"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

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Value Add Basketball Cards for 10 Marquette Players and 5 Other Big East Teams

Below are the projected player cards for Marquette and five other Big East teams included in the 68 team in the Value Add Basketball Game. After learning of the Covid-19 season shutdown while in Madison Square Garden in March I spent the next few days calculating player cards for 100 teams I thought would have made the NIT or NCAA tournament to add to my 100 all-time great teams (where Bill Walton's UCLA had defeated Michael Jordan's UNC for the all-time title).

This week I updated the game by choosing 68 of those teams who looked strong this season. I kept the cards for all players who had a card last year (whether on the same team or moving to a new team). The layout sets up to just have 10 players per team, so sorry for the MU and other players I left off. The calculations sort the players into 5 starters and 5 bench players, so do not take the line-up listed for MU as my opinion or suggesting the line-up Wojo put on the court these first couple of games was anything less than fantastic.

I took players who were on this ESPN roster, however I noticed some of the JUCO transfers and transfers who had sat out a season (e.g. Sam Hauser with UVa) were not listed on the ESPN roster, so we added players from the Top 100 JUCO rankings as well as Jeff Goodman's rankings from 2019 tracking the key transfers who sat out the 2020 season but planned to play this season. 

We did not go beyond those three steps to verify if players were sitting out this year due to Covid, were injured, etc., but we hope this gives a somewhat realistic play for what would have happened this season without the interruptions Covid-19 may cause. However, projecting player cards for college players is obviously not an exact science, so the top 150 freshman basically got a card that matched an equal freshman from last year at the same position (e.g. the 25th highest ranked freshman PG gets a card roughly equal to the 25th best freshman PG last year). You can pull up the cards for the non-Big Esat teams in this blog.

If someone actually wants to play a game, click on the image to open it in a separate screen, then print that sheet. The top line for each team are the suggested starting players left to right from 1 (point guard) to 5 (center), but you can rotate players in any order you want. Each player has an endurance figure of between 7 and 44 to indicate the maximum number of possessions he should play in the game. In addition to using these instructions, you will need to print out the scoresheet at the bottom of his blog. The game continues to be my most widely read blog with 43,300 clicks, and the game is free.

To look at the team's player cards, you should click on each image and then click to open the image in a new tab, where the players and their numbers should all be clear and easy to read.

Big East teams included

Connecticut 2021

Creighton 2021

Marquette 2021

Providence 2021

Seton Hall 2021

Villanova 2021

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The season starts....we think

It's time for the weirdest season on-record for #mubb to kick-off. We start off by talking about the swirl of external events around the basketball season and how they will impact the shape of the season to come. We also discuss what a delay to the season may look like if it happens. We then discuss the news that Jose Perez is available to play this season, via waiver, and what that might mean for the team. We then discuss the upcoming games, how they might turn out, and what we think the results will be. Buckle up and enjoy! https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/c4v9ty/scrambledeggs_edit_112420.mp3

Marquette Preview, 2020-21

Marquette Golden Eagles

Coach: Steve Wojciechowski (115-81)

Three-Year NCAA Rank Average: 37.3

Three-Year kenpom Average: 39.0

2020-21 T-Rank Projection: 76

Yes Big East fans, Theo John is still at Marquette

Photo from gomarquette.com

Projected Starters: PG Symir Torrence (6'3" So), SG D.J. Carton (6'2" So), SF Koby McEwen (6'4" RS Sr), PF Dawson Garcia (6'11" Fr), C Theo John (6'9" Sr)

Marquette's 2019-20 season was eerily familiar for Golden Eagles fans. A promising non-con start, competing near the top of the conference for two months, then a staggeringly poor finish. The biggest difference was the play of Markus Howard. His struggles were in large part responsible for the 2019 slump but this past year he was the only scintillating spot as Marquette dropped game after game. Howard's departure has fans in Milwaukee wondering what is next for this team and how successful Coach Wojo can be without the focal point of an offense that was ranked on average 16.5 nationally with Howard as its leader.

