"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, December 28, 2010

MU travels south to face great backcourt, one of tallest teams in country in Vandy

Southerners like me are thrilled to get to DRIVE to a game tomorrow as MU comes to Nashville – but what a tough matchup it is against one of the tallest teams and best backcourts in the country.

Prior to the season, Fox Sports picked both Vanderbilt and Marquette among the top 12 backcourts in the country, however the bigger matchup concern for MU tomorrow night will be keeping Vandy off the offensive glass.

Vanderbilt is also the 8th tallest team in the country and 6-foot-11 Festus Ezeili is the 11th best offensive rebounder in the country – grabbing an incredible 18.2% of all of Vanderbilt’s misses when he is on the court. MU hasn’t seen anyone that good yet, though unfortunately we will during trips to Pitt (Dante Taylor) and Georgetown (Julian Vaughn). MU is actually just slightly above average height this year after being one of the shortest teams in the country the past few years.

In previewing the 12 best backcourts, Fox Sports' Jeff Goodman wrote at the time, “There may be no better shooter in the nation than sophomore John Jenkins. Jeffery Taylor is one of the top wings in the nation, and Brad Tinsley should slide right in and fill the void left by the graduation of Jermaine Beal.”

Unfortunately, all three have lived up to their billing:

At 6-foot-4, Jenkins is hitting 87% of his free throws and 42% of his 3-pointers.

At 6-foot-7, Taylor is the go-to guy who draws a lot of fouls driving but also hits 39% of his treys to go along with 53% of his 2-point shots.

At 6-foot-3, Tinsley is one of the top assists men in the country.

They do not steal the ball, but are among the country’s best teams at blocking shots and killing opponent’s shooting (only 29% of treys and 41% of 2-point shots are made) – so the kind of patient defense that has given MU trouble in long stretches.
Vandy’s one weakness so far is that they do give up steals, which is where MU is so dangerous.

In short, it’s going to be a tough, tough road game to pull out.

MU facing 19 projected tourney teams

So far, MU is not projected to make the NCAA tournament, but starting with Vandy 12 of their next 16 opponents are projected in Lunardi’s latest picks.

If those projections hold, then MU will have played an incredible 19 games against NCAA tournament teams, a potential 20th in Cincinnati, and FIVE OPPONENTS CURRENTLY PROJECTED TO BE A NO. 1 OR 2 SEED.

Similar to last year, MU has lost three games to tourney-projected teams, but all by 5 points or less. Now it’s time to start seeing if MU is on an incline up as the inexperienced team gels:

1. Can MU box out Ezeili unlike the disastrous 2nd halves that cost MU wins against Gonzaga and Wisconsin?
2. Is JUCO POY Jae Crowder going to stay on the court now that he is exploding from the arc and under the basket?
3. Can DJO shake off a slow start to look like the player projected to go in the NBA draft in this 2nd of 5 challenges this year against a top 12 backcourt?
4. Will the season’s sweetest surprise, big man Davante Gardner, finally be fully recovered from his early season shoulder injury and continue to pump in points in the paint?

I believe MU has established a very strong five starters in Vander Blue, Dwight Buycks, DJO, Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler, and two players 6-foot-8 or better that can split time very effectively with Chris Otule and Gardner both hitting more than two-thirds of their shots.

Jae Crowder is now ranked as the 14th best offensive player in any BCS conference by www.kenpom.com, and Gardner actually ranks slightly higher but doesn’t have enough minutes played to qualify.

And unlike in past years, everyone on the bench can contribute.

Pomeroy makes MU and 8-point underdog tomorrow night, but MU hasn’t lost by that many yet and if Buzz has settled the guys into a 7-man rotation for this killer stretch, tomorrow night could be a chance to pull the first real shocker of the MU season.

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