An outsider’s recap of session one of the Big 12 Championship

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I am not going to pretend by any means I am an expert on Big 12 hoops. Growing up in the West Coast, it was primarily a diet of Pac-12 (then Pac-10) and WCC basketball, and if I got up early enough in the mornings, it would be Big East or Atlantic 10 basketball on ESPN (oh the Marcus Camby UMass, Ray Allen UConn, Allen Iverson Georgetown, and Kerry Kittles Villanova days). The Big 12 (or Big 8 in its prior existence)? Eh…I haven’t really cared or paid all that much attention to it. Kansas? I would have rather seen them upset in the tourney than win a national title (wasn’t the biggest Roy Williams guy). Texas? They were cool when they had Kevin Durant…I guess (I did see him play against a Nick Young-led USC team my sophomore year in college when the NCAA Tournament held games in Spokane; somehow, they played some of the most uninspired basketball ever; this Texas team was led by Durant and DJ Augustin and somehow they looked like a NIT team that day). Everybody else? Sans a brief love affair with a Frank Martin and Michael Beasley-led Kansas State team (mostly to combat Tyler Hansbrough apologists), I have developed an apathy for Big 12 hoops over my nearly 30 years of existence on this earth.

However, the past four years, I have lived in the heart of Big 12 country (Kansas City). No longer are UCLA, or USC, or Cal, or Gonzaga, or UW gear the norm, but rather Jayhawk, Wildcat, and Cyclone apparel instead. When people bring up Kirk Heinrich, and Nick Collison, and Georges Niang, they don’t highlight their middling careers as NBA bench players, but rather their hey-days as Midwestern college basketball legends. It’s been an adjustment. In some ways, I enjoy all the attention on college basketball from January-to-April (College football dominates November and December) that is for the most part ignored in the West Coast until conference tournament time. (The NBA is king in the West Coast, and with the Warriors, Lakers, Blazers, Kings, Clippers and Suns, can you blame them?)

On other occasions though, I find the adjustment to Midwestern D1 hoops difficult, as I find the average Big 12 basketball fan views basketball in the most “Gene Hackman-from-Hoosiers” fashion possible. Certain guys are loathed (Andrew Wiggins) while other guys lauded (Wayne Selden) because the average Big 12 fan mistakes supreme individual skills for “showboating,” or “declaring for the draft early” not as an “exceptional opportunity” but “as selfish.” (Yeah, I would play basketball for free and risk millions of dollars so I can eat at a campus cafeteria 5 days a week between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. too). Crappy, low-scoring, shitty shooting performances are seen not as “dogshit basketball” (like it should be), but “defensively driven, gritty contests”. And the NBA in the average Big 12 fans’ mind is seen as “boring” while a 54-52 game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State is characterized as “the right way to play the game.” (even if those teams shoot around 30 percent and each turn the ball over 20 times…but hey! Fundamentals, right? Whatever those fundamentals are.)

But I get it. The name on the front matters more than in the back, and that makes sense at any college, let alone Big 12 country. These people aren’t necessarily basketball addicts like myself, but just college sports fans, so I can understand the misinterpretations and heavy “college-is-better-than-the-NBA” bias (I certainly used to be that way for a period of time…than I graduated college). So, this year, instead of just hating the Big 12 like I have done most of my tenure here in Kansas City, I decided to see what Big 12 basketball really was all about, and what better way to do it than to go to the first session of the Big 12 Championship at the Sprint Center.

Pregame

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The Power and Light district is probably the biggest entertainment district in Kansas City. In most instances, it sucks. It feels very manufactured, and overly caters to a “just out of their fraternity and sorority” crowd. Everything tends to be overpriced, and ruckus usually happens because Mizzou frat boy can’t stand that his KState sorority girlfriend is talking to that KU dude from a rival frat. (Can you tell that I wasn’t in Greek life in college?) I feel like for a Friday night in Kansas City, there are way more authentic places to go to, especially off the strip in Westport (the main strip has become P&L lite), in the Crossroads or even the Strawberry Hill area of Kansas City, Kansas (though to be frank, those places are more for “hanging out” rather than “partying” or “clubbing” like P&L).

