"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 29, 2008

Marquette gears up for the Dayton Flyers

After pummeling Northern Iowa yesterday, Marquette (5-0) figures to get a much more demanding test tonight when they square off against the Dayton Flyers in the final game of the Chicago Invitational.

Last night Dayton (5-0) set an NCAA record by going 0-24 from the three-point range, yet still managed to top the Auburn Tigers 60-59 in overtime at the Chicago Invitational. Guard Marcus Johnson led the Flyers with 16 points while sophomore forward Chris Wright scored 10 points and hauled down 16 boards. Dayton manhandled the Tigers on the glass, outrebounding Auburn 50-33.

To learn even more about the Flyers, we're pleased to welcome Tom from The Blackburn Review-- as good a blog as you'll find on any college program. Here's the Q/A Tom sent along this weekend (and here's a link to a Q/A I completed for his blog). Here's a look at the Flyers:


The graduation of guard Brian Roberts created a sizeable gap in the backcourt, who has emerged as the Flyers backcourt leader?

As expected, it has been Marcus Johnson. Marcus was really coming on at the end of last year, and has continued to emerge as a leader on both sides of the ball this season. Primarily known as a slasher on offense, MJ has worked hard to develop a serviceable outside game. He is Dayton's lock-down defender and one of the most athletic guys ever to play at UD. He will probably start guarding Jerel McNeal as soon as he gets out of the shower. Marcus likes to call the mother of whoever he is guarding the night before the game and apologize ahead of time for shutting her son down. He takes his defense that seriously and is a very courteous young man.

Brian Gregory. A report out of Dayton last spring had him pegged to replace Tom Crean at Marquette. How would you rate his performance as the head coach?

You are touching the exposed nerve within the Flyer Faithful. Talk to one Flyer fan and he will say Gregory is a recruiting God, who can take a woman's clothes off with a mere gaze (I've seen it in person). Others will say that Gregory is the second coming of Mussolini, with pure unadulterated coaching incompetence flowing through his veins at all time. I'm in the pro-Gregory camp. You can't argue with the types of recruits he has been able to bring in during his reign. There is no way a Chris Wright comes to Dayton before Gregory. Just based on his recruiting prowess alone, I think Gregory is a step up from Oliver Purnell. Although the results have been mixed, only two postseason appearances in five years, it is obvious that Gregory is beginning to get the kind of players that can effectively implement his up-tempo system.

I will probably get shivved in the shower for saying this, but I think the sky is the limit for what Gregory can do with the program. The expectation is to get in the Dance every year, and I believe Gregory is the guy to guide us blindly into the night.

What are UD's greatest strengths -- and reasons for optimism -- this season?

The strength of this team is its' depth. Eleven guys play at least ten minutes a game. This has allowed UD to play a very frenetic pace on both offense and defense. The freshman, particularly Chris Johnson and Luke Fabrizius, have provided a spark off of the bench—one which was not necessarily anticipated. The amount of depth has allowed Flyer fans to truly see the type of system Gregory has been trying to employ since he got here six years ago. Our biggest concern coming into this season has been steady point guard play. London Warren, the starting PG, was a human turnover machine last season. His exceptional speed serves as both a benefit and a nuisance. At times it allows him to do things no one else on the court can do, but more times than not it has resulted in some poor lady in the fifth row, completely immersed in her nachos, getting a ball to the side of the face. However, Warren has seemed to have tempered his erratic play, as he currently has a 3-1 assist to turnover ratio.

UD brought in a JUCO All-American, Rob Lowery, to provide some semblance of consistency to the backcourt and he has actually played more reckless than Warren to this point. If Dayton can get both point guards, who basically split playing time, to perform at the same level of effectiveness, UD will have a very successful season.

Like MU, UD raced out to a 4-0 record (before last night's win) by beating a bunch of lousy teams. What have you learned about the Flyers so far this season that most surprises you?

I will fight to the death in defense of the Mercer Bears. They beat Auburn, Alabama, and had Georgia Tech down 18 before losing in overtime. I think UD fans were concerned UD would take them lightly, and were pleasantly surprised to see the Flyers come out and dominate that game early and often. Gregory developed a recipe for pain and the team delivered.

I will give you two things that have surprised me thus far, one positive and one negative. The positive has been the contributions of the freshman. Gregory has recruited a freshman class that can do a little bit of everything. Each night it seems a different freshman will step up and make you take notice. This is a positive development. In the past, our freshmen were more likely to punch a cop, or concoct a story about Mexican drug-dealers absconding with them to Texas, rather than contribute on the court.

The negative surprise has been the uninspired play of Charles Little. If you said that Charles Little will either average 15 points and 10 rebounds a game or he will walk around the court texting on his Blackberry the majority of the game, I would have believed the former. Being the lone senior on the team, Little needs to play with the fire and intensity that made him so valuable his freshman and sophomore years. I am hoping the chance to play a team like Marquette will light a fire under Charles and get him going again. UD is a dangerous team when Little is on his game.

Tom, thanks very much. Don't forget to bookmark The Blackburn Review.

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