2023 Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament
#1 Marquette Golden Eagles (25-6, 17-3 Big East) vs #8 St. John’s Red Storm (18-14, 7-13 Big East)
Date: Thursday, March 9, 2023
Time: 11am Central
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York, New York
Season Series: Marquette won, 2-0
All-Time Series: Marquette leads 26-16
Current Streak: Marquette has won three straight and six out of the last eight meetings.
Marquette gets to this point of the season by winning their last six regular season games, 11 of their last 12, and 16 of their last 18. This made them Big East regular season champions, securing the outright title by two full games ahead of 15-5 Xavier in the league standings. As the #1 seed, Marquette got to skip ahead in the conference tournament, past Wednesday’s opening round and into the quarterfinals. They were the #1 offense in the conference according to KenPom.com, leading the way in two-point field goal shooting percentage (they also lead the country in that department), effective field goal shooting percentage, and turnover rate. The Golden Eagles made their living on the offensive end this season, as they only came in as the #5 defense in the Big East, again per KenPom, but for whatever faults they had on that end of the floor — literally the worst two-point shooting defense in the conference for example — they made up for it by leading the league in turnover rate. 23.4% of defensive possessions in Big East play ended up with Marquette holding the ball instead of the other team putting a shot into the air. For context: Seton Hall was #2 in the Big East, coming in at just 20.9%.
St. John’s …. St. John’s did not have as nice of an ending to the season as Marquette did. Heck, St. John’s did not even hold up their end of the bargain from what they were at the start of the year. This is a SJU squad that started out the year at #37 in KenPom’s rankings and managed to drift down to #52 while starting out 11-1, and the only loss was on the road to a very good Iowa State team. That 15 spot drift in the efficiency margin rankings from what was expected of the Johnnies to what they actually were through the first six weeks of the season was probably a bad omen for what was to come. After beating Florida State — a win that looked less and less impressive with each passing week all season long — St. John’s lost their next five games to drop to 1-5 in Big East action. It looked like maybe they had some pop to them in mid-January when they went up to the Nutmeg State and handed a then-shaky UConn team a loss. But no, the Red Storm then lost five of their next six, beat Providence at home — also a win that has looked less impressive since it happened — and then closed out the regular season with losses in three of their last four games. Current KenPom ranking? #87 heading into their victory over Butler in the Big East quarterfinals on Wednesday afternoon.
The Johnnies were the #8 offense in the Big East this season, and their offensive capabilities are pretty much dependent on their ability to get offensive rebounds. That’s the only thing that they were better than average in the conference at this season. They were slightly worse, rankings-wise, on defense, wrapping up the regular season at #9 in the league and ultimately underwater in their efficiency margin, giving up more than they scored. Much like Marquette, what defense they did provide largely came from creating turnovers, as they came in #3 in the league with a turnover rate of 18.9%.
This game is going to come down to which Marquette shows up at The Garden to take on the Johnnies. If it’s the Marquette that we saw in the middle 30 minutes against the Red Storm this season, the Golden Eagles are going to romp. From halftime of the game at Carnesecca Arena in early January through the first 10 minutes of the regular season finale in Milwaukee, Marquette outscored St. John’s 85-51. It was an away mission on the original Star Trek series where Olivier-Maxence Prosper was the Big Bad of the week and destroying everyone in a red shirt to the tune of 35 points in 30 minutes.
If “Other 50 Minutes Marquette” shows up, it is not going to be a fun time. That’s the Marquette that was trailing 48-41 at the half in Queens, that’s the Marquette that let the final 30 seconds in Milwaukee get completely out of control, that’s the Marquette that got outscored 128-107. That’s a 50 minute number, so think about what you would think about an NBA team that lost by that margin. If you want a 40 minute score, that works out to 102-86.
MU’s ability to advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2019 may come down to their ability to defend Joel Soriano. When Marquette lit off to a 30-11 start in the regular season finale, they effectively removed the St. John’s big man from the game. Before subbing out after his first foul of the game at the 11:55 mark and with MU up 24-11, Soriano had posted just two rebounds, both on the defensive end, one turnover, and the aforementioned foul.
Soriano subbed back in at the 7:32 mark with MU up 33-22 and then put up 14 points, nine rebounds, and two assists in 25 more minutes of action before fouling out with 48 seconds left in the game. St. John’s beat Marquette 61-58 after the 7:32 mark of the first half until Soriano fouled out, and that includes the two Oso Ighodaro free throws generated by his fifth foul. Whatever was working against Soriano for the first eight minutes of the game, Marquette needs to find away to get back to it. Whatever counter SJU head coach Mike Anderson rolled out after Soriano subbed back in, MU head coach Shaka Smart needs to find away to reverse it.
Marquette has yet to play a full 40 minutes of big capital letters Marquette Basketball this season against the Red Storm. If they do that on Thursday, they’ll be in the semifinals on Friday. If not? They could be quietly on their way home to wait for Selection Sunday.