"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, November 05, 2009

Pre-Season Roundtable - Part One

Did anyone else say "Holy crap... basketball season starts on Saturday!", or was it just us? Anyways, it prompted Cracked Sidewalks to kick off another roundtable as we look forward to the season. As we've done the last few times, we'll do this in two parts. In part one, we'll focus on the Team (mostly). In part two, we'll look at the contributions from individual players.

Part 1 (The Team)

Go on record - pick where you think this team will finish and tell the story of why it'll happen.

MU will finish 9th in the BIG EAST. The entire BIG EAST will take a step back this year and Buzz Williams has as much incoming talent as anybody, plus the league's most efficient returning offensive stalwart in Lazar Hayward and the heady Jimmy Butler. With Yous Mbao only missing two meaningless games and Darius Johnson-Odom recovering quickly from an injury the Warriors should enter the season with a deep roster. Despite the loss of the Three Amigos and the unfortunate Cadougan injury, the Warriors stand to be deep, athletic and talented particularly on the wings and in the backcourt -- a formula we're all familiar with. We'll have to wait and see if the skill level of the newcomers translates into BIG EAST-ready performances but I'm cautiously optimistic.

The preseason story for me is actually that this team could finish anywhere from 4th through 13th in the league. When forced to pick, I think that the team will end up 9th in conference with a sub-500 record of 8-10. (editors note - jinx with Tim) I do believe that the team will be better than the predicted 12th place finish, but that they won’t be quite good enough to get to 0.500 in conference. If telling a story, I’m predicting at least one shocking loss to go along with some stumbles during the non-conference schedule. Then, I think that the team will go 0-4 their first four conference games before righting the ship with defensive improvement over the end of the season. However, the early season gauntlet will be too much to overcome.

I think we are headed for a very long season. Over the last decade, MU has eaten umpteen cupcakes, but not this year, as I'll guess we start the BE season with 5 losses, easy. A .500 record in the BE would be an achievement. I think we'll finish around 9th and head to the NIT.

I think we have a window where we can finish anywhere from 7th to 13th. The Big East is going to be down, we're already seeing it this week with Syracuse's horrific loss to DII Le Moyne. A ton of talent left this league to go to the NBA or through graduation. That doesn't mean the league isn't talented because it's loaded, but very young. So is Marquette....talented and young.

The preseason will be of great interest this year. I see us starting out 4-0 before losing the first two of the Old Spice tournament, possibly all three. Then they have NC State and Wisconsin in two of the next three, both difficult games. I can't see us with more than 8 wins coming out of the non-conference... maybe even 7.

On the other hand, the conference did us a huge favor giving us DePaul and Providence as mirror games. MU should do well in those 4 games. Unfortunately Villanova is the other mirror game. Overall, I see us at 8-10 in the Big East but could go 10-8, especially if Hayward plays as a dominant force this season. Because of youth, I'll stick to 8-10 and 10th in the conference. That means a 16 win season before going into the Big East tournament. Hopefully a NIT berth.

Why we will finish 16-14: Youth will be our biggest Achilles heel, especially on the road. Lack of depth at some positions will also be of considerable concern. Why we will finish better than 16-14: To finish better than 16-14, we would need the freshmen to mature quickly, stay injury free, especially at the PG guard position, and get a little lucky.

Where do you think there will be disappointment and pleasant surprises with the team?

This year expectations are too high for Dwight Buycks and Darius Johnson-Odom. As Rob's analysis last month showed, JUCOs often struggle to be big-time contributors during their first season in the BIG EAST. I wouldn't be surprised to see Johnson-Odom emerge as a big-time player rather than Buycks, but to expect both of these guys to be major forces is a stretch.

Still, one of the great joys of fandom is watching a program build, watching a team build within a season and year-to-year knowing that greater success is coming. I'll be looking for positive player development, for signs about about the ceiling of the program's newcomers, and hoping the team has a puncher's chance to win just about any game this season. In terms of specific players, one hopes that Joe Fulce emerges as a solid contributor after a season lost to injury.

From a team perspective, I think there will be disappointment in the execution on both offense and defense. With all of the newcomers, I don’t think that the offense will be very good. And yet, I also don’t believe that the defensive execution will be enough to overcome it. I fear a profoundly mediocre offense and defense.

However, this entire season will be one of pleasant surprises for me. My expectations are either very low, or grounded in a total lack of substance. Basically, I plan on being pleasantly surprised by just about everything good that happens. If it’s unexpected contributions, growth from individual players, or even just a good effort on the court… those will all be pleasant surprises.

I just don't have much data on this team to answer this. Some freshman will be surprising, because we've got a gaggle of them, one of them will break out. I'd hate to label a player a disappointment before seeing them play, but suffice it to say, I think our 5s will not impress this year.

The pleasant surprise will be Buzz Williams. With another year of maturity as a coach, he will adapt well and keep this young team together. As for disappointment.... not sure. I guess I'd go with Lazar Hayward. I hope I'm wrong, but my thought is that teams will focus on shutting him down since he's our only proven top player. As a result, he may get frustrated and struggle.


Oliver said...

Surprises: Otule will contribute. Fulce will put up great rebounding numbers.

Disappointments: Erik Williams will not find stride for several years. Buycks will shoot too much and make too few.

Nathan said...

is it really too optimistic to say 9-3 non-conference? We win the first 4, lose to Xavier and Creighton/Michigan. Then beat Iona who will get whipped twice on the other side. So that is 5-2. We beat NC State at home, crush out little step-sister in UWM, lose at Wisconsin and then win the final 2 against cupcakes to go 9-3. I think 7-11 or 8-10 in conference. But another weak non-con schedule outside of the Old Spice Classic puts us at 16-14 or 17-13 before the B. East tourney...