In addition to losing the Big East's all-time leading scorer, reliable contributors Sacar Anim, Brendan Bailey, and Jayce Johnson are also gone from this roster. Symir Torrence has received rave offseason reviews and will hope to make a significant freshman to sophomore year jump. He has excellent court vision and distribution abilities. Marquette got a huge boost when transfer guard D.J. Carton was granted immediate eligibility. Carton has NBA potential though while he can score is far more of a distributor and game manager than Howard was. He is also regarded as a better defender, something Wojo sorely needs. Koby McEwen should be more comfortable on the wing and along with Torrence and Carton gives more of a three-guard look. McEwen showed flashes early on but cratered down the stretch, with a 78.6 adjusted offensive rating during the 1-6 finish. Up front, Garcia is the preseason Big East Freshman of the Year. The McDonald's All-American can score inside and out, is able to put the ball on the floor, and should be able to play all three frontcourt positions. John is a physical enforcer who does most of his work around the rim. Jamal Cain and Greg Elliott will likely get close to starter minutes off the bench. Cain is a bouncy forward that can provide excellent rebounding, shooting, and length, while Elliott is an athletic guard that, when healthy, can be a big contributor on both ends, though that health has been elusive. The rest of the bench is filled by youth, with Dexter Akanno looking like a long-term piece in the backcourt and Justin Lewis and Osasere Ighadaro offering potential but no experience. The wildcard could be Jose Perez, a transfer from Gardner-Webb who was just granted immediate eligibility. Perez is a physical wing that was originally going to sit out. He tended to run hot and cold as one of the focal points at GWU and Marquette will likely hope a lower usage rate will lead to greater efficiency.

Offensively, the plan the past two years has been for everything to go through the hands of Markus Howard. Carton will likely have similar freedom, but expect him to share opportunities a lot more than Howard did. Expect the offense to continue to work from the outside in. Marquette under Wojo always has a wealth of three-point shooters and that will likely continue. This should be a better team on the offensive glass and while it's hard to imagine them being more offensively efficient without Howard, they will likely be more productive inside. On paper, this team should be better defensively. Wojo's teams usually stick with man-to-man, though in high-leverage situations they often throw a zone look at opponents. Marquette isn't the kind of team to try forcing turnovers or imposing their defensive will on opponents, instead working to stay in front of their assignments with John acting as the safety valve at the rim. This year they have more length with guys like Carton, Cain, and Garcia so logic indicates this will be a better defensive team. The problem is that it seems there's a case every year as to why Marquette will become a good defensive team (added athleticism in 2018, no more undersized Rowsey in 2019, no more slow-footed Hausers in 2020) and yet they never match preseason defensive expectations. Until we actually see the improvement, it's hard to accept that it will happen.

In a perfect world for Marquette, Carton would be a better replacement for Howard, not fully matching his scoring but guiding a more balanced offense that doesn't just rely on one guy going off to get a win. Garcia would live up to his immediate potential, serving as a Henry Ellenson type but better understanding his role. Torrence would blossom as a game manager, helping the other offensive pieces to reach their ceilings. And all the length would finally lead to a reliable defense that was able to carry Marquette to top-three in the league and a protected NCAA seed. But I can just as easily envision no one stepping up to alpha scorer status in lieu of Howard and the young roster leading to too many defensive miscues for a team that never really solidifies themselves in the NCAA picture. Like many Big East teams, there are a wide range of outcomes for this squad, perhaps best evidenced by their preseason kenpom and T-Rank disparity. Pomeroy has them at #36 and third in the Big East, T-Rank has them at #76 and ninth in the league. One of the problems with having high expectations for this team is that in the Wojo era, Marquette has only once finished higher on kenpom at the end of the season than they started. Wojo's teams consistently fail to meet expectations. So where do they end up this year? If they get a full season from Carton, I think he's too good for this team not to be competitive. I expect them to be in the middle of the league, good enough to be on the bubble but never quite reaching the heights Marquette fans want to see from Wojo.

