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#17 Marquette Men’s Basketball Big East Preview Primer: vs RV Villanova

Can the Golden Eagles shake off their skid during a MLK matinee against the Wildcats?

Creighton v Villanova Photo by Porter Binks/Getty Images

#17 Marquette Golden Eagles (11-5, 2-3 Big East) vs RV Villanova Wildcats (11-5, 4-1 Big East)

Date: Monday, January 15, 2024
Time: 1:30pm Central
Location: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Kam Jones, 14.9 ppg
Rebounds: Oso Ighodaro, 6.9 rpg
Assists: Tyler Kolek, 6.4 apg

Villanova Stats Leaders

Points: Eric Dixon, 15.3 ppg
Rebounds: Tyler Burton, 7.7 rpg
Assists: Justin Moore, 2.3 apg

KenPom.com Rankings

Marquette: #19
Villanova: #25
Game Projection: Marquette has a 66% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 73-68.

The Stakes: Goddammit, we have to do a Stakes here. Marquette is trying to avoid a third straight Big East loss, something that hasn’t happened under Shaka Smart since his first three league games in 2021-22.

So Far This Season: Much like Marquette’s season has turned into a rollercoaster ride lately, Villanova’s season has been full of up and downs. Through the first nine games of the year, VU was undefeated against teams not based in the Philadelphia area, including winning the Battle 4 Atlantis by way of wins over then-#14 and now-#7 North Carolina and Memphis, a team that is now holding the nation’s fifth longest winning streak and now ranked #13 in the country. You will, however, notice the caveat I dropped in there, as the Wildcats went 0-3 in their Philadelphia Big 5 series games this season, losing at Penn, at home by 13 to Saint Joseph’s, and finally, to Drexel. It was very much a “wait, what is going on here??!?” situation.

And then they followed that up with an overtime loss on the road against K-State in the Big East/Big 12 Battle, even after being up 71-67 with a minute left in the extra session. It was not a super great start to the second season under the direction of head coach Kyle Neptune.

Things turned around from there, beating UCLA at home (yes, I know about the Bruins, it was good news at the time), downing Creighton in overtime on the road to open Big East play, and then moving to 3-0 in the league with wins over DePaul and Xavier. They stumbled in their next outing, losing to St. John’s at The Finn for the first time since 1993 (that is not a typo), but the Wildcats are coming into Monday off a 25 point drubbing of DePaul to finish up their season sweep of the Blue Demons already.

Tempo Free Fun: Villanova remains, here in Kyle Neptune’s second season in charge, exactly what they have been on offense for the past decade. They’re not going to be in any particular hurry — #303 in the country in tempo per KenPom, #299 in average possession length — and they’re going to shoot a butt-ton — nearly 48%, #13 in the country — of their shots from behind the three-point line. If you make the mistake of putting them on the free throw line — and it is your mistake, they don’t get there that often — then they’re probably going to tack on free points with the clock stopped, as they’re shooting 82% on free throws as a team.

The catch here is that Jay Wright’s Villanova teams were very very good at shooting three-pointers, while Kyle Neptune’s teams are only passable at best. After nine straight years connecting on at least 35% of their long range attempts, VU has only been hitting on 33% or so for the past 50 games. This year’s roster has dangerous guys, don’t get me wrong. TJ Bamba, a 6’5” transfer from Washington State is hitting just barely under 35%. Hakim Hart, a 6’8” transfer from Maryland, is shooting a career high 37%, although only 24% against KenPom’s top 100 opponents for the Wildcats. Sophomore Brendan Hausen is just barely under 40% on the year on nearly 80 attempts, and even starting big man Eric Dixon is shooting 34% from downtown.

But that means that they have four rotation guys, including Jordan Longino, who missed the DePaul game with an ankle sprain and was in a walking boot on Friday night, who are 1) shooting more than one long range attempt per game and 2) shooting worse than 31% from behind the arc. The worst offender on the roster is Justin Moore, who returned to the lineup against the Blue Demons after missing five straight with a knee issue. He went into Friday night shooting 30% on the year, and missed all three of his attempts against DePaul. Moore is putting up 5.7 long range attempts per game, and uh, well, it’s obviously not going super great for him or for Villanova, because he came into the year with at least a certain amount of expectation that he could be a candidate for Big East Player of the Year.

Villanova is, by way of efficiency rankings on KenPom.com, a better defensive team than they are an offensive team. They’re #29 in the country at coming up with stops and #43 at putting the ball in the hoop. The Wildcats do this primarily by just making it hard to get shots that you like and limiting you to just the one choice every time down the floor. They don’t force that many turnovers, but they do rank in the top 20 in defensive rebounding, and they’re pretty good at keeping you off the free throw line, too. They’re kind of catching a bad break on three-point shooting defense this season, as that’s kind of mostly just luck and teams are shooting 34% against them, and they allow you to take a bunch of threes and get assists on them, too.

This would seem to be good news against Marquette, as the Golden Eagles’ offense is kind of designed around hitting the open man for the three-ball, but, uh, as we’re all aware, MU is very much in a horrible shooting funk right now. If Marquette’s decision making at being patient enough to get wide open shots remains high — that’s never been their problem this season — they should be able to get the shots they like against the Wildcats eventually. As to whether or not Marquette will find a way to make those shots.... well, if three-point shooting percentage defense is largely speaking luck, so is three-point shooting percentage offense, y’know? On a long enough timeline, MU is going to find their shooting touch. It’s just that the phrase “long enough timeline” is carrying an awful lot of weight there.

I do want to wrap up this section talking about Eric Dixon a little bit more. The 6’8” Pennsylvania native is the team’s leading scorer, and he’s not that far behind Tyler Burton in the rebounding department at 6.5 per game. Dixon also has a weird impact on how Villanova plays. According to Hoop Explorer, VU’s offensive efficiency drops almost 10 points per 100 possessions when Dixon is off the floor...... but their defensive efficiency jumps by almost nine points per 100 possessions. It’s not like Villanova has a Donovan Clingan or a Ryan Kalkbrenner on the bench behind him as a freshman letting Dixon take a breather or something that explains why the defense suddenly gets better. If they had a behemoth playing spot minutes behind Dixon, you’d say, yeah, okay, I get it, they have a better or at the very least bigger post presence, it’s harder to score inside. But that’s not the case. 6’9” Lance Ware is the only guy on the roster taller than Dixon who’s earning rotation minutes. I can’t explain it, but I can point out that Villanova makes up for their lost offense without him by buckling down on the defensive end. In any case, the duel between Dixon and Oso Ighodaro should be an interesting one to watch.

Stat Watch: Oso Ighodaro needs one block to reach 100 for his career as well as tie Ousmane Barro for the 11th most blocks in program history.

Stat Watch #2: Kam Jones needs five points to pass Jajuan Johnson and six points to pass Luke Fischer for #49 and #48 on the all time scoring list respectively. He had 20 points against Butler, so 19 points to pass Tony Miller and Dwayne Johnson for #47 and #46 (they’re tied at 1,027) isn’t out of the picture.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 6-4, coming off two straight losses and losses in three of the last five games.

Villanova Last 10 Games: 6-4, with wins in five of their last six games.

All-Time Series: Villanova leads, 27-16.

Current Streak: Marquette swept the season series each of the last two years to give them a four game winning streak over Villanova. That is an all-time series record for the Golden Eagles, and so yeah, that means they’ve never won five in a row against the Wildcats.