#11 Marquette Golden Eagles (11-4, 2-2 Big East) vs Butler Bulldogs (10-5, 1-3 Big East)
Date: Wednesday, January 10, 2024
Time: 8pm Central
Location: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Marquette Stats Leaders
Points: Tyler Kolek, 14.6 ppg
Rebounds: Oso Ighodaro, 6.8 rpg
Assists: Tyler Kolek, 6.3 apg
Butler Stats Leaders
Points: Pierre Brooks, 16.5 ppg
Rebounds: Jalen Thomas, 6.3 rpg
Assists: Posh Alexander, 5.2 apg
Game Projection: Marquette has an 84% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 82-71.
The Stakes: This isn’t a traditional entry of The Stakes, as there isn’t an in-season thing officially on the line here, either physically or spiritually. Instead, we’re dropping in The Stakes because Marquette is trying for their 21st consecutive home victory in Big East regular season play. That would be a brand new league record, going all the way back to the original configuration of the Big East, as only Pitt (2002-04), Notre Dame (2006-09), and — hey look at this — Marquette (2012-14) have managed to win 20 straight home games before now.
So Far This Season: Many things have happened to/around/with/whatever Butler this season. Three buy game wins followed by a 20 point road loss at Michigan State in the Gavitt Games followed by a five point neutral site loss to FAU in the first round of the Walt Disney World Feast Week event? Sure, why not, BU was a sub-.500 team last year, this aren’t surprising results.
What if we follow that up with wins over Penn State and Boise State at Disney World and then a home win over Texas Tech in the Big East/Big 12 Battle? Got your attention yet? What if we add a double-overtime win over Cal at home? What if Butler starts out Big East play with a 10 point home win over Georgetown? That’s 10-2 on the year, with many things happening!
The Things did not stop happening at that point, as the Bulldogs have lost their last three games coming into Wednesday night. That’s at Providence in overtime, at St. John’s, and home against UConn, although to Butler’s credit, that game got to Connecticut head coach Dan Hurley so much that he was pointing at his ring finger (after winning last year’s national championship, natch) and jawing with the BU fans at Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Like I said, a lot has been going on here.
Tempo Free Fun: With all of that excitement going on, I thought it would be prudent to try and figure out if there was a reason why Butler’s been going on a huge skid in Big East play after starting out the year 10-2 overall. This is where BartTorvik.com is helpful, as we can sort some data. From the start of the season up through the day before their loss to Providence, Butler was 3-2 against top 150 opponents. They were ranked #41 in the country in the Torvik algorithm within those parameters, with the #14 offense and #189 defense.
I think I might have spotted the problem.
During their current three game losing streak, Butler has been playing like the #84 team in the country with the #34 offense and the #182 defense.
Aha. I was only partially right. I expected the bottom to completely drop out over the last three games. As it turns out, the problem is that Butler’s offensive efficiency has taken a little bit of a knock while the not very good at all defense has gotten marginally better to the point where we could say it’s been pretty much the same. In other words: Their mild defensive improvement is not balancing out their notable dropoff on the offensive side of the ball. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, Marquette fans, say in 2017-18 in particular: The elite offense is not enough to balance out the horrific defense, and if the elite offense isn’t being elite, then there’s no pathway to victory.
From a statistical view, there’s not much different between Marquette’s offense and Butler’s offense. Both are heavily dependent on shooting and not turning the ball over to generate points, as neither one rebounds the ball particularly well nor gets to the line all that much. Both are relatively similar when it comes to how they shoot the ball, as Butler and Marquette are both really good at scoring inside the arc but mediocre — from a national average perspective at least — shooting it from three-point land.
The difference is that Marquette wants to shoot a metric ton more threes than Butler does. That’s not to say that Butler doesn’t have shooters. Pierre Brooks and DJ Davis both let it fly more than five times a game, and for good reason. Davis is hitting 40% of his threes this season, and Brooks is right behind him at just under 39%. If Marquette does not do an adequate to good job of defending them behind the arc, things could easily become a problem. Look no further than the UConn game where the pair combined to shoot 7-for-14 from downtown, and Butler was up 42-35 at the half and down just three with three minutes to play.
Butler’s biggest strength on the defensive end of the floor is absolutely useless to them in this game. They’re #12 in the country at not letting you get to the free throw line according to KenPom.com, but Marquette is in the bottom third in the country at getting to the line and not that far off from the bottom quarter. Effectively, Butler’s saying “We’re not going to send you to the line!” and Marquette’s response is “We don’t want to go to the line anyway, so who cares!?”
As mentioned above, BU isn’t good at getting offensive rebounds, but somehow they rank even worse at getting defensive rebounds. That’s the end that’s supposed to be easier to get the rebounds, the side where coaches don’t sometimes actively scheme away from trying to get the rebounds, but Butler is still #241 in the country per KenPom there. In a world where head coach Shaka Smart is challenging David Joplin to get more offensive rebounds, that seems like potentially good news for Marquette. With that said, it’s not like Butler’s starting center is a goof, either. Jalen Thomas measures in at 6’10” and 240 pounds, and KenPom has him as a top 250 rate rebounder on both ends of the floor. His backup, 7’1” Andre Screen, has even better numbers, but he’s only playing 14 minutes a night on average, so he doesn’t qualify for national rankings. I’m curious as to whether this is a game where The Golden Bear lineup — Ben Gold and Oso Ighodaro playing together, get it? — pays dividends for Marquette. Butler’s regular rotation maxes out on size at 6’7” Jahmyl Telfort outside of Thomas and Screen swapping in and out for each other. Rolling two 6’11” guys at the Bulldogs, one to box out Thomas/Screen, one to rebound, might have some interesting upsides to it in this game. Gold has the best defensive rebounding rate on the team, and he’s no slouch on the offensive glass either, and he’s probably hurt a little bit there because he averages three long range attempts per game while he’s on the floor.
Stat Watch: Oso Ighodaro needs two blocks to become the 12th Marquette player to ever record 100 swats in a career as well as to tie Ousmane Barro for the 11th most in program history.
Stat Watch #2: Kam Jones needs 11 points to become the 51st 1,000 point scorer in Marquette history, and he needs 18 points to pass Lloyd Walton for 50th place on the all-time scoring list.
Marquette Last 10 Games: 6-4, with a loss in their most recent game.
Butler Last 10 Games: 7-3, with losses in each of their last three games.
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 25-24.
Current Streak: Marquette got the season sweep a year ago to move to three straight wins over Butler. The Golden Eagles have won six of the last seven and eight of the last ten.