"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Friday, October 30, 2020

Arkansas-Pine Bluff Preview, 2020-21

Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions

November 25, Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: George Ivory (136-248)

Three-Year NCAA Ranking Average: 326.0

Three-Year kenpom Average: 330.0

Projected 2020-21 T-Rank: 219

UAPB will be counting on a strong return from Shaun Doss

Photo by UAPB Athletics

Projected Starters: PG Nicholas Jones (6'1" Sr), SG Dequan Morris (6'4" Sr), SF Shaun Doss (6'5" RS Sr), PF Markedric Bell (6'7" Sr), Terrance Banyard (6'8" Sr)

While life as a SWAC coach can be difficult, there's no doubt George Ivory hit a low point last year as his Golden Lions went just 4-26. It certainly hurt that expected contributors Shaun Doss, Nicholas Jones, and Robert Boyd weren't available for all but a small handful of games. That gave a heavy load to Markedric Bell, Dequan Morris, and Terrance Banyard. Looking at the Golden Lions' roster for 2019-20 is bizarre. Twenty-two players logged minutes for UAPB. Just 4 players logged 20+ mpg (not including Doss, who only played 3 games) but another 8 averaged double-digit minutes. They were rotating bodies at an alarming rate. While Ivory does tend to carry a lot of walk-ons, last year was an overstuffed roster even by his standards, and it didn't help the results.

Doss was projected as a First Team All-SWAC player last year before he lost his season to injury. In his absence, Markedric Bell took over the offense as his 35% percent of shots taken was 14th in the country but only resulted in 10.8 ppg. That's...not good. It's also a big part of why UAPB had the lowest ranked adjusted offensive efficiency in the country according to kenpom. Banyard and Morris both played major minutes last year and should benefit from Doss taking some of the pressure off. The point will be the wildcard. Jones seems to be the likely first choice, but if he falters Jordan McNair and Cameron Posey have both played the position for Ivory in the past.

Offensively, the plan last year was basically throw the ball inside to Bell and Banyard, and if there wasn't a way to do that, the guards would drive the paint. UAPB got a whopping 58.7% of their points inside the arc (10th in the nation). The Golden Lions only had two players with 50+ 3PFGAs last year (Marquette by comparison had five) and both graduated, so expect an even more interior-heavy attack. Even the returning Doss won't likely change that much as over 76% of his FGA as a junior came inside the arc. Defensively, the Golden Lions run an extended 2-3 zone that seeks to bait teams into risky passes and turnovers. In that respect, it works as they have been top-100 in turnover percentage each of the past 8 years and top-10 in 4 of those seasons. However in that same stretch they have been sub-200 in 2PFG% defense 6 times because the overextension leads to wide open driving lanes. Though I suppose when you carry a roster of 15-20 players you can afford to overextend and pressure because you always have bodies to throw out there. Bottom line, the key to beating them is protecting the ball and working it inside.

After being one of the worst teams in the country last year, T-Rank shockingly has UAPB as a top-220 team and projected 2nd in the SWAC. As much as I'd love to believe it, I'm a skeptic. Getting Doss back is a solid addition, but I have no faith in their PG play as all of their returning candidates had higher turnover rates than assist rates. This looks like a middle-of-the-road SWAC team that won't be worth much more than a notch in the win column. That said, I will happily take a few guaranteed wins in this non-conference for Marquette, and there's no team that looks to be a more certain victory than over the Golden Lions.

Marquette Connection: Arkansas-Pine Bluff has only ever played Marquette once, a 100-49 victory for the good guys on December 19, 2001. It capped a 10-game season opening winning streak for Marquette en route to the first of two NCAA berths for the Dwyane Wade-led team. Oluoma Nnamaka's 17 points paced the way as 6 Marquette players that scored in double-figures that night.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Let's Save the Season

 Is this the final image of 2020 NCAA Basketball? | Photo from USA Today

There is a lot of pessimism around the 2020-21 NCAA Basketball season. In April, I predicted that St. John's/Creighton would be the last NCAA Basketball of the 2020 calendar year. After seeing TBT create a safe environment that ended in the best way possible, with the Marquette alums lifting a trophy, I've reconsidered that notion.

