Men’s basketball notes: Off-ball defense cause for concern

Head+coach+Steve+Wojciechowski+saw+reasons+for+both+optimism+and+concern+in+Marquette%27s+loss+to+Villanova.

Photo by Austin Anderson

Head coach Steve Wojciechowski saw reasons for both optimism and concern in Marquette's loss to Villanova.

Despite increased contributions from redshirt sophomore Sacar Anim and freshman Greg Elliott Saturday night, Marquette fell to the No. 3 Villanova Wildcats. The loss was largely because of Marquette’s off-ball defense, which allowed for easy baskets and open opportunities that ultimately put the game away.

OFF-BALL DEFENSE COULDN’T RESPOND TO BRUNSON

Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski had plenty to be displeased with in the 100-90 loss, especially the team’s off-ball defense. “We gave up way too many layups. A lot of them came because the guys off the ball fell asleep,” Wojo said.

With talented Villanova point guard Jalen Brunson running the offense and a lineup full of players that could get to the hoop, the Wildcatrs attracted a lot of attention to whichever player was handling the ball. That left the lane and the baseline open, which meant all the dribbler had to do to assure a basket was make the right pass.

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Villanova’s exemplary 3-point shooting also contributed to the Wildcats’ unimpeded off-ball movement. Nova shot 50 percent on 3-pointers in the first half and while their shooters cooled off to 40.9 percent by game’s end, the early shooting performance was enough to make Marquette’s defenders creep an extra step toward the perimeter. That cleared the way for more cuts to the basket.

“The amount of points they got by sending guys on strong cuts off the ball were entirely too high,” Wojo said.

While Wojo was quick to admit his own team’s flaws, he also gave credit to Villanova for being a “great cutting team.”

“When you have a kid like Brunson who’s so unselfish, (the other players) know that if they cut, they’re going to get the ball,” Wojo said. “It makes guys more likely to cut (to the basket).”

Villanova head coach Jay Wright was just as lavish in his praise for Brunson. “We do have a point guard like Jay (Brunson) that controls the game,” Wright said. “That’s really valuable.”

CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM

Normally, a 10-point loss wouldn’t leave players and coaches feeling positive.

This one was different. Marquette competed with the reigning conference champions on the road and came within five points in the final minute. KenPom, a prominent college basketball analytics site, actually moved Marquette up three spots in its rankings from 49 to 46, an equivalent jump to when the Golden Eagles defeated Providence on the road last Wednesday.

Wojo was especially optimistic about how Marquette played at the end. “I thought the kids who came in the game for the last 10 minutes of the game really competed,” Wojo said. “We’re a pretty good team that has a lot of room for improvement.”

Sophomore guard Markus Howard felt like the team was “figuring out” Villanova toward the end of the game. Although the changes occurred too late to have any bearing on the outcome, Howard is optimistic they’ll be useful when Marquette plays the Wildcats at home January 28.

“We definitely were adjusting better to our press defense and rotating back to our matchups,” Howard said. “I thought defensively we were adjusting a lot better in the second half.”

 

 

CHILLY PHILLY

Outside the Wells Fargo Center, fans in heavy winter coats rushed inside, eager to escape single-digit temperatures for what the perceived warmth of the Wells Fargo Center.

The inside was not as warm as fans might have hoped. Since the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team played an afternoon game that finished just hours prior to tipoff, the temperature in the stadium was only 58 degrees, per Marquette basketball’s Twitter account.

(For context, the typical temperature inside the Staples Center in Los Angeles for a Lakers game is roughly 75 degrees.)

Howard said the brisk conditions didn’t impact the game. “It’s just like (the movie) Hoosiers; measure the hoop and it’s the same 10 feet as it is at the Bradley Center,” Howard said. “Nothing really changed.”