Marquette Golden Eagles (6-6, 2-4 Big East) vs Providence Friars (7-5, 3-3 Big East)
Date: Tuesday, January 12, 2021
Time: 8pm Central
Location: A very empty Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Marquette Stats Leaders
Points: Dawson Garcia, 13.0 points/game
Rebounds: Dawson Garcia, 7.6 rebounds/game
Assists: D.J. Carton, 3.8 assists/game
Providence Stats Leaders
Points: David Duke, 20.2 points/game
Rebounds: Nate Watson, 7.6 rebounds/game
Assists: Jared Bynum, 4.5 assists/game
Providence Injury Note: Jared Bynum played just nine minutes against Creighton on January 2nd and then missed Sunday’s game against Xavier with what’s being called a groin strain. It appears that he was a game time decision on Sunday, so maybe he’ll be available for this one? Then again, if a week off didn’t help Bynum get healed up, I don’t know how much an extra 50 hours is going to help him. David Duke is second on the team in assists at 4.4 per game, and honestly, Duke and Bynum are within 1/100ths of each other in the average department.
Game Projection: Marquette has a 60% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 71-68.
The Good News: This will be Game #13 on the year for Marquette. When it is completed, the Golden Eagles will have reached the minimum required number of games played in order to be eligible for the 2021 NCAA tournament.
The Bad News: As I write this specific part on Sunday, Marquette is #73 in the NET rankings. With 37 at-large bids (no Ivy League this year = one extra) and six conferences pretty much guaranteed to be multi-bid conferences, that’s 43 non-1 bid league spots available, give or take. If you’re 23 spots outside the the top 50, you’re pretty screwed on actually getting in the NCAA tournament unless you get your act together and start winning games relatively immediately.
Tempo Free Fun: And so, we get to the actual basketball discussion.
Providence comes in with losses in their last two games. Not just losses, though. 67-65 at home against Creighton, and 74-73 on the road against Xavier. Christian Bishop beat the buzzer with a dunk (although the PBP says that David Duke still got a three-pointer off after that) to win that one for Creighton. The Friars were trailing by 12 with five minutes left and Noah Horchler had just scored on the other end with seven seconds remaining to finally pull PC even. Against the Musketeers on Sunday, Providence went on a 14-2 run to turn a 64-59 Xavier lead to 73-66 in their favor with a minute to go. KenPom.com says that the Providence win probability hit 96.3% there.... and then Xavier closed the game on a 8-0 run including a buzzer beater three by Colby Jones.
That suuuuuuuuucks. This all comes after Providence prevailed in overtime on the road against Seton Hall in their Big East opener and also survived double overtime at home against DePaul back on December 27th. Maybe the last two games has just been Lady Luck evening everything out on the Friars?
If you want to identify a potential problem area for the Friars as to why they might just be struggling to close games out, it’s probably their defense. They’re currently ranked #79 in the country in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency, and to give you an idea of how much of a problem that is for them: That’s worse than Marquette’s #73. Now, sure, MU has been worse than PC in league games, but Marquette can at least hang their defensive hat on “well, at least teams don’t shoot the ball well inside on us, and we’re pretty good at blocking shots, too.” Providence’s best team defensive feature right now? Free throw shooting percentage, where they rank #107 in the country. Y’know, that thing that they have absolutely zero control over. That’s their shining crown jewel.
The Friars are middle of the road in both three-point and two-point shooting defense, which leads them them being not that good at all. They don’t force turnovers, although at least 1) they’re better than Marquette at that and 2) at least they’re kind of pretending to create steals. They’re absolutely atrocious at defensive rebounding, letting opponents grab up nearly 30% of their missed shots for a second chance. If Marquette can engineer themselves into quality looks from the arc — #49 in the country in three-point shooting percentage — and be alert and ready to grab up whatever misses there actually are like usual — #85 in the country in rate — then things should probably go well for the Golden Eagles on their offensive end.
But that’s not the end that Marquette has to worry about, of course. It’s been a week since Marquette played, and they’re still the least efficient defense in the Big East when you only look at conference games. The Golden Eagles are coughing up 113.7 points per 100 possession against league opponents, largely because they’re letting opponents shoot over 41% from behind the three-point line. That’s dead last in the league, and so is the rate at which MU allows teams to fire off threes, too. Being the worst at allowing threes to leave hands and being the worst at allowing threes to go through the net is a very terrible combination, one that makes you wonder what the hell the Golden Eagles are actually attempting to do when they’re playing defense. Allowing the highest percentage of makes while not allowing very many attempts? Well, fine. Allowing a lot of attempts but very few makes? Well, fine. Neither of these is good, but you could at least argue that it’s working for them. A lot of both? God awful, and that’s how you lose four of your last five games and need to rally from down 18 in the other one.
