"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

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Current roster would move MU from 295th tallest to 24th tallest team in Division I

When Marquette reached No. 8 in the polls this year, I posted a blog noting that they were the 295th tallest team in America out of 344 Division I teams. The only team that was shorter that made any noise this year was Washington.

What a difference this recruiting class has made! Without speculating about who may be leaving to clear the extra roster spot, the tale of the tape now for the scholarship players reads:

7-foot-2 Mbao, 7-1 McMorrow, 6-10 Otule, 6-9 Roseboro, 6-8 Williams, 6-7 Fulce, 6-6 Maymon, Hayward and Butler, 6-3 Buycks, 6-2 Johnson-Odom and Cadougan, 6-0 Cubillian and 5-8 Acker.

After four years of David and Goliath matchups, Marquette in one year would transition from being the 295th tallest team in Division I basketball to the 24th tallest team – and would still be very high up the list even if McMorrow cannot play next year.

In 2008, MU was taller than only two of 35 opponents – Presbyterian and Houston Baptist. If this roster had been the team last year, Marquette would have been taller than 32 of 35 opponents, with only UConn, West Virginia and NC State being taller.

Does height matter?

In this case, conventional wisdom is correct – taller teams do win more. Ken Pomeroy did an in depth report (http://www.basketballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=82). He found that offense was a bit better the taller the team was, while defense was more substantially improved. As you might guess, shot blocking showed the biggest improvement, and a substantially lower 2-point field goal percentage resulted for opponents. (I should note for anyone who missed it that this year Dwyane Wade become the first NBA player under 6-foot-4 to ever block 100 shots - so there is one shorter player good enough to buck the trend.)

We watched all year as MU had to double down to try to stop opponents’ with height advantages in the lane, and simply didn’t have the inside stopper at the end against Villanova, Missouri and others. Those of you with a bit longer memory may recall that 7-foot-1 Jim McIlvaine blocked 142 shots to take national defensive player of the year the season that Marquette set a record by allowing opponents to shoot only 35% from the floor in 1994. A Stanford team with a couple of 7-footers a few years later held opponents to an even lower shooting percentage.

The other good news from Pomeroy’s study is that almost the whole overall improvement is based on the tallest two players you average having on the court. So yes, when Dwight and Lazar were the tallest two on the court it’s logical that opponents would hit a ton of 2-pointers, and with Dwight on the bench and the tallest two including Butler and/or Wes, any team would be expected to give up a very high percentage of 2-pointers.

A rotation including any combination of next year’s roster would be expected to give up a much lower percentage of 2-point shots.

MUs "effective height"

Pomeroy goes one step further than average height to rank “effective height,” which focuses more on the average height of the front line on the court each minute. MU could easily shoot into the Top 10 in “effective height” for the year, and even if Maymon plays power forward all the time to hold down the average some, MU should easily be in the top 20% in effective height.

The top 9 teams in effective height last year, with their records, were: 1) Wake Forest, 24-7; 2, UConn 31-5; 3, SMU 9-21; 4, Florida State 25-10; 5, Gonzaga 28-6; 6, Utah 24-10; 7, UTEP 23-14; 8, Texas A&M CC 18-15; 9, Oakland 23-13. I’m leaving off a bad #10 team in South Carolina Upstate because they are a strange team with no tall players except 7-3 center Nick Schneiders, but because they just left him in most for most of the minutes to do nothing but sit back and block shots the team calculated as 10th in effective height despite having only one tall player.

When looking at the Elite 8 this year, you clearly don’t have to be the biggest team, as only UConn from the Top 9 made the Elite 8. However, six of the Elite 8 teams ranked in the top 20% of all teams in effective height, and the two that didn’t, Pitt and Nova, both had a dominant 6-7 or 6-8 center (Blair/Cunningham) who played bigger than their height - much as Maymon should do as a dominant, physical 6-6 player.

In Pomeroy’s study, the size of the guards doesn’t matter than much, so having Mo Acker on the floor is fine based on the history. Certainly last year giving up DJ for Mo really hurt defensively against Big East guards, BUT that was with no height to have Mo’s back. I’m not sure he is as much of a defensive liability when he can use his speed to go for steals and know someone is back there to swat or alter the shot of a guard that gets by or over him.

Still, I think we are a year away

As excited as I am about Buzz’s big recruits coming in to join Lazar, Mo and Jimmy, my gut is actually that we have one transition year in front of us. Georgetown and DePaul were very tall teams this year, but very inexperienced, and in the Big East that led to very disappointing years. I think this could be more like 1990-91, a losing record in the Big East as the class gets used to playing together en route to the Sweet 16 run later in their careers.

Hopefully MU gets to the top quicker, but whatever the case, despite all my cheerleading for the Three Amigos, it may be that MU had just hit the ceiling of what could possibly be accomplished with Crean’s ability to recruit such super guards but no big men.

Buzz's ability to recruit big is good based on basketball history.


Unknown said...

I think Crean turned the corner at Marquette with Trevor, Nick Williams, T. Taylor and probably a couple of other recruits now attending or will be attending IU. However, Crean ran out and Buzz rebuilt the best he could. Bottom line for me, tall, short or average height doesn't matter as long as it leads to wins.

Savwa said...

Agreed,if Crean stayed Taylor & Williams would have been great additions & Mbakwe would have likely stayed.
Benford mentioned MU wants to play inside out would this mean they will be getting away from the up tempo style they've played with the 3 guard lineup? I hope the offense remains up tempo & the addition of the bigs allows them to be more multi-faceted. I would expect this next year to be a down one but Buzz's coaching chops or lackthereof will really be evident with a less experienced team.

Anonymous said...

Up tempo's fine if you have solid shooters and strong finishers. The Big-Little-Three never had a problem getting to the rim, but they often struggled finishing a play because of their inability to get above the rim. The incoming class features slim and long players, not bulky Grimm-types, so I don't anticipate the tempo to slow necessarily, but I do anticipate better finishers both in sets and off the break.

Just the presence of height will help their defensive effectiveness. Just as our guys had to adjust their shots in the paint and around the rim, other teams never had to adjust their approaches when attacking the rim against our defense because we had no interior, shot-blocking presence.

I'm guessing Buzz will balance this year's length with a guard-heavy class next year.

theKAYman said...

great insight. very good article.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.