"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

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

New Trio of Guards Needs the Minutes

With Mo Acker gone, I believe we are going to be spending some time next year yelling at the TV after turnovers by Junior Cadougan, Darius Johnson-Odom and Dwight Buycks. We’ve been spoiled by DJ taking care of the ball the past four years, and Mo did a great job down the stretch of not turning the ball over to give us a chance right up until the final seconds of the Missouri game.

That being said, I think it was much better to have Mo go out with his final days being a great job of filling in after DJ broke his foot, because looking at his per minute averages, the alternative was going to be to end up riding out almost all of his senior season from the bench.

Buzz is obviously a number-cruncher, and the more I looked at the per minute averages, the more it was apparent that there was no reason to have Mo eat up minutes rather than have Cadougan, Johnson-Odom and Buycks go through their growing pains in non-conference play.

Offensive bad news - Losing Acker will cause MU turnovers

Acker’s turnover percentage (21.1% this year, 21.3% career) was a little high. Granted, we were spoiled by DJs improvement in lowering his turnover percentage every year from 18% (freshman year), to 17.4%, 16.5% and finally 15.9% this year. Based on scouting reports, it sounds like Cadougan, Johnson-Odom and Buycks are all going to be turnover prone, so let’s start getting the turnovers out of their system with minutes from Day 1 and hope they all make the same kind of improvement throughout their careers that DJ did.

Offensive good news - New Guard Trio will get to the hoop

By all accounts, the new trio all have quick first steps and can get to the hoop. Mo’s lack of ability to get to the hoop to produce either baskets or assists would have made it difficult to play him.

- ASSISTS. While no one will match DJs incredible assist ratios (30.6% of MU baskets resulted from DJ passes while he was on the floor, 31.1% career), Mo was at point his passes led to less than one in five of MUs baskets (19% last year, 18% career). So Mo really didn’t have the ability to create baskets, which will be even more important in trying to build the big guys confidence next year.

- SHOOTING. After his phenomenal freshman season, DJ shot a very frustrating 40% from the floor his final three seasons (452 of 1132). However, Mo was a MUCH WORSE SHOOTER, hitting only 35% of his shots (156 of 444) in his 3-year career (including Ball State).

Even if Mo had stayed on the team, I believe Buzz could have only put the new trio on the court as much as possible to drive, shoot and dish. Yeah, the turnovers will come, but the big guys will improve quicker as the new trio draws defenders away and dishes inside.

Defensive Bad News - Losing Acker will cost MU steals

We have been incredibly spoiled by the steals the Three Amigos have piled up the last four years, and Mo would have cut our losses some with a lot of steals. In his three seasons, he stole the ball 3.1% of opponents' trips down the court, which was only slightly lower than DJs 3.5%. So next year’s team, and possibly the next four years, MU will be a much worse team in one of the four main factors that determine who wins games – the team with the lower turnover percentage each game.

Defensive Good News - New Trio needed to stand up to rigors of Big East defense

As I detailed in a column late in the season, DJs defense his final season was without comparison. While only 5-11, his muscular 185 pound frame and incredible speed and vertical simply shut down almost every Big East guard. At 5-8/165, Mo just couldn’t physically matchup with opposing guards and required too much help.

Even AP ALL-AMERICAN Jerel McNeal (sorry, I just like typing that out any chance I get) was a great off-ball defender, but really had trouble matching up physically on ball with the likes of Flynn and Price.

I am truly excited that the new trio weighs in at 6-2/205 (Johnson-Odom), 6-3/185 (Buycks) and 6-2/220 (Coudougan), and appear to all be such physical players able to play their position.

In short, DJ was a poor shooter (40% final three years), but made up for it by being absolutely dominant in all other aspects of the game; assists, turnovers, steals, physical defense and penetration. We could more than live with DJ's shooting. With Acker’s other limitations, he had to be a very good shooter to merit any minutes on the court next year, and the fact is he was a much worst shooter (35% in three years) than even DJs last year (38%) would have made it tough to justify playing him at all.

In the end, it simply made no sense to have Mo on the court this year. I don’t know if MU will finish 12th or 13th in the Big East, as some predict for this year, or repeat the shocker of 2006 by having the freshman gel by the end of the year so that they can make the NCAA tournament.

However, in either case we need the new trio on the court as early and often as possible. Maybe that means we will make the NCAA like in 2006, and maybe it means we will get eaten up by the Big East like the great 1991 freshman were – but have the minutes in to go onto great runs after next year. However, in either case, MU is best served by having the new guard trio work out the kinks and take it to a new level as soon as possible.

We may need Cube’s 3-pointers to loosen defenses, but by all accounts, the New Guard Trio gives us enough ability to dribble and get to the hoop.

