Marquette Golden Eagles (10-6, 2-3 Big East) vs DePaul Blue Demons (9-5, 0-4 Big East)
Date: Tuesday, January 11, 2022
Time: 6pm Central
Location: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Marquette Stats Leaders
Points: Justin Lewis, 15.4 ppg
Rebounds: Justin Lewis, 8.0 rpg
Assists: Tyler Kolek, 6.2 apg
DePaul Stats Leaders
Points: Javon Freeman-Liberty, 21.6 ppg
Rebounds: David Jones, 7.8 rpg
Assists: Javon Freeman-Liberty, 3.3 apg
Game Projection: Marquette has a 77% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 80-72.
So Far This Season: Well, which DePaul do you want to talk about? Would you like to talk about the DePaul that started the season 9-1 with wins over Rutgers and Louisville, with that last one coming on the road? Or would you like to talk about the DePaul that is playing Big East games, where they have lost four straight to start the conference campaign, just like they have started each of the past two seasons? The first one wasn’t playing outstanding basketball, ranking #93 in the country per T-Rank in that stretch, but they had a top 90 offense and a top 130 defense. Since? In the few weeks since, they’ve been playing like the #204 team in the country, wallowing around with a sub-200 offense and sub-200 defense, and yes, that’s adjusting for the fact that they suddenly ratcheted up their competition level.
Honestly, it’s probably the defense that should be the biggest worry for first year head coach Tony Stubblefield, as the Blue Demons have posted three of their six worst defensive outings of the year — yes, adjusted for competition level per T-Rank — since Big East play began. That’s not what you want, to say the least.
The Stakes: I don’t want to get over my skis on this one, because I’ve very much been a “Vibes Only” prophet on Marquette this season. Proof of concept for Shaka Smart’s operation is much more important than what the actual result is, particularly when it comes to the postseason.
But, if you’re the kind of person that likes it when Marquette is in the NCAA tournament, I have this to say to you: Marquette can not lose this game and make the NCAA tourney.
Please send yourself over to the T-Rank Teamcast, where MU currently projects to miss the NCAA tournament by five spots. Go ahead and muck around with that as much as you want, but this is the key part: If Marquette wins on Tuesday, T-Rank says they miss the NCAA tournament by one spot. If Marquette loses on Tuesday, T-Rank says they miss the NCAA tournament by 19 spots. One of those “doesn’t guarantee it, but you can’t get there without it” deals.
Tempo Free Fun: Let’s start with a simple concept. If Marquette plays like they did for the full total of the past 80 minutes of basketball, the wins over Providence and Georgetown, they should be able to beat DePaul fairly easily. I don’t think I’m stepping on anyone’s toes when I say that.
(and you felt that however coming, didn’t you)
If you wanted to be the particularly nervous sort about Tuesday night’s game, there are things in the last 80 minutes of basketball to make you feel that way.
Case in point: Marquette goes up 20-6 against Providence. It’s not a problem that the Friars made that game a little more interesting after that. You’d expect them to trim that lead back to 10 within a decent amount of time. Instead, what happened was PC immediately went on a 12-2 run to make it 22-18. Not what you want. Sure, Marquette answered that with a 20-0 run of their own, but those aren’t going to keep happening for the Golden Eagles every single time they play.
Case in point: A 20-3 run by the Golden Eagles gives them a 42-24 lead against Georgetown with less than five minutes left in the first half, and a minute later, they push the lead to 19 points, 45-26. That’s good stuff.... until Tyler Kolek picked up his second foul and Shaka Smart elected to protect him from further fouls with so little time left in the half and Marquette up big. “Up Big” didn’t last, as it was only an eight point game at the half as the Hoyas put together an 18-2 run bridging halftime that left the game 47-44 with a little more than 17 minutes to go. Again, not what you want, but again MU answered, this time with a 25-4 run to put the thing out of reach.