However, to it’s credit, the P&L exhibits the “Big 12 aura” of the Championship week. The main concourse area of the P&L is decked out with Big 12-basketball themed regalia, and legions of basketball fans are supporting their schools in appropriate colors. Whether it was Kansas, Iowa State, Kansas State, Texas, Texas Tech, etc. every patron that late afternoon in Power and Light with a beer or mixed drink in hand seemed to have some kind of vested interest in a particular school participating over the four-day affair. To be honest, I was impressed. I don’t think the WCC Tournament in Vegas or Pac-12 Tournament in Los Angeles would have that kind of school gear-to-fan ratio. At those tournaments, it would be common to see some NBA stuff or some other school stuff. But Wednesday evening? It was strictly Midwestern college apparel only. Nothing else allowed.

The downside of the pregame festivities? Prices. 14 dollars for a Blue Moon. Yeesh…I thought the cost of living was supposed to be less in the Midwest?

Game 1: TCU (8 seed) vs. Oklahoma (9 seed)

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After a Final Four appearance a year ago, this season has been the polar opposite for Lon Kruger and the Sooners. I knew the loss of Buddy Hield would hurt, but holy smokes…OU cannot shoot at all. In both halves, the Sooners got off to decent starts, using their length and size to get easy buckets around the paint. However, that all changed when Jamie Dixon got his TCU to switch to a 2-3 zone. Somehow, the Horned Frogs’ 2-3 chewed up the Sooners like a Kansas class 6 school chewing up a class 4A-II one on the high school boys basketball court. Because TCU took away the paint with their 2-3, the Sooners settled for mid-range jumper after mid-range jumper (the most inefficient shot in basketball…ask Marshall’s Dan D’Antoni). And one shot after another just clanked off the rim. And from beyond the arc, they weren’t much better, as they shot 4-18, good for 22.2 percent. There are many ways to beat a zone beyond shooting, of course (ball movement; smart screens; getting it in the middle; attacking the baseline, etc.). However, outside shooting is the easiest ways to exploit zone-defenses, and lacking the ability to shoot (as Oklahoma has displayed all year by their 47.4 effective field goal rate, which ranks 300th in the nation) made it that much harder for the Sooners to score buckets. Add that with the fact OU was careless with their skip passes (they turned it over 10 times), and it makes sense that they lost by nearly 20 in the 82-63 first round contest. Granted, this was a young and injured OU team, so expectations were low going into the tournament (even with a win over TCU, they had a date with Kansas in the next round; and at 11-19 going into the game, they weren’t going to any postseason whatsoever). Hence, judging from the body language of Kruger (Kruger didn’t even stand up from his seat until the first media timeout), the bench, the cheerleaders, band, and the fans decked in Sooner gear in the stands, it was obvious that they were just ready to get this miserable season over with.

TCU on the other hand, may have been the most impressive team of the night. Though they lost 7 straight to finish the year (hence, killing any at-large potential they may have had) and finished 17-16 and 6-12 in conference, this is a vastly improved TCU team from years past. And why? Dixon. I don’t think Dixon was given enough credit in his tenure at Pitt. He had them regularly competing for Big East championships and had them competitive in the ACC when they arrived, not easy to do considering the pedigree of the other programs in the conference (Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia, etc.). The biggest knock on Dixon was that he never made it to the Final Four, even though he had teams with enough talent to do so…allegedly. After all, how many Pitt Panthers that Dixon coached are playing in the NBA? Eh…not many (I can’t name any off the top of my head). That just goes to show you how Dixon maxed out their potential when they suited up for him in Pittsburgh.

