"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

Friday, January 07, 2011

A Slow Down Shootout at The Zoo

Two games into the Big East season Buzz Williams (11-4, 2-0) has the good ship Warrior sailing into Pittsburgh with a 2-0 record. Rosiak calls this the beginning of a torturous stretch, including six ranked opponents in their next eight games. On the other hand GoMarquette.com says it wraps up a two-game stretch. Regardless of how you look at the schedule Saturday will provide a true marker of where Marquette stands as a team.

Heading into the game the odds are not in MU's favor. Ken Pomeroy gives Pitt an 87% chance of victory (80-68). Pitt is bigger, more experienced, better offensively, and better defensively. They molest collies, knock down the elderly, and digest the tears of children. They're really good.

After this game, which Marquette will probably lose, the dominant story out there will be about how Pitt dominated the glass to win against Marquette. And it's true... Pitt is AWESOME on the glass but we're here to tell you the key is really effective field goal percentage (eFG%). And since Marquette's defense has been poor all year, we're looking for ways the Warriors can sneak out of the Zoo with a win.

We're looking for the Slow Down Shootout. This game is probably going to feature a shorter rotation, and thanks to Pitt's style, it'll have fewer possessions. That's good for Marquette because fewer possessions will increase our odds of winning. Because both teams have better offenses than defenses, we're rooting for a game with both teams having quality offensive efficiency. Again, it ain't like MU's winning this games with their defense. Luckily MU's offense is pretty darn good.

Pittsburgh enters the game at 14-1 overall, 2-0 in the Big East. Last time out the Panthers topped the Friars in Providence 83-79. Pitt is led by the three-headed monster of Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown. Gibbs leads the team at 16ppg (45% from deep), Wanamaker averages 13 points to go with 5 boards and 5 assists while the 6'5" Brown adds 11 points and four boards. Pitt is very deep with nine players averaging at least 13 minutes per game. Big man Gary McGhee leads the team on the glass at more than seven rebounds per game.

MU's best bet to counter the deeper, more physical Panthers is another big game from Darius Johnson-Odom. Since his stinker against Wisconsin DJO is shooting a red-hot 55% from the field (36-66) highlighted by a scintillating 52% (15-29) from downtown.

With Johnson-Odom regaining his form, the forward combination of Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler have more freedom of action on the offensive end, and we've seen what Crowder in particular has done with that of late. Butler has scored in double-figures in 14 of MU's 15 games this year and has found his stride of late as well, going to the free throw line 17 times in the Warriors' first two Big East games. Meanwhile Crowder is unquestionably the newcomer of the year in the Big East to this point and his offensive efficiency is among of the nation's best. Yessir, MU's offense is very good.

Now let's look at the keys to the game:

Key #1 - Marquette HAS to win the eFG% battle. HAS to. If they don't win this battle, abandon hope. Two things here. First, our two point offense is our strength. Their two point defense is their strength. Which will prevail? Second, which DJO will we see? The hot one from the last five games? Better hope so, because one of Pitt's two weaknesses (more on this in a second) is their three point defense. Marquette has a real chance to keep pace offensively. Want to know how Tennessee beat Pitt? They shot the @#$% out of the ball!

Key #2 - Don't get worked on the boards. Yes, eFG% is the key. But if Pitt dominates offensive rebounding percentage, we're done. Remember Pitt is #1 nationally on the offensive glass and #33 on the defensive glass. Marquette won eFG% against UW@Madison and Vanderbilt, but it wasn't enough.

Key #3 - Protect the ball! (a turnover rate of 26% against Rutgers? blech) Pitt's other defensive weakness, although by design, is that Pitt hardly ever forces turnovers. Giving up turnovers to a team that hardly ever forces them invites disaster, especially on the road in a place like the Zoo. Pitt already has a great homecourt advantage, so why get the crowd crazy by being careless with the ball?

By now we know that Marquette's defense will not stifle an efficient opponent's offensive game plan. Still Marquette does have a chance of matching the Panthers in an offensive shootout. In short, Marquette needs to blister the effective field goal percentage and win the turnover margin by enough to compensate for Pitt's undeniable rebounding advantage. Then pray that the team hits their free throws.

Pitt is going to get their points. Can Marquette keep pace? It says here to never count out Marquette.

Tipoff is scheduled for 1pm Marquette Standard Time.


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