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#22 Marquette Basketball Big East Preview Primer: at #17 Providence Friars

The Golden Eagles mowed down the Friars in Milwaukee earlier this season. What’s going to change about that in Rhode Island?

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 11 Butler at Providence Photo by Andrew Snook/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

#22 Marquette Golden Eagles (15-6, 7-3 Big East) at #17 Providence Friars (17-2, 7-1 Big East)

Date: Sunday, January 30, 2022
Time: 11:30am Central
Location: Dunkin Donuts Center, Providence, Rhode Island

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Justin Lewis, 16.6 ppg
Rebounds: Justin Lewis, 8.0 rpg
Assists: Tyler Kolek, 6.4 apg

Providence Stats Leaders

Points: Al Durham, 13.8 ppg
Rebounds: Noah Horchler, 8.4 rpg
Assists: Jared Bynum, 4.1 apg

KenPom.com Rankings

Marquette: #33
Providence: #47
Game Projection: Providence has a 55% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 69-68.

Last Time Out: Marquette handed Providence their second worst offensive performance of the season and worst defensive performance of the season as the Golden Eagles romped, 88-56, at Fiserv Forum on January 4th. MU blew out to a 20-6 lead, Providence showed why they were ranked at the time by cutting it back to 22-18 in MU’s favor, and then the Golden Eagles smashed the hammer with a 20-0 stretch that nearly took them out to halftime. Mix in a couple more +10 runs in the second half and Marquette was never at risk again.

Since Last We Met: Quite simply, Providence shook off their worst loss of the season by margin of victory and proved they still belong in the national conversation. The Friars are 4-0 since suffering their second loss of the season and first loss in Big East play. They fended off a frisky St. John’s squad thanks to a 12-2 run late-ish, took nearly two weeks off for various COVID postponements, started off on a 13-0 run against Georgetown although they never ran away from the Hoyas, got harassed for 40 minutes by Butler, and then nearly wasted a 17-5 start against Xavier on Wednesday night before getting two free throws from Al Durham and a monster three from Jared Bynum all in the final minute to beat the Musketeers, 65-62.

Tempo Free Fun: Let’s start with a simple idea. Marquette is probably not going to crush Providence by 32 again.

That game was just too much of an outlier on multiple levels. According to KenPom, that game was the only time this year that Marquette has cleared 124 points per 100 possessions this season.... and they hit 137. Fourth best effective field goal percentage of the season, lowest turnover rate, 2nd best offensive rebounding night, and it was one of just seven times this season that Marquette has shot over 40% behind the arc. On the other side of the court, it’s a little bit more within the realm of expectations for the Golden Eagles as it’s one of eight times they’ve held a team under 90 points per 100 possessions and one of six times they’ve done it against a high major opponent. But it was still the third best eFG% defense of the season and the fifth best turnover rate as well.

In short, Marquette played extremely well on offense and a bit better than average on defense to mow down the Friars.

And speaking of the Friars..... well, flip things around. That was their second worst offensive performance of the season, falling only behind their other loss on the season and one of just four times they haven’t scored at least 96 points per 100 possessions. Second worst eFG% is how you get there, and the fifth worst turnover rate didn’t help. Second worst two-point shooting night of the season, and fifth worst three-point shooting night. I bet you can already guess that I’m going to tell you that their defense was atrocious, too, and yes, it was. MU is the only team to clear 112 points per 100 possessions against them, and again, that was 137 for the Golden Eagles. Single worst eFG% defense of the year, fifth lowest turnover rate, second worst defensive rebounding (one of only two north of 38%), single worst two-point shooting defense, and fourth worst three-point shooting defense.

The odds of the situation are that it is wildly unlikely that we get another wild outlier game in all of these directions at the same time. It would be incredibly funny and I will spend the entire game hooting and hollering about apparently being Ed Cooley’s incredibly specific kryptonite, but it’s just not in the likely range of outcomes here.

So what is likely? To a certain extent, that depends on which Marquette shows up. The Golden Eagles have been playing out of their minds since the first of the year on both ends of the court. They’re raining in threes at a 41% clip, they’re not turning the ball over, they’re forcing turnovers at a strong rate, and they don’t let you take good shots either inside or outside the arc. With all of that in mind, it’s hard to grab a full season snapshot of what Marquette has been or even a Big East play snapshot and make general pronouncements about what the Golden Eagles can or can not do.