The energy the Horned Frogs brought to the court in this Big 12 first round game proved to be impressive, and by the end of the first half, it was obvious that TCU had the Sooners whooped. TCU basically owned the Sooners on the little details: 50-50 balls, jumping the lanes on skips, energy off the bench. etc. Yes, this TCU team is probably hoping for a NIT berth (at best). But the attitude displayed on Wednesday night stemmed directly from coaching, and Dixon has this team playing with a moxie and a confidence that wasn’t really seen under Trent Edwards. (Then again, Edwards was a horrifically overrated coach; he had one good year at Nevada where he upset a Gonzaga team that probably was over-seeded and he had a couple of good years when he had the Lopez twins at Stanford; other than that though, his teams at Stanford, LSU and TCU have been crap, and I’m surprised he lasted as long at TCU as he did).

But while Dixon deserves credit, make no mistake, this TCU team is talented. I haven’t watched a lot of them this year (well…to be honest, not at all, because I watch a combo of NBA, Euroleague and WCC primarily), but they certainly are a team capable of playing above their seed and record. Though inconsistent, Jaylen Fisher is a talented floor leader who can go off when he’s feeling it, both with his strong dribble drive as well as his pull-up jumper (though he really wasn’t on tonight, as evidenced by his 90 offensive rating for the game, highlighted by 3-of-12 shooting overall). Slovakian center Vladimir Brodziansky, certainly lived up to All-Big 12 honors hype, as he went for 20-6 on 10-of-13 shooting from the field, dominating the Sooners bigs with a trio of strength, soft touch around the rim and footwork in the block. Considering my affinity for European players in college, the NBA and abroad, I was surprised Brodziansky had been off my radar for so long. He absolutely made mince meat of the Sooners, and I look forward to his matchup with Landen Lucas of Kansas Thursday.

However, one of the biggest stars of the game proved to be Kenrich Williams, KenPom’s MVP for the game with an offensive rating of 140 on only a usage rate of 21 percent. Williams went for 19 and 9 on 8 of 10 shooting from the field, including 2 of 4 from beyond the arc. He also had 3 steals (initiating the Horned Frogs fast break off lazy skip passes by the Sooners) and 3 assists as well. While talking with a couple of KU fans during the Texas-TTU game, he seemed to be a focus point, especially considering Josh Jackson is suspended for the first game, and it is debated whether anyone else on the Jayhawks will be able to step up in response to that defensive assignment on Williams.

While the Jayhawks will be able to weather Brodziansky with Lucas and Fisher with Mason, it will be interesting to see who Bill Self will match up on Williams with Jackson out. While the Jayhawks should be heavy favorites, another big game by Williams could make this 1-8 second round Big 12 Championship game a lot closer than expected, and in single-elimination competitions like the Big 12 Championship “closer than expected” can lead to an upset if the chips fall right (bad shooting night from the Jayhawks, foul trouble, etc.)

Game 2: Texas Tech (7 seed) vs. Texas (10 seed)

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I was looking forward to this game more than the TCU-OU contest because I had a strong interest in both of the coaches. I have always had an affinity for Shaka Smart back to his VCU days: he’s a fiery coach, and I loved the “Havoc” style they put on teams on a nightly basis. As for Tech, while I know what Chris Beard did at Little Rock and currently at Texas Tech, I was interested to see what his teams looked like? Were they scrappy? Were they tough? Could they handle the athleticism and size of Texas? Were they like his Little Rock team last year or a whole different animal all together?

That being said, at the end of the game, I came away disappointed in both teams. Now, that’s not to say I think any less of the coaches. I think they are excellent in their profession, and it’s difficult to do consistent damage in a conference like the Big 12 where there are so many accomplished coaches (seriously, Oklahoma State and TCU lost Travis Ford and Edwards and replaced them with Brad Underwood and Dixon, respectively…that’s like upgrading from a Honda Civic to a BMW Z4). However, it was obvious after Wednesday’s night games that they still have a long way to go and some adjustments to make if they want to really challenge the league’s upper half of Kansas, Iowa State, West Virginia and Baylor.

