"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, February 28, 2010

Are the Warriors dancing? Not yet, but oh so close. The one danger looming

Before the last five game stretch started, it was our thought that MU had to win 2 of 3 on the road and probably both home games to make the NCAA tournament a slam dunk. If they won three of five, still looked good, but it all depended on the combination of wins.

So what does Marquette and Buzz Williams do? They go on the road to win three straight overtime games. Amazing. So they're in, right? Perhaps. Certainly if the selection show was today, these Warriors would be in the NCAA tournament. If it were today.

With the victory today, Marquette earned a first round bye which is both a great thing and potentially a dangerous twist.

Here's the doomsday scenario. Marquette loses to a very talented Louisville team on Tuesday at home and then loses at home to a desperate Notre Dame fighting for their NCAA lives. That would put Marquette at 10-8 in the conference and 19-11 overall. If that were to happen, those two home losses would knock MU down the RPI ranks into the mid 60's. It would also mean a lot of pressure to win their first game in the Big East Tournament. As a result of the bye, MU will most likely not play one of the bottom four teams in the Big East Tournament (DePaul, Rutgers, St. John's, Providence) but will play someone like Cincinnati, Seton Hall, UCONN, Notre Dame, USF. Not an easy task, though it would be their second game in two days for whatever opponent we play. If the tournament started today, MU would be the 5th seed and play the winner of the St. John's \ Cincinnati game. But if MU were to lose the next two home games, they could be in the 8th position playing likely the 9th place team...like UCONN. That could mean 3 straight losses to end the season and with other action unpredictable on the soft bubble....yikes.

That's the doomsday scenario. The great news is that MU has been faced with doomsday scenarios all year long and avoided blowing up under Buzz Williams' direction and the play of their steady, senior trio.

Win one of the next two games at home, and the doomsday scenario has no chance of happening. Louisville will be a load due to their length. Notre Dame is playing great, but it's senior day for the Warriors. Cracked Sidewalks sees MU taking care of business this week as they have all year long. Their efforts deserve to be rewarded with a NCAA berth and they shall be rewarded this week win one additional win. Go Warriors.

ROAD WARRIORS! Marquette wins 5th straight on road, last three in OT

With Dwight Buycks at home in Milwaukee sick, and Erik Williams and Junior Cadougan combining for only three minutes, Marquette basically had to go 45 minutes with only six players against 10 for Seton Hall. No problem – even with Jeremy Hazell scoring 11 points in overtime, MU won their 5th straight road game including third in overtime in the last eight days. With the win, Marquette joins Syracuse as the only team to win 5 straight Big East road games this year. The only five teams to win more than two straight road games this year are:

1. Syracuse 8 (chance for 9 against Louisville)
2. Marquette 5
3. Villanova 4
4. Pittsburgh 3
5. Louisville 3 (will try to make it 4 at Marquette Tuesday)

While Buzz won’t want to hear this - the win goes a long way to ensuring an NCAA bid. The win clinched a first round bye in the Big East tournament, which eliminates any chance of an embarrassing loss to DePaul in the opening round. Now the worst case is for MU is to close with losses to red hot Louisville and Notre Dame teams and a team coming off a first round win in the Big East. Winning even one of those three would certainly guaranty a bid, as no Big East team has ever been denied a bid after a 20-win season, and even with two more losses MU would finish the season 9-3. (Last 12 games is not an official stat anymore, but the Selection Committee looks at the final stretch of however many games they believe are relevant).

MU also cracked the RPI top 50 with the win today, improving to 49th, while the winner of the MU-Louisville (33rd RPI) game Tuesday will have their 20th win and take over sole possession of 5th place in the Big East. A double bye is unlikely, as MU would have to win both and West Virginia lose at home to Georgetown and at Nova to end their season. (OK, Pitt could lose at home to both Rutgers and Providence, but really…)

At halftime of the CBSSports telecast of Lville’s two-point win at UConn, commentators speculated that the Big East could get nine invites with the recent losses by bubble teams.

For the third straight game MU pulled out the overtime win despite the road rims being cruel on the 3-pointer. MU entered the road swing first in the country on 3-point percentage, but had fallen to 5th. Today MU hit the first 6 treys of the game, but went 3 of 19 the rest of the way.

Cubillan to the rescue when treys stop falling

The answer was an unusually aggressive David Cubillan, who drove through the defense three times in a row for contested inside baskets, and then with 14:49 left in the game did it for a fourth time and turned it into a 3-point play when fouled. It was also Cube who broke MUs stretch of 10 straight missed threes when he hit two in a row with 7:41 and 5:22 to go in the game. He then started the overtime with another 3-pointer just 25 seconds into overtime to lead to give MU a lead they would never give up. Speaking of which, just how good is Lazar Hayward at winning jump balls? He won both the opening tip-off and the overtime tipoff again to set up Cubes OT trey.

MU again overcame getting dominated inside, making another big man look like an All-American as Jeff Robinson went 11 of 15 inside to score 25 points as Seton Hall won the boards 35-22.

Lazar’s steal at 1:31 saves game as MU wins turnover battle

However, in a battle between the two best teams in the conference at the turnover battle (MU +4.3, SH +3.7), MU again won the turnover battle behind 7 steals. None was bigger than when Jordan Theodore led a 3-on-1 break with the score tied 65-65, and with 1:33 left in the game Lazar made one of his patented steals. The big man with the quickest hands around flicked the ball out of Theodore's hands and off the guard's thigh, then took the ball away for a steal to save the day. (an almost identical play to his strip of Greg Monroe to preserve the Georgetown game).

Lazar also rejected three shots – I’m not sure the last time an MU player did that.

Even with Buycks out, 6 players contribute scores

But once again the story was balanced scoring. Joe Fulce hit both of his shots, and the five other players scored at least 13 points.

Cube, Hayward, Butler, Fulce and DJO all hit at least half of their two-pointers, and Acker went 2 of 4 on 3-pointers to stay right at 50% on treys.

Again, MU was money at the line, hitting 10 of 12 in overtime to maintain the lead against Hazell’s barrage despite not having a field goal after Jimmy “Money” Butler’s shot with 3:24 to go. He led the free throw effort with a 7 of 10 game, and his drives to the hoop now make him 6th in the country in free throws taken.

Hayward (23 points), DJO (16) and Cube (16) combined to go 13 for 21 on two-pointers, normally a weakness for MU. The biggest was from Lazar, who went between two trees to put in a tough inside shot with 33 seconds left in regulation.

Box Score

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Quick Look at Seton Hall

By the way, Tim was all modest about it, but the MUTV Sports folks did an interview with him when he attended the St. John's game. To reiterate, if you don't check out their Marquette Basketball Weekly segments, you are really missing out. Also, the MUTV team has a unique angle of the Jimmy Butler game winning shot, so check out that segment and you can see it from a unique perspective.

