Why Marquette is an Underrated Bet to Reach the Final Four

Why Marquette is an Underrated Bet to Reach the Final Four

One of the overlooked teams among discussed Final Four contenders is Marquette, whom many have pegged to be an eventual victim of the 12-5 upset in the Round of 64.

FanDuel Sportsbook has them at a very long +1900 to win the West region, but they have the potential to overcome those odds and win their backers a lot of money.

From Conference Leaders to Upset Favorites

Yes, that’s a pretty bold claim to be making about a team that’s lost five of its last six games in the regular season and Big East Tournament combined.

The thoughts that they'll be bounced early all make perfect sense, as the realm of college basketball prediction and March Madness betting is very much based on “what have you done lately?”

But for this Marquette team, lately starts Thursday afternoon where they're only slightly favored at -170 on the moneyline.

The matchup getting all the attention heading into Marquette’s supposed trap game against the Racers is Markus Howard vs. Ja Morant.

While ideally this duo will do a lot of what they do best, beautifully putting the ball through the hoop, the matchup that will matter most is Morant vs. Sacar Anim.

Anim, the junior 6' 5", 210-lb “Draymond Green” of Marquette’s 3-point assault, played some of the best two-way basketball of his career in the Big East Tourney matched against star guards like Shamorie Ponds and Myles Powell (until he got ejected from that semifinal game for clapping aggressively).

Sacar Anim

If Anim can at the very least keep Morant from having the best game of his career, it could be enough for Marquette to advance and cover the 4-point spread.

Personally having covered Marquette for six years and followed them for much longer, I know they can just as easily underperform and lose on a cold night from beyond the arc.

But this is a piece about making a value pick on a team capable of a deep NCAA Tourney run.

And there’s one glaring reason to believe they can do that.

The Markus Howard Effect

Markus Howard is the most talented player to put on a Marquette jersey since Dwyane Wade.

During that magical, mythical run to glory in 2002-03, Wade averaged 21.5 points, 4.4 assists and 6.3 rebounds per game.

Howard, playing against a tougher conference mind you, averaged 25.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game this season. And he’s got something else that most NCAA tourney heroes have.

Markus Howard

To break the fourth wall for a second, a friend of a friend over the weekend described Markus Howard to me as such:

“He takes some of the worst shots I’ve seen…and he makes 70 percent of them.”

It’s the same confidence that leads fans to shake their heads that truly sets Howard apart. And that kind of bravery/foolishness is what is sometimes required in the biggest moments of a deep NCAA tournament run.

Sometimes a star has to combine pure talent with the, as Bill Raftery would say, “onions” to take a shot they’re not supposed to make.

A most recent example: Howard’s driving, running skyhook against St. John’s in the Big East Tournament that electrified the Garden, essentially buried the Red Storm in that game and reversed a trend of frustration against them that persisted in the regular season.

Those kinds of shots are the ones that can win or lose NCAA tournament games against teams that may or may not be more talented than you.

They’re the type of shots that turn momentum on a dime by punctuating a go-ahead scoring run or ending a cold night from the field.

So it’s not too bad to have a guy who hits 70 percent of them.

Wojo's Mojo is Rising as Team has Bought in

Aside from Howard and all he brings to the table, lost in the shuffle has been the emergence of Theo John and Ed Morrow into the most dependable frontcourt in Wojciechowski’s tenure.

Theo John

Toughness in the paint has been sorely missing for quite some time, but the team’s rebounding numbers are up dramatically from last season from 31.8 per game (220th) to 37.8 per game (42nd).

Players have clearly bought into Wojciechowski’s defense which has improved leaps and bounds over last season’s effort. The Golden Eagles allowed a horrendous 78.5 points per contest to opponents ranking them 312th in the nation in scoring defense.

This season, they've trimmed that down astonishingly almost 10 full points to 69.1 (118th) and that has allowed them to stay in games where they don't come out setting the rim on fire.

On the opposite side of the ball not much needs to be said as this is one of the best offenses in the country and in school history.

Wojo’s offense is always moving and working the ball around, and when it's at its best runs like a well-oiled machine searching for openings in the defensive gameplan.

The encouraging thing about Marquette’s two games in New York was the observation that despite a lacking result, the Golden Eagles were still getting great looks.

That will all be pivotal in the tourney against what should be the best competition they’ve faced this year.

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Marquette's Path to Minneapolis Favorable

If it gets past Vermont, Florida State will give the Golden Eagles all kinds of problems with its physicality and length.

Those problems can be solved by getting out in front of the Noles early and forcing them into a situation where they must shoot threes and mid-range shots to keep up.

Is it a lot to ask for? Maybe. Is there a team better equipped to do it than Marquette? Probably not in this bracket.

Potentially deeper into the bracket, there are two teams that made the Championship Game the past two seasons in Gonzaga and Michigan. Marquette would have to play the best games of its season to beat those two teams. But they might not have to.

Jim Boeheim

If Syracuse gets into the Round of 32, you bet Jim Boeheim will be licking his chops at the chance to knock off a mid-major No. 1 seed with that disgustingly effective zone defense. The Wolverines will have their own problems without some major pieces from last year’s title run.

And in the NCAA Tournament, there’s always the opportunity for fresh blood to step over the contenders of the past. Even the very recent past.

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The Qualities of a Contender

When this Marquette team is on, it’s got all the characteristics of a team that can go far in the NCAA Tournament.

Its capacity to knock down shots, feel for when to go on timely runs and overall ability to control games against a wide array of opponents are all qualities deeply ingrained in its identity.

One looming question about this team's fate was answered Wednesday. Howard officially announced that his wrist is, in fact, “all good.

They may not be any warmer in Hartford today than they were when they left Milwaukee, but the other looming question remains to be answered: can they heat back up?

If the answer is “yes”, then I believe they’ll be headed to Minneapolis for a date with destiny.

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