While watching Marquette Golden Eagles games this year, a startling trend jumped out to me: the team has frustrating starts. Game after game the team would be down early. I ran some numbers to see if they would back up this concern and they did.
In the first 10 minutes of games this season, Marquette’s +/- is +16. While this number might not seem that bad, if you look at games against major conference teams (Indiana, Kansas, Louisville, Kansas State, Wisconsin, Buffalo and in Big East play), the team is a disappointing -30 in the first ten minutes.
Marquette has only led after ten minutes in five of fourteen major games with only one of those leads being greater than three points (at home vs. the Xavier Musketeers). While slow starts against Indiana (-9) and St. John’s (-5) were too much to overcome, Marquette is 7-2 in all games they’ve been down after 10 minutes. So what spurts of the game does Marquette excel?
I decided to calculate Marquette’s +/- for the rest of the game. In the second ten minutes of the first half, Marquette is +100 in all games and +41 in the 14 major games. In the first 10 minutes of the second half, Marquette is a lowly +6/-22. And in the final 10 minutes of the second half, Marquette is +84/+43.
As you can see, Marquette doesn’t just struggle early in the game, they struggle early in the second half as well. As the data depicts, even more than they struggle to start both halves, they excel to finish both halves. But why?
Struggling to Start Halves
Coaching Game Plan
Whether it be a period of few days or the halftime break, coaches have time to develop a gameplan for their opponent before each half. These gameplans are have a higher emphasis to start halves and lose emphasis as game’s play out. If a game plan is poor or worse than the opponent’s, the opponent can take advantage early.
The idea that Steve Wojciechowski is a poor gameplanner is tough to make a case for. Whether you believe Wojo’s gameplans are lackluster or not, you can’t prove it unless you have access to them and can then prove they’re ineffective. While there may be truth to idea that Wojo is a poor planner, I don’t think it is the major proponent of Marquette’s slow starts.
A team that is consistently not properly warmed up to start a half of basketball will find themselves down early often. Whether by not having a pregame warmup that gets you game ready or needing a few minutes of gameplay before feeling comfortable with the speed of a game, some team and players find difficulty or an inability to properly warm up.
While believing top-tier college basketball teams struggle to warm up properly may be hard to believe, Marquette may be a team that just needs a change to their pregame routine. In Big East play, Marquette is shooting a combined 41.8 percent in the first 10 minutes of each half compared to 48.6 percent in the second ten minutes of each half. If Marquette found a new pregame routine that brought their shooting percentage in the first ten minutes up a few points, they could limit their poor starts; however, I don’t think it would solve all their early half woes.
Not Their Strength
Sometimes a team’s strengths make them better suited for success in the last 10 minutes of a half. I believe this the case for Marquette. Their struggles have less to do with what they do poorly, but what the do well.
Finishing Halves Strong
Most teams that excel in the back end of halves tend to have one crucial strength: free throw shooting. Obviously teams shoot more free throws in the second ten minutes of a half, where teams reach the bonus and double bonus, than the first.
While Marquette is 86th in the nation (4th in the Big East) in FT attempts per game, they take advantage of their opportunities. They sit at 7th in the NCAA (1st in the Big East) in FT% with a mark of 77.6 percent. The team is of course helped by their three main ball handlers, Markus Howard (91 percent), Sam Hauser (90.9 percent) and Joey Hauser (83.6 percent), all being excellent free throw shooters.
The second ten minutes of a half is where you have the full impact of a team’s rotation. Teams that excel at finishing halves are teams that have bench players who can make a positive impact.
We knew Marquette had depth coming into the season. Even after losing Greg Elliott, Marquette can go five deep off the bench. While the bench doesn’t add dynamic scoring threats, with no bench player averaging more than 6.0 points per game, it is full of players who know their role. The bench players don’t try to do too much, with Morrow being the only bench player averaging more than 1.5 FGA per game.
The bench is deep enough for Wojo to have full control over the rotation. If you aren’t playing up to the level he wants, you are quickly removed by someone who will. The ultimate example of Marquette’s depth is their game at Georgetown. With Morrow out before the game, the injury bug hit Marquette again when Howard went out after only playing three minutes. Brendan Bailey, Joseph Chartouny and Matt Heldt all played crucial minutes off the bench leading to a surprising victory.
A key component of teams that excel in the second ten minutes of a half, especially the second half, is having veteran players. Obviously every team wants the ball in their best players game throughout the entire game, but their is an even bigger emphasis on this when finishing halves.
Marquette may not been a senior laden team, with the only two seniors being Heldt and grad-transfer Chartouny, but their key players have plenty of experience. Three of Marquette’s starters and six of their ten main players are upperclassmen. Marquette’s two best players, Howard and Sam Hauser, are both juniors with who have started over 79 games and have both hit many clutch shots in big games. You can trust Howard and Sam to make big plays and know that they have the heart, character and desire to win. This is evidenced by Marquette’s 3-0 record in overtime.
While the start of Marquette games may be frustrating to to watch, their strengths will often give them an advantage in the back end of halves. Even if they find themselves down early in either half, free throw shooting, depth and experience will give Wojo’s squad opportunities to come back. Already with seven victories after overcoming deficits in the first 10 minutes, expect more wins to come in similar fashion.