As for Seton Hall, when we started looking at this game, the first thing that popped into mind was all the drama about Dominic James and Jamar Nutter. Honestly though, that was way back in 2008. A little bit has changed since then. Last year's game at the BC was a tight affair at halftime, but then MU rolled in the second half.

What do we know about Seton Hall? For starters, they are sort of making a deal about playing Marquette, with their www.selloutmarquette.com website. Only 300-some tickets remaining! Of course, this kind of tarnishes the whole selloutuconn.com effort (come on... right down to the same template). While part of us appreciates that Marquette is the opponent being hyped... seriously, what's next? selloutpresbyterian.com? selloutnewjerseyinstituteoftechnology.com? selloutlawsonomy.com?

Here's what else we know... Seton Hall isn't half-bad. They currently stand at 16-10, but are 7-8 in conference. With their remaining three games against Marquette, at Rutgers, and at an imploding Providence team, they have a legit chance of finishing with three straight wins and contending for a tourney berth. Despite having ten losses, there isn't a bad loss out there for Seton Hall, and the Pirates have only really been routed once (@Pitt, in a game that involved a massive snowstorm and travel delays. Plus, Seton Hall had already beaten Pitt at home, just after defeating Louisville. Just like the team Marquette just played, Seton Hall is on a bit of a surge, having won four of their last five games, with the only loss being at West Virginia.

Where are the Pirates good? Much like Marquette, Seton Hall is great offensively and somewhat weak defensively. In particular, both teams are top 10 teams at protecting the ball. Seton Hall also does a fairly decent job of hitting the offensive glass (#66) and of blocking shots (#44). Plus, don't forget that the Pirates have 6'5 junior Jeremy Hazell, who is remarkably efficient in a large number of possessions, and who hardly ever turns the ball over. While Hazell has laid some stinkers, he's also had seven games scoring over 30 points, including 41 points in a loss to West Virginia. Hazell is more efficient than most players in the Big EAST.

Where is Seton Hall weak? In particular, they are weak on the defensive glass, at #302 in the nation. They also do a terrible job of getting to the free throw line (#288) and of forcing turnovers (#210). In particular, we see Marquette's ability to crash the offensive boards and protect the ball as being very important. Can't give up the easy turnovers (like vs Pitt) against a team that doesn't force a lot of turnovers. Of course, it almost always boils down to making shots for Marquette, so let's hope the recent struggles are a thing of the past.

Game time is 11 AM Milwaukee Standard Time tomorrow. It should be a good game. Pomeroy has this as his Sunday FanMatch game, and we agree. Why? Because our prediction is that this game will be one that's fairly offensive-minded, with relatively few turnovers, and two teams that are about a 50/50 chance to win the game. If there's no cheap shots, it should be a fun game to watch.

Yet another game for Marquette that goes down to the wire, and maybe even OT? Why not?!

Media Updates (check back later for more)

Buzz' Media Availability Interview

Friday, February 26, 2010

MUTV Sports: Marquette Basketball Weekly

Here's the latest effort from the team at MUTV Sports.

Part One

Part Two

Thanks to Mike, Todd and Brad for the opportunity to talk-up CrackedSidewalks in Part One. See you at the Big East Tournament, guys.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Escape from New York - 35 days after DePaul MU turns the tables to move to 54th in RPI

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

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Warriors invade Queens

Marquette takes on the St. John's Red Storm tonight in Queens....tipoff is 6:30pm Marquette Standard Time. A few media links for tonight's game:

........and since MU is heading to Queens here's a classic

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Know your opponent: St John's

Marquette visits St. John's at Carnesecca Arena on Wednesday night in the second of three road games for the Warriors. The Johnnies are winners in three of their last four outings and own an overall record of 15-11 and 5-9 in BIG EAST action. To learn more about MU's next opponent, here's a Q/A from Pico Dulce of East Coast Bias. Our responses to Pico's questions about the Warriors can be found here at East Coast Bias. Pico also did a fine preview of the game here at Johnny Jungle.

Where are the signs of hope for St. John's future? Is Norm Roberts the guy to lead St. John's back?

Very hard to see, and no.

While this post is outdated and St. John’s efficiency margin has improved with uncharacteristically great offensive performances against Louisville and South Florida, this still rings true. It’s time to change. One could say that after 6 years, having a 9 person class of juniors and an outside chance at the NIT, is progress. But what kind of progress? The NIT doesn’t attract recruits who say “boy, I’ve always wanted to get to the second round of the NIT. What radio station is that on? The team has made some improvement this year, but not enough to be anywhere near an NCAA contender. They’re inconsistent, outmatched in a quarter of their Big East contests, and sometimes look like they’ve just met each other the night before the game. And then, even if they make the NCAA Tournament next year (requiring another leap in efficiency in conference play), those 9 seniors on the squad leave next year, and are replaced by… some A-10 level talent and some JUCOs. After seeing the first two years with the current juniors… the team will be in for an even rougher patch with younger players. And the staff and administration will say “well they’re young,” but being young here is a choice.

Norm Roberts is not the guy to lead the Red Storm back. He gets his team to play hard at times, but also puts out a team that looks defeated at times, a team that has a hard time learning basic team skills on both ends, a team whose forwards develop slowly, a team whose point guard play for 6 years has been substandard, a team wholly dependent on the quality of the talent, and the ready-made Big East talent isn’t coming.

What has been better as the Johnnies have won three of four?

Poorer opposing defenses and a newfound offensive confidence/ aggression.

I thought about an answer to this a bit while watching St. John's hold a steady lead over South Florida, and I had to look back at the teams the Red Storm beat over the stretch. Louisville is a big name, but in conference, they have been up and down. Notre Dame profiles as about a .500 team in conference, and without Luke Harangody, maybe a little less (and their defense is simply atrocious). And South Florida's been winning on the strength of their ability to get to the line, not actually being more efficient from the field than opponents (really, it’s kind of fascinating – they’re about .06 points per possession worse than their opponents). Three flawed teams, placed nicely in a row by the schedule makers.

Which of course begs the question: what happened with Seton Hall? And a Pirate team without Eugene Harvey and with only about 8-10 minutes form Jeremy Hazell (who injured his finger early in the game)? That game speaks to what's strange about the Red Storm. Specifically, I just don't know what teams the Red Storm can beat. I know they can lose to the top 4-8 in the conference. I know they wilt in the presence of U Conn. But this year, they handle the ball much better and give themselves a chance to score. But even the ballhandling and aggression/ assertiveness doesn’t always mean wins; against Seton Hall, the aggressiveness led to a lot of strong shots (some of the crappiest offense I have seen them play and that says a LOT).

