"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, March 31, 2008

Remaking the Marquette roster

Building on our entry from last week about the enviable trajectory of Marquette hoops, today we'll look at recruiting -- and why the 2008 recruiting class offers an indication that Tom Crean is changing his approach to roster building.

The present roster, long on guards and short on skills at every other position, quickly established MU as an upper echelon Big East program. The formula is working but has its limitations, namely, the lack of productivity at non-backcourt positions. The unbalanced roster, while successful in putting a more than competitive team on the floor in the Big East, is not enough to break through to an elite level nationally.

The incoming class of 2008 might just change things for the better. Rather than overloading at one position or signing players with similar skills in the same class, the incoming talent 2008 -- combo guard Tyshawn Taylor, combo forward Joseph Fulce, center Chris Otule, and two-guard/swingman Nick Williams -- collectively can cover every position on the floor, and per scouting reports offer a range of complementary skills.

This group is a solid start on the journey to change the character of the roster which will allow MU to better compete for a Big East title, to get back to the Final Four, and to mitigate the annual cycle of off-season roster attrition (which, this year, could involve James and/or McNeal playing the game for a living next season).

As an aside, each of these players comes from winning programs - an underrated aspect of Crean's recruiting. Nick Williams will arrive on campus as the Alabama 6A player of the year, a two-time Final Four participant and a state champion. 6'10" Chris Otule will arrive as a guy who tripled his scoring average year to year, led his team to 24 wins and a first-ever playoff birth under the tutelage of legendary coach Ronnie Courtney. Tyshawn Taylor emerged as a go-to-guy on the nation's best high school team, the 32-0 St. Anthony's Friars. Finally, Joseph Fulce put up ridiculous numbers down at Tyler JC, leading his team to a national ranking all season long.

Building on the baseline of the balanced 2008 class, the 2009 group becomes the most critical class for Tom Crean since signing the Three Amigos. To date, Crean has not delivered strong recruiting classes in succession. One very good class is typically followed by a group that includes one productive starter and a few role players or worse (ie: Hayward, Acker, Cubillan and Blackledge following the Three Amigos), leaving the program vulnerable in the face of unexpected attrition or injury. To climb to the top of the Big East and beyond, MU needs to refill the stable with so-called studs more regularly.

A quick look at the MUScoop scholarship table reveals that the upper classmen on the 2009-2010 roster will be predominantly role players. Simply put, the 2009 freshman class is the difference between taking the program to another level, or continuing to cycle up and down as a productive class graduates, leaving behind a modestly talented roster.

At this point, Crean is off to a good start with the 2009 group. By securing a verbal from 6'7" forward Erik Williams (Cy Springs, TX), Marquette has its small forward of the future - always a position of need in the Crean era. Inking a productive big man such as 6'10" Kyle Rowley (Lake Forest Academy, IL) to go along with the highly coveted do-everything 6'7" Jamil Wilson from Racine, and a true point guard like Johnny Lacy (Milwaukee, Bay View) would complete a roster transformation that would create a higher ceiling for the program.

In addition, even though the 2008-2009 roster is already over-subscribed by one scholarship, Crean is still recruiting talent for this fall, fueling speculation that the current roster will undergo a rather substantial amount of additional attrition. Fox Sports is reporting that MU is in the top three (along with Ohio State and UVa) for former Indiana commit, point guard Terrell Holloway. Also, MU is pursuing 6'11" center Luka Mirkovic from La Lumiere School in La Porte, Ind. Mirkovic also is considering DePaul and Louisville.

We'll watch this space closely -- more roster churn appears to be on the way.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Four things to cheer you up...

Four things to cheer you up this weekend:

1. Davidson Beat Bucky

2. The Lopez twins are on the loser bus, just like the other 60 teams.

3. The Final Tom Crean Show on Time Warner Sports was fantastic. They've compressed all their Homer Interviews into one 5 minute Best of Homer spot:

4. Finally, here's our season, compressed into 5 minutes of goodness.

Friday, March 28, 2008

A look back with an eye on the future

Six days after the toughest post-season loss I can remember, the numbness still remains. Initially after the loss I figured time would quickly heal the wound, and I'd enthusiastically look forward to what is always an interesting off-season with MU -- not to mention the promise of next season.

Oh, if that could be so.

Truth is, the Stanford defeat was MU's most painful post-season loss since the 1978 upset to Miami (Ohio). This loss will ache for quite a while - - that's what happens when a program is flying high and has its wings clipped just before reaching new heights. And sure, there's been plenty of debate about how MU lost -- there's never a shortage of opinions about this team when they lose a close game. In watching the replay a couple of times this week on DVR, I have no complaints. MU's best player, and one of the hottest players in the country, had an open look at the end of regulation and another open look with a few seconds left in OT; neither shot fell. Despite that, it took an NBA lottery pick making a remarkable shot to beat MU -- a shot he released as he slid behind the backboard towards the baseline, out-of-bounds. In the end, MU came up short against a very good team.

Still, what the loss won't do is cloud the progress the Marquette program made during the 2007-2008 season. While the team did not demonstrate the kind of watershed breakthrough many expected, the trajectory of the program remains impressive, particularly given the strong core of returning talent and a balanced recruiting class arriving this fall.