At the start, it looked like Tech was going to make this a blowout. They got off to a 23-11 lead, and the Red Raiders just seemed to out-hustle the more highly-recruited Longhorns. McDonald’s All-American Jarrett Allen kept getting pushed around on the block like a timid high school kid, and the Longhorns kept settling for crappy, contested shots. Furthermore, Tech pounced after loose balls in the first half, as well as 50-50 balls on the offensive glass. The “Havoc” I expected to see from Smart’s Texas team was non-existent in the first 20 minutes. They didn’t communicate on defense. They didn’t play together. They didn’t press. It was as if Rick Barnes was still coaching the Longhorns, not the plucky Energizer bunny who led a Mid-Major team to the Final Four. My thinking midway through the first half was “Hey, maybe Tech can make a run and get that at-large tourney berth after all, especially if they carry this momentum into the West Virginia game next round.”

But after the Longhorns got a tip in at the buzzer of the first half to make it 26-20, things changed. Tech seemed less cohesive on offense. Texas turned up the pressure on defense, throwing full court and half court presses that were non-existent in the first half. While Tech in the first half looked like the team desperate to keep their season alive, it was the Longhorns in the second half that had taken that mantle. Make no mistake: this was not a good basketball game, and the Longhorns, though they won 61-52, did not play well at all. They scored 1.00 per possession this game (compared to Tech’s 0.85 mark), but that spiked up at the end during a frantic 28-10 run during the last quarter (i.e. 10 minutes) of play. They only shot 5-23 from beyond the arc, but they started the game 1-of-13 or 1-of-14 (I’m too lazy to check; either way, it was shit). And Allen, who did receive All-Big 12 honors and scored 10 points, did so on 2 of 9 shooting with only 3 rebounds. The Longhorns certainly have potential, and when they’re clicking, they show glimpses of the team that had so much promise in the preseason. But to think they got a shot against West Virginia? Neigh way, Jose.

As for Tech, I wondered if something happened that just sapped their energy and momentum. At the end of the first half, I noticed a player went down hard at the buzzer, and that appeared to be a sign of things to come. Tech looked slower, which is not surprising considering they play one of the slowest paces in the nation (they rank 328th in pace). But slow can be a good thing if a team is crisp and clicking in the half court and making teams work. However, more often than not in the second half, it proved to be the opposite. It was a bit sad to see, because there were definitely more Tech fans in the building, and it’s always nice to see obnoxious Longhorns fans be put in their place, no matter what the sport. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t the Red Raiders’ half and hence, night. They couldn’t handle the Longhorns’ speed and athleticism, and that will be a major building block for Beard this off-season: getting his team bigger and faster to match up better with the big boys of the Big 12.

Postgame

I hopped on the streetcar at the station across from the P&L around 10’ish, when the game finished. It was packed like a New York subway train during Friday morning rush hour, but it was worth the inconvenience, as I had to take it back to Union Station to pick up my car (I parked in that area to avoid the expensive parking; I’ll take 5 buck parking over 30 any day). Most of the conversations i overheard stemmed on how Kansas would fare against TCU. Most were pretty positive, most felt confident, though the questions surrounding the loss of Jackson for the first game certainly came up on occasion in the sardine-crammed car more than once.

Kansas City probably will never get a NBA team (again) in my lifetime. I won’t be able to afford tickets for the remainder of games this week, but I do hope one day to get session tickets for the first two days of the tournament, mainly because I’m a basketball junkie and spending dozens of hours watching hoops is heaven to me.

Is the Big 12 Championship a hoops heaven? Maybe not mine exactly. I don’t really understand the Big 12 like some fans in this area. Basketball is different for me than it is for them. I associate Keith Langford more with UNICS Kazan or Paul Pierce with the Celtics than the Jayhawks, and I understand that’s sacrilege in these parts. It’s why the Big 12 Championship won’t be the kind of hoops heaven for me as it is for someone who went to school in Lawrence or Manhattan or Ames, Iowa.

But it IS a kind of hoops heaven, and that’s worth experiencing, especially when its in the city that you live in.

Just make sure you come with a lot of cash.