There's something to be said about the veteran leadership of DJ Kennedy - as he goes, the team goes. And Malik Boothe has been a bit more active on the offensive end, trying to do something more than bring the ball up and get out of the way on offense. Again, these have been some iffy-to-bad defenses with point guards who aren't known for their defensive pressure, so take that with a grain of salt. And Justin Burrell has been playing like his potential seemed to dictate his freshman year. That's one player who has really emerged recently... though he can't get himself the ball. I also think Anthony Mason's defense has had some solid moments. I'll speak more on Burrell and Mase below.

Overall, the Johnnies defense is pretty solid, allowing 0.92 ppp, but there's nothing overall that stands out as a strength. Is the sum greater than the parts, or how do you explain that?

First, the overall number seems a little misleading to me. The Johnnies played a Temple team that seemingly couldn't dribble and shoot the ball (I heard it on the radio, so I don't know what on earth they did to get that performance), some bad local teams, and have enjoyed some good performances against Cincy, DePaul, Louisville, and a few more - the numbers are a little skewed, but only a few teams have gone off on them offensively (like Rutgers).

I would say that in the team's wins and better defensive performances, they do a good job staying in front of opponents and preventing run-outs. But in the losses and poorer defensive performances, the other team just seems to run on them and/ or get their forwards into the paint where they score with ease. And there’s something about the defense that has allowed a number of players to just have their way with the Red Storm from the outside, like Mike Rosario did, and like Da’Sean Butler did (in a half). The head coach will say “a player just made plays” or “a guy got hot” but… I personally think it happens too often to not be a flaw in the defensive preparation or execution.

I can't say that it's felt like a consistent defensive performance at all.

Dwight Hardy has emerged as one of the Johnnies' most reliable scorers, while junior Justin Burrell has been less effective than expected. How is the chemistry of this team given the relatively deep roster (seven players averaging 6 points or more).

I would say that recently, the opposite is truer - Justin Burrell's really coming on, and Dwight Hardy's flaws have been exposed. Burrell has been pretty effective when he gets the ball in the post – even though you will see St. John’s guards look away from him in the post at times to try and probe with the dribble. He is rebounding with a bit more vigor, and his jump shot and free throw shooting look confident and smooth. Supposedly a rival coach told him “if you were on my team, you’d be a pro by now,” (don’t have a concrete source, just hearsay) and I can see some truth in that. The coaching staff has struggled to get a consistent effort from Justin, but his skill set is pretty nice.

Meanwhile, Hardy only provides scoring. His defense is decent but has lapses. His ability to drive to the hoop is there but inconsistent. His best attribute is getting his shot off of a single dribble; the team needs to run more crisp sets where he gets the ball off the catch, though. But when he’s not hitting – or when the team has him run the point to keep him on the floor – Hardy’s not as effective.

As for the chemistry, it seems pretty good. Some guys see a little less time, but they are ok with their roles - little public pouting and those who have insights on the team say the squad likes each other.

What's the deal with Omari Lawrence? He gets a ton of possessions but is woefully inefficient. Also, I should know the answer already, but what happened to Anthony Mason Jr?

Since Omari plays for St. John's he has to forget how to hit a credible jump shot.

I think Omari needs to develop his shot, his feel for the college game's speed (something he's said to the papers), work on his moves, and work on his shot (along with his touch near the basket). I think he's an interesting player, and I made the case that he isn't so far from Maryland's Sean Mosley's skill set and body type, though he'll be more of a slasher/ bouncer and Mosley I think was touted as a midrange shooter. Granted, that was a month ago, and I should recheck that notion. And that’s my wild opinion, really. I think Omari's kind of like basketball's Ol' Dirty Bastard - there's no father to his style (besides undersized power forwards like Paul Harris). But getting to spaces to get one’s shot off is a skill, and Omari’s always been a different type of guard. He’s a willing defender, has some court vision. I strongly believe he’ll turn into a jack-of-all-trades player.

Mase had a torn tendon in his foot, hamstring problems, and they kept recurring. His legs are coming back, but the timing on his shot hasn’t. I’ve always had the strong opinion that the staff needed to work with him on his shot. His release is a little funky and it tends to be inconsistent. His footwork shooting isn’t always technically sound, either. That and the rust has made him an ineffective offensive player, but his length on defense makes a play each game, it seems.

Pico, thanks for knowledge.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Warriors top Bearcats in Overtime Thriller

In a Champagne Special the Marquette Warriors topped the Cincinnati Bearcats in a battle of bubble teams, 79-76 in overtime.

Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom led MU with 20 points each. Butler delivered the coup de grace in overtime with the basketball equivalent of "hey look, your shoe is untied!" as he broke free for a three-quarter court pass and dunk on a routine in-bounds play with 15 seconds remaining.

True to form the resilient Lazar Hayward was credited with the assist on the Butler dunk. The senior struggled for the first 39 minutes of this afternoon's game, missing 9 of his first 10 field goal attempts before connecting on a long three-pointer with 27 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime. In overtime Hayward dominated scoring 5 points, grabbing two rebounds and handing out the game's key assist.

Hayward finished with another double-double, 13 points and 11 boards. Joseph Fulce played out of his mind, matching his career-high of 13 points to go with five boards in just 15 minutes of action.

With the win Marquette moves to 17-9 on the season and 8-6 in BIG EAST play. With four games remaining in the regular season Buzz Williams' team remains on an improbable path towards the NCAA tournament. Winners of five of their last six, the Warriors will look to extend the hot streak on the road against resurgent St. Johns and talented Seton Hall later this week.

The sublime Brad Galli recaps the win for MUTV ... by the way, Galli runs circles around the unprepared lightweights that ESPN Regional Television saddled viewers with this afternoon.

Box Score

By the way, are there any other Marquette fans who want to thank Mick Cronin for refusing to play the dominant Yancy Gates for more than 22 minutes? MU had no answer for the Bearcats' big man -- so thanks, Mick.

Cincy preview - playoff like pressure with both teams squarely on the bubble

Marquette at Cincinnati (1 p.m. today on MSG, MASN) could well prove to ultimately have been a playoff game that sends one team to the NCAA and the other to the NIT.

The four teams squarely on the ESPN bubble are Marquette (2nd to last invited), St. Mary’s (last invited), Mississippi State (1st team NOT invited) and Cincinnati (2nd team NOT invited). There isn’t a bigger game in the country this weekend (which Lunardi basically just said), because while playing for a higher seed is nice, playing for a bid is much bigger.

A win would be MUs third straight road win, building confidence of their chances in the next two road games at a very improved St. John’s and a tough Seton Hall. A loss would really put MU almost into a do-or-die mode the rest of the way, dropping MU behind Cincy into 8th in the standings and on the verge of losing a bye in the Big East tournament.

