It looks tough as we wait for bid information this weekend.
Hopes were high starting the season 14-2, but struggling down the stretch to go into the tournament with only a 74% winning percentage certainly makes next week look tough. Combine that with the fact that Marquette has proven they CANNOT win a close game against a ranked opponent (0-4), failing to beat a top 10 team all year, and even supposedly “big” wins coming against teams like Notre Dame that were probably overrated, and it looks like a pretty bleak NCAA tournament ahead.
Oh wait, sorry those are notes from 32 years ago. That was the 1977 team that had blown every close game against a ranked team, with one overtime loss and three one-point losses including a season-ending loss to Michigan 69-68 to enter the NCAA on a bitter note at 20-7, their worst record in TEN years. Honestly now, how many of you had given up that year before MU won the next five to take the national title?
This year is almost identical on the basics, a winning percentage one point lower (24-9, 73%), and fans wondering if MU can ever pull off a close tournament game after losing to Stanford to end last season then going 0-3 in close games against ranked teams this year.
Yes, yesterday was a gut-wrenching loss, particularly since the upsets last night probably would have given us a chance to actually win the Big East with UConn and Pitt out. Sure, seven days from now we might be leaving some city saying, “what if,” with our heads hanging after a one-and-done. But on the glass half full side, I feel infinitely better than I did two weeks ago after the UConn loss.
Mo, Jimmy and Lazar leading the way
Then the question was, “Are we toast, or can Jimmy Butler and Mo Acker step up from role players to be big time down the stretch with Dominic gone?” That question has been answered.
After going 1 for 16 on treys the 16 games before Dominic’s injury, Mo has reverted to last year’s soft touch with 10 for 24 from behind the arc, and 3.3 assists to 1.3 turnovers a game.
Butler has scored double figures three games in a row, during which he has averaged six OFFENSIVE rebounds a game, and Lazar has kept up a 43% clip on three-pointers to average 17 points and 9 rebounds since James went down.
With the three NON-seniors playing this well, people are really giving up?
Wes and Jerel may need to hit only 40%
If you told me after Dominic broke his foot that those three would play well enough that Wes and Jerel would just need to hit 40% of their shots for MU to win, I would have thought you were crazy. But that is exactly what has happened, and I don’t think our first and second round opponents will be any better than Syracuse, Villanova and Louisville, all of whom we would have beaten EASILY if Jerel and Wes had just combined to shoot 40% overall from the floor, and just 35% from behind the arc. Here are their actual combined numbers the last six games, and what the result would have been in each game if they had combined to shoot just 40% from the floor and 35% from behind the arc:
Results if Jerel & Wes had shot 40% in each game
|Opponent||Shooting||3-pt shooting||40% shooting||35% 3-pt%||Score if 40%/35%|
|St. John’s||9-19||3-8||8-19||3-8||71-45 W|
*Notes – Syracuse stats do not count overtime, since MU would have won in regulation. In some cases making an additional shot did not result in extra points, because MU grabbed the offensive rebound and scored anyway.
Remember, in their 14 Big East games with Dominic, Wes was shooting 55% (44% from behind the arc) and Jerel 49% (45%). They can both shoot a good 10 points below where they shot until then and MU wins. I just don’t believe they are going to stay buried next weekend. Wes has shot 33% (28%) and Jerel 32% (31%) these last six games, and I just can’t believe that now that they realize the other three are playing so well they can’t get it back up to 40% (35%) at least.
So the question as we wait this long week for the next game is no longer can Acker and Butler step up, it is now “Can Jerel and Wes get their stroke back for next weekend?” I feel MUCH more confident that the answer to that question is YES!
Can’t win close games?
I believe the other desperation MU fans are feeling is that we just can’t seem to pull out close games.
It’s true we’ve lost 8 of 10 close games (4 point or less margin and/or overtime) the past two years to Duke, ND, Gtown, Stanford, USF, L’ville, Syracuse and Nova, with the two wins coming against Wisconsin and NC State this year. But every time I’ve seen the phenomena of close games studied in any sport, it seems that teams even out. When a team gets to the playoffs by winning most of their close games in any sport, they tend to collapse the next year. I attribute the ball rattling in for Nova yesterday or Stanford last year, or the call going against us at the end vs. Georgetown and Louisville as just bad luck – and it would be fine with me if it evens out right when we need a roll this coming weekend.
I admit that during the first half against Nova I was starting to wonder if I’d really travel this coming weekend as bad as we looked. But to go into the tournament having dominated a team as good as Nova for a half and just run out of time at the end, I feel good that the pieces really are there to give us a shot to come through next weekend. And if we do, like in 1977, will anyone really care about the disappointing final record going into the tournament? Not saying it’s 77 again of course, but let’s take it one weekend at a time and if Jerel and Wes get a little of their stroke back, the non-seniors are now playing well enough for us to leave next weekend ecstatic as a Sweet 16 team.