 

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The Glorious All-Offense, Little-Defense Approach of Marquette

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At 19-11 and 10-8 in the Big East, there is no guarantee Marquette will be dancing come Selection Sunday. While they do carry big wins over Villanova, season sweeps of Big East foes Xavier and Creighton, and “better-than-you-think” non-conference wins over Vanderbilt and Georgia early in the season, there are some blemishes on their resume. Losses to Georgetown and St. John’s would have been okay maybe a decade ago, but considering how far those programs have fallen, they have become more of a liability to their tournament chances than a liability. Add that with shaky RPI (59) and SOS (68) numbers, and it makes sense why many Marquette fans and alums may be sweating a bit next Sunday, unless they make a deep run in the Big East tournament this upcoming week (an appearance in the championship game “should” seal it; a win would definitely do so).

However, the Golden Eagles, whether or not they make tourney (they should; Joe Lunardi has them as a last four-in and a 10 seed in his current bracket prediction), have experienced a bit of a renaissance under third year head coach and former “Dookie” Steve Wojciechowski (who will be referred to as “Wojo” from here on out). The Jesuit, Milwaukee-based school has not made the tournament since 2013, Buzz Williams’ second-to-last season before he bolted to Virginia Tech. While Marquette has still been able to stay in the realm of respectability in the Big East (unlike Georgetown or St. John’s, who have fallen off cliffs in that time span), the lack of tournament appearances, and the resurgence of in-state rival Wisconsin, who nearly won a national title in 2015, has not helped the profile of the storied basketball program. Remember, this is a program that not only has won a national title and been to the Final Four, but also has produced bon-a-fide NBA stars currently such as Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler, and Jae Crowder, just to name a few. Marquette, without a football program and located in the heart of the city in Milwaukee, should have the kind of imprint in the Midwest that Gonzaga has in the West Coast.

And thus, it is understandable that the administration not only tabbed Wojo as Buzz’s replacement, but also why Wojo left his seat as the right-hand man to Coach K at Duke. Unlike colleagues who left for major rebuilding jobs (like Chris Collins to Northwestern) or semi-rebuilding jobs (like Johnny Dawkins to Stanford, where he flamed out), Marquette is a powder keg of potential, and one can see how the move would benefit Wojo in the future. A Final Four and perhaps national title would seal the deal for him as Coach K’s successor (he has always been seen as thus, and many felt he left the bench simply to get head coaching experience). On the flip side though, the program is big enough and prestige enough that if he were to achieve consistent success, he could stay long-term and enter the pantheon of Big East coaching legends such as John Thompson, Jr., Jim Boeheim, and Lou Carnesecca, just to name a few.

Of course, being a “Big East coaching legend” wasn’t enough for Williams, who left for the ACC after five 20-plus win seasons, not to mention tournament berths (also add an elite eight and two sweet 16 appearances to that resume). So, considering Wojo’s Duke ties and his considerable time as an assistant on Tobacco Road, it may be foolheartedly to believe that Wojo will fill in McGuire’s shoes in Milwaukee.

Despite the murky long-term future, that doesn’t mean Wojo and the Golden Eagles haven’t been a remarkable and worthy team to pay attention to heading into the Big East tournament (and hopefully the NCAA one as well).


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Williams certainly achieved his fair share of success at Marquette. One doesn’t lead his team to at least the Sweet 16 three years in a row without being a good coach, if not one of the nation’s 25 best, perhaps. However, if there was one knock on Williams’ teams, it was that they typically played the kind of basketball that college basketball haters tend to point to: grind-it-out, physical, messy affairs that produced wins and success, but didn’t necessarily win style points or affinity from the general basketball fan, especially those who tend to favor the NBA’s more wide-open game (much like myself). His team only ranked within the Top-100 in fastest pace twice (2012, and 2009, his first season), and in his last three years, ranked 126th, 112th, and 210th in effective field goal rate. Add that with a lack of usage of the three point shot (in his last four years, they only ranked under the 300 mark once in 3-point field goal attempts, and that mark was 257th), and while Marquette fans miss Buzz’s energy and postseason success, the same can’t be said of his archaic on-court approach, especially on the offensive end.