Let's recap the highlights:

  • 25-10 record, the third time a Crean-coached team reached that lofty wins plateau;
  • MU won at Wisconsin;
  • MU beat Notre Dame twice;
  • For the first time, MU advanced to the Big East Tournament semifinals;
  • MU advanced in the NCAA tournament;
  • The emergence of Maurice Acker. Acker played his best ball in the last month of the season - a good sign for the long-term health of the program;
  • Jerel McNeal. What can you say, he was extraordinary when his team needed him most;
  • Dominic James. Folks will complain about his shooting -- which is abominable -- but James emerged as MU's top on-the-ball defender this year, and his better than 2:1 assist to turnover ratio is an indication of how much his overall game improved year to year;
  • Trevor Mbakwe. I'm indifferent about Crean's decision to rip the redshirt off late in the season, but in a limited role Mbakwe appears to be the out-of-area rebounder MU has lacked for years, and plays bigger than his size;
  • Lazar Hayward. More often than not, players improve the most between their freshman eand sophomore seasons. That was the case for Hayward, who's diverse offensive game and rebounding toughness were welcome sights on a team that once relied solely on its backcourt.
Now, let's recap a few of the underwhelming points from the season:
  • Eleven Big East wins. While MU secured more Big East conference wins than ever before, the team also played more Big East games than ever before. Eleven wins is laudable but considering the veteran bunch MU returned this year, at least a dozen wins and competing for the Big East crown were more reasonable expectations;
  • Roster limitations. Coming into the season with all of its key contributors returning, the sky appeared to be the limit for the Golden Eagles. However a redundant roster, the lack of skilled big men, and the absence of outside shooting continue to define this group. Crean's strategy of building an athletic roster of players with limited offensive diversification and a hunger for aggressive defense has proven to be a smart formula for keeping the program in the upper half of the Big East -- a major accomplishment. Despite this, there's a fear that the program will plateau at the present level unless that roster building approach is refined;
  • Poor production from the seniors: Before the season started I was bullish on the team in part because of the return of two key seniors, Barro and Fitzgerald. My enthusiasm was misplaced. Unlike many of the seniors during TC's tenure, these guys failed to deliver in their final season much like Sanders, Townsend and Merritt struggled in lead roles for the 2003-2004 team. Barro, relegated to a reserve role for most of the campaign, struggled mightily in that new capacity. Even as a late-season starter, he never recaptured the promise he showed during his junior season. Fitz? Despite leading the nation in the dubious category of "fouling a shooter on a made basket", Fitzgerald rarely displayed the confidence of a senior in any aspect of his game. His inability to sink open shots or contribute consistently with a solid floor game greatly hindered the team;
  • David Cubillan: He was my pick to struggle this year, and he followed suit. After his 13 point effort in the win against Pittsburgh in February, Cubillan became one of MU's most ineffective players in the last month of the season. Cubillan scored a combined 14 points in MU's last eleven games, shooting 16% from the field (5 for 31) amidst declining playing time. With the emergence of Maurice Acker, the impending arrival of Nick Williams and Tyshawn Taylor, as well as a healthier Scott Christopherson it is difficult to see Cubillan contributing to this team next season.
By any measure, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives and the state of the program is solid to great. This past season was a memorable ride. While there are areas where the program needs to demonstrate improvement -- specifically in recruiting a broader mix of skills -- the formula largely works, but is it enough going forward?

Coming up in the next couple of days we'll look at Crean's effort to remake the nature of the Marquette roster -- and what that could mean for the program. On to the offseason!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Post-season Numbers - Where are my turnovers?

(with a bonus McNeal is a stud edition)

Numbers for all five games of the post-season

When we look at the final numbers for the post-season, there are several interesting things to note. Unfortunately, the numbers do not say that we actually won our final game. First, our effective Field Goal % defense was worse than our opponents. However, our Offensive Rebounding percentage (OR%) was significantly better. Returning to the formula that worked in the non-conference part of the season, Marquette did an excellent job on the boards. Finally, our opponents didn't turn the ball over as much, and actually had an advantage over MU in this area.

What happened to the turnovers?

As we have covered in a previous post about turnovers and Marquette, a turnover rate above 20% for our opponents usually means we win. During the strong part of the last twelve games, Marquette was tremendous at forcing turnovers. However, this ability went away especially in the post-season. The graph above shows two trends. The first trend (line) shows our opponent's average turnover rate. Marquette's opponents were averaging a turnover rate well above 20%, which then slipped going into the post season.

The second trend (bar) shows our ability to influence turnovers. As an example, an opponent that usually averages 20% turnover rate but had a 25% turnover rate against Marquette would mean that Marquette influenced the turnover rate by 5%. This trend mimics the previous trend, but clearly highlights that Kentucky and Stanford did a better than normal job protecting the ball against Marquette.

Cracked Sidewalks wonders if this is particular to Marquette, or if teams in general just value the ball better in the NCAA tournament. If the latter, the implication is that an aggressive defense based on generating steals may be susceptible come tourney time.

But At least Offensive Rebounding came back strong

Offensive Rebounding for Marquette was an up and down affair during the season. There is no doubt, however, that it was one of the keys for our victories in the post-season. For Marquette to out-rebound Stanford shows just how well the team was doing in this area of play. After all, Stanford is one of the top rebounding teams in the country.

Individual Player Ratings - or McNeal is a Stud

Look, it's no secret that McNeal was a stud over the end of the season, but when we look at the numbers it really stands out. In the post-season, Marquette had a total of 10 net points, meaning that the final margin of all five games was MU +10. Jerel had a positive net point contribution of THIRTY FRICKING POINTS. Pretty much everyone else was either neutral or negative. David Cubillan, in particular, had a very rough end to the season.