It makes sense to remember Mo as the guy who helped pull MU when all appeared lost after DJs broken foot, and do enough to get us within a few seconds of the Sweet 16.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Adios, Maurice Acker

In a decision that (unsurprisingly) confirmed a long-running rumor, MU today announced that Maurice Acker would not return for his senior season. In a statement released by the university this afternoon Buzz Williams said, "He is one semester shy of completing his degree and we all believed it was in Maurice's best interest for that to be his priority."

What? I wonder who "we" is in this equation. It's difficult to imagine a player willingly forgoing his final season of eligibility because he is on track to graduate a semester early. It is also difficult to imagine a coach telling a player to stop playing because he might graduate early. Frankly, finishing classes ahead of schedule is a great reason to stay in school because a student-athlete can play ball and enjoy campus life without a taxing academic workload.

The explanation is nonsense.

Explanation aside, on IM today Rob and I had a debate on what Acker's departure would mean to the team this season. As you'll see we have differing points of view on Acker's value to the program:


Tim: OK after months of rumors, Maurice Acker is gone....only two-Crean era players remain

Rob: I wonder who (if anyone) fills that spot

Tim: hopefully just Darius Johnson-Odom. I mean -- Acker was a spare part anyway, like Cubillan

Rob: leaves us short at point

Tim: I don't think so.......Acker played so many empty minutes last year where his greatest contribution was that he didn't turn the ball over. That's a very low bar. All Buzz needs is DJO, Buycks and Cadougan to be eligible

Rob: you and I have a different appreciation for not turning the ball over. I regard that skill quite highly

Tim: We agree there. Still, other than one game Acker was a lousy defender, he could not score a lick (no midrange game), and the offense was ineffective with him as a starter. Johnson-Odom averaged nearly 5 apg last year -- I figure he has a pretty good handle.

Rob: /really/? you're falling for the "grass is greener" argument?

Tim: falling on the "Acker was a MAC player who never became a high-major good role player" argument.

Rob: with experience, lots of experience

Tim: the new kids are better than him anyway and MU will play an advantageous slate early -- so by the time Big East play starts, experience will not be as much of a factor

Rob: I think you are undervaluing Acker

Tim: Acker shot 29% from the floor -- offensively bankrupt. We learned last year that as a role player he was particularly bad -- ie, 1 made 3pointer in BE play through the first 12 conference games (which included 2 DNPs!). He only got better when he had the gift of starter minutes from James' injury. He would not get 24-40 minutes per game next season....he'd be back to the spot duty role that he was so unproductive in last year.

Rob: let's be clear. I'm not saying he is a great player or even starter-worthy. I'm saying he was years ahead of the incoming players

Tim: He was awful in spot duty last year, that's what he'd get this year. You are basing your assessment of Acker by his performance in the last month of the season, I'd guess

Rob: you don't know that his contributions were bad just because of the new system/coach/transition etc

Tim: doesn't matter........they were bad, so bad that in 2 conference games he didn't command any minutes and in two others he played 3 minutes.

Rob: that's Buzz and his short bench... which you have yourself lamented

Tim: with Williams, Cadougan, DJO, and Buycks ....... Acker/Cubillan were likely 3-5 mins per game players anyway. I mean look at his game by game. He was an ineffective role player

Rob: so you think net positive he's gone?

Tim: net neutral, he'd go from DNP to 5 mins per game on a good day if he stayed.

Rob: see... I could see him getting more time than that. I think experience is huge in college basketball

Tim: his experience as a role player shows that he was particularly awful in that capacity

Rob: experience in practice

Tim: As Iverson said, "Practice!?"

Rob: you miss my point. A senior knows the effort that is required in practice, which earns PT on the court. is that not a big part of the transition for all the new players? understanding what it takes every day to perform in D1?

Tim: well, it's a good thing Cuby will be there

Rob: and then what if, say Cadougan and Buycks hurt their feet in boot camp

Tim: if any team loses their starting backcourt, they'll lose games. if the reason to worry about Acker leaving the program is a catastrophic series of injuries -- I can live with that.

Rob: I just see a lot of value in the senior experience and don't attribute his lack of success just to his capabilities

Tim: he'd fallen completely out of favor presumably because he failed to adjust to the role

Rob: or because Buzz was finding his way as a coach

Tim: that and Ackers' ineffectiveness

Rob: probably both

Tim: and with the coach getting his own kids here this year that he needs to develop, Acker would have been marginalized again

Rob: I'm not convinced that he would have been but I guess it doesn't matter. It's unlikely that in mid-January I'll ever say "if only we had Acker on the team"

Tim: if u say THAT, the team is kaput anyway

Tim: Buzz has to develop the newbies if the team is gonna win games. Let's just hope they are all on campus for second summer session starting on July 6

Rob: I'm excited about the team, but have a number of concerns, lots of new players....will they all make it?