Flash forward three seasons later, and Wojo has Marquette playing a different kind of ball. According to Ken Pomeroy, the Golden Eagles (who rank 28th overall in his rankings) rank 8th in adjusted offensive efficiency, 5th in effective field goal rate, 1st in three-point percentage, 19th in points coming from three-pointers, 57th in assists to field goals made, 72nd in 3-pointers to field goal attempts, 75th in average possession rate, and 78th in adjusted tempo. In other words, Wojo has transformed the Eagles into a run-and-gun, three-point bombing squad, the antithesis of the “Royal Rumble” affairs commonly seen in the Buzz-era.

Of course, this transition didn’t necessarily come immediately. In years 1 and 2, Wojo seemed similar to his predecessor. Last season, though they played an up-tempo style, he leaned on his post players, especially Henry Ellenson, who averaged 17.8 ppg and 9.7 rpg and was selected in the NBA Draft after one season. They ranked 286th in 3-pt attempt percentage and compounded that with a 33.9 3-pt percentage, 210th in the nation. Though the record was respectable (20-13 and 8-10 in the Big East), the Golden Eagles’ lack of a threat from the perimeter proved to be a major problem in achieving consistent success, especially considering their 106.9 points per 100 possessions rating, which was 116th best in the nation last year.

What is amazing about this Golden Eagles team this year though is they haven’t done much else different. Last year, they played up-tempo, got off quick shots, and passed around the ball well on the offensive end. That still is proving to be true in 2017. The main difference though? The Golden Eagles are shooting way more fucking three pointers, and not only are they shooting more, but they are shooting straight up fire as well.

Freshman Markus Howard is shooting an insane 55.1 percent from beyond the arc on 138 three-point attempts. Junior point guard Andrew Rowsey is shooting 45.5 percent on a 143 attempts from beyond the arc. Small ball four Sam Hauser is shooting 44.7 percent on 132 attempts. And senior Katin Reinhardt is shooting 38.3 percent on a 141 attempts. Average those together, and those four combined shooting percentage is 45.9 percent on an average of 138.5 3-pt attempts. Last season, only two players shot more than 100 three pointers: Ellenson, who shot 104 and shot a paltry 28.8 percent and then-sophomore Duane Wilson, who shot 156 3-pt attempts at a 34.6 percent clip (Wilson has seen his role diminished this season, as he has only attempted 46 3-pointers this year).

The emphasis on shots beyond the arc has helped, especially as of late, as the Golden Eagles closed out their Big East campaign with two big wins over Xavier on the road and Creighton at home. They scored 95 and 91 points, respectively, and the three-point shot was a big reason why. As you can see in the video below, their ability to move the ball and create open 3-point looks has been a crucial element to Marquette’s improved success on the overall offensive end. Big man Luke Fischer, while not the NBA prospect that Ellenson was, has been a key cog in opening up shots beyond the arc, as his ability to finish around the rim at a high rate (65.3 effective field goal rate) puts defenses in dilemmas. Focus on him, and you give up open looks. Let him go one on one in the block, and Fischer is going to get his. For most teams, how to game plan Fischer and the Marquette offense can be a lose-lose situation, and Xavier and Creighton were two victims of that this past week.


If there is one major achilles heel for this Marquette squad, it focuses squarely on the defensive end. Unlike his predecessor or in his first couple of years, the defensive rating of this year’s Marquette squad (102.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) is severely behind the offensive end in terms of ranking. The Golden Eagles ranked 132nd in defensive efficiency, much worse than the 88th ranking and 69th rankings in Wojo’s first two years in Milwaukee. The numbers appear a lot worse when one compares the defensive rating of this year’s squad to any in Buzz’s tenure, as the worst year he had with a team was in 2011, when they ranked 66th in defensive rating.