Deonta Vaughn (#5, 6-1, 190) distributes the ball to four players between 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-9, and all five of them hit more than 50% of their two-pointers and pound the offensive glass. The two tallest players, 6-8 Steve Toyloy (#42) and 6-9 Yancy Gates (#34) are among the national leaders in offensive rebounds, so once Cincinnati puts up a two-point shot they should score a very high percentage of the time either on that shot or a follow-up shot. Expect to yell, “recruit a big man” every time we get dunked on. Cincy could choose to put 6-foot Cashmire Wright (#1) and 6-3 Doion Dixon (#3) on the floor more with Vaughn to try to match MUs three guards help with the defensive match-up problems teams have with stopping MUs five 3-point shooters.

However, Marquette’s opportunity to overcome another potential dunk-a-thon will be to do the three things they’ve done all year; 1) not compound the problem by fouling the guy while he is dunking on you, 2) turn Cincy over a lot BEFORE they work it in for a point blank shot, and 3) trade their two-point dunk for a three-pointer at the other end.

It’s amazing that this formula has worked so well that MU is still one of only six teams yet to lose by double digits this year. It is pretty select company with only Murray State of the Ohio Valley Conference, Dayton of the A-10 and just three other High Major teams in Baylor, and two projected No. 1 seeds in Purdue and Kansas.

The good news is that Cincinnati turns the ball over a lot, so MU has a chance to have a huge advantage in turnovers, and they don’t draw fouls, which is very crucial since MU cannot afford to have Lazar Hayward or Jimmy Butler in foul trouble.

The bad news is that Cincy defends the 3-pointer well (32.5% of threes allowed), which is a big concern after Pitt held MU to 5 of 19 on treys, knocking MU down to 41.6% for the year and from 1st to 4th in the country (though still 1st among Major Conferences).

I was concerned that perhaps a strong three-point defense was a tough match-up for MU since Pitt was the toughest against the trey in the Big East. However, in looking further, the only tougher 3-point defense MU has faced was Xavier, which is actually the 3rd toughest in the country at 27.5% allowed. As easily as MU handled Xavier, ranked 19th in the RPI today, it appears it was either just an offnight or a particularly good scheme by Jamie Dixon that stopped MU from their normal 3-ball sharpshooting. In fact, Syracuse, UWM, UConn and South Florida are all tougher than Cincy at denying the trey.

While Cincy has shown scary potential in beating Vandy (No. 11 RPI) and Maryland (No. 35) before a two-point loss to Gonzaga, they have not blown anyone away on their home court in Big East play. Pitt and Syracuse are the only two to go into Cincy and win, so this would be a huge quality win for MU, but UConn (2 points), ND (2 points), Providence (4 points) and USF (8 points) have all kept it close in Cincy.

The pressure built with “losing serve” with the home loss to Pitt. A win at Cincinnati today would give MU some cushion in making the tourney. A loss would not eliminate MU, but it would certainly tighten the pressure heading into two more tough road games before MU returns to the Bradley Center against Louisville.

MU controls it's destiny, and some good things happened this week to cushion the blow of the Pitt loss. UConn is back in the Top 50 of the RPI, adding a quality road win to Marquette's resume, Xavier is now in the Top 20 RPI after thrashing a team competiting with MU (Florida) on the road. That makes MU 2-6 against the RPI Top 20, a very impressive asterick to the 3-7 overall against the Top 50 RPI. It didn't hurt to have NC State destroy No. 25 Wake Forest by 14, having already beaten Duke by the same margin, to help make DePaul the only really bad loss (though remember they did at least beat a ranked Northern Iowa team).

It’s not do-or-die yet, but we are almost in playoff mode right now.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Magic & Bird on HBO - plenty of Marquette references

Wednesday evening I attended the premier of Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals by HBO Sports. A red carpet affair with Magic, Doc Rivers, Bill Walton, Jack Nicholson, Dane Cook, Billy Crystal, Barry Bonds, Frank Robinson, and a whole host of other former and current sports figures from across the spectrum.

The 1.5 hour documentary takes you back to the days when the NBA was at it's peak, with two great players on opposite coasts, two opposite styles, east vs west, black vs white, subdued vs style. It brought back great memories for me, a time when the NBA was fun for me and worth watching. I wish I still had those NBA cravings, but I don't any longer. At least not to that level. I rarely watch a game anymore except for a bit of the playoffs. Back then, it was appointment television by the mid '80s.

Having grown up in Los Angeles with the Lakers, they were our team and we hated the Celtics and hated Larry Bird. I wish I had the appreciation for Bird then that I do now. The interview with him is fantastic. What a warrior that guy is...both players were, but Bird was something else. Talk about old school.

It's a movie that I think you will find to be incredibly interesting, humorous and sad, but generally a well put together documentary by HBO sports. It premiers on television on March 6th.

So what does this have to do with Marquette? It struck me while watching it how many Marquette references appear in the documentary that gave it another twist for me.

Marquette graduate Charlie Pierce, a sportswriter for the Boston Globe, plays a significant part throughout the piece with his musings of both players, but particularly from the Boston point of view. This is countered by the Lakers beat writer for the LA Times who offers the west coast view.

There are several newspaper clips showing the top 20 teams in the nation with Marquette highlighted and another that references the top 10 NCAA basketball games in television viewership of all time....MU vs NC State was on the list (the MSU - Indiana State game was the highest in history). There are several other MU references but you need to keep your eyes peeled wide open.

For the basketball fan, you will enjoy this documentary considerably. Even if you are not a NBA fan, this film will take you to a time when everyone was.

Pitt - It Was The Offense

It was the offense that let things down. It was also the defense. But it was more the offense.

It was the defense

The interior defense was horrible. As in an email that I received this morning, it seemed like a second-half dunkfest. Pitt was able to seemingly get buckets at will, and this resulted in an eFG% for the game of 59.5%. Let's put that in context a bit. It was the third worst defensive eFG% allowed by Marquette for the year. It was also the third best eFG% that Pitt had the entire year. That's bad.

However, Marquette did a pretty good job everywhere else on the defensive end. Pitt coughed the ball up on over 26% of possessions, only got 23% offensive rebounds on missed shots, and only got a free throw rate of 28%. All of these areas were notably worse than Pitt's season averages.

When you add it all up, Pitt only got 0.96 points per possession last night. From an overall defense perspective, that's pretty solid. In fact, against quality teams, that is one of the better defensive outings of the year.

It was the offense

Marquette has an eFG% average of almost 53%. Last night? Marquette had their worst eFG% of the year at... 39.2%. And while Pitt, who typically holds opponents to an eFG% of 43.5%, can be credited, this was still worse than should be expected. In addition, while the overall turnover percentage last night was not bad at 17%, it was still too many turnovers against a team that almost never forces turnovers!

Marquette's final offensive efficiency for the game was 0.85 points per possession. That's horrid, especially considering that Marquette averages 1.13 points per possession. There is almost no chance of beating Sister Mary of the Poor, let alone any Big EAST team with an offensive efficiency that bad.

