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#14 Marquette Men’s Basketball Big East Preview Primer: vs Butler

It’s the first meeting of the year with a Bulldogs team that has been struggling lately.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: OCT 29 Tiffin at Butler Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

#14 Marquette Golden Eagles (18-5, 10-2 Big East) vs Butler Bulldogs (11-12, 3-9 Big East)

Date: Saturday, February 4, 2023
Time: 1pm Central
Location: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Kam Jones, 16.0 ppg
Rebounds: Oso Ighodaro, 6.0 rpg
Assists: Tyler Kolek, 7.9 apg

Butler Stats Leaders

Points: Manny Bates, 12.0 ppg
Rebounds: Manny Bates, 5.7 rpg
Assists: Chuck Harris & Simas Lukosius, 2.7 apg Rankings

Marquette: #8
Butler: #111
Game Projection: Marquette has a 92% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 81-66.

So Far This Season: Yep, that’s right, “So Far This Season” because we have reached the 13th game of the 20 game Big East calendar before Marquette plays Butler for the first time. Such is life, I suppose.

Anyway, things were going mostly speaking fine for Butler and first year head coach Thad Matta for a while to start the season. Early non-conference losses at Penn State and on a neutral floor to Tennessee and NC State weren’t the worst thing in the world, not for a BU squad that was picked to finish eighth in the Big East this season. They scored a home win over Kansas State in the Big East/Big 12 Battle that has only gotten more impressive looking as the season has gone along, and that kicked off a four game winning streak. That run got them a home win over a Yale team that’s still in competition for the Ivy League title and a 24 point road win over an admittedly bad Cal team, but winning by 20+ on the road against a high major conference team is always not easy to do.

So that had the Bulldogs at 8-3 on the year, and up nearly 50 spots in’s rankings from their #130 spot to start the season. They’re 3-9, all in Big East contests, since then. The three wins were at Georgetown, home vs DePaul and then somewhat surprisingly, at home against Villanova, although that’s before Justin Moore made his season debut and after Jordan Longino suffered his leg injury against Georgetown, so maybe not that surprising.

That Villanova win was on January 13th, and Butler has lost four straight since then: By 21 at home against Creighton, by 30 at UConn, by 21 at Providence, and by 21 at home against Seton Hall last Saturday in their most recent game. That’s six losses in their last seven games, and all six have been by double digits. The other two, before the Nova win, were at Seton Hall by 25 and at St. John’s by 16.

Tempo Free Fun: There are two specific to Butler things I want to touch on before we look at any matchup related things between the two squads. Neither of the Butler things are my ideas, so tip of the cap to Lukas Harkins over at Heat Check for putting these in front of my eyes.

The first one, or rather the first half of the first one is this from CBB Analytics.

Take a moment to smile about the fact that Marquette’s starting five has the best plus/minus in the country through games played on January 29th, but then keep reading the list. Hey, look, there’s Butler with a five man crew in 6th place on that list.

That takes us back to Lukas for the other half....

I’ll link to the pages so you don’t even have to do the filtering on your own. Here’s through BU’s first 13 games..... and here’s since then. If you click the Since Then link, you’ll get a different number than the #249 that Lukas noted, but that’s because he pulled the numbers on January 30th and there’s always new games being played to add to the math. As I’m looking at it on Friday morning, Butler is #243 in the country since Thad Matta switched his starting lineup from the sixth most effective five man group in the country. They have the #296 offense and the #169 defense.

To make matters worse for Butler? Not only is that lineup not starting for the Bulldogs, but Thad Matta is essentially never getting them on the floor together since the change. From Paint Touches, who got sent onto the trail by Michael DeRosa from Road To The Garden, where the line is showing number of possessions played together in each game:

The last game those five started together was the Creighton game you can see marked on the graph.

This is the other Butler thing I wanted to point out, and this is the most recent tweet from Lukas that I can find by way of searching, but it also serves the purpose very well.

The point of interest here is “a lot of contested mid-range attempts from the Bulldogs so far.” If you’ve been paying a lot of attention to basketball analysis since the rise of the Golden State Warriors, then you may be aware of the Death Of The Mid-Range Jumper concept. Essentially, analytics have pointed coaches towards realizing that dunks (basically a free two points) and a three-pointer (50% more possible value than any other non-dunk shot!) are extremely high value, and shooting it from 10-20 feet is kind of useless, or at the very least, not the best shot you can get. If you’re a very good mid-range shooter, if you can shoot 60% or something like that on an elbow jumper, you should probably take a lot of them..... but if you’re not.... you’re maybe kind of wasting your time. Look no further than the offensive system that Marquette runs, guided by Shaka Smart’s trust in Nevada Smith. They categorize shots relative to value as 1) at the rim, 2) open three-pointers, and 3) everything else.

