The First Round matchup between 8-seed North Carolina and 9-seed Marquette in the 2022 NCAA Tournament brings a lot to the table — with both in-game strategy and off-court storylines. It will also feature Armando Bacot and Justin Lewis, two of the best frontcourt players in the country.
North Carolina and Marquette played in Chapel Hill a little over a year ago. The Golden Eagles won that contest with relative ease, 83-70. The game, which was added late in the season, was a crushing defeat for the Tar Heels and former head coach Roy Williams.
While certain roster pieces remain in place, much has changed from that last matchup. When the two teams meet later this week in Fort Worth, they’ll both be led by different head coaches: Hubert Davis and Shaka Smart. Williams and Steve Wojciechowski are now bystanders.
Dawson Garcia was the best player on the floor that night, too: 24 points and 11 rebounds for Marquette. After that game, though, Garcia would play in only four more contests for Marquette. He tested the waters ahead of the 2021 NBA Draft, while keeping his name in the transfer portal. By the middle of July 2021, he was a member of the North Carolina program. (Of course, Garcia hasn’t played in a game since Jan. 22.)
To preview this 8-9 matchup, and see who is likely set to play 1-seed Baylor in the Round of 32, here’s everything you need to know on UNC vs. Marquette and star forward Justin Lewis.
Marquette: At A Glance
- Adjusted Efficiency: 109.8 points per 100 possessions (No. 62), per KenPom
- Average Possession Length: 15.2 seconds (No. 5)
- 3PA Rate: 41.7 percent (No. 92)
- 3P%: 34.7 3P% (No. 104)
- 2P%: 52.9 2P% (No. 61)
- Assist Rate: 59.4 percent (No. 22)
- Offensive Rebound Rate: 22.4 percent (No. 330)
- FTA Rate: 26.8 percent (No. 278)
- Adjusted Efficiency: 95.8 points per 100 possessions (No. 46), per KenPom
- Average Possession Length: 18.3 seconds (No. 321)
- 3PA Rate: 35.5 Percent (No. 105)
- 3P%: 31.7 3P% (No. 75)
- 2P%: 46.2 2P% (No. 40)
- Assist Rate: 54.9 percent (No. 286)
- Defensive Rebound Rate: 68.6 percent (No. 306)
- FTA Rate: 29.7 percent (No. 168)
- Marquette is an uptempo offense that wants to run in transition, off turnovers, and spread the floor with 4-around-1 pick-and-roll in the half court. This isn’t a big offensive rebounding team; Marquette prioritizes getting back to set up the defense. Given UNC’s power on the defensive glass (No. 2 nationally in defensive rebound rate), there should be very few second-chance points for the Golden Eagles.
- Conversely, the Golden Eagles are a bad defensive rebounding team, which may present second-chance opportunities for Armando Bacot. Per Synergy Sports, Bacot shot 58.1 percent on put-back attempts this season.
- However, Marquette can win on the margins by getting up more 3-point attempts and turning the ball over with less frequency than its opponents. In some respects, there’s a built-in math advantage. That, too, makes for an interesting hinge point with a UNC defense that forces very few turnovers: 14.1 percent opponent turnover rate (No. 341).
Most Played Lineup: Marquette
- Tyler Kolek, Darryl Morsell, Olivier-Maxence Prosper, Justin Lewis, Kur Kuath
- -16 in 202 minutes, per Pivot Analysis
When Marquette Has The Ball
Top of the Scouting Report: Justin Lewis
During the 2020-21 season, Justin Lewis put together a strong freshman campaign. The shooting efficiency wasn’t there (44 eFG%); however, the framework was in place for a productive two-way hybrid forward. Lewis led the roster in offensive (11.7 percent) and defensive rebound (17.5 percent) rate. He was also second in block rate, behind only Theo John, now a reserve center for Duke.
Absolutely gorgeous half-court design from Creighton, ruined by Justin Lewis — Box set, elevator door with an empty-side slip for Mitch Ballock, and into a hammer screen for Marcus Zegarowski. But Lewis (8 stocks in 145 mins) gobbles the play up, well-positioned for a deflection pic.twitter.com/9JTRT58eJD
— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) December 15, 2020
The 6-foot-7, 245-pound Lewis returned for his sophomore season. Now playing for Smart, Lewis has remained a stalwart on the glass (21.6 percent defensive rebound rate), while emerging as an efficient offensive fulcrum.