Taking his game to the next level...

This graph shows exactly how McNeal took his game to the next level over the end of the season. James finished with the second most net points on the team, but McNeal just was incredible, with net positive contributions in every single game over the last twelve games. Well done, Jerel... well done.

Gloomy Video

Again, props to SoCalwarrior for shooting some footage. Filed under "sad but true."

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

2007 Recap, 2008 Predictions

Last season, after the MSU debacle, I wrote a post with a number of predictions, some funny, some realistic. Most came true. We're all in a funk right now, and for lack of something more substantive, let's review how I did:

The March 2007 post started out: "Ok, a few days have gone by, we're all still licking our wounds. Time to talk about the future." Ouch. Still applicable in March 2008.

  1. 2007: I predict ...DJ will be on the team next year. And the "shooting slump" will be a distant memory. I predict he'll be better than he was Freshman year, and stay all 4 years at Marquette and be an Academic All-American. Mostly right. DJ was at MU and his shooting improved somewhat.
  2. 2007: I predict one guy will leave the team, and one incoming recruit will not arrive. Half Credit. Saunders didn't make the team.

  3. 2007: I predict Mr. Basketball Scott Christopherson will not red shirt. Bingo. Probably should have, though.

  4. 2007: I predict TC will sign a juco guy this summer. For grins and chuckles only. Half Credit. Fulce may not be for G&C.

  5. 2007: Last year, Marquette basketball fans raised over $1,300 for Al's Run. I predict we double that number next year. Sadly, not double, but $1645 isn't chump change.

  6. 2007: We'll start the pre-season ranked about 15th. Close. Some services ranked us as high as 8th, others around 13-14.

  7. 2007: I predict Mo Acker will be a fantastic addition to the team. I predict we'll sneak him on the court as a 6th man, being so short, no refs notice. -- But seriously, Mo will be a difference maker next year. Great defender, great 3 point shot, lightening quick. Pretty close. Mo hit a lot of big shots this year. I always pick an unsung guy, and Mo was my favorite player this year.

  8. 2007: There'll be a bobblehead next year. I'll guess Jim McIllvane .. or maybe Al McGuire? My vote is for Joe Chapman. And I'm thinking the George Thompson bobblehead is two years away. Scratch that. The bobblehead will be Hank Raymonds. Oh, who am I kidding. There'll be another D. Wade bobblehead, belt buckle, voodoo doll, keychain, snowglobe, and/or t-shirt giveaway. "Wade Bucks," spendable at the concession stands, will drop from the Bradley Center ceiling. Not even close. No Bobblehead. 5 year Final Four paperweight.

  9. 2007: I'll predict a Lazar Laser Pointer night giveaway .. hmm .. given out after the game. Close. How about them light sticks for the GTown game?

  10. 2007: And someone else's number will be retired. Tony Smith is due. Wrong again.

  11. 2007: I predict none of the incoming players will have 3, 11, 14, 15, 20, 24, 41, 43, 44, or 77 as their jersey number. For sure. No doubt about it. No brainer.

  12. 2007: The Jesse White Tumblers will play half time this year. And those inflatable zoo animal guys. Can't remember what they were called. Zooropa or something? They'll be back. Half Credit. Zoomania came back at the GTown game.

  13. 2007: MU will have its 3rd annual Haunted Hoops scrimmage again. Layup.

  14. 2007: I'll guess Robert Jackson is some sort of assistant coach next year. I'll predict there'll be some interest for Todd Townsend at another program. Pure speculation, but he needs exposure to another system. Double-T was my favorite player years ago. All the other assistants will stay. Todd Townsend did go to Northeastern.

  15. 2007: I'll predict our OOC home schedule contains more high interest games than last year's, including homers against UWM and UWGB and a mystery team. Izzo now owes Crean, so maybe MSU will come to the BC gratis? Added to 9 BE home games, the season ticket holders will be happier with the value. Partial Credit. UWM was a well attended game, but UWGB didn't happen, nor did any other high-interest OOC home game. With the 9 BE games, there were a boatload of high quality games at the BC this year.

  16. 2007: I also predict there'll be a lot of complaints about the reseating process for season ticket holders, since it was announced it will be held at the Al, and not the Bradley Center where people can sit down and start their personal ass-groove. No surprise here.

  17. 2007: I predict after 11 years of going to the Bradley Center, I will finally get on the jumbotron next season. Come on. My kid is very cute. Nope, but the old couple behind me got on the Kiss-Cam TWICE. So unfair.

  18. 2007: I'll predict we win the Maui Invitational in November .. but lose to UW in Madison, extending their streak, and that Christmas will be canceled (again) because of the loss. Exactly wrong!

  19. 2007: I predict 1290/1510AM will boost their power output. Or an angry mob will burn down their antenna tower. One or the other, not sure which. I predict "Antenna Night Giveaway" where all in attendance at the Bradley Center will receive a powerful AM radio antenna so they can listen to the post-game as they drive home. Partial credit. We're now on 540AM, which flipped the trouble. People inside the city get a poorer signal, those outside Milwaukee get a much better signal. Keep trying, ESPN Radio, keep trying.

  20. 2007: And speaking of media, I predict there'll be a lot of complaints about ESPN's contract with the Big East. While every game will be "broadcast," a great number of games will be on ESPNU (satellite only) and herky-jerky ESPN360, which few receive. This did not happen, glad to say. MU had a great TV package this year.