What does this have to do with Butler? Let’s wander ourselves over to Hoop Math. They have categories of At The Rim, Two-Point Jumpers, and Three-Pointers. Butler is deriving 34.5% of their shots this season as “two-point jumpers” which would be anything inside the arc that can’t be qualified as “at the rim.” Butler is shooting 37.3% on these shots. 62% at the rim, 35% from three, both of which are good numbers for those shots.... and 37.3% on more than one-third of their shots overall, the aforementioned contested mid-range jumpers.

Watch this, I can tie the two things together. The first starting lineup change that Thad Matta made this season was moving Jayden Taylor out of the starting lineup in exchange for Jalen Thomas. The 6’10” Georgia State transfer missed the first 11 games of the season due to a pulmonary embolism (that’s some serious stuff, respect to him for getting back on the court), came off the bench for two games, then swapped in for Taylor. That was the start of Butler’s downturn. According to Hoop Math, 69% of Thomas’ shots for Butler are those two-point jumpers. He’s shooting 36% on them.

Last thing, then some MU/BU matchup stuff. This is me, writing about Butler’s transition from LaVall Jordan to Thad Matta back in August:

Here’s the catch, and it’s the catch that’s going to stay the catch until proven otherwise: The last time Matta coached a top 50 offense was 2014-15...... and he still had two more years to go in charge of the Buckeyes after that before he was eventually relieved of his duties. To put it another way: The last time that Thad Matta had a well regarded offense in college basketball, it would still be another three months before the Golden State Warriors won their first title with Stephen Curry as their lead player.

I’m not saying that Matta is going to be completely clueless about how to coach college basketball here in 2022. He’s definitely going to do a much better job than I would do. I am, however, saying that we have absolutely no idea how much Matta has stayed abreast of the shifting winds in tactics since he left the sidelines in Columbus in 2017. Even if he has done that, the last time he had a highly efficient offense, a certain amount of that offense was “give D’Angelo Russell the ball and see what happens.”

Moving on.

There’s an argument to be made that two of Marquette’s best rebounding games of the season came in their last two contests. Against DePaul last Saturday, Marquette grabbed over 37% of their own missed shots, their second best number of the season. On the other end against the Blue Demons, MU held DePaul to just 19% of their misses, the third best defensive number that Marquette has posted this year. On Wednesday night, Marquette held Villanova to just two total offensive rebounds, and one of them was MU knocking a VU miss out of bounds. That was a rate of just 8.7% of possible misses recovered by the Wildcats. Not only is that the best number of the season for Marquette’s defense, but it is the third best rebounding rate on that end of the floor in the era and the best defensive rebounding performance by Marquette in a win in that time frame.

Why do I bring this up?

Because 1) Marquette is not a good rebounding team and 2) Neither is Butler.

Here’s how the two teams measure up, according to KenPom:

Offensive Rebounding: Marquette #238, Butler #348
Defensive Rebounding: Marquette #293, Butler #241

In only Big East games this season, Butler ranks #10 on the defensive glass.... and #11, aka worst in the conference, on the offensive glass. This is a rare circumstance where Marquette appears to have an edge on their opponent on the glass on both ends of the floor.... and as it just so happens, an argument can be made that MU is currently on a heater in the rebounding department.

Butler’s offense stinks. Marquette’s doesn’t. Butler can’t rebound. Marquette can. Win the game. Make National Marquette Day a big ol’ party at Fiserv from tip to horn.

Stat Watch: After six assists last time out against Villanova, Tyler Kolek has the 5th most assists by a Marquette junior. He is two away from tying and three away from passing Junior Cadougan for fourth place.... and that Cadougan number is tied with Lloyd Walton for the 10th most in a single season by any Marquette player. Kolek is six assists away from tying and seven away from passing Travis Diener for third place on the MU junior year list and 8th on the all-time single season list. If Kolek hits for his season average of eight assists, he will pass his assists total from last year, which is 7th best all time..... and Marquette has seven regular season games left after Saturday against Butler.

Stat Watch #2: Oso Ighodaro has passed Walter Downing for the 8th most blocks by a Marquette junior after recording one swat against Villanova. He needs two more to tie and three to pass Dwyane Wade for seventh place.

Stat Watch #3: Kam Jones has the 9th most made triples by a Marquette sophomore. He needs five to catch and six to pass Robb Logterman and Travis Diener in a tie for seventh. Jones has only had five triples in a game twice this season, so it seems unlikely he gets there in this game.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 9-1 with wins in each of the last four games.

Butler Last 10 Games: 3-7 with losses in their last four games and six of the last seven.

All-Time Series: Butler leads, 24-23

Current Streak: Marquette won the National Marquette Day meeting in Milwaukee last season to split the season series and hold the current edge. The Golden Eagles have won four of the last five and six of the last eight.

Follow Along On Twitter

@AnonymousEagle - Hey, that’s us!
@MarquetteMBB - Official MU account
@ButlerMBB - Official Butler account
@BenSteeleMJS - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel MU beat writer