At least Marquette will only really need to keep track of two shooters: David Duke and Noah Horchler. After Sunday, where that pair combined to shoot 8-for-12 from downtown, both men are now shooting over 40% from long range on the year. Duke has cranked it all the way up to 47%, and he’s doing that on five attempts per game. Horchler is much less prolific, only firing off a little more than one attempt per game overall. He’s up to nearly two attempts per game in Big East contests, and the North Florida transfer is hitting exactly half of them.
I went out of my way to point out Duke and Horchler because they’re combining to shoot 45% together....... but Providence as a team is shooting just 31.6% from long range as a team. A.J. Reeves went 3-for-6 against Xavier on Sunday to raise his three-point shooting percentage on the year to 29.9%. UP. TO. STILL. UNDER. 30. PERCENT.
He leads the team in attempts.
Now, yes, Reeves is shooting 39% in league games. That’s probably explaining why Providence is up to nearly 38% as a team in league games, too. That, however, is called a “hot streak” and I’d like to think that’s more likely to end than continue. Then again, last season, Reeves shot 10-for-43 (23%) in non-conference action before shooting 41% in 16 league games, so that’s worth keeping an eye on. Heck, we can’t even just rely on Reeves being not great because he’s the guy who stuck the landing on an overtime-forcing three last season at Fiserv Forum. Ah, yes, the ol’ “Steve Wojciechowski decided that there was too much time on the clock when Providence inbounded with 18 seconds left so he didn’t want to foul while up three” game. That was a hoot. That was just three games into league play last year, so Reeves was still on the “you can leave him alone” list. I think we can say that at least Marquette can not leave him alone, and definitely not while he’s on a hot streak.
Marquette’s biggest issue is going to be defending David Duke. The 6’5” Providence native is averaging 20.7 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game in Big East action. He is, at the moment in the eyes of KenPom.com’s algorithm, the fourth best player in the Big East, trailing behind Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, James Bouknight, and Sandro Mamukelashvili. Duke’s 30/3/6/1/2 nearly singlehandedly dragged the Friars to a win against the Musketeers on Sunday. If Marquette is not careful, he will do the same thing to them on Tuesday night.
This raises questions about Marquette’s defensive structure, and I don’t really have an answer here. Would you rather watch Marquette attempt to lock out one extremely high usage player like Duke and cross their fingers that no one else can really hurt them..... or would you rather see a Marquette effort where they try to cover everyone just to try to slow down the entire enterprise? Focusing on Duke might lead to open looks for Horchler to bury you, but giving Duke more space to operate by eliminating other options can lead to Duke running wild like he did against the Musketeers.
To circle back to Providence being very close to both 9-3 and 5-7 based on what Lady Luck thought of them on four particular days this season, I think I know what the problem is, and it’s probably a thing that head coach Ed Cooley has thought about already. We’ve talked about how Cooley’s best teams at Providence have always had an exceptional point guard distributing the ball. Vincent Council, Bryce Cotton, Kris Dunn, Kyron Cartwright. You know all these names if you’ve been watching PC under Cooley. Even when they didn’t have that singular guy — 2019 for example — Providence as a team was still pretty good at sharing the ball with the open guy. The 2019 team didn’t make the NCAA tournament for Cooley’s first miss since 2013, but they did rank #33 as a team in assist rate.
This year’s PC team doesn’t have that crafty lead guard, and they’re only ranking #132 in the country in assist rate as a team per KenPom.com. David Duke and Jared Bynum are doing a pretty good job of replicating that together, but neither one has seized control of the team the way previous Cooley point guards have in the past, and it’s not leading to that team success, either. To make matters worse, Bynum left the Creighton game with an injury and missed the Xavier game on Sunday. If Duke isn’t The Guy himself, then purely relying on him to suddenly be The Guy probably isn’t going to work out well in the long term for the Friars.
Marquette Last 10 Games: 4-6, with losses in four of their last five games and five of their last seven.
Providence Last 10 Games: 6-4, with losses in their last two games.
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 19-11.
Current Streak: The Friars swept the season series last season to give them two straight in the series. The teams have split the last six meetings, as MU won the series in 2019 and they split down the middle in 2018.
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