  21. 2007: I'll predict on a post-game show, Crean will say the crowd at the Bradley Center was phenomenal. This happened 42 times.

  22. 2007: I predict the student section, after half don't show up for a "lesser" game, will be demoted to the "9th best Student Section in the Country." True dat. MU has a core group of ~1000 students that show up rain or shine, and ~3000 who only show up when they feel like it. Discouraging.

  23. 2007: I predict one game there'll be an announcement that the crowd is the biggest in Wisconsin history. It happens every year. Partial Credit. A new record of 19,085 was set vs. GTown, but the announcement was not made because PuertoRicanNightmare complained about the announcement so much, MU didn't make it.

  24. 2007: I predict Tom Crean will invite the Cracked Sidewalks team on a road game trip. (cough) SADLY, FALSE.

  25. 2007: I'll predict no hand or wrist injuries to anyone on the team. There'll be a concussion or two, of course. There always is. Nope. DJ hurt his wrist.

  26. 2007: I predict we'll go 12-6 in the Big East. 12-6 was close. I lowerered my expectations to 11-7 before the season began.

  27. 2007: We'll get a better seed next year in the NCAAs, like a #3-4, win 1 game and lose in the 2nd round -- and that one of those games will be against another of Coach Crean's buddies, prompting 2,000 more stories about how tough it is to play against a friend. Very close. We bettered our seed by 2, did win one, lose the next. And the stories weren't about the Stanford Basketball Coach and Crean, it was about their Football Coach, Harbaugh, and Crean.

2008 Predictions:

  1. DJ, Wes, and McNeal will all be back for their Senior year. Since we are over committed on scholarships, someone will have to leave. One could guess that Pat Hazel may want playing time at another university.

  2. It wouldn't shock me if Buzz Williams got a head coaching gig somewhere. Didn't I read TCU was sniffing around? All the other coaches stay.

  3. Another Former MU player will join the coaching staff, because it happens every year. What's Scott Merritt up to these days?

  4. Mbakwe will get better. I don't see him exploding like Lazar did, though.

  5. Scott Christoperson .. won't play many minutes in Big East play next year. While Scott may be our future long distance shooter, I can't see him getting quick enough to defend BE players.

  6. Marquette will go 12-6 next year, 1-1 in the BET, 1-1 in the NCAAs. I think I've seen this movie before. While Fitz and Ooze will be missed the most, the incoming freshmen Fulce, Williams, Taylor, O'Tule will fill the gap, but they are freshmen on a team with 3 starting seniors.

  7. It's going to be a long off-season.

Sorry for the lame predictions this year. Still gloomy from our Stanford loss.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Post-Game - Video Closure

Sorry, we at Cracked Sidewalks have been too bummed to write much about yesterday's loss to Stanford. You all watched the game anyhow. What are we going to tell you? That McNeal is a stud? That the Lopez twins are great players but need to keep their mouths shut? Like you didn't know that.

I'm sure if our heartbreak mends today, we'll write something later. Maybe a few dozen Cadbury bunnies will clear up our angst.

In the meantime..

Tom Crean didn't make it on Homer's radio broadcast, and ESPNNews didn't carry the MU press conference after the game. After Tivo-ing every news broadcast I could find, to hear something from the team, I've got this.

Here's some closure for you:

Saturday, March 22, 2008


gut-wrenching loss on a remarkable shot in overtime......heck of a game. I am sick to my stomach.

Know your opponent: Stanford

Kudos to Seth for this comment in the post below (and one before that) about his beloved Stanford Cardinal. So now -- somewhat unplanned -- here is "Know your opponent - Stanford":

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.

Regarding the "Stanford by the numbers" post -- Stanford has done a good job tightening up its offense in the last part of the year and limiting their turnovers, even against UCLA's monster backcourt.

If you're talking about the last twelve games: Stanford did have a rough patch, losing at Arizona State and barely winning at Arizona. Washington and Goods were dinged up and the defense took a hit because of that, but Washington is looking better than ever now. However, I'd point to their performance in the Pac-10 tournament -- beating Arizona and Washington State before taking UCLA down to the final shot -- as a more accurate indicator of how well they're playing now.

I think we're better than Wisconsin. Don't know that we're as good as Louisville, but we would give them a much better game this year.

Looking forward to an exciting game today!

Thanks Seth!!

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

Friday, March 21, 2008

Getting to Know Stanford - By the Numbers

Here are the Important Numbers to Know about Stanford. As always, information comes from Pomeroy's Scouting Report and Game Plan.

Stanford has an overall Pomeroy Rating of #10. (Marquette is still at #12) Like Kentucky, Stanford prefers a slower pace to the game at 65 possessions / game, which is #242 in the country.

Stanford's Offensive Efficiency (115.8 - Rank of #25) gets better because of:

  • Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) - average of 50.1% (national rank of 155)
  • Offensive Rebounding Percentage (OR%) - average of 39.8% (national rank of 7)
Like every team, the Cardinal's offense looks to how well they do at field goal percentage. In this area, they are average. However, as one might expect for a team with two seven-footers, they do an outstanding job at offensive rebounding. Digging into Stanford's offensive numbers further, they are #6 in the country at not getting blocked and they shoot one of the lowest amount of threes in the country (#316).

