The Warriors have quite the tough task ahead of them tonight against the North Carolina Tar Heels. While I'm tempted to be optimistic and gushing with the enjoyment of a Sweet Sixteen run, pessimism has been working well for me lately. After all, it's never been more fun to be wrong than I was about Xavier and about Syracuse. However, I candidly struggle with ways that Marquette will be able to defeat North Carolina tonight.
And yet, considering that Marquette is undefeated against UNC in the NCAA tourney, we're busting out the spirit of Al McGuire to help preview the Marquette victory.
It's all about the defense
It is tough to look past the numbers. Before the first round games, I looked into the defensive numbers for teams that win their first game, make the Sweet Sixteen, and advance to the Elite Eight. The results were striking. Over the past five tournaments, only 25% of teams with a defense as bad as Marquette's (#54) even won their first game. Only 15% of those teams made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Since 2007, only one team with a ranking worse than 50 has made it to the Elite Eight. The average defensive ranking of Elite Eight teams is around 16. UNC has the #7 defense this season.
Of course, this year is a different year and a different tournament. More than twice as many "sub-50" defensive teams advanced to the Sweet 16, and the Butler/University of Wisconsin-Wisconsin (ha!) match-up ensured that at least one team would make it this year. Perhaps this is the year where an elite defense won't matter.
Al McGuire says:
"I went into a restaurant one night and ordered lobster, and the waiter brought me one with a claw missing. I called him over and told him about it. He told me that in the back there's a tank they keep the lobsters in and while they're in there, they fight and sometimes one loses a claw. I told him 'then bring me a winner.'"
Translation: screw stats... bring me a winner!
Signs of life from Marquette's defense
Lately there has been some further improvement from Marquette on defense. In four of the last five games, Marquette held their opponents under 0.98 points per possession (ppp). That includes holding the #24 offense (West Virginia) to 0.98 ppp and the #20 offense (Syracuse) to 0.97 ppp. It is possible that the defense is pulling things together just in time. Certainly, against Syracuse at least, the help defense was markedly improved, as the number of charges taken by the team demonstrated. The team appears to be trusting the help defense more.
Of course... last time I said the defense was showing signs of improvement, the team promptly gave up 1.18 ppp to a bad (offensively) Cincy team. Guh. Forget everything I just wrote and pretend I said the defense is still crap (rubs lucky rabbit foot).
Al McGuire says:
"The best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores."
Translation: They learn how to defend.
Will Marquette be able to exploit UNC's weaknesses?
UNC is weak in three areas. Their offensive eFG% is poor, they don't shoot the three pointer well, and they hardly ever force turnovers.
On turnovers, despite being solid all year at protecting the ball, MU was sloppy against both Xavier (24%) and Syracuse (22%). Against a team that never forces turnovers but is great defensively, that's a recipe for disaster.
But it's the effective field goal percentage (eFG%) that is the real concern. Every Marquette fan out there is can imagine the scenario of "(Jean Felix) has come off the bench to hit six three pointers for a new season high". Not to mention that Marquette's weakest area is eFG% defense and three-point defense. It is a weakness vs a weakness matchup, so let's hope that the recent defensive improvements allow MU to be more of a contender than a pretender.
Al McGuire says
"Fifty percent of the doctors in this country graduated in the bottom half of their classes."
Translation: UNC is better, but Marquette is good enough to win too.
What's the key matchup?
It's going to be whomever Jimmy F. Butler is guarding. However, while the conventional wisdom is that he'll guard highly regarded frosh Harrison Barnes, we expect that JFB will eventually end up on point guard Kendall Marshall. Since Marshall replaced malcontent Larry Drew in the lineup, UNC has gone 19-2.
Where UNC suffers offensively is when they either shoot poorly (duh) or cough up turnovers. Marshall's play has been a catalyst for the Tar Heels' late season surge but realize that UNC does not have many effective ballhandlers, so harassing him with JFB and others might be the ticket to an advantageous turnover margin for MU. Marshall has a turnover rate of 30%, but was stellar in the first two rounds. Just like when Butler guarded Kemba Walker, it's entirely possible that Marshall may get premier defensive attention to disrupt the UNC offense.
Al McGuire says
“I think everyone should go to college and get a degree and then spend six months as a bartender and six months as a cabdriver. Then they would really be educated.”
Translation: Folks with a chip on their shoulder or folks who take the unconventional route to success are tougher.
Further translation: Buzz' brand of players have the moxie that the Tar Heels can't match.
UNC is the glamor program. Marquette is not. UNC has a bushel of McDonald's All-Americans. Marquette does not. Few think Marquette can win. Marquette does not believe that.
Moxie rules. Let's get ready for the game. Congratulate the temporary and just live life in the moment. Seashells and balloons.
Additional links of note
- Buzz Williams has a $.3.8 million buyout in his current contract with MU. Rosiak with just about all you need to know about Buzz in the Silly Season. $3.8 million buyout. Huge.
- The Houston Chronicle says that MU's Texas contingent is aiming for a homecoming at the Final Four.
- The Journal-Sentinel looks at the UNC/MU matchup.
- The Star-Ledger has a Q/A with JFB.
- The New York Times on how MU grit could trump star power.
- The Chicago Trib says MU's D is the key.
- Did MU's late season charge start with a loss at Seton Hall? Perhaps.
- New Jersey loves Buzz.
- The Philly paper files an article on the most obvious angle heading into tonight's game. MU and UNC have different recruiting strategies!
- The Washington Post talks about Buzz staying true to his roots.