"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 30, 2011

2010-2011 Postseason Roundtable - Part One

As we like to do from time to time, the CS crew gathers around the virtual roundtable and discusses various issues. This will be the first part of our roundtable, where we look back at the year that was. The second part of the roundtable is going to wait until Buzz and Marquette officially ink that extension.

Part One - Looking Back

1. What was the key story of the year for you?

Alan Bykowski
The key story had to be how the Sweet 16 run silenced Buzz Williams' critics. Four non-conference losses and a .500 conference record provided all the ammo needed to criticize Buzz and his team. But Marquette's first Sweet 16 in nearly a decade showed that Buzz can gameplan against anyone and that his players are not only going to play hard, but have the talent to win. It's amazing how one good well-timed weekend can silence critics. Would wins in November over Duke and Kansas State have had the same lasting impact as March wins over Xavier and Syracuse? Not a chance.

John Pudner
The key story for me is the improvement at Center. We've always had Guards and Switchables, but to have Davante show so much potential to score at Center, and Chris Otule become such a good defensive shot blocker that we actually blocked more shots than our opponents is quite an improvement for a team that was virtually the worst shotblocking team in the country last year.

Kevin Buckley
15 losses. One has to go back to Mike Deane's final season to find a year in which Marquette's faithful went to bed weeping as many times as this season.

Tim Blair
Marquette returned to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003. Sometimes it is not fun watching the process -- and this year's team was excruciatingly painful to watch at times -- but in the end the players and the coaching staff delivered.

Inconsistency was the story of the year in my opinion. The talent was there to beat a UCONN on the road, a Syracuse at home and to hang tough with Duke, but we also found ourselves struggling against teams like Seton Hall, Gonzaga, Bucknell, and St. John's at home. The effort was always there, but there were moments where we seemed to lack the sense of urgency or not understanding the moment in the regular season and conference play. They obviously got this once the Big East Tournament and NCAA Tournament began.

Rob Lowe
I think the right answer is probably the Sweet 16. It's happened so rarely since the 70's that it has to outshine everything else. However, personally, the story of the year was the defense. Once we realized and pointed out that it was an issue, the defense became like a sore that just wouldn't go away.

2. What specifically surprised you most about this year?

Alan Bykowski
The biggest surprise has to be the emergence of legitimate bigs at Marquette. While Chris Otule may not be an offensive force, he's a very good post defender and showed flashes of becoming a very solid player in the post. Meanwhile, Davante Gardner was better than anyone expected, contributing meaningful minutes as a freshman. Not since Jim McIlvane and Amal McCaskill in the early 90s has Marquette had such promise in the post. We're overdue for this kind of pleasant surprise.

John Pudner
I was very surprised we did not have a stronger stretch run the final 10 games of the regular season, when I thought the kinks of working together would be worked out. However, I will gladly take the two wins in both the Big East and NCAA tournaments over a strong regular season finish.

Kevin Buckley
Making it to the Sweet 16. This is the first non-Robert Jackson Sweet 16 in 17 years. Looking back to October, I'd predicted a 9-9 season with an NIT berth. Obviously, I got one part of that right. Add in a soft NCAA field and two great NCAA wins, and it ended up being one of the most successful seasons in two decades with Marquette finally breaking through to the 2nd weekend of the Dance.

Tim Blair
Buzz and his staff trusted the kids and it showed. Chris Otule, Junior Cadougan, Davante Gardner and Vander Blue all played major minutes for the team even though Buzz had ample opportunity to give up on each in favor of a shorter rotation.

Coming into this season I had serious reservations about Buzz' ability to develop young talent as well as his willingness to trust the kids. He did convince me on both fronts this year, most notably by developing Otule and Cadougan into major contributors during the season's toughest stretches.

Blue was a constant despite the ups and downs, and I think he'll become a dominant guard as he matures. Gardner was a revelation. Early in the season he looked to be a big-time performer, only to regress mid-season. Yet, Buzz didn't let Gardner disappear. The big fella worked his way back into the rotation, an encouraging show of perseverance and faith by player and coach alike -- and representative of Buzz' patience with this group.

Several things. I was surprised early on at the struggles of Junior the first half of the season but equally surprised at the improvement he made in the back half of the year. If he can continue to improve we have ourselves a PG for the next few years. The other surprise was DJO and the inconsistency. This guy is so talented but seemed to have a sophomore slump in his junior year. To be fair, it was his sophomore year in DI. When DJO is going well, MU is going well. When DJO struggles, MU seems to struggle. Finally, defense. We seemed to put it together in the postseason sans the UNC game. Our defensive struggles all year surprised me due to our athleticism and increased size that we have lacked for a number of years. I thought it would be better.

Rob Lowe
The Sweet Sixteen! I'll flat out admit it. After years of bad/close losses, I 100% expected Marquette to lose their first game against Xavier. Then I expected MU to get rolled by Syracuse because before this year, the Cuse had our number. A close second on the surprise factor was that Marquette didn't finish 5th in the BE. That's where they finish every year.

3. What impressed you about the coaching staff / any disappointments?

Alan Bykowski
I was impressed and disappointed by the same thing, which was our defensive scheme. The way Buzz's team was able to clamp down on teams like Notre Dame, Syracuse, UConn, and Providence was really impressive. But there was also an inconsistency in that regard. The last 5 minutes of Louisville was horrifying, and other games against Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, and Seton Hall were incredibly frustrating. The silver lining is that Buzz is a young coach and as he and his team become more experienced they should be able to develop more consistency in this regard

John Pudner
I continue to be very impressed with how well MU seems prepared for opponents and how hard they play. I was disappointed there wasn't more of an effort to get Davante minutes and forgive one foul to let him get into the offensive rhythem.