Diener's only TBT Title Game Basket was the winner | Photo from TBT Staff

TBT showed that basketball is possible and the NCAA has to do everything they can to salvage the 2020-21 season. I feel this is possible and needs to be done in three phases: non-conference, conference, and postseason. All three are vital. Without non-conference play to serve as a barometer between leagues, tools like the NET are meaningless. Without conference play, we don't have the foundation for the postseason tournaments. And all of it will funnel into one oversized NCAA Tournament.

Phase I: Non-Conference Play

In COVID world, Multi-Team Events, or MTEs, such as the Maui Invitational or the Hall of Fame Tip-Off that Marquette is scheduled to play in seem impossible. Why take groups of students from all over the country, bring them to one location for a week to mix germs, then send them back? Those feel like super-spreader events. Watching TBT has changed my thinking on that, and now I believe that MTEs are the best way to have non-conference play.

 Markus Howard taking on VCU in Maui | Photo by Brian Spurlock, USA Today

According to Blogging The Bracket, there are 46 MTEs scheduled for this year. I would propose that each of those MTEs does everything they can to fill their slates. Ideally, everyone takes 8 teams. That would be more than enough for every Division I program that wants to play non-con games to get into an event. As it seems universities are planning to complete the first semester before Thanksgiving, that is when the season would start. If teams want to sit out, so be it, but this gives them all an opportunity.

Every participating team would go to their designated event for a 10-day quarantine starting on November 25. Each team would get mass testing and be kept apart and sequestered to a hotel during that time, similar to TBT. The cost of testing would be shared by the participating schools, their conferences, and the event coordinators. This will allow everyone in each event to be on a level testing ground. If a team has to be removed from an event due to positive tests, so be it, this format will allow teams to move forward even if teams have to be removed.

Games begin December 5th and go until December 20th. During that 16-day span, every team will play each other in a round robin. This should mostly allow teams to get a day or two off between games.The goal will be to play up to 7 games during this period. If tournaments are unable to fill up 8 slots or have teams disqualified due to positive tests, they can schedule additional games as the calendar allows or simply go forward with the games they are able to play.

Current non-conference arrangements will be pushed back a year unilaterally. If you have a series going or conference challenges, they all get pushed back. All the leagues will have to agree to that and accept that 2020-21 is going to be an exceptional year. For the most part, everyone should get 5-7 games. While it's not complete, it's enough data that the NET will be able to function. This is going to be critical once we get to March.

Phase II: Conference Play

From December 21st to 26th, everyone will get a brief holiday break. That's about the same as Marquette gives their players most years (December 2015 and 2017 were exactly that), so this isn't abnormal. Once the break is done, each of these teams move into their second bubble for conference play. This will start with a 9-day quarantine from December 27th to January 4th. Games will begin January 5th and go until January 24th, a 20-day stretch that takes teams right up to the start of Spring semester classes.

Koby McEwen drives at the Finneran Pavilion | Photo by Brian Hartline, USA Today

Leagues would then select another neutral site for their games. My proposal would be campus sites which are easiest to control. In the Big East, I feel the Finneran Pavilion would be the ideal site for all the games, rewarding Villanova as essentially the eternal champs of the new league and allowing for the league to have full control. Every league would be allowed to pick where they want to play their games, but it would be one static location to allow for another TBT-styled bubble.

Over these 20 days, leagues will be encouraged to get each of their teams 10 games. While it won't be much, those 10 games will be the entirety of regular season conference play. It's enough to seed conference tournaments. While it won't guarantee round-robins in leagues and some teams that are rivals won't see each other, this remains an extraordinary year. If leagues wanted to cram more games into that window, they could, but this would generally allow everyone to get the same number of games with some rest time in between games. After conference play, student-athletes would return to their respective campuses to carry on with their semester until we get to postseason play.

Phase IIIa: Conference Tournaments

This is where it gets dicey. Using the current schedule, the non-conference and conference portions of the season listed above would have minimal impact on the school year because it all happens during the extended winter break. Now that we get to the postseason, there's no real way to do this without infringing on classes and with greater infection risk. While this happens regularly throughout the year, this proposal will take some players out of classes for extended periods of time. This is where athletic directors and educators would have to earn their money and figure out the best way to address both academic and athletic needs.

