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RV Marquette Basketball Big East Preview Primer: vs St. John’s

The Golden Eagles wrap up the regular season with what will be the only meeting this season with the Red Storm.

Big East Tournament Quarterfinals: St. John’s vs Creighton Getty Images

RV Marquette Golden Eagles (18-11, 10-8 Big East) vs St. John’s Red Storm (16-13, 8-10 Big East)

Date: Saturday, March 5, 2022
Time: 8pm Central
Location: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Justin Lewis, 16.8 ppg
Rebounds: Justin Lewis, 8.0 rpg
Assists: Tyler Kolek, 5.7 apg

St. John’s Stats Leaders

Points: Julian Champagnie, 19.0 ppg
Rebounds: Julian Champagnie, 6.6 rpg
Assists: Posh Alexander, 5.3 apg

KenPom.com Rankings

Marquette: #42
St. John’s: #66
Game Projection: Marquette has a 69% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 82-76.

The Stakes: Marquette gets the #5 seed in the Big East tournament with a win, and the #6 seed with a loss. #5 means starting the tournament in the quarterfinals against the #4 seed, which will either be Connecticut or Creighton. #6 means starting the tournament in the first round against #11 seed and NET #193 Georgetown. You can see the important difference here.

So Far This Season: Yeah, that’s right, we have to fire up So Far This Season as a header for the Johnnies because Marquette has not played them yet this year. The two teams were scheduled to meet in New York on December 29th, but that game was tossed due to COVID issues with the Red Storm. Even though that was over two months ago and February 10th would have been a great day to schedule the game with Marquette already out in Connecticut on the 8th, the game never got rescheduled and thus, this will the the only time the two teams square off this season.

Things were.... fine for St. John’s through the first six weeks of the season. They didn’t play in a multi-team event this year, so it was nothing but home cupcake games for them through mid-December with two exceptions. They went on the road against Indiana in the Gavitt Games and then played host to Kansas at UBS Arena out on Long Island for their end of the Big East/Big 12 Challenge. Both of those games were losses, although the Indiana one (two points at Assembly Hall) is much less bothersome than the Kansas one (20 points in a game that they could/should have played at Carnesecca or even The Garden).

And then they hosted Pitt at Madison Square Garden on December 18th. And lost, 59-57. To a Pitt team that came in fresh off a home loss to Monmouth six days earlier and was 3-7 overall with losses to both The Citadel and UMBC. A Pitt team that is currently 11-19 overall, 6-13 in the ACC, and ranked #190 in KenPom.

It was an awful loss for the Johnnies then, especially since they were up 55-52 with just under three minutes to play, and it has not gotten better since. It was also a very strong indicator of how their trip through the Big East was going to go. Coming into the year, it was kind of fair to say, “well, they have Julian Champagnie and Posh Alexander coming back, and even though they don’t have much else returning, everything else just needs to fit around those guys and they’ll be fine!” They have not been fine. Their Big East wins on the year are a sweep of Georgetown, a sweep of Butler, a sweep of Xavier with both games coming after Valentine’s Day when the Musketeers have been in a full meltdown, and a home win over DePaul.

Oh, and an somewhat inexplicable 21 point road shelling of Seton Hall in Walsh Gym just two days after losing by six to the Pirates in the Garden.

After being picked to finish fourth in the league this season and thus understandably having NCAA tournament hopes in mind, the Johnnies are already locked into the #7 seed in the Big East tournament and probably not even a real contender for the NIT.

Tempo Free Fun: There are two things I want to talk about in this section of the preview. One is about St. John’s relative to Marquette, and the other is specifically about Marquette. We’ll start with the comparison one.

As you can see from the Pointing Spider-Mans meme in the tweet above, back in November, I was struck by the idea that Marquette and St. John’s would end up playing a relatively similar style of basketball this season. This is mostly due to the two head coaches, Shaka Smart and Mike Anderson, largely preferring an up-tempo speed and focusing on the more defensive oriented aspects of the game.

Sooooo, let’s see how that’s played out, shall we? Here’s the top of the KenPom.com statistic columns for both teams. I’m not going go tell you which one is which to start with, and you’re just going to have to deal with the weird Apple side-by-side shading because otherwise the image is just weirder looking.