Monday, November 23, 2020

St. John's Preview, 2020-21

St. John's Red Storm

Coach: Mike Anderson (386-215 overall, 17-15 at St. John's)

Three-year NCAA Rank Average: 77.0

Three-year kenpom Average: 76.0

2020-21 T-Rank Projection: 60

Julian Champagnie is looking for a sophomore breakout

Photo by Seth Wenig | AP Photo

Projected Starters: PG Rasheem Dunn (6'2" RS Sr), SG Vince Cole (6'6" Jr), SF Julian Champagnie (6'8" So), PF Marcellus Earlington (6'6" Jr), C Josh Roberts (6'9" Jr)

Mike Anderson's first campaign in charge of the Johnnies started in fine fashion, with an 11-2 non-conference record that included wins over West Virginia and Arizona, both teams that finished in the kenpom top-20. Big East play, however, was not nearly as successful. Despite a number of close losses, St. John's went just 5-13 in conference play, saved from the bottom of the league by only DePaul. A Big East Tournament win over Georgetown did insure a winning overall season, which keeps up Anderson's amazing run of finishing .500 or better in all 18 of his seasons as a head coach.

The offseason hit the Johnnies hard, with starters Mustapha Heron and Nick Rutherford graduating and leading scorer L.J. Figueroa transferring to Oregon. Those players take 58% of St. John's three-point makes and every player to connect on 35+% from deep off the roster. So who's left? Rasheem Dunn is the leading returning scorer and assister. He did well transitioning from a high-usage mid-major scoring guard to the point for Anderson and should be better with a year's experience under his belt. Joining him in the backcourt is JUCO transfer Vince Cole. The rangy wing will be counted on to replace some of that lost three-point shooting. The player most fans in Queens are keeping an eye on is Julian Champagnie. The long wing does a bit of everything and will likely try to fill Figueroa's shoes. Up front, Earlington and Roberts will need to step into bigger roles after serving as rotation players last year. Off the bench, expect guard Greg Williams, wing David Caraher, and forward Arnaldo Toro to all see minutes. Anderson will also likely count on at least one of his freshmen, with Posh Alexander being the most likely candidate to crack the rotation.

Anderson's system starts on the defensive end, where they play a high-pressure version of 40 Minutes of Hell. Expect the Johnnies to apply pressure, force turnovers, and when teams do get into the lane, have shot blockers ready and active. Because of that pressure, Anderson's teams do tend to give up a lot of offensive rebounds and free throw opportunities. Offensively, the turnovers created lead to a high-paced attack that is usually going downhill and trying to get to the rim before the defense can get set. His teams share the ball very well and he typically has 4+ players with over 20% usage, but rarely have any individual at 30+%. Conventional wisdom says the losses of Heron and Figueroa will hurt this team offensively, but that might not be true. Both of them shot under 40% inside the arc and while Anderson will hope for better outside shooting, his teams rarely rely on the three-point line, instead favoring inside scoring. With the ball more in the hands of Champagnie, Earlington, and Roberts, all of whom were reliable inside scorers, this team could surprise on the offensive end.

The coaches picked St. John's 9th in the league. Not as bad as Georgetown and DePaul, but simply not blessed with enough talent to compete at the top of the league. I think they're better than that. While Figueroa and Heron are big losses, I think there's reason to trust Anderson's system. The returning players fit his system well and Marquette fans will remember how effective that system can be when it's hitting on all cylinders. Having a wealth of players accustomed to lower usage rates that excel at scoring inside, which is exactly how Anderson coaches, seems to actually work more in this team's favor than the Mullin players that never quite seemed to fit right together. 40 Minutes of Hell will almost certainly allow St. John's to steal a few games they aren't expected to win and I think instead of fighting to avoid the cellar they will more likely be battling for the bubble come March.

