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Marquette Basketball Big East Preview Primer: vs DePaul Blue Demons

The Golden Eagles break up a week off by welcoming the Blue Demons into Fiserv Forum.

Big East Tournament First Round: Xavier vs DePaul Photo by Porter Binks/Getty Images

Marquette Golden Eagles (8-6. 4-4 Big East) vs DePaul Blue Demons (2-5, 0-5 Big East)

Date: Saturday, January 23, 2021
Time: 5pm Central
Location: A very empty Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Dawson Garcia, 13.4/game
Rebounds: Dawson Garcia, 7.3/game
Assists: D.J. Carton, 3.5/game

DePaul Stats Leaders

Points: Charlie Moore, 12.9/game
Rebounds: Darious Hall, 6.5/game
Assists: Charlie Moore, 4.4/game

KenPom.com Rankings

Marquette: #57
DePaul: #104
Game Projection: Marquette has a 76% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 76-68.

The Stakes: T-Rank currently gives Marquette a 16% chance of earning a bid to the NCAA tournament, and has the Golden Eagles projected six spots outside the bracket. A win against the Blue Demons along with projecting the rest of the season out changes that to 28.4% and the first team outside the cut line. A loss here means 4.2% and dropping to 11 spots behind the cut line. As discussed on the most recent Scrambled Eggs podcast, if Marquette never makes up the currently missing Villanova and Georgetown games, things get worse in terms of strength of schedule and opportunities to tack on wins. If the Butler game on February 2nd gets swallowed by the Bulldogs’ current COVID pause, things get worse. NCAA tournament caliber teams beat this DePaul team. It’s that simple.

Actually, it’s simpler than that: Don’t lose to DePaul.

Tempo Free Fun: Before we dive in too deep, let’s stop for a moment to point out that yes, DePaul has only played seven games this season. Marquette has played literally twice as many. The NCAA said that the season could start on November 25th. DePaul didn’t play a game until December 23rd.

Part of DePaul’s problem has been COVID-19 testing in their own program, as they have had three different positive tests cause stoppages on their end. A lot of it has been out of their control, though, as the Blue Demons have had not one, not two, but three road games terminated on them after they had already traveled to the place where the game was happening. Heck, the only reason DePaul has gotten to seven games played this season is because they quickly threw together a game against Valparaiso back on January 16th. That game was announced on January 14th. It has been a rough season for the Blue Demons, and that’s before we even get close to talking about how things have actually transpired on the court.

Because, uh, that’s been bad.

As you can see from the top of the page, they’re 2-5. The wins are against Western Illinois (currently #333 in KenPom) in their season opener on Christmas Eve Eve, and then last Saturday against Valpo (#212). That’s it for wins, as the Blue Demons have lost all five Big East games that they have played so far. They haven’t even been particularly competitive, losing by an average of 11 points, and that’s being propped up by a five point double overtime loss on the road against Providence. They’ll be coming off a 14 point home loss to Butler back on Tuesday where DePaul was favored by KenPom going in, but gave up an 18-2 run to end up trailing 35-12 late in the first half.

This game is going to be decided while DePaul has the ball. It is a contest between the worst offense in the Big East so far this season and the worst defense in the Big East so far this season. DePaul is averaging 88.9 points per 100 possessions in their five league contests this season per KenPom, while Marquette is allowing 110.9 points per 100 possessions across eight Big East games. We’ve been over and over Marquette’s defensive problems regularly here because we have to keep talking about Marquette during every preview, so let’s focus on DePaul’s problems. They’re the worst offense in the league largely because they just can not shoot the ball at all. They have the worst effective field goal percentage in the league (45.9%) and the worst three-point shooting percentage (29%!) in the conference as well. They’re nearly two percentage points worse than 10th place Georgetown in eFG%. DePaul is 8th in two-point shooting percentage, so I guess that qualifies as the thing they do well.

With that said, Marquette can not let Charlie Moore or Romeo Weems shoot it. Marquette is already the worst three-point percentage defense in the Big East this season, as teams are hitting 41.8% of their shots against the Golden Eagles. Moore and Weems are #1 and #2 in attempts this season on the roster respectively. Moore is connecting 35% of the time, which is totally respectable, and Weems is hitting 46% of his long range tries. Now, the good news is that those are the first two names I would have given you if you had asked “what two players does Marquette need to shut down in order to win,” so you’d like to think that the MU coaching staff can construct a defense around not letting those guys beat them.

