Marquette’s defense is peaking at the right time

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A goal for any coach is to have their team peaking at the right time. For college basketball, that means March.

Where is Marquette? The Golden Eagles began the season 10-0  but then lost four of six. The problem in those games? Defense. To begin that stretch of losses Marquette gave up more than a point per possession in four of five games.

After they dominated St. Johns in early January they seemed to right the ship and tighten up the defense. Over the next 16 games (leading up to the NCAA tourney) the Golden Eagles only surrendered more than a point per possession 6 times.

Then came the real test – the NCAA tournament.

In the opening round Marquette held BYU to 68 points in a 79 possession game. On a per-possession basis, that matched BYU’s 2nd worst offensive game of the season. If you only pay attention to the final scores, 68 points seems like a reasonable amount. But keep in mind that the BYU vs Marquette game featured 20% more possessions than the typical college game. Of course they’re going to score more points. Since each team gets the ball the same number of times, what matters is how much each team scores per possession. In this case, it was 0.86 points for BYU.

Then in the round of 32 Marquette completely smothered Murray State, giving up only 53 points in 72 possessions. Not only was this Murray State’s worst offensive game since December, 2008, but it was the 3rd most dominating performance by any Marquette defense against a decent team in the past decade.

That’s pretty good. But does a solid 16 games to end the season and then two great games to begin the tournament make a trend?

On Thursday, Marquette gets Florida. As I discussed last night, the Gators have the 3rd best offense in the nation. So this should be a true test of the Marquette defense. Are they really playing inspired hoops right now, or has it been a fluke?