Stanford's Defensive Efficiency (86.2 - Rank of #6) gets better because of:
  • Limiting Turnovers - average TO Rate of 18.9% (rank of 54)
  • Forcing Turnovers - average TO Rate for opponents of 17.8 (rank of 318)
I find it interesting that how often they turn the ball over impacts their defensive efficiency. Obviously, it will be key for Marquette to force a lot of turnovers. Also, their Defensive Efficiency gets worse when:
  • Opponents get a good eFG% - average rate of 43.8% (#8 in the country)
  • Opponents do well at OR% - average rate of 28.4% (#17 in the country)
Stanford is really good defensively, and they don't have any areas that Marquette usually exploits. Offensive Rebounding has been huge for Marquette in the post-season, and tomorrow's game will provide a huge test. Did we also mention that they're #6 in the country at preventing 2-point baskets and #35 in the country at blocking shots? These are just like the strengths of Georgetown, Louisville, and Connecticut.

How well have the Cardinal been playing lately?

Here is some good news. Over their last twelve games, Stanford's Offense and their Defense have been getting worse. In fact, until their rout of Cornell, Stanford was at a point where they were not playing winning basketball. Their ORtg (106.8) and DRtg (99.2) over the last five games are not nearly as impressive as their season numbers. Based on how well they have been playing and how well we have been playing over the last five games (using the Bill James log5 method), the numbers give us a 42% chance of winning the game. Of course, numbers don't play on the basketball court...

Stanford has better offensive and defensive numbers than Marquette, and they have strengths in areas that have caused us a lot of problems. This is one tough matchup. However, Stanford is impacted on both ends by the Turnover battle, which is an area Marquette will need to win. Plus, the Cardinal have not been playing as well lately, so there are some opportunities for Marquette to exploit.

Finally, remember the lesson from another good team. That team is #1 at defense according to Pomeroy. They don't turn the ball over much, they usually win offensive rebounding, they really limit two point baskets, and they get to the free throw line a lot. They also have a lot of size inside. Marquette managed to do just fine in pulling out a win at Wisconsin thanks to crashing the offensive boards and forcing a lot of turnovers.

Jack Harbaugh Fires 'em Up : Bootleg Video

This is shot during the pep rally before the UK game yesterday. Thanks, SoCalwarrior!

The video is a bit shaky .. skip forward a bit. You can tell Jack has given halftime speeches before!

UPDATED: Here's another great video by SoCalwarrior:

Al Goes Out In Style....must read material

Courtesy of a faithful Cracked Sidewalks reader, here is the actual Sports Illustrated cover story recounting Marquette's 1977 National Championship. If that link is slow, here's the landing page.

Good reading and thanks!!

Kentucky Media Update and Numbers Recap

Great posts already from Hilltopper and MUWarrior92, and if you haven't checked it out, we highly encourage you to look at "On Golden Pond" and "Time to Exhale". There are a ton of outstanding video clips and stories.

In addition, Cracked Sidewalks wanted to commend the Kentucky fans for being good sports, even in defeat. The back and forth interaction, including cross-posting, and discussion on both sides was of a quality level. Our respect for Kentucky basketball has been increased this week.

Numbers Recap
Don't know what all of these numbers mean? Take a look at our explanation for Team Stats and Individual Stats first.

Despite the Kentucky Preview focusing on their defensive abilities, this was an offensive game that Marquette managed to win. We came out ahead in three of the four factors, especially on Offensive Rebounding Percentage (OR%). This was a key area for Marquette in the non-conference portion of our schedule, especially against UW@Madison, and the team has been on a roll at Offensive Rebounding in the last four games. Stanford will provide a real test (more on that later).

Individual Player Review

No surprise that the top four performers in this game were the top four players on our team. It was yet another good game by McNeal. James was just behind McNeal, and thanks to shooting 8/10 from the free throw line, ended up positive net points.

We're going to have more information here at Cracked Sidewalks as we begin looking towards Stanford, so keep checking back regularly.

On Golden Pond....a look back at Thursday

What a relief. I'm thrilled with the win but more relieved then anything. Relieved for the staff, relieved for the fans but most of all the players. The last two NCAA appearances were tough on MU. Significant injuries and youth played a big role and today they had to take on one of the giant programs of all-time. It was weird seeing Kentucky out there as the underdog but in a sense I was glad MU played someone with that kind of pedigree. Not that there was a chance MU would come into this game overconfident, but anything extra to pump them up was a good thing in my mind. As it turns out, not a bad day at all....let's take a look back at the sites and sounds of today.

The Pep Rally - 9:15am DoubleTree Hotel Anaheim, California

Pulled into the hotel and the cheerleaders, band and PRN's favorite mascot were outside the lobby in full throat. Managed to get inside and spotted a few friendly faces, including soon to be superstar sports agent Bill Robers (MU alum) and his lovely wife. Gerry Boyle, Father Wild, Greg Kliehbon (sp?) were there along with many faces from other trips over the years. Good turnout for a 2000 mile trip with a few So. Cal alumni as well.

Found Bill Cords in the crowd and spoke with him for about 10 minutes. He looks terrific. Well rested, healthy...what retirement should be. But you could tell that even though he's not the AD any longer, he was definitely into this event and the game. You can't just drop your life's work because you aren't punching a time card any longer. Always good to talk to him. He helped rebuild a winner when it looked hopeless at times.

About 9:30am the players started coming down through the lobby and outside to the bus. I captured a few videos showing them on their way to the most important game of the season.

