"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, March 22, 2008

The Sweet 16 awaits

Marquette aims to return to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003 when the Golden Eagles (25-9) take on the Stanford Cardinal (27-7) this afternoon in Anaheim.

After an impressive win against Kentucky, the task grows taller for Marquette this afternoon. The Cardinal are led by the seven-foot twins, Brook and Robin Lopez. Brook Lopez, a sure-fire NBA lottery pick, leads the team with 18 points and 8 rebounds per game. Robin Lopez contributes 10 points, 5 boards and 2.5 blocks per game.

With the Lopez twins anchoring the lane, Stanford is one of the best defensive teams in the nation and they've dominated the backboards all season long, especially on the offensive glass. Per Rosiak, Crean likens the matchup to facing Thabeet and Hibbert in the same lineup - - which might be true if the Stanford pair wasn't better.

So, the antidote to ridiculous height and strength is simple, right? Run, shoot well and crash the boards. Perhaps Ousmane Barro, who will set the Marquette career record for games played today (127) will deliver a magical performance. Or maybe Lazar Hayward has more posterization remaining in his repertoire (read more below).

Seriously though, USC topped the Cardinal 77-64 late in the year despite the acute height disadvantage. USC dominated the backboards, taking home and advantage on both sides of the glass to win the game. The Cardinal also fell at Oregon, a smaller, perimeter oriented team. The Ducks won despite being manhandled on the glass and losing the turnover battle because they converted at the charity stripe and limited the Cardinal to just 16% shooting from beyond the arc. Of course, the Cardinal hitting on just 52% of their free throws helped too.

In this battle of opposites, Stanford appears to have the upper hand but perhaps the Golden Eagles have something on their side, karma. After shedding the weight of unrealized expectations on Thursday, Marquette soars into Saturday's tilt with nothing to lose. For the second week in a row, this group broke through to new heights -- first by advancing to the Big East tournament semifinals, and now by winning an NCAA opening round game. Factor in MU's tough schedule (the Golden Eagles played a whopping 12 games against the RPI top 30), the Big East's 7-1 start in NCAA play, and that marvelous backcourt depth ........ hey, you never know.

In the end, here is what we do know:

  • Stanford is ginormous. Marquette is not.
  • Marquette is fast and quick. Stanford is not.

Still need more? Henry Sugar has it covered with this boffo analysis of the Cardinal -- and this confidence-related epiphany on MUScoop.

Tip-off is scheduled for 5:45pm CST on CBS. Ring Out Ahoya!

Once again, Cracked Sidewalks will be there to cover the game in-person.

Media Updates


Anonymous said...

Superb job guys. Thanks for bringing the experience back to us in the Midwest. Let's extend our stay today.

Go Warriors!

Seth said...

Stanford fan here and newcomer to your very impressive blog. I've always had a soft spot for Marquette and Al McGuire was always one of my favorite coaches and commentators: will always remember him goading Arthur Lee into dancing after Stanford advanced to the Final Four ten years ago this month.

As for the two Stanford losses you write about: I think you can discard the loss at Oregon, as it was earlier in the year before Stanford really gelled. When Stanford and Oregon played again in Palo Alto later, Stanford crushed the Ducks.

The loss at USC does, however, provide a template you can look to try to emulate. Sure, Stanford was flat after having a share of the Pac-10 title taken away by the refs at UCLA two nights before, but they were just not focused on the boards enough. Also, USC's bigs are a bit undersized but very athletic and talented, plus their wings and guards are big, strong, and athletic enough to crash the offensive glass. Hayward and Matthews may fit the mold there, which is a big concern for us. The Lopez twins go for the spectacular block too much sometimes; they have to stay home and be content with defending/altering the shot and collecting the rebound.

I'm pretty concerned with the matchup against Lazar Hayward. He looked great against Kentucky. Strong, athletic, and a credible outside threat. Kind of sounds like Mailk Hairston of Oregon. Then again, Robin Lopez shut Hairston down pretty well. (Robin is outstanding at defending bigs that try to score outside the paint: Ryan Anderson of Cal had his way against pretty much everyone this year, but Robin convincingly shut him down twice.)

Our guards are not much offensively unless Goods gets hot, but I like them collectively on defense. Even the weak link Mitch Johnson has improved quite a bit. Darren Collison effectively used screens to hit 12-foot jumpers and had the running teardrop layup in his arsenal to clear the long reach of the Lopez twins. Goods totally shut down talented two guards like Derrick Low and Russell Westbrook in Pac-10 tournament; he will need to bring his "A" game defensively today, as well.

Looking forward to an exciting game today!