How much of this do we credit to Pitt? Obviously, we have to credit Pitt because they are a good defensive team. However, Marquette has gone against better defensive teams, or teams that are just as good, and done much better offensively. At West Virginia, Marquette was at 1.07 ppp. At UConn, 1.09 ppp. (Let's just not talk about facing elite defenses like Florida State and Syracuse)

In summary, while the defense was part of the problem (and parts of it were very bad), in the end it was the breakdown of the offense.

That's about all I want to talk about Pitt. Time to get ready for the Cincinnati game.

Marquette Doesn't Step Up

Needing to secure at least four more victories to make the NCAA tournament, Marquette failed to step up against Pitt, falling 58-51 last night. The big killer in this game was the shooting percentages, where Pitt had an effective field goal percentage of 59.5% and Marquette's was 39.2%. Both of those were way out of line, and it led to Marquette's second worse offensive outing of the year (FSU). The planned Gold Out looked pretty weak too, except for the student section.

I'm really just not in the mood to write anything clever or interesting (not like that's new), so here are some recaps from around the web.

Also, here's the Official GoMarquette.com release. It includes the box score, photo gallery, and some recaps. We're embedding the interviews directly.

Buzz Williams


Marquette must now regroup for a three game road trip that takes the team to Cincy, St. Johns, and then Seton Hall. Honestly, we feel as though Marquette needs to win two of these three games, and then the games against Louisville and ND to avoid having to make a run in the BET. The game against Cincy will be 1:00 on Sunday.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Be the Difference Against Pitt

(Cracked Sidewalks - where we aren't afraid to be a little cheesy in our titles)

First, bone up on previous online content by reading the Q&A from PittBlather.com down below, or go and check out the Media Availability with Buzz down below, or even at the official GoMarquette.com site. MU's site also has player interviews.

Correctly, Rosiak leads with a story about all the chatter on MU making the NCAA tournament, even as the team itself stays focused on its winning recipe. If we're being cynical, we say that it's his own paper talking about it. However, since we're inspired by Conan O'Brien to not be cynical, we will note that this has been picked up by Andy Katz on ESPN, SI.com, Lunardi, and (oh hey) this humble blog. Heck, even Basketball Prospectus is getting close to calling Marquette the best team in the Big EAST. (Please don't write that iconoclastic article, John)

But it's all crap if Marquette doesn't win against Pitt. After all, that's life on the bubble. Luckily, all the pieces are in place to make this the biggest must-win-big-game since the last must-win game with a big game feel. It's a national broadcast game (ESPN2) on a Thursday night at 8 PM. The student section needs to bring it, and the alums in the stands need to lead as well. To add a little emphasis to the game, Marquette is encouraging a "Gold Out" for the game. Since there's been a little bit of online debate about wearing gold, here's our position. We are Marquette Warriors, refusing to buy or wear anything with the chicken on it, but We Are Marquette more than anything. Wear gold and be a part of something larger than yourself. Or don't (whatever), but the sea of gold looks awesome on TV.

Of course, how on earth are we going to beat Pitt? After all, they already won at Syracuse, at Cincy, and at UConn, plus they're coming off an epic 3OT Victory against West Virginia. Still, we're calling a victory thanks to the Marquette fans being the difference (no, seriously).

Digging into the numbers, we see that both teams are really well matched up on multiple levels. (Check out specifics for Marquette and Pitt at Pomeroy's website if you want the numbers)

First, our strengths in general match up really with their strengths. We're great offensively and they're great defensively. They get to the line a bunch and we don't let opponents get to the line that much.

But even in some matchups, it doesn't really matter. Does it matter if you protect the ball well if your opponent doesn't care about forcing turnovers? Or if you prevent opponents from getting to the line if they never get to the line?

Heck, even when the teams are mediocre, they match up well. Our defense is lame, but so is their offense.

The few advantages are really around turnovers and rebounding, which I'm sure is a big shock to all the MU fans out there. Honestly, it's not even that big of an advantage on either side. But surely this is where the game will be won?

No. With all of the even matchups, this game will be won because life is hard on the road. We're predicting a slower-paced game with both teams not shooting particularly well. However, we expect Marquette to shoot better than Pitt due to the friendly (and unfriendly) confines of the BC. Despite losing on the boards, we are also predicting that Marquette wins on turnovers and free throw rate too.

But mostly it's the shooting percentages that will matter, which brings us back to you, the Marquette fans, and how difficult you make life for Pitt. Just picture Jamie Dixon calling a timeout after yet another turnover leading to Marquette three pointer. In summary, Marquette absolutely has to win this game and when the matchup is this close, it'll be the fans that make the difference in good (or bad) shooting. Wear your gold, get "eager", and be loud.

Marquette wins 66-59.

MUTV with Wes Matthews .. Buzz media video

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Know your opponent: Pittsburgh Panthers

On Thursday night the red-hot Marquette Warriors renew hostilities with the Pittsburgh Panthers at the Bradley Center. Since MU only plays the Panthers once during the regular season we wanted to seek out an expert's take of Jamie Dixon's bunch, and we're pleased to welcome Chas Rich from the PittBlather and AOL FanHouse back to CrackedSidewalks for more on the Panthers. You can check out our contribution to PittBlather here.

After losing three All BIG EAST caliber players from last year's team, what is the Panthers' formula for success this season?

To some degree it hasn't changed. The tempo is slower than it was last year, more along the lines of what it was before Sam Young became the offensive threat he was last season.

Pitt plays primarily man-to-man defense, but has been more willing to go to zone when needed. The offense is still an motion style, but with less emphasis on working it inside the same way. There is more dribble penetration and an emphasis on the guards getting the looks.

Pitt and MU have had some tough games going back to 2003, and the record since then is evenly matched at 4-4. What is the Pitt perspective on games with Marquette.

Well, I know it doesn't have the same energy without the eminently hateable Tom Crean (I still do not want to talk about the Indiana game). The series isn't a rivalry for three reasons: not enough history and hate built up; no connection with geography; and the lack of a football competition or any other connection between the schools.

That said, it always a tough game and matters to me more than, say St. John's or Seton Hall. I look at it as one of the most challenging matchups and barometers of Pitt's overall ability and versatility come March. With Marquette being such a guard-heavy and speedy team they really challenge Pitt to adjust.

The Panthers raced out to a 5-0 start in BE action, lost four of 5 and has now won three in a row. Are the Panthers inconsistent or is this just how the BE is playing out for Dixon's crew?

And no.
And sort of.

Simply put, this is still a very young team. That means spells where they play to a level of the competition. It is also a team that takes a lot more jump shots than in past years. Jump shooting is not a consistent thing, no matter how much we wish it was. When the shots fall, it's all good. When they aren't the teams struggles. There's more stagnation on offense. Less motion and more attempts to drive without players moving.

