Over the last few weeks, several of you participated in a recurring series to determine the fans’ assessment of Marquette’s defenders. If you didn’t and you feel bad about it, well, you should. We were tweeting it out constantly, the home page for it was pinned to the top of the AE front page, and the individual player pages were pinned in place, too. This was done in the form of polls. I gave you six different attributes that make up a player’s defensive profile, and you rated them on a scale of 1-10. The results have been compiled, and I’ll give you the main takeaways.
As a sidenote, participation was down. Not to an extreme measure or anything, but this was the first time in which polls had fewer than 100 votes. 50+ votes gives me good data and we met that easily, so it’s less of a worry about the validity of the stats and more of a thought-provoking gauge for how interested fans are. You’re likely at home right now needing ways to occupy your mind, but even still, spending time to recap a miserable end to the Marquette season wasn’t an option that sparked a lot of joy. I totally get it. There were some polls that I dreaded filling out, and I’m emotionally invested in this project.
For the rest of this article, I’ll be heavily referring to the spreadsheet I made to keep track of everything. That spreadsheet is here. You can play with it if you want to copy it out. It has numbers from every year compiled along with a tabs that filters out liars and people who did this wrong. I only removed votes if there was absolutely no way a person following the rules could possibly vote that way. Some of you still refuse to read the introduction, and it makes me sad.
Here’s a ranking of the defenders on the team, based on your votes. Average score out of 10 will be in parentheses.
1. Jayce Johnson (7.24)
2. Theo John (7.19)
3. Sacar Anim (6.45)
4. Greg Elliott (5.99)
5. Jamal Cain (5.92)
6. Brendan Bailey (5.85)
7. Ed Morrow (5.81)
8. Symir Torrence (5.20)
9. Markus Howard (5.03)
10. Koby McEwen (4.83)
Here are the top 5 individual attributes, meaning who got the best top averages in any category, not who got the best average in each category.
- Theo John - Strength (9.56). Oddly enough, this is down from his strength last year, which was listed at 9.66. Clearly he needs to hit the weight room.
- Jayce Johnson - Length (8.90). Being 7’0” will do that.
- Theo John - Shot Contesting (8.85). This, too, was down from last year’s mark of 9.37.
- Jayce Johnson - Hustle (8.46). I’ll get into how we overrate players’ hustle later, but this was truly earned. The man BATTLED for position and rebounds in the low block.
- Jayce Johnson - Strength (7.96)
The top 5 attributes being overloaded by the bigs makes sense. Despite the guards letting ball handlers go by constantly, the team still hovered in the top 50 in defending two pointers. Theo and Jayce were the primary reasons why. In addition to that, as the two biggest guys on the team, they kind of have an advantage in the strength and length categories.
Now here are the bottom 5.
- Markus Howard - Length (2.21). This is down from his 2.41 rating last year. He might want to invest in some taller shoes.
- Markus Howard - Shot Contesting (3.41). I actually really disagree with this one. I thought he was one of the best of the team’s guards in terms of closing out on jumpers and challenging shots inside. This shouldn’t be correlated to his length, either. Apparently you all don’t think so, however.
- Jayce Johnson - Effective Quickness (3.47). The man only works in extremes, folks.
- Koby McEwen - Intelligence (3.52). This is also a defensive crowdsourcing first. Up until this point, no player has ever been rated with below average intelligence. Koby blew through that glass floor with style.
- Ed Morrow - Intelligence (3.69). Anotha one! Part of this isn’t his fault. He was played as a 6’7” center and had to make up for them with pure aggression. The problem is that the pure aggression seemed to shut off a good portion of the decision making process.
Here’s the how the team averages for each attribute played out.
- Hustle (6.78)
- Length (6.74)
- Shot Contesting (6.14)
- Strength (6.10). I find this interesting because normally strength and length would both be at the same level. But outside of Theo John and Jayce Johnson this team didn’t have a lot of guys with any umph.
- Intelligence (5.16)
- Effective Quickness (5.10)
There’s a tab for comparisons on the far right side of the spreadsheet if you want to follow along.
From last year to this year, literally every attribute was worse on a team level. If we compare only to 2018, the team improved in length, strength and shot contesting but was worse in effective quickness, intelligence and hustle. If you remember the defense in 2018, these are low bars to clear.
What I found most surprising was that every player who got minutes in 2019 and 2020 was given a worse length rating this year. That is particularly shocking because length should be a a constant. I keep it in the polls because it’s a necessary attribute, but also it’s a good proxy for optimism. If the fans massively overrate the team’s length, they might be a little overoptimistic about everything else. The thing is, last year seems to be the year that you all were a little too confident in the returning players, because if we take the 6.74/10 length average as a percentile rating, that lines up well with where they were (look at all that alliteration) on KenPom’s average height metric. So maybe we were too high on the returning guys after last year’s defensive improvement.
Actually, now that I look at it again, just about every single attribute for returning players decreased since last year. The only individual areas that improved were Markus Howard’s intelligence and strength, and then Greg Elliott’s strength. Every other attribute among Markus, Greg, Jamal Cain, Brendan Bailey, Theo John and Ed Morrow was worse than last year.
In terms of overall score change, Ed Morrow took a nosedive, falling from a 7.70 overall to 5.81. Brendan Bailey, Theo John, Jamal Cain and Greg Elliott all saw their overall scores drop significantly as well. Those guys were primed to be the anchors on an improved defense this year and failed to rise to the task. Greg battled injuries and a logjam in the guard position, but Bailey had every opportunity to build off his momentum late last year into the dominant defender that he could be. He can still use his length to make up for mistakes, but he looked like a newborn giraffe on roller skates whenever a ball handler so much as dribbled the ball. You all shared this observation of mine by dropping his effective quickness score by 1.57 from last year.