Marquette Memory: The 2013 regular season finale at Madison Square Garden was one for the ages. The Johnnies built up an 8-point first half lead, but Marquette ended the first half outscoring the Johnnies 13-2, then matched that feat to open the second and stretch the run to 26-4 and the lead to 14. Marquette had relatively comfortable control through the second half and when Jamil Wilson pushed the lead to 61-51 with 3:25 to play, it looked like it was time to celebrate a Big East Championship. Instead, the Johnnies rallied late, going on a 12-2 run to force overtime. St. John's retook the lead twice in overtime, but Marquette matched them both times. With the score tied at 67, Vander Blue took the inbound, used a Davante Gardner screen to shed his man, drove to his right and slashed to the rim. "They're on their feet at the Garden, Vander Blue...HE GOT IT! AT THE BUZZER!!!" With that win, Marquette secured their first and only Big East regular season title and Blue gave us a precursor to the drive that would beat Davidson a couple weeks later in the NCAA Tournament.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Providence Preview, 2020-21

Providence Friars

Head Coach: Ed Cooley (273-191 overall, 181-122 at Providence

Three-year NCAA Ranking Average: 46.3

Three-year kenpom Average: 60.7

2020-21 T-Rank Projection: 20

David Duke is expected to step up as Ed Cooley's next great Providence guard

Photo by Paul Rutherford | USA Today Sports

Projected Starters: PG Jared Bynum (5'10" RS So), SG David Duke (6'5" Jr), SF A.J. Reeves (6'6" Jr), PF Noah Horchler (6'8" RS Sr), C Nate Watson (6'10" Sr)

2019-20 was a yo-yo season for Ed Cooley's Friars. They started the season 6-6 with four sub-100 losses and a pair of drubbings by the only teams of relative quality (Rhode Island & Florida) they faced. According to T-Rank, they were the 124th best team in the country during that period. Then an upset over Texas keyed a 5-1 stretch that had them near the top of the Big East and playing like the 16th best team in the country. They couldn't keep that up and dropped five of seven, looking like a bubble team as the 41st best team over that difficult stretch. Then, over the final six, they went a perfect 6-0 and during that period were the #1 team in the nation according to T-Rank. Through it all, Alpha Diallo was the consistent leader, but it was transfer guard Luwane Pipkins playing like a borderline All-American (14th nationally in PORPAGATU!), posting at least a 107 adjusted offensive efficiency and 28+ minutes in every game down the stretch. Now both Diallo and Pipkins are gone, as are a trio of key role-players in Kalif Young, Maliek White, and Emmitt Holt.

Cooley's offense is best when he has a dynamic point guard. Players like Vincent Council, Bryce Cotton, and Kris Dunn laid the groundwork for what Pipkins became at the end of last year. This season the keys will likely be in the hands of Jared Bynum, a transfer from St. Joe's who averaged 11.3 ppg/4.5 apg as a freshman. Bynum struggled against top-50 opponents but is expected to get the first chance at running the show. The wings are the strength of this team. Duke and Reeves were both top-50 recruits who have shown the ability to come up big before. Up front, Horchler was a double-double machine for North Florida who remained productive when he faced top competition while Watson is a proven productive and efficient contributor on both ends of the floor. Off the bench, Syracuse transfer Brycen Goodine is a former top-100 recruit who is immediately eligible if Bynum isn't able and the Friars have a wealth of long, athletic wings and forwards led by Greg Gantt that give Cooley depth and options.

Offensively, Cooley's teams used to always run through one point guard. Vincent Council, Bryce Cotton, Kris Dunn, and Kyron Cartwright all had top-5 national assist rates in their careers. The past two years, it's been more of a committee approach. They have one regular post player, currently Watson, and everyone else is focused on moving the ball for the best shot. Cooley has generally played at a medium pace, but last year they were racing out of the gate and were #67 (72.8 possessions per game) in tempo through the first 12 games, with a poor 6-6 record to show for it. Previously, Cooley's fastest tempo (and only top-150) was the 2015 team that ranked #129 nationally. The rest of the way they slowed it down, playing at the #243 tempo (67.2 possessions per game). Dropping possessions by 5.6 per game is a massive shift and unquestionably deliberate, and the Friars improved dramatically because of it. While their offense did improve as the season went on, it was the defense that was their calling card. Providence is primarily a man defense that uses its length at virtually every position to suffocate smaller opposing guards and force mistakes. That length also allows them to succeed in zone (they use more zone than any other Big East team, albeit only 20% of the time) which means they have the ability to mix defenses and with their length and athleticism throw a variety of looks at opponents.