Tim: right. Buzz needs'em all on campus

Rob: My guess is Mbao ain't gonna play at all this year with those eligibility questions

Tim: I am happy to know that Buycks is already there, that is huge IMHO. same with Maymon and grades -- he could allow Lazar some more flexibility

Rob: Maybe I'm jaded from Lazar and Mbakwe, but I'll be astonished if he qualifies before November

Tim: on Mbao. I wonder if this will be a clearinghouse drama

Rob: right... and then he's behind.

Tim: if all the other kids are on campus, my worries go way down. Mbao would not play much this year under the best of circumstances anyway.

Rob: because of all the frontline talent ahead of him?

Tim: it'll be a rough year down low even with Mbao

Rob: oh sure

Tim: that is why, despite his shorter stature, Maymon can help. Otule, Maymon, Lazar, 5 mins from Roseboro might have to be enough for MU in the winter

Rob: could be another long year with more excuses

Tim: I dont know that last year was one of those years....DJ's injury was not an excuse so much as an explanation. Anytime a team loses 4 starters the next season could be a long one

Rob: not a surprise, but there are different kinds of rebuilding years. I want to see the team improve as the year goes on, have a few players show promise and potential

Tim: right. this will be a complete reconstruction. but we knew that was coming....moving away from "TC and the Quest for the Best 6-5 and Under Team"

Rob: my big concern is injuries.

Tim: which is no different from any recent Marquette season

Rob: didn't you feel like there were a lot of injuries last year?

Tim: of course. MU had McNeal as a sophomore, Wesley as a freshman... MU has had its share of soul-crushing injuries in the last few years

Rob: true. I was thinking of it in terms of injuries that hamper development

Tim: it's a risk for any program

Rob: even more so for MU this year. Still, it should be an interesting year

Tim: definitely

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Help Send Otule to Germany

From Rosiak's latest blog about Chris Otule:

...In addition to attending summer school and working on his game, Otule is also hopeful of heading overseas as part of an athletic ministry. Scheduled to take place in Munich and Nuremberg, Germany from July 30-Aug. 18, the trip would serve a few purposes for him.

"It’s going to be a good experience for me because it will be my first time overseas, so I’m excited about that," he said.

In order to go, Otule must raise $3,000 in donations. He's already part of the way there, but could use some more help, he said.

Anyone interested in donating should contact the MU men's basketball office at (414) 288-7130 for more information.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Wayback Machine shows the road ahead

With the NBA draft deadline passing earlier this week a host of very early pre-season rankings are popping up for the college basketball-starved. For Marquette the pattern is predicable with Adam Zagoria notably slotting the Warriors in for a 12th place finish in the still far-off BIG EAST season. Zagoria cites the loss of key players (including Patrick Hazel, LOL) and inexperience as the reasons for the low expectations which Chris Dokish at the NBE Basketball Report also notes as he picks MU to finish 11th overall.

Considering the dramatic roster turnover these predictions are somewhat sound but MU fans ought to remember that Marquette's first BIG EAST squad was picked to finish 12th overall for similar reasons, yet surprised with a 4th place finish. (**Say what you want about Tom Crean, but he did a heck of a job coaching that team and deserved the BIG EAST Coach of the Year nod over Jay Wright. If somebody can explain to me why Wright was the pick -- after all, Nova was favored to win the league and they did what was expected (barely) -- I'm all ears.)

Since it's only June optimism abounds in these parts and looking ahead there are a number of parallels between the Three Amigos' freshman season and the campaign Buzz' Bunch will kick off in the fall. Consider......

The return of an outstanding senior scorer. Lazar Hayward is this year's Steve Novak. As a senior Novak was the most efficient offensive player in the country and a nearly impossible match-up. Luckily for MU, Hayward is the most efficient returning offensive player in the BIG EAST (for higher-usage players, ie: involved in 20% of their team's possessions). Hayward averaged 16 points and 8 rebounds per game as junior. Steve Novak averaged 14 points and four rebounds per game as a junior and elevated as a senior averaging nearly 18 points and six rebound per game. This is promising.

An offensively efficient role player. Jimmy Butler led the BIG EAST in offensive efficiency last season. Though the sample size is small which is what you'd expect from a role player Butler saved his best for the back half of the BIG EAST conference slate, a positive indicator for next season. Looking back to the 05-06 team, senior Joe Chapman was the 6th most efficient offensive player in the BIG EAST, providing a serviceable veteran threat to complement Novak's greatness. The 2005-2006 team was not simply Steve and the Amigos.