After they loaded the bus, they were given a police escort from Anaheim's finest over to the Honda Center. Meanwhile the fans retreated back into the hotel for a pep talk from Jack Harbaugh.

The Pep Talk

You could tell this guy was a lifelong coach. I've heard him give a few of these before, but today's was very good. My video is terrible and I'm hoping someone else has some better clips. He started off by introducing his son, former NFL QB and current Stanford head football coach, Jim Harbaugh to the audience.

Jack then went into what today means. What it means especially for the seniors. For Barro, for Fitzgerald, for Blackledge. I'll post the video if I get it because I can't do it justice. It just struck a chord for me personally. He said the last four years we have been Barro's family and his teammates have been his brothers. Today could be his last game every with this family and these brothers. He would bring it all to the game, every last bit of energy. The same with Fitz and Lawrence. It was well stated. Maximum effort.

He then implored us all to make the Honda Center our home, to scream and yell and make our guys feel like it was our building. He divided the room into two and had a mini-competition between the two sides in terms of loudness. The fans were ready at this point...bring on the game.

Bumping into Joanie...cute story

So we leave the conference room and my wife tells me that the woman she saw yesterday at the Block of Orange (a large So Cal mall)shopping was in the room where the pep talk just happened. I asked her to describe which one. She said the gal with brown hair and the little boy. I started to laugh....you mean "THAT ONE"?

She replied, "yes".

Well, here's the background. Yesterday my wife tells me when I get home from work that she bumped into a Marquette fan at the mall while she was shopping with a girlfriend. My wife made a comment to her that it was great to see a MU fan and that her husband (me) went to MU, etc, etc. Well, my wife asked her yesterday if she was going to the game today and if she was all squared away with tickets. LOL. Joanie said she was all taken care of.

So that leads us back to today. I tell my wife, well honey, that's Joanie Crean...the wife of our head coach and I think not only is she going to the game today, her ticket situation is probably all squared away too.

Just then Joanie comes out, sees my wife and I think they had the 24 hour mall flashback for one second as they recognized each other. She was super nice, spoke to us for a few minutes and brought Reilly over. Very nice family. Very generous with her time.

Off to the Honda Center

So we got into my truck and gave a lift to Tim Vetscher and three other MU supporters. Vetscher worked as a student for me in 1997 selling season tickets to MU faithful. Now he's a television reporter in Phoenix....always good to see Tim. He participates on MU scoop from time to time.

We arrived at the Honda Center at 10:25am just before the doors opened.

My wife and I had never attended a Marquette game together in 10 years...at least not sitting together. When I worked at MU during the games, she was usually on the other side of the arena with our 3 month old son in the baby bjorn...so today was going to test our marriage.

We waited the hour for the game to tip off, I was nervous and she was the rock that she always is.

Attendance was quite sparse from what I'm used to at the Bradley Center and hosting those first two rounds. Milwaukee really does a super job of supporting the NCAA tournament.

At 11:25 they did the national anthem by the the MU band...well done. That was followed by player introductions.

I won't get into the game itself, most others have already done that. I did capture (poorly) a few final videos of the last seconds of the game including my comment "FINALLY" that is caught on video....it's been awhile and it's good to finally get another NCAA tournament win. The MU fans were ecstatic and giving Joe Crawford props for a tremendous game.

Now we've got a day off to figure out how to handle two 7 footers who have pushed UCLA to the brink twice in the last 14 days. It's good to be in the NCAAs again...and winning.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Time to exhale: Marquette advances in the NCAA Tournament

Marquette fought off Kentucky in the final minutes to notch their first NCAA tournament victory in the post-Wade era, winning by a final score of 74-66. With the victory Marquette advances to play the Stanford Cardinal on Saturday in Anaheim.

Jerel McNeal hit for 20 points (8-15 shooting), and Lazar Hayward netted 16 points (7 -11 shooting). Dominic James added 15 points and three assists (and zero turnovers in 29 minutes). Marquette shot 44% for the game.

Marquette led by as many as 11 in the second half, but Wildcat Joe Crawford had the game of his life, hitting 35 points, keeping UK in the game longer than expected.

With just about five minutes remaining, the Wildcats cut the lead to just three at 56-53 when Dominic James delivered in the game's key sequence. Following an offensive rebound by Dan Fitzgerald, James drilled an open three-pointer with 4:23 remaining to boost the MU lead to 59-53. After a UK miss, James took advantage of Ramel Bradley's tentative defensive play with four fouls to drive past the UK guard for the layup, stretching the Marquette lead to 61-53 with 3:14 to play.

Wesley Matthews sealed the win by sinking eight consecutive free throws in the last 30 seconds of the game. Matthews finished with 13 points. Overall, MU was an impressive 23-29 from the charity stripe on the afternoon.

Note to teams playing at the Honda Center, the games are being played under "West Coast Rules" whereby intentional fouls don't exist. Twice in the last minute, UK purposely fouled Dwight Burke, the worst FT shooter on the court, far far away from the ball. Twice, the refs applied West Coast Rules and neglected to call an intentional. Oh, well.

Tipoff for the MU-Stanford game is TBD -- either 5pm or 8pm.

This day has been a long time coming, and I've been dreading it all season. Lose, and we're one and done once again. Win, and we've got the monkey off our backs. I hardly slept last night, but I woke up believing this was our day.