Generally speaking, I think the comp actually plays out. Both teams are top 30 in tempo, with both teams focusing on playing fast on offense more than anything to get that done. Two top 100 teams in turnover rate, both teams stink at defensive rebounding, and both teams stink at getting to the line. There’s a lot of similarities here, including generating a lot offense off the pass — both teams are in the top 20 in assist rate — something that doesn’t show up in the sample image there. A lot of differences, sure, but I think it’s close enough.

Marquette is the team on the left, by the way, although I’m guessing that the “bad at rebounding on both ends part” probably gave that away if you have been paying close attention this season.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time breaking down St. John’s because I want to take up space talking specifically about Marquette as I mentioned a moment ago, but also because there’s not a lot to break down about St. John’s. Given the usage rates involved, the key to stopping St. John’s is stopping Julian Champagnie (25% of possessions) and Posh Alexander (24%). I know, novel ideas, and also easier said than done. Champagnie is the shooter between the two, as his 35% conversion rate is muuuuuuuuuch better than Alexander’s 21%. But Alexander has to be slowed down because of his top 100 assist rate. Start making it difficult for him to distribute, and the St. John’s offense is going to start to struggle. They don’t want to shoot threes, ranking dead last in the league in attempt rate, but Champagnie and Aaron Wheeler (42% on the year, 44% in the league) will hit them if they get open.

On to Marquette.

You guys are familiar with BartTorvik.com, right? KenPom, but free and also with neat graphs? Yeah, it’s the graphs that I want to make use of now. Here’s Marquette’s graph for Game Score (a metric of “how did you play overall in this specific contest?) this season, where the black hashmark line is the “last five games average” trend line, green marks are wins, red marks are losses.

How about turnover rate on offense?

Defensive efficiency, adjusted for opponent.

Effective field goal percentage defense.

Two-point shooting percentage defense.

Whole lot of trending downwards, whole lot of really bad performances in the recent losses. Largely speaking, I’m just throwing out visual aids for what you could largely sense from watching the games over the past two or three weeks.

Marquette has been playing like crap and losing because teams that play like crap lose a lot.

They should stop playing like crap. They have a 23 game sample size of not playing like crap. Maybe they can’t get back to the place where they were when they reeled off seven straight wins and swept Villanova. Maybe that was playing over their heads. That’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with playing over your head for a bit and then coming back down to earth.

The problem is when your trip back to earth starts drilling into the crust and starts heading for the mantle. That’s what happening lately with losses to Butler and DePaul and a very much not overwhelmingly fun win over Georgetown.

I’m not saying “start playing like world beaters again.” I’m saying “stop being bad, and stop it now.” Start defending like your hair is on fire every trip down the court. Start taking personal affront to your man scoring at all ever. Start playing for and with each other. Play smart. Make the best play for the team. Make the smart play. Push your teammates to do even better the next time down the court.

All of that kind of stuff. Be the kind of electrifying Marquette basketball that we’ve seen already this season. You can win ugly, that’s fine. You can’t lose sloppily, which what we saw on Wednesday night at Wintrust Arena.

Stat Watch: With one block against DePaul, Kur Kuath is up to 75 blocks on the season. It’s still the seventh best shot blocking season in Marquette’s history. He’s teetering on the precipice of moving up a few spots: one more block and he ties Amal McCaskill in sixth, and four more blocks puts him into a tie with Jim McIlvaine for fifth. Given his production in past games this season, both items are possible in Saturday’s game.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 5-5 with losses in two of the last three and four of the last six and five of the last eight.

St. John’s Last 10 Games: 5-5 with losses in two of the last three of four of the last seven.

All Time Series: Marquette leads, 23-16.

Current Streak: With the two teams splitting their meetings in each of the past two seasons, Marquette has won three of the last five encounters, but St. John’s has won four of the past seven.

Follow Along On Twitter

@AnonymousEagle - hey, that’s us!
@MarquetteMBB - The official Marquette team account
@StJohnsBBall - The official St. John’s team account
@BenSteeleMJS - The Journal Sentinel’s beat reporter
@RumbleSBN - our SB Nation friends that cover St. John’s
@becb_sbn - our SB Nation friends that cover the entire Big East