Another factor, relating to youth is adjustments. In the non-con, teams threw some zones at Pitt and they simply didn't know what to do. That led to insane struggles and great frustration. But they learned, and by the time they faced Syracuse they knew how to attack it.

They then had to make a new adjustment that they struggled to do when they lost 4-of-5. Ashton Gibbs being shut down. It actually started the game before against Louisville, but what changed was teams realized just how dangerous Gibbs was so he was absolutely blanketed. He couldn't get clean looks and he started forcing more shots because the team relied so heavily on him. The last few games have seen the team show that they are adjusting to the tactic. Working harder to move the ball and give Gibbs screens and shots. Plus, simply not relying so heavily on making Gibbs provide all the offense.

I think inconsistent isn't quite right, but I would understand how people would see it that way. With the exception of the game at WV, Pitt was in all of the games they lost. They just couldn't make those stops or hit the shots in the final minutes -- up 1 on Georgetown with a little more than 6 minutes left, down 4 to USF with 90+ seconds left, losing by 3 to Seton Hall when Gibbs game-tying 3 failed twice in the final 8 seconds. Make no mistake, Pitt deserved to lose those games. Yet they still had chances and difference between those losses and wins over Cinci, Louisville and even UConn probably were not not too far away.

As you know the Big East is rough especially on the road. Pitt has lost only once at home -- to Georgetown -- all other losses came on the road or neutral sites. The three straight road wins at Syracuse, UConn and Cinci look even more amazing when you think about it. It also created unrealistic expectations that Pitt could keep winning on the road like that.

The last few years Pitt has had good defense while forcing very few turnovers. Can you share a little bit of insight about Pitt's defensive strategy to not force turnovers?

That's easy. Pitt's defense is very conservative and keeping in front of the offense. It is about not giving up position, and forcing opponents to get impatient. Limiting possessions and being able to be positioned to get the rebounds. Pitt is a slow-tempo team. Not just on offense. They want to control the pace by keeping teams from going quickly on offense. Going for turnovers is a risk. No matter how calculated it may be. It means risking losing the position, giving up the easy drive to the basket or surrendering the passing lane for the open look. Pitt's defense is about making sure teams work for each possession and expend energy doing it.

It is also about the personnel. Teams -- like Marquette -- that use the turnovers as part of their defense use their guards and quickness to get in there and slap at the ball. Pitt's guards just aren't coached that way and for at least a couple of them, would not excel at it.

One of the game's best battles looks to be the matchup between Pitt's Gilbert Brown and MU's Jimmy Butler. Brown has show marked improvement year to year, any sense of how this matchup might play out?

Well, I'm not entirely sure that Brown and Butler will face each other directly. Defensively, it would not surprise me to see Jermaine Dixon (and also Brad Wanamaker) working to contain Butler. Brown is not as good defensively as he could be, while Dixon is Pitt's defender. A nifty factoid in the second half of the WVU-Pitt game on Friday Butler was to 1-9 shooting when Dixon was guarding him and 8-13 with anyone else.

Brown is definitely the most polished, athletic player on Pitt's roster at this point. He has improved his 3-point shooting, which gives him more room to take guys off the dribble and attack.

From a Pitt perspective, what will you be watching for early in Thursday's game?

How Pitt handles the defensive pressure from Marquette. Too many early turnovers will not be a good thing. It will put Pitt behind and further embolden the typically loud crowd at the Bradley Center.

Chas, thanks very much!

MUTV : USF Video Recap

Brad Galli of MUTV puts in another great effort for Warrior fans.

If you're skipping over these videos, you're really missing out. These aren't your father's college news clips.

In about two years, you'll be watching Galli anchor SportsCenter thinking, "I remember watching this kid on YouTube."

Monday, February 15, 2010

Regular Season Predictions - weekly update

First things first, we finally decided to join 2006 and create a facebook page. The response so far has been pretty good and it has added some "juice" to the CS staff. FB also auto-links to our Twitter feed if that's your thing.

Now, after Marquette took care of business on Saturday night, there are now six regular-season games remaining and the team stands at 7-5. Many bubble-watch prognosticators are saying Marquette is currently "IN" the NCAA tournament. Even more interesting is that Marquette could potentially be playing for 3rd or 4th in the BE this upcoming Thursday against Pitt. Of course, we wanted to take a step back and view the path forward through a different approach.

  • Point #1 - Marquette needs to go at least 3-3 in their remaining six games in order to make the NCAA tournament for a final record of 19-11 (10-8) in conference. Even that record will probably mean that MU needs to win a game in the BET. No, there is nothing magical about twenty wins, but as Providence will tell you, there is also nothing magical about finishing 10-8 in conference. Putting it this way... if MU goes 3-3 down the stretch and loses their first BET game, how comfortable would you be on Selection Sunday?
  • Point #2 - To feel comfortable, a 4-2 record down the stretch is much preferred, for a final record of 20-10 (11-7). At this point we would be arguing about Marquette's seed more than if they are getting in.
  • Point #3 - Finishing in the top four of conference will probably require finishing 5-1 down the stretch, for a final record of 21-9 (12-6). Pomeroy's projections are that #4 will finish 12-6. Going back the last two years, #4 has actually finished with thirteen wins, so even twelve wins may not be enough.
Given those assertions, how is Marquette tracking?

Projections for the remaining six games.

A few things to emphasize here.
  • Even though they're highlighted, don't get hung up on the win percentages ever. A better measure is to look at the predicted margin of victory (or loss). In other words, a 24% chance of victory is less scary than a prediction of a six point loss.
  • The Pittsburgh game is our easiest remaining game of the season. Better turn out on Thursday.
  • How the hell are we predicted to lose at Cincy, St. Johns, and Seton Hall? The answer comes in two parts. Life is hard on the road, especially for a team like Marquette that relies so much on shooting the ball well. Marquette's offense and defense are both worse on the road and better at home, and that trend applies almost universally in the league (just ask Georgetown). The rims are softer at home. Second, Cincy and Seton Hall are about as good statistically as South Florida and we're playing in their gyms.
  • Louisville is trending up, and that should be the toughest home game of the season.
  • Finally, these predictions are a snapshot in time as of today. Personally, they seem a bit bearish. Next week they'll almost certainly look different.
Given the three points and the predictions above, how are things looking as of today for Marquette's post-season?

Point #1 (going 3-3 for 10 wins) - The percentages of finishing with ten wins or more is about 65%. That's good news, but there is a dark side here. It also means there is about a 1/3 chance that Marquette is predicted to finish 2-4 down the stretch. Lose against Pitt on Thursday and Marquette has only a 12% of finishing with 11 wins or more. In other words, if Marquette doesn't take care of business against Pitt, we start to need some luck to make the tourney.

