"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

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Best case: Win the next 3 and MU wins Big East title, Worst Case 5th place

I was just looking back at some of the preseason magazines that had MU finishing 7th in the conference this year, and who would have thought that as of February 22 we could make the following two statements?:

1. If MU wins its next three games, it would lock up the Big East regular season title no what happens in any other game
2. After Nova’s win over Syracuse, the worst case scenario would now be a 5th place finish in the Big East.

Not that any of this has stopped the skeptics. Yesterday www.kenpom.com predicted Georgetown by 5, and Las Vegas predicted Georgetown by 2 ½, but when asked after the game which Big East team could make an NCAA run, ESPN's Adrian Branch said Marquette, admitting he had underestimated them before watching the Georgetown game.

Everyone has underestimated this team all year, and now the only question is, “BY HOW MUCH did everyone underestimate the team that now has three projected NBA draft picks and has beaten more ranked teams than anyone but UConn?”

ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb has been the harshest, calling MU the most overrated team in the US when we hit #8 in the polls, a statement that yesterday he only offered to recant if MU went 4-1 during this final gauntlet. I pointed out to him on a comment on his blog that this means he is saying MU would have to win two of three against teams ranked HIGHER THAN THE 8th RANKED SPOT he says we don’t deserve (expect Monday’s rankings to show UConn at #2, Louisville at #6 and Pitt at #1). If MU were the 8th best team in the land they would not be expected to beat MOST of the teams ranked HIGHER THAN 8th, particularly with two of three games on the road. I’m hoping Gottlieb will concede that winning one of these three games would prove MU belonged in the Top 8 nationally and would thus deserve a No. 2 seed for the Big Dance.

Now that MU is down to a 5-team race in the Big East, here are the records that www.kenpom.com projects in Big East play, along with the percent chance each team has of winning each game:

1. Pitt 15-3 (at Pr 84%, at SH 84%, MU 83%, UConn 66% - wins tie-breaker with UConn due to projected sweep)
2. UConn 15-3 (at MU 57%, ND 88%, at Pitt 34%)
3. Louisville 14-4 (at Gtown 43%, MU 75%, SH 92%, at WV 31% - wins tie-breaker with projected home win against MU)
4. MARQUETTE 14-4 (UConn 43%, at Lville 25%, at Pitt 17%, Syr 74%)
5. Villanova 13-5 (at DeP 93%, Gtown 65%, at ND 46%, Prov 89%)

In short, we are about to start a run that would be every bit as tough as an Elite 8 run. At first glance, the percentages don’t look good, but under the category of “the other team has problems too” I think MU has a shot at all three games:

Can UConn handle MUs pressure now that Dyson is gone? Obviously we have a problem if Hasheem Thabeet and the tallest team in the country get the ball three feet from the basket, but the Three Amigos have overcome huge height disadvantageous in two of three matchups against UConn the past three years by pressuring opposing guards and with Dyson gone, MU can win this game 25 feet from the basket.

Can Louisville stop MU by packing under the basket to prevent drives and conceding the 3-point shot like last year? I don’t think so. Last year Wes, Jerel and Lazar combined for only 7.8 three-point attempts a game and hit 36% of them. This year the trio is putting up 11.5 per game and hitting 41% of them even from the deeper arc.

Will Pitt’s slow pace play into MUs hands? Four of the top 12 teams in the Big East play at a slow pace – 66.7 possessions per game or less. So far MU has EXCELLED in every game against one of these slow-paced teams. MU has actually SLOWED the pace even further against these teams (Cincy, Gtown twice & WVU). The results? Only 63 possessions per game for a 4-0 record with an average win of 83-64! Pitt is the last team MU plays at this pace, and Pitt rarely forces turnovers while MU rarely gives it up.

So MU really does have a great chance to make some more history. MU is 3-23 all-time against Top 3 teams, so this is a great chance to add a 4th or even 5th win against Top 3 teams in the closing days of the season. And unlike the tourney, we have nothing to lose. If MU falls short in any or all of these potentially historic games, they will live to battle another day.


Joe said...

I believe it is completely legitimate to note that Doug Gottlieb, as a legal adult, stole credit cards and is therefore of questionale judgement.

Anonymous said...

But then again, so are those with an MU degree that spell words such as "questionale" and "judgement."

J.J. Pauly said...

But then again, so are those that assume every poster here is an MU grad with flawless english and zero grammatical errors.

Anonymous said...

You should use an upper case "E" when typing the word "English."