Enough about how possessions are going when DePaul actually gets a shot off..... because that’s kind of a rare occasion. DePaul is also dead last in the conference in offensive turnover rate, ending over 23% of their possessions with the ball going the other way. For context, Marquette and their ongoing problem keeping track of the ball ranks ninth in the Big East right now..... at a mostly otherwise acceptable 19.4%. 10th place Georgetown is at 20.1%, more than three percentage points away from DFL DePaul. I know that Steve Wojciechowski is, for whatever reason, clearly dead set against Marquette trying to create turnovers on defense. It’s not particularly productive as evidenced by the Golden Eagles ranking as the worst defense in the Big East. Stopping shots from going up should be a good way to help fix that, and DePaul is going to be prone to not getting shots up. A clear path to victory here is provoking DePaul into bigger problems, but that’s unfortunately going to require a shift in coaching tactics from Wojciechowski and so we probably shouldn’t expect that.

All of this is a long way around of pointing out that one of these two very awful units is going to have to win on that end of the court in this game. Someone, either Marquette or DePaul, is going to have a much better than average night while DePaul is on offense, and that’s going to dictate how this game goes. On the other end, Marquette is most likely going to overwhelm the Blue Demons with points, or at least that’s the expected result from KenPom’s #36 ranked offense facing the #75 defense. The only thing to worry about there is that DePaul does like to create turnovers. They’re not great at it, but it is the thing that they do best. As mentioned earlier, Marquette has something of a problem in that department, and St. John’s made their game against the Golden Eagles closer than it needed to be by jamming MU up with their press. It seems reasonable that DePaul head coach Dave Leitao would see that and try to replicate it, so we’ll see what happens there.

If you wanted to be slightly worried about DePaul holding opponents under 30% three-point shooting on the year, that’s fair. Marquette connects on over 36% of their threes, so that’s a major strength of the team. However, this Marquette team’s identity is one focused around the ability of D.J. Carton and Koby McEwen to get to the rim as well as Dawson Garcia, Theo John, and Justin Lewis to finish inside. As of right now, this is the least three-point shootingest team that Steve Wojciechowski has had while MU’s head coach since his second season. It’s a little surprising, because this team is much better at shooting threes than that team (or his first team) was, but you gotta do what you know you’re great at doing. With that in mind, DePaul is atrocious at defending two-point shots this season, so steering away from the thing that DePaul is good at (denying and defending threes) and into the thing they’re bad at (defending twos) is maybe the easiest decision in the world as a coach, especially when it’s steering into your own strength anyway.

Marquette will have to watch out for Nick Ongenda and Pauly Paulicap on the inside, though. Ongenda is a 6’11” sophomore, and KenPom has him at #109 in the country in block rate. That’s pretty good, but it’s not Pauly Paulicap Good. The 6’8” transfer from Manhattan is ranked #39 in the country in block rate right now, and he’s doing ever so slightly better in Big East games (9.1%) than he is overall (8.9%). Paulicap has recorded at least one block in every game this season, even though he has cleared 20 minutes played in just two games. He has started each of DePaul’s last three games, apparently in place of Ongenda who had started each of the first four games of the year.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 5-5, but with wins in three of the last four games.

DePaul Last 10 Games: They’re still three games short of 10 games played this season.

All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 79-48.

Current Streak: Marquette has won eight out of the last 10 games against DePaul. Losing at Wintrust Arena in the final week of last year’s regular season snapped a four game winning streak by the Golden Eagles in the series. They’ve still won nine of the last 12 and 15 of the last 19, though. Don’t lose to DePaul.

Follow Along On Twitter

@AnonymousEagle - Hey, that’s us!
@MarquetteMBB - Official MU account
@DePaulHoops - Official DePaul account
@becb_sbn - our SB Nation friends that follow the whole Big East
@WeAreDePaul - 247 Sports’ DePaul site
@BenSteeleMJS - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel MU beat writer