Point #2 (going 4-2 for 11 wins) - There is about a 30% chance that Marquette finishes 11-7 in conference. Win on Thursday and the percentages improve above 40%, but we are not close to the position of arguing about seeding... yet.

Point #3 (going 5-1 for 12 wins) - Unfortunately, chances are not very good for Marquette right now. There's only about an 8% chance of finishing with 12 wins or more. Even with a win on Thursday, odds are slim. There will need to be some luck involved here.

  • Despite the feel-good nature of the current win streak, Marquette is not a lock for the NCAA tournament.
  • The team will have to win a game (or two) on the road. They just have to.
  • There is a lot more downside to the Pitt game than there is upside. The game that's coming up is a must-win, so start the countdown to Thursday night now. Also, word is that the game will be a gold-out.
We'll have more on Pitt later this week.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Lazar deserves Big East MVP as MU could be playing for 3rd on Thursday

While someone else will be picked as the top player in the Big East this year, and others are bigger NBA prospects, when you look at where Marquette is today, there is no doubt that Lazar Hayward is the Most VALUABLE Player in the Big East this year.

With Lazar as the only returning player who had played even HALF the team’s minutes last year, MU was picked to finish 13th in the Big East. That was BEFORE their only players over 6-foot-7 both got injured, making Lazar the guy who had to take on opposing big men despite being only 6-foot-6, and their presumed starting point guard went down for months with an Achilles heel.

The fact that Marquette could be playing for 3rd place in the Big East Thursday against Pitt is a testament to Lazar’s conference play and leadership in bringing along the incredibly talented new recruits and his two fellow seniors.

Lazar’s makes MU one of only 6 teams to not lose by double figures this year

It is astonishing that a team as inexperienced as MU has not been blown out ONCE in 24 games. A team with very little experience, who relies on the 3-pointer would be expected to be inconsistent and just get blown away several times. In basketball, even good teams get blown out by 20 a couple of times a year. Yet somehow Lazar has never let the team get down, even when losing, making MU one of only six teams (of 347) to not lose a single game by double digits this year. Here are the others:
1. Baylor (by 7 to Colorado and Texas A&M)
2. Kansas (by 8 to Tennessee)
3. Purdue (by 8 to Northwestern)
4. Dayton (by 8 to KState)
5. Marquette (by 9 to Wisconsin)
6. Murray State (by 9 to Western Kentucky)
(the worst losses for Nova, Syracuse, Butler, UTEP and UAB were all by 10 points, everyone else in the country has lost by more than 10 points.)

As good as last year’s team was, Dayton, Tennessee, Villanova, UConn and Pitt all beat MU by more than 10 points.

Lazar has played his best against the Big East

Many stars build up their stats during the creampuff schedule, and then average far fewer points and rebounds once the rugged Big East play starts. Lazar was just the opposite, sharing and sitting during blowouts to get everyone else touches and confidence. While this holds down his season averages, it helped the team.

Once Big East play started, Lazar took over.

Lazar really does do all the little things, like drawing charges on breakaways and rejecting opposing stars (see future NBA star Dominique Jones last night).

In Big East play, MU looks like a high school team trying to box out – not for their lack of effort or technique, but for the incredible size they give up at every position. Lazar has grabbed an incredible 76 DEFENSIVE rebounds in conference play. Take them away and Marquette has grabbed only 161 defensive rebounds while giving up 138 offensive rebounds in conference play. Without Lazar opponents would come close to grabbing 50% of the rebounds when they miss. Lazar is BY FAR the most important player in the Big East on the boards, since he gives us our ONLY size and force on the defensive glass, as his 76 defensive rebounds hold opponents under 37% on their offensive rebounds.

Basically, Marquette only has two ways to stop opponents from scoring most of the time – force a turnover or Lazar grabbing a rebound after a miss.

So while Lazar is our only defensive rebounder, who gets the most credit for forcing turnovers? Despite the great effort from Mo Acker, Cube, DJO and Dwight Buycks, in BIG EAST PLAY LAZAR HAS 25 STEALS, MORE THAN TWICE AS MANY AS ANY OTHER MARQUETTE PLAYER!

Marquette simply wouldn’t be able to stop any Big East opponent without him, and the fact that we have won seven games and lost the other five by a total of 11 points is only possible because of him.

Best inside-out offensive threat in BE

Shifting over to offense, all Lazar has done is to shoot 43% from 3-point land (29 of 68), and made 84% of his freethrows, to average 18.5 ppg IN BIG EAST PLAY. Overall he has added more than 9 rebounds a game IN BIG EAST PLAY.

Sure, there are a few guys with higher averages (again, if Jones could have just shot 40 times yesterday he could have outscored Lazar), but no one else has provided a tougher matchup in Big East play by dominating inside and out, and no one who fills a bigger void on a team.

You can argue about who is the most outstanding player in the Big East, but when it comes down to who is the most valuable to his team, it is Lazar Hayward without a doubt. We have had a ton of great improvements and great recruiting by Buzz to reload so quickly, but none of this would have been possible without Lazar.

MU isn’t in the tournament yet. The RPI is a borderline 58th because it isn’t allowed to factor win margins so coming close against Nova, Syracuse, West Virginia on the road just counts as losses. Factor in the spreads like www.kenpom.com does and MU calculates as the 18th best team in the country. Hopefully MU finishes the last six strong and the Selection Committee gets MU in the tourney, but the fact that we are even on the bubble at this stage of the season is a tribute to the Big East’s true Most Valuable Player, Lazar Hayward.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

MU Thumps USF .. Streak at 5

With its 5th win in a row, Marquette claimed sole possession of 6th place in the Big East today, beating the USF Bulls 63-52 in front of an 18,000+ crowd at the Bradley Center.

Mo Acker went 6 for 9, scoring 14 with 6 assists. Lazar had a double double with 18 points and 14 boards. Jimmy Butler chipped in 15.

USF's Dominic Jones, averaging 22ppg, was held to 16, after "guaranteeing" four Bull wins in a row.

Official Box Score


Post-game Presser:


Friday, February 12, 2010

Hey South Florida

You've gone from the basement to guaranteeing a win? No wait, not one win but four in a row? Dominique Jones, you are one helluva player but c'mon.

No seriously. Look, we realize that you are perpetually one of the worst teams in conference, so the rivalry isn't quite there. Not to mention that you don't exactly count in any of the rivalry categories one would expect between a Jesuit university in "The Good Land" and a large public school in Tampa. So not many people may care, even if it seems like every game we play is competitive (and ugly).

And don't think we've forgotten about the stinkbomb we laid last year at your crappy gym.

But now South Florida is all uppity, having defeated Pittsburgh at home and then Georgetown on the road. South Florida is 5-6 in conference this year, and should honestly be considered a dangerous team to play.

