"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

Friday, March 13, 2009

It hasn't looked this bad since ...

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

OpponentShooting3-pt shooting40% shooting35% 3-pt%Score if 40%/35%
UConn15-405-1116-404-1183-93 L
L’ville9-333-1413-335-1467-62 W
Pitt13-355-1614-356-1677-90 L
Syracuse11-334-1513-335-1578-73 W
St. John’s9-193-88-193-871-45 W
Nova5-273-1211-274-1286-76 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.


Unknown said...

Excellent points, John. Still persuasive after all these years.

Unknown said...

Thanks Bama, we can be proud of this team no matter what happens in the tournament. I think it's also good that Coobey is getting quality minutes. Let's hope the stars line up right. Go Marquette!

Tony said...

I needed that. Thanks!

JohnPudner said...

Well, I mapped out travel from Alabama to all 8 cities for this coming weekend. I have to be back Monday for business, so the Boise trip would entail flying all night and landing in Atlanta at 5:54 a.m. Monday and driving straight to a meeting - but if we are still alive, it will be the most fun all-nighter I've ever had. And yes, I agree on it being great to see Cube back out there. Nice pass and still a nice touch.

Championships Matter said...

This aint 1977 and this team aint going anywhere.

Sorry folks, here's why.

1) The 1977 team was intact. No one was injured. No one left early for the NBA. This team lost its heart and soul.

2) The 1977 team had underperformed all year and had not met expectations, by a long shot. This team has not underperformed. Given the lack of bench and a big man, one might say their record is better than it should be. Who they really are was apparent as early as the Tennessee game and very apparent in the Big East challenge of the past three weeks.

3) The 1977 team was balanced with outstanding guard play (Jim Boylan and Butch Lee) and a center that really, really was a center in Jerome Whitehead. The bench had enough depth in BT,Gary Rosenberger and Ulice Payne (yeup, Bill Neary really, really did start) to spell Neary and Bo. This team doesn't have ANY depth.

4) The 1977 team had Al. Buzz is a growing coach, but he's yet to prove to be an AL.

Lets hope for the best, but I'm betting they'll either be one and done or win one and then lose out.

Here's hoping I'm eating crow -- or Badger.

Unknown said...

Champsionship Matters:
What are your feelings now that the brackets are set?

JohnPudner said...

I feel we got two winnable games. Both teams have one very good 6-foot-9 player, but not a giant front line that can kill us and frustrate Wes and Jerel cutting to the hoop. I think these are teams they can both score against, and if they start hitting some shots I think we can win games. Both will be tough, but both are winnable, unlike the Stanford matchup last year which took a perfect game to have a chance because of the mismatches underneath. I knew I'd either be nervous as heck, or simply depressed when I saw the matchups, and I'm just nervous as heck unable to sleep because I think we CAN win both these games.

As I said in the column right after the blogs came out, I really do believe we needed matchups where we weren't overwhelmed athletically by three future NBA players, and neither Utah or Missouri has that, meaning Wes-Lazar-Jerel are clearly better overall than Utah or Mizzou's best 3, and we need that mismatch to offset our lack of size.

I don't even know what city we would play in next, I'm so locked in on Boise.

Championships Matter said...

I stand by my earleir comments. After all, Championships Matter!

Reality 1: We probably should beat Utah State, though one of the Chicgao Tribune staff members picked Utah State as their first round upset. Missori, given our history in 2008-2009 and our record, is another story. Big 12, battle tested and a favorable record against ranked opponents, this will be tough and probably difficult to win.

And unlike 2003, there's no Steve Novak to come off the bench and save the day.

Reality 2: Should we somehow beat Mizzou, congratulations gang, we have Memphis. We haven't beaten anyone that good and that well-coached in a long-time (try UConn in our first Big East home game).

Reality 3: And, oh, there's UConn waiting. And that's just to get into the Final Four.

Look, we won't get blown out against anyone we play. But since Dominic James went injured, the chances that we'll get by anyone other than Utah State are remote.

Prove me wrong and I'll eat my dose of Badger.

Unknown said...

Badger coming up!

Championships Matter said...

Hey John:

I'll gladly eat my seasonal allocation of Badger if I'm wrong.

Heard there's a special Warrior sauce that makes it especially tasty.