Lewis has started at 31 games this season. Along with the minutes, his usage rate has jumped, too: 25.9 percent. With a larger share of the offense to his name, Lewis launched from beyond the arc with far greater frequency: 8.9 3-point attempts per 100 possessions, up from 4.2 as a freshman.
He shoots an easy ball, including off slight movement: pick-and-pops and relocations. On this possession, Marquette runs its angle pick-and-roll action. Lewis “shakes” up from the corner to the wing, catches a skip pass from Tyler Kolek and drains an open 3.
Even with the bump in usage, along with added defensive attention, Lewis has shot a much better ball this year: 56-of-159 3-point attempts (35.2 3P%). During Big East Play, he shot 40.8 percent on 3-point attempts, which ranked No. 8 in the league, according to KenPom.
Overall, Lewis posted a true shooting rate of 54.9 percent — up from 46.4 percent as a freshman. With all of this working together, Lewis averaged 17.1 points per game, while upping his points per minute average, too.
The improved efficiency is great, but the willingness (alone) to get these types of shots up in the air is critical. Opponents must honor those looks for Lewis, which opens up other avenues.
Lewis is one of only 13 Division I players this season with 30+ dunks and 50+ 3-pointers. He’s joined here by some of the top NBA Draft prospects in the country: Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero, Keegan Murray, Bennedict Mathurin and Ochai Agbaji. (Pitt’s Mouhamadou Gueye also hit these benchmarks.)
One of the more striking things about Lewis is his all-around scoring skill. He’s such a technical offensive player. Lewis doesn’t waste much movement. He catches the ball ready to score.
Lewis doesn’t have a super explosive first step, but he gets north-south with the ball, while using his combination of size and strength to carve out space.
When Lewis gets to his comfort zones, he finishes with good shooting touch.
Other times, Lewis will puncture a rotating defense by attacking a dribble handoff or a closeout with a bit of a running head start.
Here’s more “shake” action from Lewis, who launches up from the corner, snags a pass on the run and finishes at the cup.
Lewis has plenty of craft and shoots well from every level of the floor. He connected on 50.9 percent of his 2-point attempts, including 64.2 percent at the rim, per Bart Torvik.
As far as individual matchups go, Marquette-UNC offers a sneaky good one in round one: Justin Lewis vs. Leaky Black.
With his size and skill, Lewis is a matchup-beater. He’s the kind of player that drives around larger defenders and overpowers smaller ones. To that end, Lewis is by definition a forward; however, he can float across all three frontcourt positions.
The versatility of Lewis is something that will keep an opposing coach up at night. In that case, Hubert Davis should sleep a little easier knowing he can deploy Black, an ace perimeter defender, however he sees fit.
Davis could elect to use Black on Darryl Morsell, who ranks second on Marquette’s roster in scoring (13.5 points) and usage (24.3 percent). Morsell uses a lot of ball screens and initiates plenty of offense, although he’s most comfortable looking for his pull-up midrange jumper (44.3 2P% on long 2PA).
Regardless of opponent, Black primarily took on the top defensive assignment for North Carolina, 1-4, which included plenty of big-wing initiators, like NC State’s Dereon Seabron.
Lewis is clearly the head of the snake, though, and Morsell is stronger on the defensive side of the floor. It may be worth it for UNC to just launch Black in the direction of Lewis.
Despite outweighing Black by 40 pounds, Lewis doesn’t have an overwhelming advantage in terms of length. Black does a nice job absorbing body blows, then using his wingspan and quick hands to cause havoc.
When Duke and UNC met for the first time this season, Black started the game on AJ Griffin, Duke’s top perimeter shooter. However, when Armando Bacot picked up his second foul, Davis slid Black over on Banchero.
The Blue Devils still scored and played off Banchero’s gravity, but with Black as the primary defender: the 6-foot-10, 250-pound phenom scored 13 points on 14 field goal attempts (3-of-10 2PA).
When the teams rematched in Durham, Black was back on Griffin, who finished with only five points (1-of-3 3PA) in 34 minutes.
Davis could opt to place Leaky on Lewis to start the game, in an effort to turn off the water for Marquette’s top option. If Black opens on Morsell and Lewis starts to get it rolling, Davis should adjust quickly and push Leaky to center stage.
If Black takes Lewis and UNC stays in its base package — with Armando Bacot and Brady Manek on the floor together — then one of the bigs will have to hang with Morsell or one of Marquette’s hybrid wing/forwards, like Clemson transfer Olivier-Maxence Prosper. (Personally, that’s not a deal-breaker for me, although I understand the concern with Morsell and ball screens.)
