 24 attempts, nearly outpacing the Blue Demons in that “make more than they take” department on their own.

And what happened when that game shifted to Chicago?

The Blue Demons shot 35 free throws, while Marquette only went to the line 19 times. Oh, and also Marquette lost a game they had no business losing.

If Marquette’s offensive structure, or even overall gameplan structure, is going to be reliant on shooting way more free throws than the opponent, then we all need to be prepared for another horrible turnaround in that department on Saturday in The Garden. There is pretty much zero chance that we see a +24 FTA disparity again as the road team. Tuesday night in Chicago pretty much proved that.

This is why revolving your offensive system on needing a bajillion free throw attempts is bad. You can’t control what the referees do. They’re going to call what they see, and if you rely on them to see everything, it is not going to work out for you. It’s like relying on judging in UFC. You can either knock your opponent out or submit them and make it very obvious that you won........ or you can hope three people sitting in three different spots outside the cage all see the fight in a manner that benefits you. That’s a bad plan.

Now that I’ve thrown the fear of God into you, let me walk that back a bit.

St. John’s is an atrocious free throw rate team on both ends of the court. They rank dead last in the Big East in league play in both offensive and defensive free throw rate. In other words, no one gets to the line on offense less than they do, and no one sends opponents to the line more than they do. That’s an overall trend that indicates that MU could possibly actually recreate the free throw disparity at MSG. That’s not just a league play problem, as they’re sub-260 in the country per KenPom.com in FTR on both ends.

Playing the Johnnies is also good news for a Marquette team that’s been trending worse and worse on the defensive end. The Red Storm are a much better defensive team than they are an offensive team, right down to the fact that they are one of the 30 worst shooting teams in the country. They’re particularly bad on two-pointers, and they’ve been even worse since league play started. Marquette is going to have to worry about containing LJ Figueroa behind the three-point line as he’s really the only three-point shooter that you need to worry about with Mustapha Heron apparently done for the year. However, Figueroa, SJU’s top scorer this year, is a sub-40% shooter inside the arc, so it’s a mixed bag.

In theory, this should be a chance for Marquette to get their heads straight on the defensive end. I also don’t have any faith that they can actually do that. Always a fun thing to be thinking when your team has lost five of their last six games and seems to be actively trying to light the legacy of the greatest scorer in program history on fire. Yay.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 4-6, with losses in five of the last six games.

St. John’s Last 10 Games: 3-7, with losses in four of their last five games.

All Time Series: Marquette leads, 22-14.

Current Streak: Marquette won the first meeting this season to give them two straight wins after the Johnnies won both regular season games last season.

Follow Along On Twitter

@AnonymousEagle - hey, that’s us!
@MarquetteMBB - The official Marquette team account
@StJohnsBBall - The official St. John’s team account
@BenSteeleMJS - The Journal Sentinel’s beat reporter
@RumbleSBN - our SB Nation friends that cover St. John’s
@becb_sbn - our SB Nation friends that cover the entire Big East