I've traditionally been one of the more optimistic prognosticators, with a 12-6 conference prediction for last season (compared to the eventual 9-9 conference record), 14-4 for 2008 (compared to 11-7 in James' injury season), 13-5 for 2009 (close to our final 12-6 record), and probably the only person on the planet who thought we would do well in 2010. when we actually turned in a respectable 11-7 league mark.
This year, I find myself closer to the Cracked Sidewalks average.
I found this probably the most difficult season in the last six or eight years to judge. We have a ton of potential--probably more than any year since the Final Four. But a lot of that potential hasn't been realized yet.
If even one or two of the question marks on this year's team are answered in Marquette's favor, we stand a great chance of a top-4 finish. If all of them go our way, we may well challenge for a league title.
As I see it, the questions are:
- Can Jamil Wilson and Vander Blue elevate their level of play above their frosh performances (at MU and Oregon respectively) and achieve the expectations created by their top-50 RSCI HS rankings?
- Can Junior Cadougan improve his effectiveness as the primary ball-handler and build upon Dwight Buycks' surprisingly strong performance in the role in 2011?
- Can Davante Gardner improve his defense enough so that we see his tremendous offensive skills on the court more often?
- Can DJO continue his strong performance once he becomes the primary target of opposing defenses, as opposed to the secondary stop after Jimmy Butler?
- Can Chris Otule avoid the injuries that hampered his first two seasons?
As I said, two or three of those go our way, It's going to be a great season. All of them? There is no ceiling on this team.
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Comments on the Non-Conference slate:
- Our first test will come in the final of the Paradise Jam. Assuming Virginia is our opponent, the Cavaliers were a top-20 3 point shooting team last year, and MU was a poor 3 point defender.
- I believe the short turnaround will hurt us at LSU. MU is clearly the more talented team, but a Saturday home game followed by a Monday game in Baton Rouge will be a difficult short turnaround. Not only does LSU have two more days of rest, they won't be traveling.
- We'll make up for the LSU game by taking a win over top-10 Vanderbilt.
- Bottom Third: DePaul, Seton Hall, Rutgers, Providence, and South Florida: We'll take all five of these games.
- Middle Third: GU, VU, WVU, ND and St. Johns: First, MU should take all home games here--that means wins over GU, VU, and St. Johns. ND and WVU on the road will be challenging but we will be the better team on paper--those games represent the best opportunity for a quality league road victory. I think we split in our crossover games against Georgetown and Villanova.
- Top Third: UL, UConn, Pitt, Syracuse & Cincinnati: It will take a significant effort win on the road against any of these teams, and even the home games will be difficult. I think we lose some of our home court advantage against UL due to the timing of the game and we'll wind up with a loss. Pitt has less experience than last year--if Buzz avoids the distraction of making this a "grudge match" due to Pitt's departure from the Big East, we should win. Cincy has an experienced team and returns some good talent--we play them twice and I think we'll split.
Overall that makes for a 22-9/12-6 record. Enjoy the Ride!