"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

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Opener: Panthers forced 17 turnovers, almost won at Cincy last year

If Buzz wants to give minutes for players who do not turn the ball over, Friday’s opener against the Prairie View A&M Panthers will provide a much tougher test than the exhibition Saturday.

The strength for St. John’s-MN on Saturday was shooting (12 of 29 on treys), but their light pressure resulted in only 5 MU turnovers. A year ago the Panthers went to Cincinnati and jumped all over the Bearcats en route to a 33-18 lead that saw 17 turnovers by Cincy before the Bearcats pulled out a 69-62 win. The Panthers went onto be the 38th best team in the country at forcing turnovers, and this year add another ball hawk in a transfer from Alabama A&M.

The Panthers are coming off their first back-to-back winning seasons in more than 30 years, and coach Byrom Rimm has some great transfer additions.

As Marquette continues to sort out the tons of talent in this one “cup cake” game before the CBE, here are the matchups:

Point guard – Dwight Buycks, Reggie Smith, Junior Cadougan - While Dwight Buycks did not shoot well, he is a senior who took care of the ball with 6 assists and only 1 turnover Saturday after his surprise start at the point, so we will see if Buzz continues to start him there. However, Buzz had to be impressed with the incredibly fast Smith, who hit 2 of 3 treys with 7 assists and ZERO turnovers, and Cadougan who hit both his shots including a trey after rarely shooting last year. The Panthers will put up much more pressure with Michael Griffin (#10, 5-foot-8, scored 11 vs. Cincy), who harassed opponents into lots of turnovers last year. He will be joined in the backcourt by Alabama A&M’s former best player, Trant Simpson (#3, 5-foot-10). Simpson was not only a big steal and assist man, but got to the line 176 times and hit 150 of them (85%).

Other guards – Vander Blue, Darius Johnson-Odom – While Blue looked nervous in missing a few shots, he showed the great defense and hustle that he displayed with the US National team with 4 rebounds and 2 steals. We know what DJO can do, but the fact that he was the only MU player with 2 turnovers against the light pressure in the exhibition is the one concern. However, while the Panthers have some big guards they can matchup with, they obviously don’t have nearly the talent of these two potential superstars.

The Panthers do have plenty of additional guards to run a 3-guard set, including two bigger guards who can play at the SWAC level. They received a second big transfer with Beloved Rogers (#2, 6-foot-2), who gives the Panthers a legitimate 3-point threat after hitting 14 of 35 treys to help Oral Roberts win 13 of their last 17 games two years ago. Add to that a third regular guard from last year in Duwan Kornegay (#24, 6-foot-5, also scored 11 vs. Cincy), and another returner with some steals in Tim Meadows (#41, 6-foot-2), and they have a lot of fouls to throw at DJO and Blue. They will have on problem playing a three or even four guard set.

Swing - Jimmy Butler, Jamail Jones, Jae Crowder, Erik Williams – Could Jae Crowder have looked any more like Lazar in his number 32, playing defense 30 feet from the basket while overpowering everyone underneath for 10 rebounds, 3 steals and 6 of 9 shooting including a trey. WOW. Jamail Jones looked just as good, albeit in just 8 minutes. Add them to Jimmy Butler, and MU has three unbelievable swing men. The Panthers can put a tall guard or a struggling 6-foot-7 big player on one or more of them, but this is where MU will have its biggest mismatch opportunities.

Big men – Chris Otule, Joe Fulce, Davante Gardner - Otule’s 12 point, 9 rebound effort in 16 minutes was great news, Joe Fulce looked solid again, and Davante Gardner showed incredible muscle and even a burst while taking several dribbles down the court. Otule could do some scoring, as the Panthers lone legit big man graduated leaving two returning frontline players in the 6-foot-7 duo of Michael and Brandon Webb (#21 and #34). The Webbs are a huge offensive liability after making only 25 of 67 freethrows (35%) between them last year. The Panthers hope 6-foot-11 Aron Walker out of Weatherford Junior College gives them a match-up for Otule, but despite playing on a strong team, Walker only contributed 7 points and 5 rebounds a game last year at the JUCO level.

In summary, the Panthers will scrap and put up more resistance and pressure and probably help Buzz determine one of the things most important to him – which players can he count on not to turn the ball over. In the end, the Panthers shooting was among the worst in the country last year, and it just doesn't look like they will have an answer for any combination of Butler, Crowder or Jones at the swing position.

They should certainly be a tougher opponent than last year's SWAC foe Grambling, as they look for only their second string of three straight winning seasons since Zelmo Beaty left as the No. 3 choice in the 1962 NBA draft. However, it looks like MU will have too much for them Friday. They should be respected, but if they want to pull a big upset, then we believe next Sunday in Madison would be a more appropriate time against the Badgers.

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