 Jay Wright in a familiar position | Photo from Getty Images

Regardless, here is the plan. Leagues will select a site and have teams quarantine starting on February 27th. This allows for a 10-day quarantine with all leagues playing their tournaments between March 9th to 13th. That is a 5-day stretch that allows every league to play a full tournament. Every team will be expected to stay in the conference tournament bubble until March 14th, which will be Selection Sunday. Anyone leaving their conference tournament bubble early will be ineligible for NCAA Tournament selection.

Phase IIIb: Selection Sunday

This is where things get crazy. First of all, there will be a larger NCAA Tournament field. Because there is no NIT, the field will get a one-time expansion to 96 teams. This will also accommodate what would be a significantly larger bubble because teams won't have as many opportunities to prove themselves with 17-22 games the entire sample size. With 96 teams chosen, there is no chance anyone worthy will be left out.

 Kentucky's Mitch Barnhart heads the 2021 Selection Committee | Photo by Michael Huang

Rather than 4 regions as usual, this bracket will have 8 regions. The first 32 teams into the field will be the conference tournament winners. To minimize travel, these teams will be sorted by NET. The top 8 teams will be sent to regions in a manner that is most geographically advantageous to everyone. This process will repeat with teams 9-16, 17-24, and 25-32. So the top four seeds in each region will be conference tournament winners and they will get a bye in the first round.

The next 32 spots will go to the regular season conference champions. If a team is a double-champion, that will create another at-large bid. While it may seem this would encourage potential double-champions to lose in a conference final to get their league another bid, it would also take them out of the top-32 and a first-round bye. That alone should be motivation enough for everyone to want to play to the buzzer in their conference tournaments.

The remaining spots will all go to at-large teams. The Selection Committee will pick as many teams as necessary to fill the 96 spots. However, rather than seeding those teams, the 64 remaining teams will be allowed to pick their place in the bracket in order of final season NET rankings. This will allow for teams to choose based on travel, matchup strategy, or even based on a team they particularly want to play, maybe opening up elimination games between rivals.

The highest ranked NET team can pick any open play-in game they choose, the second highest will pick, and so on. This will create an entertaining bracket that guarantees every league gets to play in the round of 64 and powerhouse teams can try to tailor their path based on the available regions.

Phase IIIc: The Eight Regionals

On Selection Sunday, every team still remaining at a conference tournament site will be tested. 12 teams will immediately go to the 8 sites that were slated for first and second round games: Boise, Dallas, Detroit, Lexington, Providence, Raleigh, San Jose, and Wichita. As all of these teams were in conference tournament bubbles, they will go with the assumption they are healthy. In the event that any of the 96 teams heading to one of the above destinations tests positive, they can be replaced by the Selection Committee. If it is a top-32 team, the conference they represent may send a team of their choosing that tested negative on Selection Sunday. If it is an at-large team, the Selection Committee will choose the replacement from the entire field of teams that tested negative. In the event a conference is unable to send a team, the Selection Committee will choose a replacement from the field of unselected teams.

 Marquette's ideal regional would be a Detroit homecoming | Photo from gomarquette.com

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the at-large teams will play their Round of 96 games to get into the full 64-team field. On Thursday and Friday, those winners will advance to play the top-32 seeded teams in the Round of 64. On Saturday and Sunday, we get the Round of 32. Finally, on Monday and Tuesday, the 16 remaining teams will play to go to the Elite Eight with regional play wrapping up on March 23rd. Each region will then move their champions on. In the event a team tests positive after winning their regional but before the Elite Eight, their regional will be presumed infected. The highest rated NET runner-up from a healthy regional will take their place in the Elite Eight. It is unlikely, but possible in this vein that a team could lose in the Sweet 16 and still advance to the Elite Eight and even win the title. Ultimately, the product needs to be there, so someone is going to fill that spot.

Phase IIId: The Elite Eight

The regional winners will advance to Indianapolis for the final week of basketball. The challenge is that the teams still in the tournament will be in bubbles for more than a month once this is all said and done. However, more than 70% of the programs will be back on campus in just over 2 weeks and more than 97% will return to campus after about 3 weeks. Schools will need to plan out the classroom side, but it doesn't feel insurmountable for those programs. And if 97% are done in 3 weeks, having the final eight teams put in one more week doesn't seem like too big of an ask.