Like most Big East teams, this is a hard one to project. While they lost a ton from last year, the team was actually better from an efficiency perspective without Diallo. Pipkins, at least how he played late, might be the bigger loss. Still, this team has the athleticism and length to keep up Cooley's consistently efficient defense and there's a lot of offensive talent. It will likely take time for the offense to come together, but Cooley has already had a year to work with Bynum while Duke has breakout star written all over him. This has the feeling of a comfortable NCAA Tournament team. In this year's Big East, that could mean a finish anywhere from second to fifth, but I tend to think this is a team better situated to capitalize on their upside because they have the defensive consistency to stay in most games and enough offensive playmakers to keep up.

Marquette Memory: Providence games are known to feature odd events and one of the most notable was on January 17, 2009. In a game at the Dunkin' Donuts Center, Providence guard Jeff Xavier drove to the rim and drew contact from Joe Fulce. Xavier went down with a scratch near his right eye and the game seemed ready to carry on until a fan came down from the stands, climbed over the Providence bench, and took to the court to confront one of the officials. Security quickly took the fan into custody and escorted him from the court. Marquette coach Buzz Williams said after the game "I told the officials, 'We'll leave, because that's extremely dangerous. I saw the guy coming out of the stands. Forget the game; I'm going to protect the guys. I'm going to protect those guys no matter what." It's a good thing Williams and his team stuck around as Marquette rallied from a 13-point second half deficit for a 91-82 win over the Friars. The fan turned out to be Jonathan Xavier, the brother of the Providence guard. He was charged with disorderly conduct for the incident.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Georgetown Preview, 2020-21

Georgetown Hoyas

Head Coach: Patrick Ewing (49-46)

Three-Year NCAA Rank Average: 104.0

Three-Year kenpom Average: 87.0

2020-21 T-Rank Projection: 121

Patrick Ewing is still seeking his first NCAA bid at Georgetown

Photo from ESPN

Projected Starters: PG Jalen Harris (6'2" RS Sr), SG Jahvon Blair (6'4" Sr), SF Jamorko Pickett (6'8" Sr), PF Jamari Sibley (6'8" Fr), C Qudus Wahab (6'10" So)

This time last year, Georgetown was the trendy breakout pick in the Big East. James Akinjo, Mac McClung, and Josh LeBlanc were the building blocks Ewing needed to elevate the program while Omer Yurtseven was the perfect replacement for Jessie Govan as a proven high-major big man with the ideal mentor in Ewing. The Hoyas likely felt they were capitalizing on that potential when they started 4-1 and had a halftime tie with Duke at the Garden. Then the bottom fell out. They lost that game and a subsequent buy game to UNC-Greensboro. Akinjo & LeBlanc left the program with reserves Galen Alexander and Myron Gardner following a week later. McClung and Yurtseven rallied for three more solid non-con wins against Oklahoma State, SMU, and rival Syracuse, but once Big East play the Hoyas fell apart. They lost 7 of their first 10, then lost McClung and Yurtseven to injuries. Once the season ended, McClung transferred and Yurtseven declared for the draft, leaving the promising roster in shambles.

So what's left? Harris enters as a grad transfer who was a low-usage, low-efficiency game manager for three years at Arkansas. Blair and Pickett are the experienced statesmen of the team. Both stepped up adequately last year when the roster was decimated, but neither has demonstrated any level of star quality. Freshman Sibley is a Milwaukee native that has long-term upside but will likely struggle initially at this level. The one player that does seem to have real potential is Wahab, who excelled as a rebounder and shotblocker when Yurtseven went down while also providing efficient contributions on the offensive end. The bench is a mash-up of transfers (JUCO and mid-major) and youth. Simply, there's not a lot to offer much faith or hope.

