Four years ago when Dwight Burke, Dominic James, Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal enrolled as freshmen the Golden Eagles were coming off a pair of disappointing NIT seasons in Conference USA.
After falling at home by 14 to Western Michigan in the first round of the NIT to end the 2004-2005 season the future was uncertain. Mired in mediocrity, Marquette was moving up in class to the BIG EAST just months after losing its best player to the NBA draft and losing one of its top remaining talents to an unexpected transfer. Competing successfully in the nation's best conference was anything but a given, in fact it was highly doubtful.
Enter the freshmen class of 2005-2006.
As this most memorable class prepares to play its final home game they do so as one of the most vital recruiting class in the history of Marquette basketball. Against the odds -- BIG EAST coaches picked Marquette to finish 12th in the conference back in 2005-2006 -- these players resurrected the program and engineered a consistent run of success not seen in Milwaukee since the glory days of the 1970s. There was no waiting period. These players won immediately, highlighted by a championship at the 2005 Great Alaska Shootout and the memorable trouncing of BIG EAST heavyweight UConn in the program's first-ever conference opener on their way to a 4th place finish in the league.
Along the way these players keyed Marquette's soon-to-be run of four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, won 92 games (to date a winning percentage of 71%), won at least 10 games the BIG EAST in each season, and re-wrote the Marquette record books across the board.
These gaudy numbers have left many fans anxious for deeper runs into March, and sadly this "Could Have Been Crew" inched to the brink of NCAA tournament success only to be turned away. Consider:
- As freshmen this group watched as Steve Novak, the nation's most efficient offensive player, was unable to drain a wide-open three-pointer to force overtime against Alabama.
- As sophomores this group was robbed of a chance for a deep run in March when the BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year, Jerel McNeal, went down with a wrist injury costing MU late wins and a more advantageous tournament seed.
- As juniors this group took a lead to the final seconds of overtime against third-seeded Stanford only to watch an NBA lottery pick drain a once-in-a-lifetime bucket to end Marquette's dream of the Sweet 16.
- And of course as seniors the Golden Eagles will play their final games without one of the greatest guards to ever suit up in the blue and gold, Dominic James.
Against Syracuse on Senior Day, The Quad will have one more opportunity to electrify the Bradley Center. For all the fans lucky enough to be there, enjoy it and give these kids a most well deserved ovation or ten.
Tipoff is scheduled for 1pm CT on Saturday. The game will appear on ESPN Full Court. For a listing of broadcast specifics by market, click here.
Now let's look at the numbers for tomorrow's game.
Syracuse's Strengths and Weaknesses. As always, this information comes from Pomeroy's Scouting Report
- Not Fouling - Syracuse is #6 in the nation at not sending opponents to the line. They only allow opponents to get a free throw rate of 25%
- Three point defense - Syracuse is #12 in the nation at perimeter defense. Opponents only shoot 29.8% from behind the arc
- Making two-point baskets - Syracuse is #4 in the country at scoring two-point baskets, where they make over 56% of their shots. That helps them be #12 overall at effective Field Goal Percentage
- Making free throws - Syracuse is #298 in the country from the charity stripe. They only make 64.5% of their free throws
- Forcing turnovers - Syracuse is #283 at forcing turnovers, where they only turn the ball over on 18.6% of possessions
- Defensive rebounding - Syracuse allows opponents to get an offensive rebounding percentage of 34.9% (#263 in the country)
Specific Stats Recommendations (in order of Importance)
1. Make shots (Marquette eFG% of 55% or higher) - This is just slightly higher than Marquette's average
2. Force turnovers (Syracuse turnover rate of 33% or higher) - this is a lot higher than Syracuse's average, but Syracuse is only #199 at protecting the ball. Guys that are sloppiest with the ball? (Devendorf, Ongenaut, Jackson). Guys that are most likely to keep it? (Onuaku, Harris)
3. Crash the boards (Marquette OR% of 55% or higher) - This is twenty offensive rebounds, or nine boards higher than season average. We're looking for big days from Lazar and Jimmy Butler.
4. Stop Syracuse from making shots (Syracuse eFG% of 56% or less) - While Tim may feel that we have no answer to Flynn, the key here is Onuaku, who gets an eFG% of almost 70%!
5. Protect the ball (Marquette TO Rate of 8% or less) - This is six turnovers or less.
Pomeroy predicts a 63% chance of victory and four point win. Unfortunately, our model does not agree (please be wrong, model), with only a 22% prediction of win and nine point loss. Syracuse has been hot and Marquette has been the opposite. The prediction is that Marquette will have slight advantages on turnovers, offensive rebounds, and free throws, but will lose big on field goal percentage. Time to right the ship on the defensive field goal percentage and hope the home crowd rallies the team to a senior day win.
**joint post by Tim and Rob