"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

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.


Championships Matter said...

Any predictions this far out are, well scientific wild ass guesses (SWAGs). There will be so many new players in the Big East this fall that only God knows how this will shake out -- and (s)he does not appear to be telling.

Look, Al used to poormouth what he had each year. The expectations were low and when Marquette snuck up on people, well, it made it all the more fun.

This team has talent, no doubt, and there are some impact players. But three things have to happen before we get a clear vision of where this team will be. First, it has to finish Buzz's Boot Camp. Second, we have to see how they learn to play and complement each other. And, third, we have to see if the injuries and disappointments from last year gel into real live players this year.

Yeah, who knows. The team could be 12th and facing the NIT (God, please, NO). But there will be a jumble for positions 4 through 12 in the Big East.

One thing's for sure. This year will tell us if Buzz is the real thing! I hope he is!

Oliver said...

We have promising talent coming in. To me, the biggest question this year is Buzz. He was extremely reliant on the seniors last year and went with a very short rotation. The talent will not be as top-heavy this year, so can he manage the rotation and will he develop the bench players?

I liked his in-game management, how he worked with the seniors, and his recruiting, but his overall team management and player development is still an unknown. He will have to stand more on his own this year.

John said...

If what we saw last year in regards to Buzz's eye for raw talent and player development via way of Jimmi Bulter we could have a smoking good team that gets better as the season goes on.