We know South Florida has the dynamite 6'4 guard, Dominique Jones, who dropped 46 pts on Providence and 37 on Pitt. Jones isn't a Rosario-type gunner. He's more more efficient than Lazar in about the same possessions. Plus, all indications are that 6'10 Center Augustus Gloop-christ could return. This would be on top of their 6'11 C/F player Jarrid Famous. USF has great size, a fantastic guard, and has beaten some good teams. USF has legitimate designs on an NCAA tourney berth, and we're in the way.

Marquette fans are stuck between being either wrongly unconcerned with South Florida or fearing them because we remember all the ugly games against you, and we remember losing last year. But we've faced bigger teams than you, and better teams in tougher places to play.

Regardless, despite the uncertainty about this season, it turns out that Marquette has a decent chance at making the NCAA tournament. But none of that happens unless Marquette wins this Saturday evening. So USF, welcome to Our House in balmy Milwaukee, and the only Saturday night BIG EAST game of the year. Marquette fans recognize the implications of this game, and it's almost a sellout. We do the big game fan support well, including the Milwaukee version of pre-gaming that will have all those fans ready for you.

Marquette wins 88-76. We're predicting a fairly offensive game with both teams doing well on eFG%, minimal turnovers, and both teams getting to the line a lot. In the end, however, this will boil down to Marquette shooting well at home. Go home unhappy, Bulls.

Media Updates

Finally, here is Marquette's preview of the game. Way too much good content, including game notes, ticket info, Joe Fulce channeling Al Green, and over 15 min of media availability from Buzz and the players. Great content that you need to go check out, but we'll pick just this.

That's right. Couldn't be more important.

Marquette Basketball Weekly: 2/12/10

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Predictions on the rest of the season

We'll use this entry to follow-up on John Pudner's post from a few days ago where he looked at the Providence game and Marquette down the stretch. As he pointed out, Ken Pomeroy predicts that we'll finish 11-7 down the stretch (20-10 overall). This could possibly leave Marquette finishing as high as 4th in the BIG EAST this year.

However, I wanted to run the predictions through my own model and, if nothing else, put up some sensitivities on the likelihood of finishing in-line with that Pomeroy assessment.

First, how do our predictions (as of today's team) compare to Pomeroy's?

We highlighted in green (favorable) and red (unfavorable) where there are disconnects between Pomeroy's predictions and our predictions. For one, our model views life on the road as being a little bit trickier than Pomeroy does. Where he has Marquette as a favorite on the road at UC, SJU, and SHU, we have the good guys as underdogs against Cincy and Seton Hall, and then just about a toss up on the road at St. Johns. We also have Marquette as a stronger favorite against Pitt than he does, and the rest of the predictions are pretty close.

Given that we are a bit more bearish than Pomeroy, what does the analysis give for sensitivity of the final W-L record?

We're calculating a most likely view of 10 wins in conference, meaning that Marquette's most likely scenario is to finish 4-3 in the final seven regular season games. But here's your additional dose of optimism for these scenarios.

  • MU has a 90% chance to finish at 0.500 in conference or better (going 3-4 down the stretch)
  • There is a 67% chance to finish with ten wins or more (4-3)
  • There's a 35% chance to finish with eleven wins or more (5-2)
If you had told me (anybody?) before the start of the season there was a 90% chance of finishing 0.500 or better, I'd have laughed in your face. Now is a final conference record of 10-8 (overall 19-11) good enough for a trip to the NCAA tournament? Maybe, and maybe not, but it is close enough that a win or two in the BET would get us there.

Buckle up down the stretch and get ready for the final run of the season. We'll have more on South Florida and that 84% chance of victory tomorrow.

Looking ahead to 2010-2011

During the last three weeks the nature of Marquette's roster next season has taken shape with verbal commitments from a pair of recruits and the decision to redshirt another player.

A couple of weeks ago I looked at the fallout from the surprising verbal commitment of 6'4" guard D.J. Newbill. Newbill is a classic under the radar kid who appears to be blowing up as a senior, prompting MU to push for a verbal as other programs began to make their way to Strawberry Mansion. To be sure Newbill is a talented player but his verbal ensured that Buzz Williams would have six guards on the roster next season while the Warriors maintained a gaping hole(s) on the baseline.

About that baseline gap......

Recently Buzz Williams announced that 6'10" sophomore Chris Otule will redshirt this season. The big Texan will have three years of eligibility remaining. On the one hand it is disappointing that Otule won't be able to return to help the Warriors down the stretch, but the redshirt year could help him and the team immensely. In the more intense collegiate environment Otule's body has yet to hold up and perhaps an additional season to improve his overall strength, conditioning and durability will lead to more consistent minutes in the coming years.

Perhaps the most important roster news of the last several weeks was the verbal commitment of 6'6" forward Jae Crowder from Howard Junior College in Big Spring, Texas. Originally from Georgia, Crowder went largely unnoticed in high school but his play as a freshman at South Georgia Tech was spectacular. At South Georgia Tech Crowder averaged 17 points and 10 boards, and was named the player of the year by the Georgia Junior College Athletic Association.

According to reports Crowder transferred out of South Georgia Tech because the college was not accredited, potentially limiting his collegiate options. This year at Howard Crowder is averaging 18 points, 9 rebounds and better than two steals per game for the Hawks.

While undersized at 6'6" Crowder is apparently up to 230 pounds offering the kind of muscle and girth that will fill a huge need on the baseline next season. Is Crowder enough? Certainly not but with the pressure on, Buzz landed a player to fill the program's most acute need and was able to corral a more mature player at that. One interesting aspect of Buzz' player development to date is that he is much more adept at coaching, teaching and developing mature talent than he is true freshmen. The in-season development of Jimmy Butler last year, the steady play of Darius Johnson-Odom and the improved production from Dwight Buycks this year are in stark contrast to the uneven freshmen performances turned in by Jeronne Maymon, Erik Williams and Chris Otule, none of whom made appreciable contributions as freshmen.

Heading into next season Buzz Williams will have one of the deepest backcourts in the BIG EAST -- Dwight Buycks, Darius Johnson-Odom, Junior Cadougan, Vander Blue, D.J. Newbill, and Reggie Smith.

This group of guards is collectively bigger and more talented than the current vintage and they'll be complemented by wing/combo forwards like Erik Williams, Joe Fulce, Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder, and Jamail Jones. Perhaps big men Yous Mbao and the recuperating Chris Otule will be ready for primetime by next fall.

A quick look at the handy MUScoop Scholarship table shows that Marquette will have a deeper and more talented roster next season, full of interchangeable parts enabling Buzz Williams to potentially confuse opponents with a vast array of lineups. The team will remain massively inexperienced on the baseline and expecting Mbao or Otule to deliver consistent production would be a mistake. However, the baseline talent deficit will have to be overcome by the roster's other strengths if the program expects to build on its encouraging performance this season.