Marquette would try to improve on their 2013 Elite 8 effort if they made Indy | Photo from Bucks Local News

As mentioned above, these spots need to be filled. The eight regional winners will advance and simply transition from one bubble to another. If one needs to be replaced, so be it. Teams will travel to Indianapolis on Wednesday and begin play the next day. All four Elite Eight games will be played on Thursday, the Final Four will be played on Saturday, and the Championship game will be played on Monday, March 29th. Despite a 96 team tournament, it will wrap up a week earlier and we will have what is truly the Maddest March in history.

Final Thoughts

At this moment, I think this season happening is a long-shot. Our inability to stem the spread of COVID has made it realistic that we could lose two consecutive NCAA Tournaments, and the financial fallout over college sports would be devastating. While this wouldn't completely recoup those losses, it would help in many ways.

It would give everyone a chance to get some games. And the MTE non-conference style of play would likely give some television exposure to programs that don't often get it. They may need to figure out how to share that revenue, but hopefully it would help some of the programs that are already deep in the red. The conference season would be truncated, but a 15-17 game schedule for everyone that wants it would at least give teams a chance to get some games in. And with every league having the chance to send two teams, even the Ivy League or leagues like that could sit out non-con play and still make noise in March.

Finally, there are a couple of changes that I think could be positives in the long run. I think the NCAA Selection Process would be far more interesting if teams were strategically picking where they were going to play rather than just being assigned a spot. Also, I truly think that only at-large teams should be involved in the play-in games. If you win your conference tournament, you should be in the main field, period.

I hope this provides a little food for thought and would love to hear your thoughts on if this would work and if not, other ways to save the season.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Summer #mubb podcast, we have a guest!

Scrambled Eggs is getting a little serious, figuratively and literally. First, we got a guest, and a great guest at that! Joe Chapman, former #mubb guard and current coach of #TBT Golden Eagles Alumni team, joins the podcast to talk about things like The Tournament, his experience at MU, using a platform for change, and how you build a competitive team. We then react to the interview and discuss the excitement around live US sports if only for a moment. We then turn to some serious conversations around will we have a season and what does it look like, Coach Killings' efforts with Coaches for Action, the Black Lives Matter efforts, and the impact on the team/players. We close out the podcast with DJ Carton being immediately eligible and the impact on our forecast for the season. As always, enjoy!


Thursday, June 11, 2020

Marquette Non-Con Rapid Reaction

Marquette Non-Con Schedule | Photo from @MarquetteMBB Twitter

Marquette Twitter released their initial Non-Conference schedule today. While I plan to dig further into all the teams later in the year, I thought I'd give some rapid reactions since we've generally been starved of content for the past couple months. We'll do a quick hit on each team in the order they appear.

Lehigh: Under Brett Reed, Lehigh had never finished as a sub-300 kenpom team before. Frontcourt injuries were largely responsible for that, as they started off 3-10 without center Nic Lynch, won their next game with a full roster, then went 2-9 without forward James Karnik. They finished 5-3 with both healthy, but Karnik left for Boston College as a transfer. Most everyone else returns, so expect an improvement from Lehigh. Somewhere in the 200-250 range seems about right.

Albany: Marquette fans can empathize with the Albany faithful as a relatively successful season was derailed by a 6 game losing streak to end the year. They do return 5 players that started at least half their games a season ago and will hope Loyola-MD transfer Chuck Champion can help replace the scoring punch lost when PG Ahmad Clark graduated. Head Coach Will Brown will help his veteran group can return to the top-200 status they have usually enjoyed under his tenure.

Gavitt Game: We don't know the opponent yet, but I think I can round it down to one of three teams. First, Wisconsin is out since we already play them. Next, I expect Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, and Maryland to be on the road since all have already played 2 home games in the series. That leaves three teams that I expect to be playing home games: Michigan State, Purdue, and Rutgers. As Michigan State will likely get either Creighton or Villanova and Marquette has already played Purdue twice, my money is on a road game at the RAC.

Rhode Island: The Rams lost two starters to graduation and Jacob Toppin to transfer. This was already Fatts Russell's team and he will be on the short list for A-10 POY to start the season. Expect URI fans to make this a road environment for Marquette, but the greater talent will be on our side of the court. The danger is that URI is still an experienced team and will be a tough test. Winnable game, but certainly not easy.