Of course, Davis could also opt to go smaller and bring Puff Johnson or Dontrez Styles into the mix, too.
Iso Land, Population: 1-on-1
There are a variety of ways Smart for isolate Lewis or put him in other playmaking situations. For a minute, let’s take a closer look at a few of those play calls.
Lewis moves well without the ball. He cuts hard and he’ll spend possessions floating around the dunker spot while looking to slither his way into space for points.
One of the sets Smart likes to use to create a mid-post isolation opportunity for Lewis comes with this cross screen and pindown (screen-the-screener) action.
One of Marquette’s off-ball guards/wings will set a cross screen for Lewis, which will bring him from the weak side of the floor to the strong side. This creates a clean catch for Lewis in one of his favorite areas of the floor.
According to Synergy Sports, Lewis shot a combined 40.3 percent on isolation and post-up attempt this season.
After that guard screens for Lewis, he will then come off a pindown screen in the middle of the floor: this is the screen-the-screener action.
If an opponent wants to double Lewis on this mid-post touch, he’s happy to kick the ball out and let Marquette play off the advantage.
Lewis is a low-mistake player, with a little bit of passing juice, too. While dishing out 2.1 assists per 40 minutes this season, Lewis posted a turnover rate of only 13.1 percent.
Smart and Marquette can also lull opponents into mistakes with this action. Defenses see the cross screen and expect another iso catch for Lewis. The Golden Eagles can prey on that.
Here’s an after-timeout version of this play vs. St. John’s. Kam Jones sets the cross screen for Lewis and then lifts to come up the pindown from Oso Ighodaro. Instead, Ighodaro slips and catches a pass from Morsell right at the front of the rim. Julian Champagnie rotates down, but Ighodaro still finishes with a dunk.
Here’s a look at another mid-post isolation set for Lewis, which I like to refer as: 1-4 Low Elbow 4. It’s simple: Marquette starts in a 1-4 low set, then lifts Lewis to the elbow. From there, he becomes the conductor of his own basketball symphony.
Once he catches the ball, Marquette quickly flattens the defense out and lets its best player go one-on-one. This is where the Justin Lewis-Leaky Black matchup could be rather fun.
In general, Marquette runs a lot of early-offense angled or side ball screens. Smart will also invert those looks and let Lewis lead the dance as a pick-and-pop ball handler.
Here’s one of those inverted sets for Lewis — with Jones as a ghost screener. Instead of holding his screen, Jones runs in the direction of Lewis, then slips out beyond the arc.
This is a rather impressive off-dribble jumper from Lewis. Once again, the sophomore forward shows off his combination of strength and shooting touch.
Jones also lurks as a dangerous secondary option for Marquette. The freshman southpaw shot 39.6 percent from beyond the arc this year. Jones can let it fly from off the dribble and off movement, too.
Lewis gets into the paint off this inverted ghost look vs. St. John’s. This time, though, Greg Elliott (39.1 3P%) runs the ghost/blur screen.
For a hybrid forward-type, Lewis plays with a pretty functional handle — one that helps him move from A to B on the floor. Occasionally, though, he’ll show a little more flourish with live-dribble moves.
Justin Lewis: Small-Ball Center?
When Smart wants to grease the wheels of his offense, there are a couple different lineup combinations he can hit on. One of those permutations includes Justin Lewis as a small-ball center. This could be another important battleground for this matchup — in terms of style of play and offensive flow.
Lewis has played 1,006 minutes this season; Marquette is +147 with its star player on the floor, including an offensive rating of 111 points per 100 possessions, according to Pivot Analysis.
The majority of those minutes have come with Lewis operating as a forward. Smart, however, has experimented with Lewis as the team’s de facto 5.
When Lewis is at center, Marquette can unlock true 5-out offense.
There aren’t many college centers who are comfortable defending this type of action in space, especially since Lewis has the ability to shot fake and drive a hard closeout.
When Marquette played at UConn in February, Smart went to this setup. Danny Hurley, however, kept his power forward, Isaiah Whaley (6-foot-9, 225 pounds), on Lewis, while Adama Sanogo, the team’s center, guarded Prosper.
Even then, Lewis can make a defense pay; if you switch this middle ball screen action, the switch better be timely. If not, Lewis will let it rip over a late closeout.