Offensively, look for the Hoyas to try to push the pace, share the ball, and crash the glass in hopes of making up for their lack of definitive scoring options with extra opportunities. Defensively, the Hoyas focus on an inside-out approach. They aim to contest everything at the rim, control the defensive glass, and do so without fouling. That said, they had the worst defense in the league last year and in addition to the losses at the high-end quality part of the roster, they also saw Terrell Allen and Jagan Mosely graduate, taking experience with them. Expect a lot of growing pains for this group, especially as it's thoroughly unproven once you get past the starting five.

The shock of last year's team is that from an efficiency perspective, it was Ewing's best to date. The problem was a stacked Big East and an anemic roster. While the Big East won't be as good this year, the Hoyas clearly have the worst roster in the league and there are still 8-9 teams in the league that can at least make a case for being NCAA contenders. While there won't be that many (4-6 feels likely) Georgetown is going to be battling uphill every single night in terms of roster quality. Ewing has enough bodies that he will squeeze some wins out of this team, but I expect the Hoyas and not DePaul to be at the bottom of the league when all is said and done. It's sad to see what has happened to this once-proud program, but at this point, Georgetown is the doormat of the league.

Marquette Memory: Georgetown was the first opponent Marquette ever faced in the Big East Tournament back in 2006. Marquette defeated Georgetown 57-51 in the regular season and things started off swimmingly at MSG, with Marquette building an 11-point lead midway through the first half. Georgetown answered with a 13-2 run that tied the game at halftime. Throughout the game, shooting woes plagued Marquette, most notably Big East Freshman of the Year Dominic James, who went just 2/13 from the field. The second half was a back and forth affair with neither team being able to pull away until the final minute, when a pair of Brandon Bowman free throws with 0:39 to play put the Hoyas up 58-50. Marquette then ran off a furious 9-2 run that brought them within a point on Steve Novak's three with 6 seconds to play. Bowman hit another pair of free throws to stretch the lead back to three, and a Jerel McNeal desperation heave went wide, allowing Georgetown to escape with the 62-59 victory.

Friday, November 20, 2020

DePaul Preview, 2020-21

DePaul Blue Demons


Head Coach: Dave Leitao (208-227 overall, 123-132 at DePaul)

Three-Year NCAA Rank Average: 124.3

Three-Year kenpom Average: 103.7

2020-21 T-Rank Projection: 81

Charlie Moore is a First-Team All-Big East selection

Photo from depaulbluedemons.com

Projected Starters: PG Charlie Moore (5'11" Sr), SG Javon Freeman-Liberty (6'3" RS Sr), SF Courvoisier McCauley (6'5" Jr), PF Romeo Weems (6'7" So), C Jaylen Butz (6'9" Sr)

At 12-1 with wins over Iowa, Minnesota, and Texas Tech, the #RankDePaul movement was in full swing. It appeared that the Blue Demons were back, led by a legitimate NBA prospect in Paul Reed and a dynamic guard in Charlie Moore. Then Big East play started, and the Blue Demons reminded us all why so many of their critics refer to them as "DuhPaul." They started conference play 1-12 on their way to another last place finish in the league, the tenth time they've occupied that spot since 2009. Then second-leading scorer Reed left early for the NBA and third-leading scorer Jalen Coleman-Lands transferred to Iowa State.