Yes, for the sum total of 80 minutes, Marquette has looked outstanding, and I want to be clear that should be the takeaway. Buuuuuuut we can’t ignore that this team has suddenly lost focus or gotten discombobulated or whatever you want to call it for sections of the past two games. That’s the kind of thing that a relatively young, relatively inexperienced team with a first year head coach does. They’ve gotten lucky to be able to turn it back on again and put the last two games away..... but if you find yourself wondering if they can do that again and again, well, I don’t think that’s a bad thing to be curious about.
Okay, enough hashing that out, let’s talk about DePaul. When you look at the stats and try to figure out how these two teams shake out against each other, you can’t help but be left with the impression that the Blue Demons might be in a lot of trouble. DePaul is not an outstanding offense, ranking just #112 in the country in KenPom’s adjusted metric, and in Big East play, they’re the second worst offense in the league or the worst amongst teams with more than one game played. The only offense that’s worse than DePaul in Big East play is Georgetown, but their only game is getting mauled by Marquette.
Specifically, DePaul’s biggest flaw as an offense — shooting the ball — is the spot where the Marquette defense butters its bread. MU has the best defense in the Big East in league play, and they’re doing that by being the #1 effective field goal percentage defense. DePaul is #10 in eFG% in league play and #10 in two-point shooting percentage. They’re also #6 in three-point shooting percentage at 32.3% right now, but that’s right about at their season long mark..... which ranks #232 in the country. That’s bad.... for them, but very good for the Golden Eagles.
That’s not to say that DePaul doesn’t have players that can cause problems for MU. Javon Freeman-Liberty would be the #1 item on the scouting report no matter what, but he’s also shooting 38% on threes this season. That number is up to 41.9% in Big East action, and he has been on a heater over the last three games. How does 12-for-23 sound? Yeah, that’s something MU has to watch.
Over on the other side of the ball, DePaul has been struggling to get stops all season, with their biggest problem coming from defending three-pointers. With the Blue Demons ranking #53 in the country in two-point shooting defense, I’m not surprised to see that teams have kind of leaned away from that. DePaul is middle of the road in terms of three-point rate allowed, but I suspect that has a lot to do with teams settling.... and that settling working. DePaul is a sub-200 three-point shooting percentage defense, so why not keep doing a thing that’s working? That problem has just gotten more pronounced in Big East action as DePaul is surrendering a 45.3% three-point shooting percentage.
This does leave Marquette in an interesting pickle. As of late, the Golden Eagles have been working the ball inside more, getting just 34% of their shots from long range versus 42% for the season as a whole. I think MU has to keep that mindset going, if for no other reason than it will help set up more open outside shots. If Marquette — and Tyler Kolek’s passing in particular, I presume — can get DePaul’s defense chasing around a bit, that should leave guys open for shots of all varieties. That should include more than a few threes along the way, but hopefully the guys lean into taking the best shot they can possibly get.
Stat Watch: Kur Kuath is currently ranked #5 amongst Marquette seniors in blocks in a season with 50. He is three blocks away from Luke Fischer in fourth place and five away from Amal McCaskill in third with 55. Speaking of 55 blocks in a season, that would be good enough for a tie for the 10th most by any Marquette player in a single campaign. McCaskill is tied with Chris Otule’s 2011 season and Theo John’s 2020 season. If Kuath has a particularly productive outing against the Blue Demons, he could join that top 10 tie by the end of the game.
Marquette Last 10 Games: 5-5, with wins in each of the last two.
DePaul Last 10 Games: 5-5, with losses in each of the last four.
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 80-49.
Current Streak: Depends on the timeline you want to use. DePaul has won two of the last three meetings, but Marquette has won five of the last seven and nine of the last 12.
Follow Along On Twitter
@AnonymousEagle - Hey, that’s us!
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@becb_sbn - our SB Nation friends that follow the whole Big East
@WeAreDePaul - 247 Sports’ DePaul site
@BenSteeleMJS - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel MU beat writer