"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

Monday, January 31, 2005

Losses without Travis won't kill MU's NCAA tourney chances

Since this is my first post here, let me thank Marquette Hoops for inviting me to blog on topics relevant to MU. I hope that I can provide some entertainment, a bit of enlightenment, and every once in a while generate just a bit of controversy (if only to keep things interesting!).

I’ll start with the controversial:

I don’t think the losses while Travis are devastating to our NCAA chances.

Yes, our RPI may get downright ugly, and we may wind up with only 19 or 20 wins against 10 or 11 losses. But the NCAA selection committee does take injuries into consideration when they determine bids to the tournament. This article in the Las Vegas Review Journal specifically calls out the different impact of Texas losing P. J. Tucker to grades and LaMarcus Aldridge to injury.

We can see the impact on teams in a couple other recent examples. In 2001, Florida finished with a 23-7 record, and a 17 RPI—territory that typically suggests a 5 seed. However, they received a 3 because three of their seven losses were sustained when starting PG Teddy Dupay was out with injury. It happens the other way as well—despite an upset loss to SLU in the 2000 CUSA tournament, Cincy remained the #1 RPI team, and Bearcat fans assumed their #1 seed was secure. However, the committee realized that they were a different team without Kenyon Martin (updated with correction--was Forston--hat tip to Alan), and pushed them down to a 2 seed.

The implication: NCAA will give MU some slack for the losses we incur without PG Travis Diener. The question is how much. Let’s play out one scenario to see what might happen with NCAA tournament selections:

Say that Diener can’t come back for another three weeks—just in time for the DePaul game on February 20th. Between now and then, MU will play five games: UAB, USM, @TCU, Louisville and @ECU. Without Diener, MU still stands a good chance of beating USM, a reasonable shot at TCU and ECU; and probably no chance of beating UAB or Louisville. It’s not unreasonable to think that MU might get through that stretch with a 2-3 record.

Assuming Diener is back in the lineup on 2/20, MU plays DePaul, Houston and SLU at home, and Cincy on the road. A reasonable expectation is that with Diener back in the lineup MU will go 3-1 over this stretch, making the final pre-CUSA tourney mark to 20-9, 8-8 in conference. Ordinarily, that’s probably not NCAA tournament material. However, given that Travis is a first-team all-CUSA player, and a Naismith, Cousy, and Wooden award finalist, I think he qualifies as that “key player” for which merits the special injury consideration.

Including the Charlotte game, five of MU’s eight conference losses will have come with the best player on the team injured. In games with a healthy Diener in the lineup, MU will have a strong “body of work” with a 19-4 record, good wins over Wisconsin and Kent, and good losses to Arizona, Cincy, and Depaul. The 3 conference losses with a healthy Diener were all on the road against difficult opponents in tough venues (Memphis, DePaul and Cincy). None of those will be considered “bad” by the committee.

The key is that Diener come back from his injury in time to show that he has returned to his pre-injury form, and MU wins with him back in the lineup. Obviously, if Diener returns to losses against DePaul, Houston, or SLU the argument goes out the window. However, if MU can put together a nice run with Diener back for three or four games at the end of the season, any losses in his absence will have far less impact on Marquette’s NCAA chances.

So, is an NCAA bid a lock if Diener can come back and demonstrate his pre-injury form? No. But MU's 19-4 record with him in the lineup should be good for an NCAA bid.

1 comment:

Alan said...

Not to be a total jerk or anything, but it was Kenyon Martin Cincy was missing in 2000, not Fortson.

You've got a strong case. The only thing I'd be worried about is that this year's Marquette squad doesn't command the kind of national attention that an SEC team, like Florida in 2001, or a #1 like Cincy in 2000 received. But I suppose that will only affect seeding. I also can't see Marquette being left out of the dance.