Same story – different ending.
Just 35 days ago Mo Acker, MUs shortest player, stripped the ball from DePaul only to have it end up in the hands of another player, who nailed a shot with 2 seconds left to beat MU. By the end of that week, MU was down to 80th in the RPI, had won one of it’s last 11 games decided by 2 points or less and had lost seven straight road games dating back to last year. Any illusions of making the NCAA were gone – or so it seemed.
Last night it all happened again, in reverse. This time it was St. John’s shortest player, Malik Boothe, stripping Jimmy Butler as drove toward the basket in the final seconds of overtime. But this time it was Marquette, actually Butler himself, who ran down the loose ball, scooped it up and twisted his body while jumping out-of-bounds and somehow released the ball with 0.7 seconds left on the clock. Anthony Mason Jr., 6-foot-7 son of the former NBA great, jumped perfectly but missed rejecting the desperation shot by inches and after it hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity, it swished pure to give MU an overtime winner, 63-61.
As for that tattered NCAA resume from 35 days ago, MU finished the night 54th in the RPI, and has now won four straight road games as well as four straight games decided by three points or less.
At 18-9, MU is no longer listed on Lunardi’s bubble. MU moved into 5th place in the Big East with the win, and they are listed as solidly in the tournament if the season were to end today.
Of course, the season does not end today. Next is a road game with a very tough Seton Hall team that has won six straight games at home including beating Cincy, Louisville and Pitt. While www.kenpom.com was right on the money in picking a 65-63 win for MU last night, his calculations pick an even closer 74-73 win over Seton Hall. RPIRealtime picks a 70-68 win for MU. Seton Hall is two spots ahead of Marquette – 52nd – in RPI and has the home court advantage, the most explosive scorer in the league in Jeremy Hazell, and boasts an even lower turnover rate than Marquette (Seton Hall is 2nd best in the country at not turning the ball over, while MU is 6th best).
A loss at Seton Hall Sunday and MU could be right back on the bubble heading into the final two-game homestand against Louisville and Notre Dame. However, as tough as the trip to Seton Hall looks, and despite barely surviving with some help from some blown point blank shots by SJU, there are some very positive things about this team starting that suddenly can’t lose a close game:
• MATCH-UP NIGHTMARES. Opponents can’t guard all 5 MU players at the perimeter. Everyone kept asking if MU could survive a bad 3-point night, and tonight they survived a horrid 5 of 18 night that included multiple airballs. Even on such a bad night from beyond the arc, EVERY Marquette player is a threat to hit the three. In fact, Joe Fulce nailed another one today and Jimmy Butler hit one of two meaning even the two “big” men have cominbed to hit 18 of 32 this year! Down the stretch and in overtime, Jimmy Butler and Lazar Hayward went to the foul line every trip they wanted to by drawing the St. John’s big men out to the arc, and then driving around or through them for the foul. They combined to go 15 of 18 from the line while putting 13 fouls on St. John’s three big men (Mason and Justin Brownlee had four fouls each, while Justin Burrell fouled out).
• MU WINS TURNOVER BATTLE AGAIN. Marquette once again won the turnover battle decisively, turning it over only 8 times while forcing 15 by St. John’s. Perhaps more importantly, MU had 8 steals to only 2 for SJU. Mo Acker had three assists to only one turnover - actually hurting his league leading 5.1-1 ratio in Big East play. No other player in the Big East has kept even a 3-to-1 ratio.
• A REAL 3 FORWARD LINE-UP WHEN MU NEEDS IT. The presence of Joe Fulce also seems to be preventing the inside domination that allowed several Big East teams to shoot 60% on two-pointers and grab around 50% of their offensive rebounds. Tonight Fulce grabbed 5 more rebounds in 22 minutes played, and MU held SJU below 50% on two-pointers (19 of 41) and only allowed them to get 10 offensive rebounds on their 30 misses (33%). MU appears to finally have the option of a three-forward line-up when needed, and Fulce is playing well enough that MU can survive a few stretches without either Lazar or Jimmy on the court.
• 8-MAN ROTATION. Junior Cadougan looked good, with a nice steal and a nice drive to the hoop that resulted in what sure looked like a goal-tend to me, but according to the referees and announcer was a clean block off the backboard. It was only 6 minutes, but he looked much quicker on defense, and it truly looked like a legitimate 8-man rotation which could be crucial. We will hope Erik Williams will make it nine when needed.
Obviously St. John’s is in the lower part of the Big East, and blew some easy shots to bail MU out a few times. But the fact is that they came into the game only 8 spots behind MU in the RPI (69th to 61st). They also came in very hot, having lost to Seton Hall, but in their other three most recent games having defeated Louisville 74-55, and won on the road at both Notre Dame (69-68) and South Florida (74-58).
MU is not a lock for the tournament yet. A loss and they may be considered back on the bubble barely in the tournament. However, 35 days ago it didn’t look like MU would get a glimpse of the bubble, and now the would be a lock with two more wins.
Butler hits the game winner --
Buzz addresses the media at the post-game press conference
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Same story – different ending.