"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

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

NCAAs: Who do we want?

So the general opinion of most pundits after Marquette beat Providence last night is that the Warriors are a lock for the tournament. While we won't know until Selection Sunday, one thing we can do is look ahead and start thinking about possible opponents for Marquette in the first round. Of course, it's tough to predict a potential opponent for a team projected anywhere from a 6-seed to a 13-seed according to 50webs Bracket Matrix.

There are a few things the Selection Committee tries to do. First, they have a guideline that they do not schedule teams from the same conference until the Elite 8. While the Big East getting as many as 11 bids (or 12 if South Florida shocks the world) will make that impossible, there's still no way any Big East teams play each other before the Sweet 16. The SC also tries to avoid in-season rematches, which means that no matter their seed, Marquette shouldn't see Vanderbilt or Gonzaga in the first round, and are unlikely to see Wisconsin or Duke in the second round. Finally, the SC tries to avoid rematches from the past two NCAA tournaments, which takes Utah State, Missouri, and Washington out of the equation.

So who does that leave? Let's use the current BTB S-Curve to take a look at what opponents Marquette might meet if they end up with the bold-faced seeds:


Kentucky: UK is the only team on the 4-line Marquette hasn't played. This matchup would be Marquette and Kentucky's 11th in NCAA tournament history, with MU holding a 6-4 edge. Kentucky is again led by youth, as their top three scorers are all freshmen. Kentucky has an excellent offense, rated #8 by Pomeroy, but their 28th-rated defense isn't as impressive. The key is likely slowing down Brandon Knight. His field goal averages are 39.5% in losses and 47.1% in wins. If MU does get UK, pray that it's nowhere near Rupp Arena. The Wilcats are 16-0 at home and 6-8 on away or neutral courts.


Arizona: Personally, I love this matchup. Arizona has kenpom's 18th-ranked offense and 62nd-ranked defense. They also have taken advantage of a weak PAC-10, and are only 2-4 against the RPI top 50, with both wins coming on home court against 35 UCLA and 47 Washington. They also are fairly small; none of their regular contributors are bigger than 6'8". Chris Otule could have a field day against this team.

Xavier: The Musketeers are hot, going 16-1 since the start of conference play, including a non-conference game with Georgia. But I have to think we'd go in as a favorite. They're 1-4 against kenpom's top 50 with an offensive rating of 31 and defensive of 53. They do have a pair of good guards and a solid big man, but I really think Marquette is simply the better team.


Kansas State: I'm always wary of teams that start the season highly rated, slip, then make a big push late. K-State has done that, winning 7 of 8, including wins over Kansas, Missouri, and Texas. The Wildcats are incredibly deep, with 10 players averaging 10+ minutes per game. What scares me most is that they are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country. That along with a stud senior point guard in Jacob Pullen would make for a very difficult match-up.


Temple: This is an experienced team with some length, but this match-up would be all about pace. Temple's opponents have only scored 70+ in six games this season, and the Owls are 2-4 in those match-ups, with their wins coming against RPI 314 Northern Illinois and 164 LaSalle. Translation: if a quality team can run on the Owls, they'll win.

Texas A&M: The Aggies like to play slow, their tempo is #325 in the nation. That could be dangerous for a Marquette team that likes to run. In the middle, Marquette could have an edge, and this could be a game where our bigs could step up. The pace would favor them and A&M only has one regular player that is bigger than 6'8". Another danger is that A&M is a good offensive rebounding team. Without a doubt, the most important player for Marquette would be Otule.

UNLV: Living up to their nickname, the Runnin' Rebs play fast. They also play solid defense that saw them knock off Wisconsin and K-State in the non-conference schedule. But what have they done lately? Not much. The only team in kenpom's top 70 they've defeated since that win over K-State in December has been New Mexico twice, by a combined 4 points. And despite playing at a faster pace than Marquette, they only average 72 points per game. Get the Rebs running, and Marquette would have a decent chance.

Old Dominion: The Monarchs aren't very big, and play very, very slow. They are also rated by kenpom as the best offensive rebounding team in the nation. This is the prototype for the kind of team that could give Marquette fits. For Marquette to win, they need to shoot the deep ball. ODU shoots 32.9% from three while allowing opponents to hit at a 37% clip. If DJO is on and Marquette can turn it into a game of horse, they can win. If the game is decided in the trenches, it could be a long day.


UCLA: The Bruins are a big team, but are also young. The surprising key might be 6'10" freshman center Joshua Smith. He is often in foul trouble, but has only fouled out three times, and UCLA lost all three of those games. I think our own freshman center, Davante Gardner, would be asked to play a big role offensively trying to pressure Smith into fouls that could allow Marquette to exploit the interior.

