Marquette’s Maddening Inconsistency
Great wins get followed by bad losses
For the time being, basketball is played by humans and not robots, meaning results won’t always be perfectly predictable. This is different than, say, golf or baseball. Furthermore, when basketball is played by kids between ages 17 and 24, it gets even more crazy.
Nonetheless, it’s fair for most fans to have an expectation what will happen going into most games, and it’s also fair to expect the result to be somewhat close to that expectation most of the time. When an unranked team plays a ranked team, particularly on the road, the unranked team is supposed to lose. When an unranked team plays the number one team in the nation, the number one team should win. When a team beats two of the top 10 teams in the nation in consecutive games, you expect them to win their next two games against unranked opponents.
Marquette is proving a willingness to defy all expectations — for better and worse. This was good when it beat Creighton in Omaha and stunned Villanova at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. It wasn’t so good when Marquette couldn’t beat Providence at home, then proceeded to play garbage defense and sloppy offense against St. John’s last night, resulting in an 86-72 loss that was worse than the score.
Over the last two weeks, Marquette has developed the annoying habit of getting people’s hopes up, then destroying them. We said last week that the #FireWojo hashtag would probably be retired for the rest of the season after the Villanova win. Instead, not only were folks again starting to call out Steve Wojciechowski following a loss that marked a bigger letdown than the one preceding it, “Fire Wojo” became an account of its own.
Defense represents the alpha and omega of Marquette’s 2016-17 struggles. It took a late drought on St. John’s part for the Red Storm’s field goal percentage to dip beneath 50 percent, where it stood most of the night. Marquette entered last night’s game ninth in points allowed per game among the ten teams in BIG EAST play, and despite having the league’s highest-scoring offense, it lost to the only team with a statistically worse defense than itself. This goes beyond stats, though. At least St. John’s was hustling all over the floor last night, deflecting passes, knocking away dribbles and more, making it look like their defensive woes were merely a product of their breakneck-speed offense. St. John’s looked far better prepared than Marquette. Maybe it was a one-off effort, but the Johnnies showed heart.
Granted, Marquette sometimes can overcome its defensive struggles by simply outshooting its opponent, like it did in its 102-94 win over Creighton. But this is where Marquette’s inconsistency really starts to rear its ugly head. No one Marquette player seems reliable enough to count on any given night. Katin Reinhardt came up huge in Marquette’s ranked-opponent victories, but has been largely shut down ever since, including at the end of the Providence game. Andrew Rowsey has tried to pick up the slack in the last couple games, but is decidedly off-and-on. Markus Howard got off to a lightning quick start against Butler, but got in foul trouble and didn’t score versus Villanova and has been held under 15 points the last two games. Jujuan Johnson put up 18 points in the Creighton victory, but scored just four last night. And we haven’t even touched on perhaps the most important player for Marquette, Luke Fischer, as he forces teams to think about defending both inside and outside when he’s playing well. Fischer came up big with 18 points at Creighton and 15 versus the Wildcats, but has gone back to being the iffy presence from the start of the BIG EAST season over the last couple contests. Here’s a mess of a chart that shows the spaghetti-string pattern of Marquette’s top eight scorers and their trends over the last five games. (The St. John’s score doesn’t add up to Marquette’s final total because Matt Heldt isn’t listed, but scored four points after going scoreless the previous four games.)
Evaluating who does or doesn’t have the hot hand has become a less-than-fun sport for Wojciechowski. Note that Reinhardt got the ball at the end against the Friars, though Rowsey had the hot hand that night. It’s tough to gauge where the trends are going with this group at any point.
How much all of it – the play-calling, the consistency, all of it – falls on Wojciechowski’s shoulders is a good question. Given the speed of the game last night, I’m not sure there’s a lot he could do about that. What he could have done was reminded his team to at least be a little more active in terms of protecting the ball and creating better passing angles on offense, as well as remembering to communicate on defense and not totally abandon players on the opposite block when coming over to help on ball. Again, the Red Storm looked much more prepared for what Marquette did than the other way around, which hasn’t been a common story for St. John’s under Chris Mullen.
It almost seems pointless to try to come up with explanations or potential answers beyond what we’ve already put through the ringer this week. We know both how good, and bad, Marquette is capable of being. It’s frustrating for fans to feel like every game, and the rest of the season, is a roll of the dice, particularly with the team mostly healthy. At some point, no one knows what’s going on or why. Confusion isn’t fun or ideal and gets frustrating after a while. All fans can do is commiserate, empathize and hold on tight for the next one.
FROM RUSH TO FLUSH: After last night’s game, I noted the mood of Marquette fans on Twitter. Yes, fans on Twitter are fickle, but we also said that it was hard to picture them out of the bracket after beating Villanova. Now, the general consensus is that Marquette is back on the bubble after moving back to .500 in BIG EAST play and losing consecutive games it theoretically should have won. Without any semblance of a sense of what to expect going forward, that seems about right, even with Marquette’s signature wins. There still feels like a chance MU, if it can’t right the ship often enough going forward, could still end up 9-9 or even 8-10 in BIG EAST play, which might not be NCAA-worthy.
Every game is still big, but when you’re a team as shaky as Marquette can be, you add worrying about your own troops as much as you do your opponent. Anxiety, anyone?
DISGRACEFUL: One of the blog’s most loyal readers has been Dave DeGrace, a former AP writer who has also been a part of Marquette’s decidedly veteran stat-keeping team for home games. DeGrace pointed out I was wrong on two accounts last week — both that Heldt wasn’t on the floor at the end of the game (I mistook Hauser for him) and that it wasn’t the table, but the referees with their Precision Time device that allows them to start the clock. From misspelling Dwyane Wade’s name to the occasional miswording, goodness knows I’m not perfect here. Please contact a sales rep with iHeartMedia Milwaukee if you’d like to sponsor an editor for this blog. I’d appreciate it.
ON THE HORIZON: I will be in Rosemont, Ill. Saturday at 1 p.m. to personally witness however well or poorly Marquette decides to play against a DePaul team it trounced in Milwaukee, then gets another shot at Butler at the Bradley Center on Tuesday at 8 p.m. Your guess is as good as mine as to what will happen at this point.