Overloaded, redundant perimeter talent. I knocked Tom Crean's inability to balance a roster many times, but in 2005-2006 the formula worked. That squad had no discernible inside presence much like we'd expect from Buzz' Bunch next season. However by adding the Three Amigos to Novak and backcourt/wing role players like Joe Chapman and Dan Fitzgerald (who nailed 40% of his three-pointers that year) Crean created match-up problems for the opposition in most conference games. Fast forward to next season when Buzz Williams will surround veteran role players Maurice Acker, David Cubillan and Jimmy Butler with newcomers Junior Cadougan, Dwight Buycks, Erik Williams and Darius Johnson-Odom. In effect, the formula could be familiar to the Warrior faithful though next year's team also figures to receive a sizable boost from freshman power forward Jeronne Maymon.

The BIG EAST takes a step back. After the 2004-2005 season the BIG EAST endured a massive talent exodus highlighted by Charlie Villanueva, Hakim Warrick, Ryan Gomes, Chris Taft, Chevy Troutman, Chris Thomas and Josh Pace. When teams laced'em up in the 2005-2006 season two teams stood out as heavyweights, Villanova and UConn. The rest of the league was balanced with only four games separating the 3rd place and 10th place teams. In addition, 2004-2005 BIG EAST champ Boston College left the league that previous summer and 2005 Final Four participant Louisville joined the BIG EAST after losing All-American Francisco Garcia as well as starters Ellis Myles and Larry O'Bannon. And we all know what happened to Bob Huggins at Cincy that off-season. Crean's squad took full advantage of a younger, tamer BIG EAST to storm to the top quarter of the league.

This past season the BIG EAST was historically dominant placing five teams in the Sweet 16 and three in the Elite 8. As you'd expect the outgoing talent from those teams is extraordinary. Hasheem Thabeet, Jeff Adrien, Earl Clark, DaJuan Blair, Sam Young, Levance Fields, Terrence Williams, DaJuan Summers, the Three Amigos, Paul Harris, Jonny Flynn, A.J. Price and Dante Cunningham are just a few of the athletes who will play the game for a living in the fall. An exodus like that creates somewhat of a vacuum that a talented team -- no matter how young or inexperienced -- figures to take advantage of. To be sure, every other BIG EAST team is re-loading for the winter and a pair of unheralded teams like Cincinnati and Seton Hall could be poised for breakthrough seasons, so why not MU?

Player development: With roughly five months until the Warriors kick off the season, player development is crucial and based on Buzz Williams' comments last week on the radio it appears that Chris Otule is making giant strides this summer. On the 05-06 team, sophomore Ousmane Barro averaged a quiet four points and three rebounds per game, figures that could be attainable with modest progress from Otule.

Otule's progress is tempered a bit by Joe Fulce's problematic knee which required surgery and will keep him out of action for about 12 weeks, but the MU roster can overcome that loss. In addition with JUCO All-American Dwight Buycks already on campus hitting the books and the off-season program the Warriors could shore up their backcourt more quickly than expected.

Again, why not? History could be on the Warriors' side this winter.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Tee it up: Support The Nicole Ellis Foundation

Next month Marquette great Bo Ellis and his family will once again host the Warrior Day Golf Outing to benefit The Nicole Ellis Foundation. Last year's inaugural event raised $37,000 and with your help we'll be able to top that number this year.

The 2nd Annual Warrior Day Golf Outing will be held on Tuesday, July 21st at the Grand Geneva in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. For $300 all participants will enjoy a full round of golf with a Warrior, a golfing goodie bag, lunch, dinner and drinks. As you'd expect the organizers will also host both a silent and live auction at the event that will be loaded with Warrior memorabilia.

The Nicole Ellis Foundation is dedicated to keeping Nicole's spirit and passion alive through contributions to select not-for-profit organizations. This year's golf outing will benefit the American Liver Foundation and the MU Ethnic Alumni Association.

Warriors scheduled to participate this year include players who collectively represent Marquette basketball going back more than 60 years, including:

That is one heck of a list of golfing buddies -- please see the brochure for a complete listing of participating Warrior greats (and thanks to the guys at MUScoop for hosting the .pdf again this year).

If your calendar allows please consider making time to join the extended Marquette hoops community in support of this great cause. Any progress we can collectively make to halt liver disease and to help MU in the process will make a positive difference in the lives of others.

Sponsorship opportunities are available and range from $150 ranging to $6,000. To inquire about sponsorship opportunities please contact the Nicole Ellis Foundation at nicoleellisfoundation@yahoo.com or (262) 432-5433.

Dig deep folks, let's turn out and make this year's outing a great success.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Happy Birthday, Jerel.

From the Chicago Trib - June 1st:

Former Marquette basketball star Jerel McNeal from Hillcrest High School threw out a ceremonial first pitch before Monday night's Sox-Oakland game. McNeal, who celebrated his 22nd birthday Monday, finished as Marquette's career leader in scoring and steals.