After Davante Gardner's dominant performance against St. John's, I began to wonder if it was an outlier, or the start of a very nice trend. Granted, his career highs in points and rebounds both came along with a career high in minutes, but it seemed to me like had THAT Davante shown up against LSU, Georgetown, and Syracuse, Marquette might have a much better record.
One thing that stood out was St. John's lack of size and depth. That God's Gift Achiuwa is averaging 36.6 minutes per game in St. John's last 10 indicates they don't have any depth in the middle. I decided to analyze Gardner's numbers using Pomeroy's Effective Height ranking. Marquette has played 10 games against top-100 EFR teams and 6 games against sub-100 EFR teams First, the raw data:
Because of the disparate minutes Gardner played early on and recently, it only seemed fair to compare his numbers on a per-40 minutes basis rather than a per game basis. Here's a the per-40 breakdown:
Looking at this, the stat that jumped out was free throw attempts. Against bigger teams, Gardner is averaging 4.5 fewer FTAs per 40 minutes. His free throw percentage stays constant, so the attempts also explain much of why he averages more points against smaller teams. And while his field goal percentage and rebounds are down a bit, 57.3% and 10.0/40 are still great numbers. In everything else, he actually seems to perform a bit better overall against big opposition.
The 4 top-100 teams that interested me most were Ole Miss, LSU, Georgetown, and Syracuse. Against Ole Miss, Gardner got to the line 9 times on 6 fouls in 40 minutes. Had he played 40 minutes, that projects out to 25.7 free throws in that one game alone. But against LSU, Georgetown, and Syracuse, the three games Marquette lost in which Gardner played enough minutes to have an impact, he shot only 6 free throws in 83 minutes, an average of just 2.9 FTA per 40 minutes. For Marquette to have success against the big, talented teams, they need to have Gardner getting to the line and putting the opposition in foul trouble.
Recently, Marquette radio announcer Steve "The Homer" True mentioned that Gardner's goal is to always get the "and one". Looking at these numbers, it's easy to see why -- when he is getting to the line, he makes Marquette a much better team. When he isn't, they are far more likely to struggle.
Marquette's next 3 games are all against sub-100 EHR teams, so it wouldn't be surprising to see Gardner continue to put up big numbers. But it will be important for him to be aggressive and draw contact after this stretch, because games against big teams like Villanova, Connecticut, West Virginia, Seton Hall, and Georgetown could be the ones that separate Marquette from being top-four or middle-of-the-pack in the Big East. If Gardner can get to the line early and often, Marquette stands a good chance of having success against the types of teams that usually give them trouble. But if he's unable to be effectively aggressive down low, it's possible this team will be carrying the Team Bubble Watch moniker once again come March.