According to Pivot Analysis, Marquette has played 85 minutes this season with Lewis on the floor and the center platoon of Ighodaro and Kur Kuath, Manek’s former teammate at Oklahoma, on the bench. It’s a small sample, and the Golden Eagles have only broken even in those minutes; however, they also have an offensive rating of 114.9 points per 100 possessions.
Given the power of Bacot, Smart may be hesitant to leave his best player exposed at a size disadvantage against one of the top post-up players and offensive rebounders in the country. This is still a potential card to play, though. It could force Bacot or even Manek into unfavorable defensive scenarios.
Double Drag Empty
Marquette is one of the youngest teams in the country: No. 349 in average experience, according to KenPom. Smart is a veteran head coach, but he’s also in his first season with the Golden Eagles. At this stage, Marquette doesn’t utilize a lot of off-ball actions and dummy actions with its half-court offense, a la Davis and North Carolina, although they will mix in some stuff, like Veer Pindown concepts. It’s just not the base for this team’s offense, currently.
Instead, Marquette wants to play fast and get a shot up within the first 14-15 seconds of the shot clock. To do so, the Golden Eagles run plenty of Pistol/21 action.
When things settle into a longer half-court possession, Marquette will dabble with some Chin pick-and-roll.
Kuath and Ighodaro, who combined for 67 dunks this season, have gravity as rollers. Both guys are capable of working as vertical spacers and catching lobs. Smart and his point guards take advantage of this, too. Marquette’s centers will have a speed advantage on Bacot.
The Golden Eagles will also come out in a Stong alignment (staggered pindown screens) and flow into angled ball screens.
One of the early-offense ball screen sets Marquette runs is a double drag look, which partners one of Kuath or Ighodaro with either Lewis or Prosper.
As freshman point guard Tyler Kolek pushes the ball up, with Providence in semi-transition defense, Lewis sets a slip screen and pops out; Kuath then sets a second screen and dives to the rim.
Here’s that same action on the very next possession. This time, though, Prosper sets a ball screen and pops out. Once again, Kuath is the recipient of a find from Kolek: 33.4 percent assist rate as a rookie in the Big East.
UNC has struggled with pick-and-roll defense this season. Bacot and Manek pair perfectly together on offense, but their lack of foot speed and ground coverage can make defending ball screens a bit of a challenge. They struggle in space.
The Golden Eagles don’t have a creator anywhere close to this level. That’s is a win for UNC.
However, this double drag look will put both Manek and Bacot in the action together, which could be problematic.
All season long, North Carolina has worked to “Ice” side ball screens — an effort to take away the middle and keep the action pinned on one side of the floor. If UNC wants to Ice these looks, Marquette can counter by placing Lewis in the weak-side slot. From there, Lewis can make plays vs. a scrambled defense.
UConn has its center hedge the second ball screen, which is different from Ice. North Carolina uses its on-ball defenders — RJ Davis and Caleb Love — to push/funnel opposing point guards away from the middle and in the direction of the baseline.
The reads for Lewis wouldn’t be exactly the same, but either way: this empty-corner double drag action will put North Carolina’s defense in rotation and on high alert.
When North Carolina Has The Ball
When Marquette’s offense is able to score, the Golden Eagles can set up their press. Smart rolls out a couple different press looks, too. This mix includes a traditional 1-2-2 press. Of course, Marquette tops this press defense with one of its rangy wing/forwards. Prosper is the primary option.
There isn’t one dominant steals guy on this roster; it’s a collective effort. Seven different rotation players have steal rates of at least 1.9 percent.
Once the ball crosses half court, Marquette will still try to trap in the offensive zone, especially when a sideline opportunity approaches. After that, though, they’ll split off into man-to-man.
As a team, Marquette ranks 55th nationally with a 10.9 percent steal rate.
Smart can also try to heat up the basketball with a man-to-man “55” press, too, including after-timeout situations. This strategy, however, can lead to some issues on the back side, if containment is broken.
RJ Davis is a clever ball handler. UNC obviously utilizes a lot of double-point guard lineups as well, with Davis and Caleb Love. According to Evan Miya’s data, Love and Davis rank inside the top of ACC for playing time among two-man combinations.
Leaky Black also works as another secondary ball handler and outlet passing option. His ability to connect and bridges action could come in handy.
Hedge Your Bets
There’s some scheme versatility to Marquette’s pick-and-roll defense, although this doesn’t appear to be a switch-heavy unit. With that said, it certainly wouldn’t surprise to see them switch on screens/exchanges that involve Manek (38.6 3P%) — just to keep the ball in front and hopefully deny pick-and-pop 3-point looks. Plenty of ACC teams went with this approach, too.
