Last season, the Marquette college basketball team hit a roadblock, as they were the first victory on North Carolina’s Final Four run. Coming into the season, the Marquette basketball team’s biggest worry was who would provide the scoring.
The Golden Eagles had 30.4 points per game of production leave the school, as the top two leading scorers (Justin Lewis and Darryl Morsell) left. With the lack of experienced scoring and a projected difficult Big East, Marquette looked like it could miss the NCAA Tournament this year.
That is certainly not the case, as Marquette currently sits at 22-6 with the lead in the conference. Marquette is currently projected to be a four-seed in the NCAA Tournament, as they are in the position to win their first Big East regular season title since the 2012-13 season.
Why Marquette Basketball Can Win a College Basketball Championship
Marquette Has a Top-3 Offense in College Basketball
According to KenPom Rankings, Marquette currently has the third-ranked Adjusted Offense Efficiency in the country. That means that for every 100 possessions, Marquette scores the third-most amount of points in the country (120.3). Only Gonzaga and Baylor are higher. The good thing for the Golden Eagles is that it is just more than one or two players who are scoring. In fact, Marquette features five players who average 9.5 points or more. The leading scorer on the team is sophomore Kam Jones, who puts up 15 points per game on 46% shooting from the field. Jones is joined in scoring double figures by Olivier-Maxence Prosper, Tyler Kolek and Oso Ighadaro at 12.6, 11.9 and 11.9, respectively.
As a team, Marquette shoots 49.4% from the field and 35.1% from three-point range. Led by Kolek, Marquette ranks seventh in the country in assists per game (17.5). Kolek is tied for second in the country with Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell at 7.6. It is clear that Kolek is one of the better guards in the country, only turning the ball over twice per game.
In total, Marquette scores 80.5 points per game, good for 20th in the country.
Marquette Basketball is Battle-Tested
Collectively, the Big East has played the best basketball outside of the Big 12 this year. Almost every team in the conference is a threat. Okay, maybe not Georgetown, DePaul and Butler, but you get my point. With the Big East basketball schedule, Marquette has beat (#6) UConn, (#22) Providence, (#16) Xavier and (#19) Creighton. The school’s best win came when Marquette beat sixth-ranked Baylor by 26 points in November. In the game, potential lottery pick Keyonte George was held to just 12 points on 5/12 shooting.
In terms of strength of schedule, KenPom Rankings say that Marquette sits at 28th in the country. The old adage is that it is hard to trust a team who has played weak opponents. That is not the case here, as the Marquette college basketball team has oftentimes played and beat ranked teams, giving them perfect experience for the NCAA Tournament.
Shaka Smart is Still Coaching Marquette Basketball
As the great Jon Rothstein would say, “Shaka Smart. Reincarnation.” After an odd tenure in Texas, Smart is back to being one of the top coaches in the game today. Since he has been with the Marquette basketball team, Smart has a 41-19 record and has reinvented the Golden Eagle’s defense.
Much like his awesome teams at VCU, Smart has figured out how to use Marquette’s athleticism to dismantle teams. From 2010-16 at both VCU and Texas, Smart went to six straight NCAA Tournaments, including his famous Final Four run.
Just like Bob Huggins’ or Leonard Hamilton’s teams at West Virginia and Florida State, Smart employs a high-pressure defense, relying on turnovers and steals. While an effective strategy, both West Virginia and Leonard Hamilton often find their best players burning out in the tournament. I’m not so sure that trend continues with Marquette, as I had mentioned that five players contributed heavily to scoring. With five players having the ability to bail a team out, it seems likely that Marquette should be able to outlast almost any team in the country.