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Can Marquette overcome their Achilles Heel?

Brooks Conrad ponders what lies ahead for the Golden Eagles and their most glaring weakness.

Is there any secret what Marquette’s biggest weakness is? I didn’t think so, but a recent Bleacher Report article lists their Achilles Heel to be their depth. While surprised to see this, they claimed that Marquette is “not well stacked behind Markus Howard.” After reading that, I knew this person had not watched much Marquette basketball this season. Yes the team relies on Howard heavily, but I think this statement undermines the abilities of Sam and Joey Hauser, Sacar Anim, Theo John who have all stepped up this year.

So if not depth, what is Marquette’s Achilles Heel? One weakness is apparent when watching the team and looking at the numbers: turnovers. Marquette ranks 243rd in the nation with 13.8 turnovers per game. Even worse, this number is trending in the wrong direction as they have averaged 15.7 TPG in their last 3 games (15, 14, 18).

Sometimes you can blame turning the ball over often on having an aggressive offense. Marquette cannot make this excuse. The past two seasons they were aggressive offensively and still managed to rank over 100 spots better nationally each year averaging 12.4 and 12.3 TPG.

Marquette’s issue is that they have too many bad turnovers. Too often they make bad passes and bad decisions. Bad turnovers are incredibly frustrating. They waste possessions, can kill momentum and can lead to easy scoring opportunities for the opposition.

Are turnovers that big of a deal?

Despite the turnover problem, Marquette ranks 43rd in PPG (78.3) and sits at 19th in KenPom’s AdjOE rankings (how many points a team would score in 100 possessions vs an average defense). But where could they be if they didn’t turn the ball over so much? Marquette has more turnovers than all the other 19 teams in KenPom’s Top 20. Purdue, a team Marquette compares favorably to, is fifth in the AdjOE rankings while averaging only 10.8 TPG.

While Marquette may not be viewed as a lock for the Final Four, they are seen as a team with the potential for a deep run come March. The average TPG for teams that make deep runs in the tournament raises concern for Marquette’s hopes. Over the past five seasons, the average TPG for teams reaching the Elite Eight is 11.2, Final Four is 11.06 and Championship Game is 10.7. Over the last five years no team averaging more than 13.0 TPG has reached the Elite 8.

Can they improve?

There isn’t much time left this season, but if Marquette is going to improve their turnover numbers, it starts with Howard. He handles the ball a lot. His 36.5 Usage% ranks 5th in the nation. But of the Top 10 players in Usage %, he ranks 2nd in TO% (15.9) and TPG (3.9, which ranks 17th highest amongst all players). What would help him the most would be someone who would allow him to play off the ball more often.

The best options for that solution, Koby McEwen and Greg Elliott, are sitting out this season, and if Wojo viewed Joseph Chartouny as a reliable solution his playing time would have increased already. Without help on the way, Howard will have to rely on self-improvement. The positive aspect about many of his turnovers being bad turnovers is that they are easier to correct (if you are a smart player, which Howard is).

Chartouny (34.8%), John (20.5%) and Joey Hauser (20%) all rank top 15 in highest TO% in the Big East. While Chartouny and John’s playing time remains too inconsistent, the player who’s improvement could make the biggest impact would be Joey. While many aspects of the freshman’s game look mature, his passing does not. Joey, like Howard, suffers from making too many bad turnovers. If Joey could place an emphasis on improving his passing and making smarter decisions, I think his TO% could easily go from one of the worst in the Big East to one of the best, like his brother who has the 8th lowest TO% (9.8) in the conference.

The deeper we get into the season, the more important every possession becomes. As each possession becomes more crucial, each turnover becomes more detrimental. Marquette has 9 such games this season where they have had 17 or more turnovers. While it’s easy to get away with against teams like Bethune-Cookman (22 turnovers, won by 33), it’s a lot harder to get away with against tournament teams like Villanova (18 turnovers, lost by 6). If the team places an emphasis on limiting spacing and communication turnovers as well as learn from the mistakes they’ve made all season, they would be able make turning the ball over 17+ times nearly impossible.

Marquette doesn’t have to make drastic changes to see big improvements. They don’t need to be a top 10 team in TPG the rest of the way and expecting as much is unreasonable. Howard and Joey limiting their bad turnovers and the team becoming more consistent in preventing games of 17 or more turnovers would go a long way in making this team more dangerous this March.