The new edition of the Blue Demons will be led by Moore, who finally found a home after previous stops at Cal and Kansas. A pair of transfers join the starting lineup. Freeman-Liberty has received some NBA hype after scoring 19.0 ppg for Valparaiso last year while Courvoisier McCauley was a Division II All-American capable of scoring inside and out. Weems was a top-75 recruit who flashed big play ability and will be expected to take a lot of the load Reed left behind. In the middle, Butz has developed into a reliable if unspectacular big man in the middle, though he is expected to miss time to start the season. Off the bench, there is a trio of transfers that will fight for minutes. Guard Ray Salnave was a solid scoring option for Monmouth, wing Brian Patrick was a reliable shooter and scorer for Fort Wayne after failing to crack the rotation at Kansas State, and DePaul's Pauly Paulicap is a physical forward coming in from Manhattan. Another one to watch is Nick Ongenda, a 6'11" center who was impressive late last year and may start in Butz's place at least early on.

The offensive strategy for Leitao is built around attacking early and often. His teams play at a fast pace and get the vast majority of their points inside the arc, which is good as they generally suck at shooting (Leitao last had a top-100 3PFG% team in 2007). Long, aggressive forwards allow them to also crash the offensive glass, though that may suffer without Reed. They also suffer when it comes to holding onto the ball; Leitao's team has been sub-200 in turnover rate every year in this second tenure at DePaul. Defensively, they want to slow teams down and force the turnovers that allow them to push the pace at the other end. Reed was also a prodigious shot blocker, so it remains to be seen how their defense will operate without him flying around as a defensive terror.

Last year, I wrote this about DePaul: "...this is a team that finished last in the Big East and lost their top three scorers. It's hard to imagine them being better than they were a year ago." This year, they lose two of their top three scorers including their best NBA prospect, so it's again difficult to project a big jump, even if there are things to like on paper about this team. How this team fits together is a big question. Five of the nine projected rotation players are transfers in, coming from Division II and mid-majors. Moore, Weems, and Butz give them some stability and proven Big East ability, but there are a ton of questions around slapping a roster together in this fashion. Add in a new Athletic Director at DePaul and Dave Leitao will be squarely on the hot seat and under pressure to perform with this team immediately. There's enough question marks with some other squads that DePaul might avoid the basement, but competing for the middle of the league and a NCAA bid seems like just too high a hill to project.

Marquette Memory: When Marquette drubbed DePaul 85-64 on January 29, 1977, it marked the 19th straight victory for the Warriors over the Blue Demons. On Valentine's Day, it would be a different story. A pair of late turnovers by Marquette star Butch Lee allowed DePaul to tie the game at 60 and force overtime. Marquette held on through overtime, but missed a pair of shots with 1:01 to play and had to survive a missed Gary Garland shot at the horn as the teams headed to double-overtime. The second extra stanza started with a three-point play for DePaul's Joe Ponsetto (yes, that name should sound familiar) that put DePaul ahead for good. After the loss, Marquette coach Al McGuire was pessimistic on his team's outlook, saying "I personally think it's very doubtful that we'll get a tourney bed. One more defeat and we're out. Because there's never been any love affair with us and the NCAA." The bad news was that Marquette was defeated not once but three more times before the end of the season, including the next two after this DePaul defeat. The good news was that McGuire was wrong and Marquette did indeed get a bid to the 1977 NCAA Tournament despite their 19-7 record. Not only did they get a bid, they won five straight once they got there, cut down the nets at the Omni in Atlanta, and captured the first and only NCAA Championship in program history while also setting a then-record for the most losses by a title-winning team.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Butler Preview, 2020-21

Butler Bulldogs

Coach: LaVall Jordan (70-64, 59-40 at Butler)

3-Year NCAA Ranking Average: 41.3

3-Year kenpom Average: 39.0

2020-21 T-Rank Projection: 74

LaVall Jordan needs to find new production this year

Photo from IndyStar.com

Projected Starters: PG Aaron Thompson (6'2" Sr), SG Jair Bolden (6'3" RS Sr), SF Christian David (6'6" Sr), PF Bryce Nze (6'7" RS Sr), C Bryce Golden (6'9" Jr)

The Bulldogs started last season on an absolute tear, opening 9-0 before suffering their first defeat at Baylor 53-52. If anything, that closeness of that loss to a Baylor team flirting with the top-10 convinced people this Butler team was ready to compete. They ran their record to 15-1 and peaked at #5 in the country before the bottom fell out. They dropped three straight and eight out of twelve before a favorable closing schedule allowed them to finish 22-9 (10-8 Big East). The autopsy on last season would try to determine what was real, the brilliant start that had them as the #3 team over the first sixteen games according to T-Rank or the dismal finish that saw them play like the #64 team in the country over the last fifteen?