I admit, it was very odd seeing Marquette's name on a bracket line to the right. LET'S GO WARRIORS!

AP Wrap / Official Box

Marquette Press Conference:

Live blogging

Marquette92 is live blogging from Anaheim here:


Let's Dance: Marquette takes on Kentucky in tourney opener

When Marquette and Kentucky renew acquaintances on Thursday in Anaheim, the Golden Eagles will look to earn their first NCAA tournament win since the magical run to the 2003 Final Four - - a run that included a memorable win over the then top-seeded Wildcats.

Five years later, the roles are reversed and the pressure is squarely on the Golden Eagles. Despite making its third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, the Marquette fanbase is desperate for a win in March, and as a healthy, higher-seeded team, expectations are understandably high in Warrior Nation.

Against a thin Kentucky squad that goes only six or seven deep, look for the Golden Eagles to commit to a faster pace -- and to drive and dish more than usual. As we saw last week in New York, MU will push the ball off of both makes and misses -- secondary fast break baskets are a vital part of the arsenal -- to create a decidedly up-tempo game that minimizes halfcourt sets.

Of course, we also saw the Ghost of Offensive Despair in the Big East Tournament when MU endured a 13 minute stretch without a made field goal against Pitt .......a bitter reminder of MU's abominable offensive effort against Michigan State in last season's NCAA tournament.

Absent effective shooters, Marquette has struggled against teams that lock down the paint -- much like the Wildcats have done this season. Since January when facing teams that defend the interior exceptionally well -- Louisville, UConn and Georgetown -- Marquette went a combined 0-5 and shot roughly 31% in those games. Realize that UK has a similar defensive profile, but the Wildcats turn the ball over more than just about anybody you'd expect to see in the NCAA tournament. Therein lies a key to the game.

We've already run detailed numbers previews for Kentucky and Marquette -- and now it is finally time for our favorite time of year, Basketball Christmas season. Moreover, Hilltopper says MU won't lose on his birthday. Ah, it really is the most wonderful time of the year (if MU wins on Thursday). Anyway, here is the boiled down version for the game. As always, information comes from Pomeroy's Scouting Report and Game Plan.

Top Five Numbers to Know about Marquette v. Kentucky

  • 80% - Pomeroy predicts an 80% chance of Marquette victory
  • 291 - Kentucky's rank at protecting the ball
    • Kentucky turns the ball over on almost one out of every four possessions
    • Marquette is #48 in the country at forcing turnovers
  • 25 - Kentucky's rank at getting to the Free Throw line
    • They get to the line 30% of the time that they take a shot
    • Marquette is #264 in the country at preventing our opponents from shooting free throws
  • 63.9 - Average number of possessions for Kentucky
    • This is one of the slowest paces in the country (#281)
    • Tempo will play a huge role in the game
  • 6 - The rank of Marquette's defense according to Pomeroy
    • This is anchored by our tough perimeter defense at getting steals (#5 in the nation) and preventing three-pointers (#3 in the nation)
    • Be confident that we have an elite defense
Tipoff is scheduled for 1:30pm CDT on CBS.

This post is a joint contribution by Henry Sugar and NYWarrior

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Know Thyself - Marquette's Numbers

Now that we've gone through an entire regular season, Marquette fans have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Or do we? After all, it's fairly common for fans to say that Marquette needs to force a lot of turnovers (true) or hit their three pointers (not quite true) in order to win. Therefore, in an effort for MU to "Know Thyself", we wanted to take a dive into the numbers for Marquette.

Marquette's Pomeroy Rating is #12. In fact, we've been hovering around the Top 10 all season, so we certainly are better than our seed (at least according to Pomeroy).

Marquette's Offensive Efficiency (Rank of #38) depends on:

  • Our effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) and... that's it.
  • Seriously, how well we do on offense basically boils down to the field goal percentage that Marquette achieves. For the season, our eFG% averages 50.7% (national rank of 141)
  • Unfortunately, our offensive efficiency rank has been falling in the last month or so. The current rank of 38 is our lowest of the season and we are especially trending poorly at eFG%. Not. Good.
Of course, looking at the MU Scouting Report, we can see that MU is good in two other areas offensively.
  • Marquette is #27 in the country at Offensive Rebounding Percentage (OR%)
  • We are #48 in the country at Turnover Rate (protecting the ball).
As we see below, OR% has been somewhat up and down for the whole season, but has been trending favorably lately. Marquette was ferocious on the boards in the Big East Tournament, and Kentucky is average at best at preventing Offensive Rebounds.

Where our team has really been good has been on the defensive end. Marquette's Defensive Efficiency (Rank of #6) depends on:
  • Our Opponent's effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%)
    • MU is #25 in the country at eFG% defense, holding opponents to an eFG% of 45.9%
  • Our Opponent's Turnover Rate
    • Marquette is #35 in the country at forcing turnovers, forcing a turnover rate of 23.9%, or almost one in four possessions
  • Our Opponent's Free Throw Rate - if they shoot more free throws, then our defense suffers
    • MU is #264 in the country at preventing their opponent from getting to the line
One can see that Marquette's defense is based on limiting our opponents from getting easy shots, and by forcing a lot of turnovers. How is Marquette able to limit our opponents and force turnovers? We are #3 in the country at three-point defense and we are #5 in the country at stealing the ball. Our perimeter defense is really quite good. Considering that Kentucky has adjusted their game plan to start on the perimeter more, that's a good sign for Marquette.