The massive difference between offensive and defensive ranking (in this case, a difference of 124 spots), has been an indicator of teams who get upset in the tournament. In 2014, Duke lost in the NCAA Tournament first round to Mercer, despite having the top offense in the nation according to adjusted offensive rating. Defense? They ranked 87th. In 2012, Missouri was 30-4 and fresh off a Big 12 Tournament championship. They had the top adjusted offensive rating in the country at 122.4 points per 100 possessions. However, they lost in the first round in a historic 2-15 upset to Norfolk State. Missouri’s defensive rating? Ranked 112th in the nation.

So, is Marquette a Final Four dark horse? Well, according to the numbers, it is unlikely. But should they be considered team that can do damage in the Tournament despite their defensive issues? Absolutely.

Marquette’s defensive issues and difference from the Buzz era in my mind stem from two issues: 1.) they don’t have the defensive talent as in years past and 2.) they switch up defenses a lot, putting more emphasis on taking risks to generate turnovers rather than get traditional stops.

In terms of the first issue, the reality of recruiting in college basketball is this: you always are going to have to give something up unless you’re a Duke, Kansas or UNC. Under Buzz, he went after athletes and defensive stoppers to fit into his system. Unfortunately, while they had defensive skills and elite athleticism, they were often unpolished on the offensive end when they arrived, and it was a growing process to get them to be at least average by the end of their college tenures. Even Butler and Crowder took a couple of years in the NBA before they became good offensive players.

Wojo on the other end has gone the opposite route. Instead of recruiting defensive-minded athletes, he has gone with more polished players, especially on the shooting end. The plus? The offensive efficiency and shooting has improved dramatically. The negative? They don’t have the kind of athleticism or size to matchup defensively like Marquette squads during the Buzz era.

Which leads to the second point: in order to mask these defensive issues, Wojo mixes it up a lot on the defensive end. It is quite common to see Marquette switch between different zone looks as well as man-to-man to make up for their lack of overall size (they rank 192nd in the nation in overall height) and athleticism. The reliance of different looks (the strategy of “quantity” perhaps rather than “quality” when it comes to defensive strategy) has led to defensive breakdowns easy buckets at times, which you will see in the highlights below from their game against Villanova, where Marquette got burned on occasion by a crisp passing, quick Villanova team. The numbers highlight the Golden Eagles’ lapses on defense: they rank 237 in effective field goal percentage allowed, 272nd in 3 point percentage allowed, and 220th in 2-pt percentage allowed.

But, as mediocre as the defensive numbers look, the strategy pays off in one way: steals. The Golden Eagles’ steal rate ranks 43rd in the nation, and is a big reason why their defense stays average instead of horrible, like all their other metrics suggest. Marquette likes to get live ball turnovers, push things in the full court, and get quick shots off these changes in possession, which are often 3-pointers. It’s an interesting strategy, because when the emphasis on stealing the ball pays off (like it did against Creighton when they got 10 steals in their regular season finale), it can lead to big scores and wins, because it makes up for the mismatches Marquette often gives up against bigger or more athletic teams. When it doesn’t, it can lead to some of the let down losses they have had this year such as being swept by Providence and losing to St. John’s at MSG.

Year three under Wojo could be seen as a satisfying season for Marquette fans, alums and admin alike. Barring a first round upset in the Big East tourney, and some other weird things going on in other conference tourney, Marquette should at least make the tournament as a first four. Irregardless of the tournament appearance though, the turnaround in playing style has been something to behold in Milwaukee. Wojo has brought a fast, exciting brand of basketball, and considering the stiff competition from the Badgers in Madison and the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, the kind of interest Marquette is generating is nothing to shrug at. Add that with the fact that this team is young (193rd in the nation in experience), and it further shows the progress that Wojo had made with a Golden Eagles program that went through a bit of a lull for a couple of years after Buzz left Milwaukee for Blacksburg.

Now, how long Wojo will stay at Marquette? Who knows. I guess that depends on Coach K. But let’s enjoy this three-point heavy, fast-paced, high-risk defensive style of play in upper Midwest for as long as we can.