Any determination going forward will be have to be done without Kamar Baldwin, the stat-stuffing guard that always seemed to pop up with the clutch shot or defensive stop when needed. Also gone are sharpshooter Sean McDermott, wing Jordan Tucker, and a pair of bench contributors in Henry Baddley and Derrik Smits. While the starting lineup looks experienced on paper, most of these guys will have new roles. Aaron Thompson will run the offense and take the defensive task of the opposing team's best guard. Thompson is Butler's version of Derrick Wilson: solid defense, low usage, and can't shoot. Shooting from the backcourt will come from grad transfer Jair Bolden, who has been relatively productive at George Washington and South Carolina, but has never been an alpha scorer before. Christian David is looking to step up from a sixth man role. The front court pairing of the Bryces, Nze and Golden, was a solid but unspectacular pair last year. So who will lead this team? The best candidate might be Bo Hodges, a transfer from ETSU who would be a bit of a Swiss Army knife at the wing, able to contribute on both ends of the floor. If Hodges doesn't get a waiver to play this year, Jordan's bench will be stocked with unproven freshmen, the best of whom, Scooby Johnson, will miss the season with an ACL tear.

Jordan tends to run his offense through 1-2 higher usage players, grinding the pace to a snail's while repeatedly going to pick-n-roll. Bolden feels like the most likely to replicate what Baldwin tried to do. Don't be surprised to see the Bryces take significantly more offensive load. Nze is maybe the team's best all-around player. He's the guy that does all the right things but can go somewhat unnoticed. Golden is the highest usage returning player and could form an inside-out combo with Bolden. Where this team is likely to be best is on the defensive end. They suffocate teams inside and are great at team rebounding to limit second chances. Thompson is a great perimeter defender, though he'll need others to step up because Baldwin and Tucker were both athletic defenders.

Like so many in the Big East, this is a hard team to project. Offensively, they will likely struggle to score. I fully expect them to keep slowing the pace of the game, if only because getting into rock fights and keeping games close will be their best chance to win. While they have some experience, it's almost all role-players needing to step up without anyone proven, and while there are a lot of bodies on the bench, none of them are proven. The ceiling is probably landing on the right side of the bubble if Hodges gets eligible or someone can prove effective on the offensive end. If they can't find reliable scoring, however, this is a bottom half Big East team whose biggest danger to opponents will be keeping it ugly and close long enough to steal a couple games at the end.

Marquette Memory: While they wouldn't become conference mates until the next season, the 2012-13 season featured two meetings between Butler and Marquette. The first came in Maui, where the teams played a back-and-forth affair that looked to be going Marquette's way until a Junior Cadougan missed free throw with 8 seconds left allowed Rotnei Clarke to make a ridiculous off-balance, running, one-handed three pointer from 35 feet out at the buzzer to break Marquette hearts 72-71. I've always referred to it as the "puke shot" because Clarke just threw it up. Marquette did get a chance at revenge, however, in the NCAA Tournament. The teams met in the second round with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line. The game was just as good, with Rotnei Clarke looking like the hero early after 18 first half points. Marquette had the answer, however, as Vander Blue took over late, scoring 19 of his 29 points in the second stanza. His three-pointer with 1:25 remaining tied the game at 69 as Marquette rallied from a 35-27 deficit at the half. Clarke was shut down in the second, scoring just 6 points after the break and with a 74-72 Marquette lead, it again came down to a shot at the buzzer. This time, a wild effort from Andrew Smith careened off the backboard as the buzzer sounded, allowing Marquette to complete their revenge en route to what would be an Elite 8 run.