#6 Marquette Golden Eagles (24-6, 16-3 Big East) vs St. John’s Red Storm (17-13, 7-12 Big East)
Date: Saturday, March 4, 2023
Time: 1pm Central
Location: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Marquette Stats Leaders
Points: Kam Jones, 15.0 ppg
Rebounds: Oso Ighodaro, 5.9 rpg
Assists: Tyler Kolek, 7.9 apg
St. John’s Stats Leaders
Points: Joel Soriano, 15.3 ppg
Rebounds: Joel Soriano, 11.8 rpg
Assists: Posh Alexander, 4.4 apg
St. John’s: #90
Game Projection: Marquette has an 89% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 87-74.
The Stakes: Nothing particularly tangible is on the line for Marquette. They clinched a share of the Big East regular season title last weekend against DePaul, and then secured the outright title on Tuesday against Butler. If “winning the league by multiple games” is important to them, then that’s on the line. Whatever shot MU has at a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament — which would be the highest seeding that they have ever received since the NCAA started doing that — is on the line here, but there’s so many other variables involved in the process that MU won’t clinch a #2 by winning this game.
The only thing truly on the line are the vibes, because this game is a coronation ceremony for the 2023 outright Big East regular season champions. Let’s make it a pursuit goal, not an avoidance goal, to use Shaka Smart’s own terminology: I am sure that the team would love to make the vibes immaculate on Saturday to make it a full fledged party and celebration of everything that they have accomplished this season.
Last Time Out: Marquette picked up a 96-85 victory at Carnesecca Arena back on January 3, 2023. That was quite the contest, as St. John’s took a 48-41 lead into the locker room after the Red Storm built and then lost and then rebuilt a nine point lead. It was only seven at intermission because of a late bucket from Olivier-Maxence Prosper, and that bucket turned into the start of an 18-2 Marquette run that left the Golden Eagles up 57-50 before five minutes had been played after halftime. MU eventually led by as many as 11 in the second half before the Johnnies cut it back down to just four with a little over three minutes to go, but they made all the right plays and it was back to nine less than a minute later.
This gets a separate paragraph: OMax Prosper led Marquette in that game with 29 points, with 25 of those coming in the second half while MU scored 1.45 points per possession after intermission.
Since Last We Met: That loss dropped St. John’s to 11-5 overall and 1-4 in Big East action after they started out the year 11-1 and with a win over DePaul in their league opener. The loss tumbled the Johnnies from #69 in KenPom after starting the year in the top 40 down to #77. The Red Storm did manage some highlight wins, including going to Connecticut and holding serve at home over Providence, but they have gone just 6-8 since losing to MU and are currently sitting at their worst KenPom ranking of the entire season.
Tempo Free Fun: Marquette’s biggest problem against St. John’s in the first meeting this season was the three-point shooting. Not their own, the Golden Eagles hit 44% of their attempts. I meant St. John’s and their attempts behind the line, as the Red Storm connected on 47% of their long range bombs. Dylan Addae-Wusu, David Jones, and Posh Alexander were all massive problems, as the latter two knocked in two of their four attempts and Addae-Wusu went 3-for-5. They were good in both halves, going 4-for-9 in the first and 4-for-8 in the second, even while the rest of the offense disappeared on them to the tune of shooting just 38% overall after intermission.
Marquette’s second biggest problem will still be their literal biggest problem on Saturday: Joel Soriano. In the first half of the first meeting, the 6’11”, 260 pound Soriano tuned up MU’s defense for 16 points on 7-for-8 shooting. In a perfect example of the kind of halftime adjustments that Shaka Smart has made with the Golden Eagles all season long, Soriano was held to just 3-for-11 shooting in the second half. Soriano also grabbed 13 rebounds in that one, including eight of SJU’s 13 on the offensive glass. Defensive rebounding has been a problem for Marquette all season long, and they come into this game just barely above #300 in the country and #10 in the Big East in terms of rate according to KenPom.com. Things have been trending in a better direction for the Golden Eagles over the past few games, including holding eight of their last 10 foes under MU’s season average allowed. They will need to be better than they were last time against the Red Storm, and definitely better at corralling Soriano.
Here’s a big question for Marquette: What will they do without Olivier-Maxence Prosper going nuclear? The big Canadian ran wild in the second half, finishing his night with 9-for-13 shooting, including 4-for-5 from downtown, a very nice 7-for-9 from the charity stripe, plus seven rebounds and a steal. Don’t get me wrong: Marquette had other guys doing good stuff in that game. Tyler Kolek went for 14/2/8, Kam Jones had 16/6/2, and Stevie Mitchell had a very quality 11 point outing to go with three rebounds and three steals. But Prosper had 27 of his 29 in the final 21 minutes of the game in Carnesecca Arena. MU kept going to him because it kept working in the second half, and all credit to them for doing that.... but what are they going to do when they don’t have someone going full NBA Jam “HE’S ON FIRE”? Marquette has been a team that’s willing to shift the game towards whoever has the positive advantage in a game all season long, so it’s not a big concern, just something to wonder.
At 1.08 points per possession in the first half, Marquette wasn’t exactly bad. They were just allowing way too many points on the other end, letting the Johnnies go to town for 1.26 per trip. If MU can use the lessons learned when they adjusted at halftime in Queens for 40 minutes in Milwaukee, things will probably work out for them. One thing that’s different about St. John’s this time around is Andre Curbelo. He didn’t play against Marquette in the first game, and after missing a three game stretch in the middle of February for nothing other than “Head coach Mike Anderson said so” including a game where he didn’t even travel to Chicago to face DePaul, Curbelo has played 23 minutes in each of SJU’s last two games. He’s been a positive influence on the floor getting three rebounds and three assists in each game while scoring 11 in a win over Georgetown and 8 in a loss to Connecticut. Curbelo’s presence on the floor is of particular interest to Marquette for two reasons. The first is that he’s got a turnover rate north of 23% this season, which is very not good for a 6’1” guard. The other is that Marquette has faced Curbelo before since Shaka Smart took the top job in Milwaukee. That was back when he was with Illinois, and the Golden Eagles’ defense victimized him for seven turnovers in that 67-66 victory at Fiserv Forum. That would definitely seem to be a pressure point that MU could exploit to limit the Red Storm offense in this game.
Stat Watch: After 10 assists last time out against Butler, Tyler Kolek.... still has the 2nd most assists by a Marquette junior. He’s been stuck there for a while and he will continue to be stuck there as the Marquette junior year record is also the overall single season record. Speaking of, Kolek now has the 3rd most assists in a single season by any Marquette player. Kolek needs 12 assists to catch 1995 Tony Miller for 2nd place, so there’s a chance he gets there on Saturday, but we will probably have to wait for the Big East tournament.
Stat Watch #2: Oso Ighodaro has tied Luke Fischer and Dwayne “Not The Rock” Johnson for the 5th most blocks by a Marquette junior. He needs one more to have fifth place to himself and eight more to tie Theo John for fourth place...... which is also part of a three-way tie for 11th most in a season by any Marquette player.
Stat Watch #3: Kam Jones has the 4th most made triples by a Marquette sophomore after hitting seven against DePaul last time out. He will still need another seven just to tie Steve Novak for third place.
Marquette Last 10 Games: 9-1, with five straight wins.
St. John’s Last 10 Games: 4-6, with wins in three of the last five, but losses in two of the last three.
All Time Series: Marquette leads, 25-16
Current Streak: After winning in Queens earlier this season, Marquette has won two straight contests in this series. The Golden Eagles have also won five out of the last seven meetings.
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