George Mason: How good are the Patriots, really? They have only played two games against kenpom top 50 opposition, going 1-1 against #48 Old Dominion. This certainly isn't the Final Four team. In 2006, GMU had 5 double-digit scorers, this year they have 3. This year is a much better team from three, however, shooting 39.7% as opposed to 35.6% in 2006. That team was more solid all-around. This year's team will succeed if they can hit the deep ball. I think the key is to outrun them and limit their three-point opportunities, which has been a problem for Marquette at times this year.

Florida State: How do you explain a team that can lose to Auburn, then a week later beat then-#1 Duke? The 'Noles are ridiculously deep, 10 players average 10+ minutes, and long, 6 of those players are 6'8" or bigger. They also play a great brand of defense, rated #5 by kenpom. This would be a classic offense versus defense struggle. The key may be for Marquette to slow it down, something we rarely do. FSU likes to play fast and is only 2-6 in games in which they score 62 points or less.


Tennessee: Which Volunteers will show up? The ones that beat Pitt on the road, or the ones that lost to Mississippi State at home? It's tough to tell how exactly to beat Pearl's team. They have won and lost seemingly every type of game. One constant is that if you slow Scotty Hopson, you can beat them. The Vols have lost the past 6 games when Hopson scored 13 or fewer points.


Butler: The Bulldogs are led by Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack, two of the stars of last year's NCAA runners-up team. So what is the difference between that team and this one? Quite simply, defense. Last year Butler was ranked 5th by kenpom in defense, this year they languish at 75th. Winning this game for Marquette is simple. Keep Butler off the offensive boards, something they struggle at, and stay in attack mode. They want to play slow, so up the tempo. Butler is 1-5 when their opponent scores 76+ points.

Michigan: Michigan was 3-8 from December 28 through February 3, including a 6-game losing streak. Since then they haven't beaten a single team currently in the RPI top 50, yet at a projected 10-seed, they're nearly a lock to make the tourney. If that doesn't say something about how soft the bubble is, I don't know what would. I would love to see the Wolverines in the first round. Marquette is bigger, faster, and better on the offensive boards. Michigan does protect the ball well, but that's about all they really do well. As long as Marquette didn't get sucked into their slow-down style, I think we would hammer Michigan.

Illinois: The Illini have an identical conference record and overall record as Michigan, yet is a much scarier team. They have a lot of experience, including an excellent senior point guard in McCamey and two quality senior bigs in Davis and Tisdale. And speaking of big, Illinois is the tallest team in all of college basketball. They also play pretty good defense. There are a lot of things to like about this team, but some reasons for optimism. They went 6-9 in their last 15 games. And since the start of December, they are 1-5 against kenpom top 30 teams, with their only win at home over Wisconsin. Still, they'd be a tough team for Marquette to match up with. I'd rather avoid the Illini.


Georgia: I'm just not sold on this team. They beat Kentucky, and that's about it. Not very good offense, average defense, though to their credit, they don't have a bad loss; their worst is to bubble team Alabama. Still, this team turns the ball over far too often, especially for a team that plays a lot of three-guard sets. I'd be very happy to see them across the bracket from us.

Richmond: It's tough to get a good read on Spiders. They upset Purdue, but that's the only kenpom top-50 win they have. They are long, but one of the worst teams in the field on the offensive glass. The biggest danger is that they are a great three-point shooting team (40.6%) and also defend the three well. This game would be about tempo. If it becomes a game of H-O-R-S-E, we would be hard pressed to keep up. If we can get out and run with our athleticism, we'll leave them in the dust. Not my favorite team to match up with.

St. Mary's: The Gaels have lost 3 of 5, but get a chance to build momentum with a surprising non-conference home game against Weber State on Friday. I guess that's the advantage of playing an early conference tournament. St. Mary's is a great offensive team and simply lights it up from the field. But they aren't very good defensively, and when they do miss, are mediocre on the offensive boards. That's not surprising, as they don't have much length. As long as Marquette limited second-chance points, they would more than likely handle the Gaels.

So there you go, the 18 teams that Marquette is most likely to match up with once the brackets come down on Selection Sunday. For a quick review, how about a look at teams that are good match-ups, bad match-ups, and toss-ups...

Good Match-ups: Arizona, Xavier, Temple, UNLV, Butler, Michigan, Georgia, St. Mary's

Bad Match-ups: Kansas State, Texas A&M, Old Dominion, Florida State, Illinois

Toss-ups: Kentucky, UCLA, George Mason, Tennessee, Richmond

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