After Saturdays' heartbreaking loss to Georgetown, Marquette is 21-7 and 11-6 --- fine records with just two regular season games remaining.
However, a closer look reveals a team that is much more susceptible to bad matchup games than just about any Big East 'contender'. Marquette's struggles in halfcourt sets continues to rear its ugly head in games against the nation's best, limiting MU's success in those marquee matchups. The net: for Marquette to win a game or two in the NCAA tournament, this squad must be matched up against an opponent who allows easier baskets in halfcourt sets, otherwise it is hard to like this team's chances. Consider:
- MU is 1-5 against the top four teams in the Big East (1-1 v ND, 0-1 v UConn, 0-2 v Ville, 0-1 v GU), including two losses at the Bradley Center.
- UConn, Georgetown, and Louisville are among the nation's best at defending the interior. These squads rank in the top 10 nationally in effective field goal percentage defense inside the arc.
- MU shot 40% or worse from the field against each of these opponents, shooting 34% or less in three of the four games. In fact, the 40% from the field against UConn was propped up by a hot second half in Storrs -- when the game was already in the bag for the Huskies.
- The only exception to this equation is Wisconsin, which is 10th nationally in eFG% inside the arc. MU made 47% from the floor that day, way back in December.
- Marquette is 3-7 against teams in the RPI top 50, but is 6-0 against teams #51-100.
Despite returning nearly its entire roster year-to-year along with a greatly improved Lazar Hayward, MU remains unable to execute effectively against stingy halfcourt defenses. Moreover, as the year has progressed, MU has shown no discernible improvement against teams that defend the interior well. In fact, there is strong evidence that MU has regressed against teams that fit this profile. The Golden Eagles' 25% shooting from the field in the final 25 minutes of action on Saturday afternoon bears this out.
On the other side of this equation are the teams that do not defend as well inside the arc. MU makes mincemeat of teams like this - - examples include Seton Hall, Villanova, and to some degree Notre Dame. Other signs of hope were noted in in Rosiak's blog wrap-up of the game when he noted that "MU had 15 steals for the third consecutive game. It also forced 20-plus turnovers for the fourth consecutive game." Clearly these trends speak well of MU's strengths, and if the Golden Eagles made just one more free throw in regulation it might not feel like the sky is falling in some quarters.
**BTW, Rosiak's game wrap-up blogs are terrific....he injects a level of commentary and observation that is absent in the straight reporting required of a beat writer. Bueno, Todd!
In summary, teams that force Marquette to execute in the halfcourt beat Marquette. As constructed, the Golden Eagles have a limited offensive arsenal that is more easily defended by opponents who commit to shutting down anything inside. The drive and dish complemented by modest ball reversal only works well in spurts against teams that fit this profile. Unless MU lands up with an NCAA tournament matchup against a squad that struggles to defend the interior, look for the Golden Eagles to be one and done.