It is odd how much slower the team was as a whole without Sam Hauser. This isn’t an effort to disparage him at all, as I thought he is an underrated defender. It’s not like his toes were made of feathers, though. What set him apart was making up for the lack of quickness by being more coordinated and smarter than the guy he was defending. His body control and positioning made him able to guard guys smaller than him in a way that wasn’t reflected by the attribute previously being called “lateral quickness”. The inability by all the wings to have the body control to stay in front of drivers was one of the main reasons the defense was worse this year overall.
This year I tried to put an extra emphasis on getting you all to remove your bias towards these players with the intelligence and hustle categories. I already mentioned that in two years, no player had been rated with below average smarts, but that also applies to hustle. Andrew Rowsey barely scraped below a 5/10 in the hustle category in 2018 and that’s it. It paints a rosier tale than what is actually happening.
I get it. We all care about the team and the school and project that onto the players. To us, they have the same can-do attitude and smarts on the basketball court that we see among the student body. Plus, these guys have worked their whole lives to get to where they are, practicing every single day and studying film. For us to go to a poll and say and give someone a 3/10 in the intangibles makes us think that we’re telling them directly to their face that they’re dumbasses who don’t try. It’s tough, but we do have to remember that we’re rating them on the scale of all college basketball players, who are going through the same journey. To put it another way, half of college basketball has to be below average. Marquette players are no exception.
I called attention to that bias this year in particular because it was clear that something was off with the team during this year’s version of the late season collapse. Guys were in the wrong spots and clearly not giving it their all. I wanted to see if that could be reflected in the polls and it if nothing else I think you guys were more honest, as the team’s average in both the hustle and intelligence categories fell the most out of all them this year. Still, only 2 of the 20 possible attributes were rated as below average. The fall is still telling, though, and I’ll focus on intelligence.
On a team level, the brains fell by a 1.53 average this year. That’s by far the biggest change in any category, including between 2018 and 2019. Koby McEwen and Ed Morrow were the leaders of this unfortunate charge, but this was ultimately a teamwide effort. What’s most worrying is that the three smartest players in your eyes were three seniors. Almost more worrying than that is the three upcoming seniors (John, Cain, McEwen) were three of the four worst in this area. It doesn’t appear that there will be any in-house leadership coming from the players, but a complete tank in this area can’t be fully blamed on the players. More on that later.
I’ll finish this off by putting the scores in a national context. The idea is to compare the average of the player’s scores weighted by minutes played (AKA the sum of the parts) with how the team defense actually performed under the direction of coaching. If the sum of the parts is better than the team’s performance, maybe coaching was an issue. If it’s not, maybe the coaching wasn’t so bad after all. This isn’t an exact science, but to a reasonable degree I think it’s a good exercise.
I think the range of where teams would land if they all performed this exercise would be between a 3/10 and 7/10. It’s essentially a variation on a basic bell curve, with the far ends chopped off because no one is getting a team average of a 1 or a 10, and 2 and 9 is kind of ridiculous, too. That would put the Marquette’s weighted 5.88 average in the 72nd percentile for all team’s, or 99th best in the nation. Because the team finished 73rd in KenPom.com’s defensive metric, it would be easy for me to say the staff outperformed and call it good.
There’s more context, though.
I can’t help but look at the drop in the intelligence category. If the season ended before the team lost 6 of their final 7 games, I’d venture to guess you all would have voted differently there. I think the finish to the season might’ve led to that 72nd percentile ranking being dragged down, but because I only polled you on the players, the blame for that had to be assigned somewhere. Unanimously pointing to the brains as the culprit is an indication that it’s not all the players’ fault.
The turmoil of the Hausers leaving was obviously impactful for the outlook of the season, but it was assumed that weight would be felt most on offense. Markus and maybe Koby/Brendan were the only players who could take on a consistent scoring role, but head coach Steve Wojciechowski appeared to have stockpiled players with high defensive potential (lanky & agile = good, generally speaking) that would now see more playing time. Somehow the opposite ended up happening with Markus having the best offensive season in school history and the defense falling off a cliff largely because of the players’ decision making.
If every single player somehow stops being able to make the best choice on the defensive end, that has to fall on the coaching gameplan. We saw this during Markus’ senior day when the team got burned by Seton Hall’s skip passes the whole game, during the Butler road loss when Kamar Baldwin scored on screens at the top of the key without any late game adjustments, and with seemingly no gameplan to begin with to handle Creighton’s misdirection screens. Yes, the players need to be expected to defend to the best of their abilities, but clearly they weren’t put in the best position to succeed.
So What About Next Year?
We can project for next year in this spreadsheet. For all returning players, you can input next year’s projection on row 69 (heh). I put in where I think each player will end up as a starting point. As you scroll along to the right you can do the same thing for incoming freshmen/transfers. I then weighted all those projection scores by the minutes posted on T-Rank’s 2021 preview page and spit out a score for next year. The incoming length of Dawson Garcia, Justin Lewis, and Osasere Ighodaro should raise the ceiling for next year, but the lack of quickness is really going to limit what they can do on that end.
I definitely felt a lot better at this point wrapping up last year’s article. There was such hope in the future of the program at that point, and to be clear, that was coming after the Hausers had departed. Maybe Wojo had finally figured out how to start coaching a defense. Clearly not.
Regardless, I appreciate the time you spent filling out these polls. It’s nice to lock down a more consensus fan opinion. I plan on doing this next year with some tweaks along the way. Please hit me up if you have comments on the methodology or anything about this. I’ve mostly built this from scratch, so any feedback is extremely welcome.