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#4 Marquette Men’s Basketball Big East Preview Primer: at Butler

The Golden Eagles take their newfound top 5 ranking on the road looking for revenge.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 27 Villanova at Butler
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Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

#4 Marquette Golden Eagles (18-5, 9-3 Big East) at Butler Bulldogs (16-8, 7-6 Big East)

Date: Tuesday, February 13, 2024
Time: 5:30pm Central
Location: Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Tyler Kolek, 15.6 ppg
Rebounds: Oso Ighodaro, 7.3 rpg
Assists: Tyler Kolek, 7.5 apg

Butler Stats Leaders

Points: Pierre Brooks, 15.8 ppg
Rebounds: Jalen Thomas, 6.3 rpg
Assists: Posh Alexander, 5.3 apg

KenPom.com Rankings

Marquette: #10
Butler: #49
Game Projection: Marquette has a 59% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 78-75.

The Stakes: Marquette is gunning for an eighth straight victory, which would be the longest Big East regular season winning streak under the direction of Shaka Smart. MU last won eight straight Big East regular season games in the 2018-19 season when they won eight straight after losing the league opener to St. John’s.

Oh, and there’s the other thing: This is the trappiest trap game to ever trap a trap. No matter what happens here, it will be #4 Marquette visiting #1 UConn on Saturday. In addition to that, Marquette’s chances at a Big East regular season title, shared or outright, are kind of dependent on the Huskies taking a loss in that game. UConn’s lead in the standings is already at two games. Marquette can not afford to let it get to three before Saturday’s game even tips off.

Last Time Out: In their first full game after Chase Ross injured his shoulder, Marquette couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from anywhere on the floor. The Golden Eagles shot 45% inside the arc and a very awful 5-for-31 from long range, which is just 16%. They gave up a 24-7 run to Butler in the first 10 minutes of the second half, flipping a 35-28 halftime lead to a 52-42 deficit, and never recovered. The death blow was a 16-2 run by the Bulldogs in a less than four minute span in the second half.

Oh, and then Sean Jones blew his knee out with about four minutes to play before Marquette lost 69-62 for their second consecutive loss.

Since Last We Met: At the time, Butler’s win over Marquette was just their second in five attempts in league play, and their first in the non-Georgetown/DePaul category. They followed up the win in Milwaukee with a six point home loss to Seton Hall and a 14 point road loss against Xavier to drop to 2-5 in the Big East and 11-7 overall. Generally speaking, that made the loss to BU even worse from Marquette’s perspective, as the Bulldogs appeared to be ticketed for a bottom three finish in the league at that point.

Things have turned around since then. They got on a winning track by beating DePaul and Georgetown, then used that to power themselves to a double overtime win at home against Villanova, and then a 99-98 victory on the road against Creighton. Butler got tripped up by a visit to the XL Center, but no shame in losing by single digits to UConn, especially not after turning around and beating Providence in their most recent game. Overall, Butler has kept their NCAA tournament hopes alive, but they’re still a long stretch away from being comfortable with getting there.

Tempo Free Fun: Let’s start with something positive about what happened in Milwaukee, shall we? For the length and breadth of 40 minutes, Marquette shut Butler’s offense down. The Bulldogs managed just 0.95 points per possession in that game, even while shooting 46% from behind the three-point line. They struggled to shoot it inside the arc at just 44% and Marquette forced them into a turnover on nearly a full quarter of their possessions. Butler didn’t manage to do all that much on the offensive glass, pulling in just six second chances all game long.

Even now, it is still Butler’s worst offensive efficiency performance in a victory this season and only Michigan State made them look worse in any game this year. It is the only time that Butler scored less than 102 points per 100 possessions and won this season. In short: Everyone else who did what Marquette did to Butler managed to beat the Bulldogs.