In addition, Kuath and Ighodaro are mobile enough to play up to the level of the screen and stay with the ball handler for a beat. This could be a tool vs. Love’s pull-up shooting, although it can also put the defense in rotation on the back side. That’s risky vs. North Carolina’s shooting and screen-roll bag of tricks.
Often, Kuath and Ighodaro are asked to hedge: jut out in the direction of the ball handler, while the on-ball/guard defender goes under the screen and works to recover to his initial man.
When the Golden Eagles rotate hard and in a timely fashion, it can really neutralize the initial screen and prevent the guard from turning the corner, while giving Kuath time recover back to the paint. It’s obvious that Smart and his staff have done a really nice job coaching up this defense.
Kuath is an excellent rim protector. The 6-foot-10 veteran center (94 career games) ranks No. 8 nationally with a 12.9 percent block rate.
Of course, the hedge has some specific vulnerabilities. Opposing screeners can counter the hedge by slipping the screen.
In lieu of slipping the screen: with proper spacing and ball movement, the offense can snap into additional 4-on-3 situations. Thanks to Manek’s floor spacing and the quick decision-making of Davis, UNC can punish opposing defenses in these looks.
Here, North Carolina runs its Horns Chicago action for Love. Francisco Caffaro from Virginia hedges the handoff/ball screen from Bacot. Love throws it back to Manek, who is open with Jayden Gardner tagging Bacot on the roll. As Manek gets the pass from Love, Gardner closes out. Caffaro gets back to Bacot, but the All-ACC center has deep post position and hits Anthony Harris for a corner 3 vs. a bent defense.
Virginia’s defense hedges on ball screens; that’s part of the Pack Line approach. During both matchups with UVA in the 2021-22 season, this UNC squad showed a level of comfort attacking the hedge.
Once again, the inside-out combination of Manek and Bacot is a killer. Kadin Shedrick, who can cover a lot of ground, hedges and recovers — but this is too deep of a catch for Bacot.
The hedge can also be thwarted by a ball screen split from the guard with the basketball. Once that happens, the back-side defense is toast. It’s another 4-on-3 with a live dribble coming downhill to the rim.
As it just so happens, Davis — a shifty, side-to-side ball handler — is pretty good at splitting screens when the opportunity presents itself.
Marquette will also look to hedge when it defends motion/continuity ball screen sets, too.
Here’s one vs. Providence: the Friars go to their continuity ball screen offense, which is blanketed by the Golden Eagles.
North Carolina mixes in its fair share of continuity ball screen looks, too. It’s one of the primary tactics for UNC to shift the defense around, let Bacot seal in the paint, then launch hi-lo action with Manek as the passing hub, once more.
Last but not least: the low block and hi-lo game could be critical for UNC in this matchup.
A double-double machine, Bacot has overpowered opponents all season inside the paint. Manek has unlocked new aspects of hit game; there’s never been this much space to work within. Day’Ron Sharpe is an incredible pass and processor of the game; however, opposing defenses could sag off and clog the paint, unbothered by his jump shot. That’s not the case with Manek, obviously.
Here’s Providence flowing from weave action into a ghost screen and then hi-lo for Nate Watson, who at 6-foot-10, 260 pounds is a pretty good facsimile for Bacot. Watson is stronger than Kuath, which is why the Marquette big man doesn’t want to defend from behind.
If he plays behind the post-up, then Watson (55.8 2P%) will smash him under the basket and score or draw a foul. Instead, Kuath wants to front the action and either deny or deflect the pass.
Kuath is long and rangy. He’s an industrious post defender, who has seen just about everything in his college career. Kuath can make those passing windows appear narrow or create a turnover off a weak entry pass.
However, sometimes when Kuath gets outmuscled in hi-lo action, he has a tendency to sell-out/gamble for the entry pass.
When he’s unable to deflect the hi-lo pass, it leads to big problems at the rim.
Individually, Bacot with have a strength advantage over Kuath and Ighodaro. As usual, UNC should be able to scheme Bacot into good post position; for the season, he’s scored 1.05 points per post-up possession (54.8 FG%), according to Synergy Sports.
At times, Marquette has been reluctant to send a hard double team to the post. That proved costly when the 6-foot-9, 240-pound Sanogo went for 24 points in UConn’s win in Hartford. Bacot can have his issues with hard double teams, too, so maybe that’s something.