Here’s what we know: Marquette is the best shooting team in the Big East in conference play. #1 in effective field goal percentage, #1 in three-point shooting percentage, and #2 on two-pointers, but since they’re over 51%, I’ll forgive them for not being #1 there. How are they doing this? Sharing the ball. No one in the Big East shares the ball like Marquette does, and I don’t just mean that because they have the best assist rate at north of 65% in conference play. Second best is St. John’s at 61%, and third is UConn at 56%. Between Tyler Kolek doing Tyler Kolek things and then Tyler Kolek things becoming infectious amongst the rest of the team and the team knowing that they don’t truly have a “can do it at will for you” scorer, Marquette is committed to getting quality shots off the pass.

I know, I know, Justin Lewis is turning into That Dude. But Lewis is most effective when he has space. Whether it’s defenders rushing out to close out on him and he can go past them or if he gets a head of steam downhill or merely creating situations where he’s wide open from downtown, Lewis needs the rest of his teammates on the floor to be threats to score to make him as dangerous as he has been lately. Darryl Morsell elbow jumpers, Kam Jones or OMax Prosper corner threes, Kur Kuath or Oso Ighodaro getting it done off cuts and dumpoffs, whatever. All of it comes together to make every single other piece a little bit better.

Providence is an acceptable defensive squad, ranking just outside the top 50 in KenPom’s adjusted metric and #5 in efficiency in the Big East so far. They’re fine. The best thing they do is they don’t let you get to the line.... but that doesn’t matter to Marquette because the Golden Eagles struggle to generate free throw attempts anyway. If Marquette can run their offense the way they want to — and Providence’s turnover defense isn’t going to be stopping them — then things are going to go pretty smoothly for our guys.

On the other end, the defensive intensity seems to be ratcheting up by the minute, and that’s probably not a great thing for the Friars. Providence is an unremarkable offensive team. They don’t shoot it well (inside or outside, but they’re aware of their three-point shooting problems and don’t try, either), they don’t take very good care of the ball, they don’t get second chances extremely well. The Friars do get to the line a metric ton, but that rate has started to drop as Big East play continues.

It’s not likely that Marquette carves the Friars up as badly as they did in the first meeting. But it seems clear that the Golden Eagles have the gameplan to cause PC an extreme amount of problems. If the basic kernels of what needs to be done to stop Providence are in place, then it would seem as long as MU comes out for 40 minutes and plays with violence, they can get the win out of the Dunk.

I do want to address the potential tempo of this game. Marquette clearly wants to play much faster than Providence does as evidenced by MU ranking 3rd in possessions per game in league play and PC at 9th. There’s a more than three possession per game difference between the two squads which ends up being the difference between a top 50 tempo nationally and a sub-275 tempo.

Here’s the thing: The first game this season between these two teams ended up at 64 possessions, the second slowest game that Marquette has played all season. It was, essentially, played at Providence’s preferred tempo.... but Marquette was also up by a notable margin for the entire second half and that tends to let you not try to push the ball too much.

As I’ve said a dozen times now, this game is probably not going to go the way that one did. Marquette is going to have to find other ways to gain an advantage, and pushing the pace is one of them. Not just because it’s how they want to play, but also because Providence doesn’t have the bodies to keep up. Ever since A.J. Reeves went out of the lineup against DePaul, right before PC played MU the first time, Providence has essentially only been playing with seven guys with only 14 total minutes in six games from Brycen Goodine changing that to eight.

If Reeves misses his sixth straight game (seventh, technically, since he tried to play against DePaul with his hand issue and it didn’t go well), then there’s going to be a lot of progressively tired legs on this Providence team. St. John’s tried to gas them out of the game, and for 33 minutes, it was working. Marquette is, in my humble opinion, a better team than St. John’s. Run them off the court. Literally this time around, just in case metaphorically doesn’t work in the rematch.

Stat Watch: Kur Kuath now has the eight most blocks in a single Marquette season after swatting seven shots against Seton Hall to break out of his tie with Faisal Abraham (58) and pass Walter Downing (63). With 65 blocks on the season, Kuath is five away from tying Theo John for the seventh most in any season and the most by any Marquette player since 1997.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 7-3, with wins in each of their last seven games.

Providence Last 10 Games: 9-1 with the loss coming against Marquette and with wins in each of their last four games.

All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 21-12

Current Streak: Marquette has won two of the last three over Providence after picking up the win at Fiserv Forum earlier this season. MU’s last win at the Dunk was February 23, 2019.

Follow Along On Twitter

@AnonymousEagle - Hey, that’s us!
@MarquetteMBB - Official MU account
@PCFriarsmbb - Official PC account
@becb_sbn - our SB Nation friends that follow the whole Big East
@BenSteeleMJS - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel MU beat writer