If Marquette goes into Tuesday night with the same game plan on defense, they could reasonably expect to win the basketball game based on all the evidence at hand. The only two players who had what could easily be called a good game against Marquette were Jalen Thomas, who had a 10 point, 14 rebound double double, and Landon Moore, who tied for the team high in points with 14 on 4-for-5 shooting. That tied a season high for points for Moore, and he hasn’t scored 14 points in total in Butler’s eight games since.

As I said a second ago: Marquette could reasonably expect to win if they execute the same defensive game plan a second time in a row. We have to say reasonably because we know for a fact that the defense alone will not be enough.

Kam Jones: 9-for-22, 1-for-10 from behind the arc

Tyler Kolek: 1-for-13, 0-for-7 from behind the arc

This will, like it was in Milwaukee, not be good enough. I want to be clear about how little needs to be fixed about this to make Marquette’s life so much easier. If Jones shoots 3-for-10 on three-pointers, which is still not good, and Kolek shoots 2-for-7, which is still not good, Marquette beats Butler. That’s 12 extra points. Marquette lost by seven. If Marquette had been BAD against Butler instead of AWFUL, they win the game.

Marquette shot 16% from long range as a team in that game. Marquette hasn’t shot worse than 30% in a game since that loss to the Bulldogs. They haven’t shot worse than 44% in their last five games.

Marquette shot 45% on two-pointers as a team against Butler the first time. They haven’t shot worse than 53% in any of the seven games since then.

Are they going to keep shooting like this forever? Probably not, but do you know what I do think about Marquette’s shooting prowess over the last month? Losing to Butler because they shot so poorly pissed them off and they don’t ever want to feel like that ever again. Easy solution to that: Just stop missing.

Merely deciding to execute the same defensive gameplan against Butler might not be easy to do. Marquette does have the advantage of being able to throw Chase Ross at Pierre Brooks and Posh Alexander this time around, something that they could not do during the first meeting. However, since losing to Xavier on January 16th, Butler has been playing like the #36 team in the country according to BartTorvik.com’s data filtering, and more importantly to the point here, they’ve been the #25 offense in the country in that timeframe. It’s been hard for anyone to slow them down, and they’ve been getting a lot of milage out of merely not turning the ball over all that much. Marquette’s game plan might still be one that works, but they’re still going to have to bust their ass to make it work.

Oh, and by the way? Marquette in that same timeframe? #6 in the country, #5 in offensive efficiency, #41 on defense, and the #1 shooting offense in the country, lighting things on fire with a 63.4% effective field goal percentage. If the effort is there on defense, and if the game plan works, and if the basketball gods continue to shine their favor on Marquette’s shooting hands.... should be a win. Maybe not a comfortable win, but the pathway to a win is clearly there.

Stat Watch: Oso Ighodaro needs 1 block to tie and 2 blocks to pass Scott Merritt for the 8th most blocks in program history.

Stat Watch #2: Kam Jones needs 14 points to tie and 15 points to pass Bernard Toone for the 39th most points in program history.

Stat Watch #3: Tyler Kolek needs 1 point to tie and 2 points to pass Ron Curry for the 46th most points in program history. He needs 4 points to pass Rube Schulz for 45th, 9 points to pass Chris Crawford for 44th, and 11 points to pass Scott Merritt and Jae Crowder for 42nd.

Stat Watch #4: Tyler Kolek needs 1 assist to break a tie with Lloyd Walton and Junior Cadougan for the 11th most assists in a season in program history. He needs 2 assists to pass 2003 Travis Diener for 10th, 5 assists to pass 2004 Diener for 9th, and 6 assists to pass 2022 Kolek for 8th.

Stat Watch #5: Tyler Kolek needs 2 assists to tie and 3 assists to pass Dominic James for the 2nd most assists in program history. Once he has passed James, he will have 633 career assists and still need 324 more assists to pass Tony Miller’s program record.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 8-2 with wins in their last seven in a row.

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

All Time Series: All tied up at 25 each.

Current Streak: The loss earlier this season in Milwaukee snapped a Marquette three game winning streak against Butler. The Golden Eagles have still won six of the last eight and eight of the last 11 meetings.