As is surely no surprise to Marquette fans, when we foul our opponents a lot we tend to lose. Fouls are going to play a huge role in this game on both sides.

How does Marquette win? Marquette has established their ability to win on the defensive end. Everything derives from the defensive pressure on the perimeter. Unfortunately, our offensive capabilities are not at the same level.

The last two NCAA tournament games have been an exaggeration of that team's capabilities. In 2006 (overall rating of 28 ; 7 seed in tournament), our Steve-Novak-driven offense was better than our defense, and that team got torched defensively by Alabama. In 2007 (overall Pomeroy rating of 38 ; 8 seed in tournament), our defense was better than our offense, and without Jerel McNeal we... let's not rehash the Michigan State game again. The fear is clearly that this year's team will falter offensively.

However, unlike the last two years, Marquette has a much stronger Pomeroy rating and we are underseeded instead of overseeded. In addition, this year's team doesn't just have a good defense. We have an elite defense that can help propel us forward.

Media Updates for Wednesday

Here's what folks all around the country are saying about the upcoming Marquette-Kentucky matchup:

Don't forget to read our entry on 'Know Your Opponent', a special Q/A from a UK fan right here.

Much more to come today and tomorrow as gametime approaches.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Bracket time. Sign up for our NCAA Tournament pick'em

Crackedsidewalks.com and muscoop.com are hosting an NCAA Tournament Pick'em bracket contest...except that there are no prizes.

Click here to enter your picks

1 point for first round correct
2 points for second round correct
3 points for third round correct
4 points for fourth round correct
6 points for Final Four round correct
10 points for champion picked correctly

This is just for fun, no prizes. Brackets automatically close at 12:05pm EST on Thursday

Best of luck and GO MARQUETTE!!!

Know your opponent: a fan's perspective on the Kentucky Wildcats

.......ah, time to go back to one of our favorite formulas here at Cracked Sidewalks, the venerable 'know your opponent' Q/A. Today we're pleased to welcome Brandon Eaves, a die-hard Kentucky basketball fan who was kind enough to get us smart on the Wildcats. Brandon posts regularly on TheCatsDomain - - here u go.......

Like MU, UK looks to be a perimeter-oriented team. Can you describe their style of play?
UK is a team that really focuses on defense first and foremost. Offensively, UK likes to keep to game in the 60-70 point range. They try to limit the number of possessions that each team has and are deliberate in their half court sets and will wait until the shot clock gets under 10 seconds before executing their play. They are perimeter oriented to the degree in that they like to start their offense from there but they aren’t really a 3-point shooting team primarily. UK will take the 3 when it’s open but they will usually look to take the ball to the basket first and foremost. Overall, the style of UK could be described as precision based. The Wildcats take a lot of time setting up their plays, but it doesn’t feel like they are slowing the game down. You’ll see what I mean on Thursday.

Seniors Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford lead the Wildcats in scoring, and are both very efficient offensive players. What should MU look for from the Wildcats' backcourt aces?
Bradley is the brains and Crawford is the muscle. Another way to say it is that Bradley is the trigger and Crawford is the bullet. With Bradley you will see a guy who is very smooth, very collected, and very smart. He is an excellent ball handler, solid scorer, and great passer. Nearly everything UK does on offense will run through Bradley. He has the ability to drive to the basket and hit from the outside. There have been games where he single-handedly was the reason UK won the game. He is a scorer but he will look for the assist first.

Joe Crawford is the type of player that you really never want to have to leave your program. Joe is a guy that will very quietly put 35 points on you if you don’t keep him in check; and if you do try to keep in him check he will still go for 24 points against you. He is not as skilled of a ball handler as Bradley, but he is a much more dominant scoring threat and he will get in the mix of things and pull out a fair share of rebounds. He is a well built, stocky, guard that only needs a small sliver of space to burn his defender. He can hit the 3 from about 25 feet consistently so teams need to put someone on him all the time. Zone defenses will get torn apart if Crawford isn’t specifically targeted.

Crawford and Bradley are the stars of the team. You should expect to see both of them handle the ball a lot and they will most likely play almost all of the game.

What kind of opponent do the Wildcats have the the most success against?
It’s kind of hard to say. UK has played against several types of strategies this season and they have had success in the second half of the season after the team came together. However, teams that rely heavily on one or two people to be the scorers or the main playmakers generally have a tough time against UK.

What kind of opponents can make the Wildcats struggle?
Teams that like to get up and down the court and score in the 80-90 and up point range tend to give UK problems. UK doesn’t have a very deep bench so keeping players as fresh as they can be is a priority for UK.

Despite losing losing Patrick Patterson, the Wildcats didn't miss a beat down the stretch. Did the team adapt its style of play after Patterson was lost for the season?
They did. When Patterson was in the game the idea was to go to Patterson first and let him dominate the inside. Now that Patterson is out, the idea is for everything to start with Bradley or Crawford. UK went from an inside-out mentality to an outside-in mentality. It seems to have worked for them.

We've talked about the stars - - is there another player on the UK roster that might surprise everybody with a breakthrough performance on Thursday?
Keep an eye on Perry Stevenson and Derrick Jasper. Stevenson will come in off the bench but he is a tremendous shot blocker with his long arms and lanky body. Jasper is a guy that has been streaky this season, but if he’s on he’s fantastic. Stevenson is also very good at blocking free throws, so you guys better be ready! :-)

Brandon, thanks for your time!