"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Monday, February 28, 2011

Defense Showing Signs of Improvement

Here's your interesting news for the day. The math says that Marquette is the third best team in the conference. Yes, that same Marquette that currently stands at 18-11 (9-7) and in seventh place in the league, staring at a 10-seed in the NCAA tournament.

As a reminder, this is based on efficiency margin, which is the difference between a team's offense and defense. Great teams have offenses much higher than their defenses. 0.500 teams have offenses and defenses about the same. Losing teams have negative efficiency margins (defenses higher than their offenses). In truth, the math has been kinder this season than MU's opponents. Even two weeks ago, Marquette was the #4 team according to stats, largely on the strength of MU's top tier offense. If your offense is the #14 offense in the country, it's easier to have a good efficiency margin. However, as we have discussed incessantly, it's always been the defense that was dragging down Marquette. In fact, two weeks ago, MU's defense was the same as Providence's, and just barely better than Rutgers and USF. That's not the kind of company MU wants to keep.

However, the last two weeks have shown substantial improvement in the Marquette's defensive performance. As a result (and thanks to Villanova's current three-game slide), MU now stands at #3 in efficiency margin --- the team has held three straight opponents under 0.98 ppp (Seton Hall, UConn, and Providence). MU held Providence to 0.81 ppp, which was the Warriors' the 5th best defensive performance of the year. Looking at conference-only statistics, three of the best defensive performances of the year have been the last three games.

Seton Hall - MU's overall defense was about the same in each half. In the first half, MU allowed SHU to score 0.97 ppp. The Pirates shot an eFG% of 55%, but Marquette dominated the boards and only allowing an offensive rebounding percentage of 13%. In the second half, MU allowed 0.99 ppp by tightening up the defensive eFG% (47% for SHU). More on this in a minute.

UConn - This was a game of two halves. In the first half, when UConn was flummoxed by the MU zone, the opponent only scored 0.77 ppp. That's Prairie View A&M type defense. UConn only shot an eFG% of 34% and had a turnover rate of 23%. In the second half, UConn scored 1.15 ppp. Yuck. However, this was mostly based on them dominating the defensive boards (they grabbed 61% of all missed shots). And yet... UConn still only shot 48% on eFG% in the second half, and 39.6% for the game.

Providence - Marquette allowed 0.71 ppp in the first half and 0.88 ppp in the second half. In neither half did PC shoot better than 40% on eFG% (34% and 37%). This was a great performance.

That's five straight halves of high-quality eFG% defense. As we've been saying, defensive eFG% is by far the most important aspect of defense. It's no surprise that some of MU's best defensive improvement is following this area.

As a result, MU's defensive profile has leaped from the mid-80's ranking to #57. As Tim noted, we wonder if part of this improvement is due to the increased on-court performance of Chris Otule. We'll continue to watch. Regardless, if the defense continues to improve, Marquette may finally have a defense just good enough to have the on-court performance catch up to the math.

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