UCF/Minnesota: The Knights, like Rhode Island, project as a middle-of-their-league team in a lesser league than the Big East. Johnny Dawkins has been a decent coach and returns most of last year's team, but the talent level has taken a hit from the team that took Duke to the limit in the last NCAA Tournament. They will be slow-paced and well-coached, but beatable. If it's Minnesota, they were the only top-50 kenpom team (#27) with a losing record last year. The Gophers have a solid backcourt in Marcus Carr and Gabe Kalscheur but lost the bulk of their frontcourt. Expect Western Michigan transfer Brandon Johnson to have a big role early on.

Chicago State: This is arguably the worst program in Division I. They had one player with an adjusted offensive rating over 90. This should be a mauling.

Western Michigan: I imagine this game may have been scheduled as the Vermont, Fresno, Buffalo, North Dakota State type of guarantee game three months ago. Then the Broncos' top two scorers transferred (including the aforementioned Brandon Johnson). Now Clayton Bates needs his very young but talented team to grow up quickly. Before slumping the past two years, WMU had been a top-200 team in kenpom 9 straight seasons. Unfortunately, those transfers will likely relegate them to the 200-300 range again.

Oklahoma State: This home game kicks off a brutal three-game stretch. The Cowboys had the look of a NCAA contender before their recent postseason ban. Now the best freshman in the country, Cade Cunningham, may be headed either to another program or the G-League academy. They still have Big 12 talent and a couple of potential breakout stars in Isaac Likekele and Yor Anei, but Cunningham was definitely the guy everyone would be coming to see. The good news is grad transfer sniper Ferron Flavors has committed to staying, but their fate hinges on Cunningham's decision.

UW-Madison: A lot will be expected from this Badger team that expects to start 5 seniors with a sixth expected to factor in off the bench. Expect them to start in the top 10-15 range and be the marquee name on the schedule. Greg Gard had them playing great down the stretch and they went 16-5 after Micah Potter entered the lineup. Definitely the toughest non-con test unless Michigan State's name shows up as that road Gavitt Game.

UCLA: After a dismal start under Mick Cronin, the Bruins bought in and finished the season on an 11-3 surge. Many had them pencilled into the top-20 before star recruit Daishen Nix left the program for the G-League academy. They still return virtually their entire rotation and add former five-star Kentucky recruit Johnny Juzang. This will be a tough road test to set the table for Big East play.

Jackson State: The obligatory punching bag game before Big East play truly starts, the Tigers will have some similarities to last year's Marquette team. Tristan Jarrett was fourth in the percent of shots taken nationally and will dominate the ball similar to how Markus Howard did, especially with second leading scorer Roland Griffin gone. They lose three other starters as well, so this should be a comfortable win.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

#MUBB Happy Hour

So we did a thing, we organized a Zoom happy hour with notable Marquette social media "personalities" and we recorded it. Big thanks to Tim Blair, Ben Snider, Sam Newberry, Alan Bykowski, and Patrick Leary for joining the chat and raising the overall quality of the podcast considerably. I'd go through all the stuff we talked about but it was all over the map and you'll just have to listen.....what else you have to do? Enjoy!


Sunday, April 26, 2020

Final Revised Cards for Value Add Basketball Game (topped 30,000 clicks this weekend)

We managed to update the cards for the Value Add Basketball Game so click just this pdf to print out player cards for the 100 teams projected to make the 2020 NIT or NCAA, plus other great teams from the 1943 Wyoming Cowboys to the 2019 Virginia Cavaliers. The following are the three teams I feature on the update instructions for the free game, which was clicked on for the 30,000th time this weekend. No team was allowed to have more than one great team in the game from each century, so the Marquette 1977 and 2003 teams are also included, but Bill Walton's 1972 UCLA and the team they beat in my all-time tournament, Michael Jordan's 1982 UNC Tar Heels, are the only UCLA or UNC team from the 20th century.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Scrambled Eggs is still in quarantine but that doesn't mean we can't pod

The season ended really weird and we really haven't had the chance to talk about it. We get together and first discuss the end of what was shaping up to be a disappointing season for #mubb. We then talk about the Markus Howard era, what we'll remember and what Markus' legacy will be in the coming years. That conversation leads to yet another discussion of Wojo the coach, and what options Marquette really had given the financial state of affairs given the impact Covid-19 is having of society. We also talk the departure of Stan Johnson and the return of Justin Gainey. We close out the pod with a quick examination of the recruiting trail for Wojo, the players in the transfer market and what MU needs/wants right now. Generally, we keep it light so let's hope you enjoy!