Kevin Buckley
Hard to tell if player development is a coaching issue or an individual issue. I think everyone was hoping Vander, JJ, and EWill would show much more development as the season progressed. Only 3 players showed decent progress, and the remainder were pretty much the same players they were the year prior. -- While MU's defense came on strong(er) in the final few games, they struggled on that end through most of the year.

Tim Blair
I'll consider in-season player development (detailed in the previous response) as the most impressive aspect of coaching this season.

As for disappointments, the defense. There's no reason for Marquette to consistently be a middling defensive team. Offensively, MU is strong and the coaching staff made adjustments game by game to ensure the team was able to score consistently and in bunches. How was it not possible for the staff to identify an effective defensive scheme befitting a program with such talented players? Marquette has yet to establish a defensive identity in the Buzz era. The team looks unsure of itself defensively, struggling with the help side all season long, relying on new schemes only sporadically (press, zone) while failing to create a repeatable defensive rhythm.

I'm always impressed by how Buzz has his kids playing heard and they never give up. He's a high motor guy and it translates to his players. No quit in Buzz and no quit in his team. Toward the latter half of the year his timeout management and rotations improved, though I still cringe at some lineups where we have two or three guys on the floor that can't score and it shows. Disappointments would be on the defensive side, especially our 3-point defense. Whenever we were going up against a good three point shooting team you knew we were going to struggle. We made some teams shoot 3's like they were in an open gym with no one watching.

Rob Lowe
I was impressed by how the coaching staff managed to make Marquette a top 25 offense in yet a different manner than previous years. Two years ago the team was miserly with the ball and attacked the hoop relentlessly. Last year the team bombed away from behind the arc and still protected the ball. This year the team was more sloppy with the ball, but made up for it with better offensive rebounding and four factor balance. What will it be next year?

As for disappointment... sub 200 on defensive eFG% for the third year in a row. Defensive eFG% is the most important part of defense and it isn't even close. Fix. It.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Win Credits predicts 26+ wins for MU next two years

Hoping the storm clouds will pass, but in the meantime ... Ever since the Ultimate Hoops Guide: Marquette University was published a few years ago with the Win Credits for former Marquette players, I've annually compiled how many "Win Credits" each player gets for the most recent season. This year the formula gives Jimmy Butler credit for 5.8 of Marquette's wins, with DJO and Jae Crowder not far behind.

PlayerSTLBLKREBAPTSContribWin Credits
Butler, Jimmy53132258658210255.8
Crowder, Jae4832251584359044.9
Johnson-Odom, Darius317112885848604.6
Buycks, Dwight3821111213186302.9
Otule, Chris115513451884591.6
Blue, Vander338104591874321.3
Cadougan, Junior202661151453700.9
Gardner, Davante4573101522530
Fulce, Joseph776112921930
Williams, Erik40383531020
Jones, Jamail6121327650
Smith, Reggie92121311580
Frozena, Robert10418150

Without revisiting the whole formula, just note that Steals and Blocks count double, and then one-tenth of the team's points allowed are subtracted for each player to account for defense (254.6 this year, so a player had to have 255 contributions to get Win Credits, unfortunately leaving Davante just short despite several huge performances).
In looking at upcoming seasons, these performances are compared to the performances of all Big East players since 2003 based on how many Stars Rivals awarded them out of college, and what year they are in school. When we ran through this a year ago, we did express some concern about how much was expected of Vander Blue as a freshman, since typically 5-stars are not key players until their sophomore year, while 4-stars typically become key players as juniors. Here are the Big East averages since 2004:

0-2 Stars0.

Based on this table, we did stress last year that Jae Crowder was almost sure to be the more dominant rookie player over Blue this year. Blue was at the end of the 5-star list for Rivals, so we'd expect him to contribute a little less than the 2.4 a 5-star freshman averages, while as national JUCO player of the year, we certainly expected Crowder to produce much more than your typical 3-star junior's 2.1. In fact, Blue's 1.3 as a freshman was below average but not bad, and Crowder simply had a phenomenial year that your average 4-star never reaches.

Now in looking ahead, we put the two tables together above to project the standard improvement, and it appears Marquette has about 26 wins on the roster for the next two years, plus whatever they can get out of one more signee for next year and two more for 2013.

In looking at the forecast, and the last two years, the 2010 Win Credit total is a little high because Singleton actually produced wins for High Point while Wilson produced his for Oregon.

Crowder, Jae (3, Jr.)JCJC4.96Gr
Johnson-Odom, Darius (3,Jr.)JC3.54.65.7Gr
Blue, Vander (5,Fr)HSHS1.33.65.2
Otule, Chris (2,So)RS01.62.53.6
Cadougan, Junior(4,So)HS00.92.33.5
Anderson, Juan (4,HS)HSHSHS1.93.3
Wilson, Jamil (4,RSSo)HS0.5RS1.93.1
Singleton, David (0,RSJr.) 1.1RS1.2Gr
Gardner, Davante (3,Fr)HSHS00.91.8
Wilson, Derrick (3,HS)HSHSHS0.31.2
Mayo, Todd (3,HS)HSHSHS0.31.2
Williams, Erik (4,So)HS0000
Jones, Jamail (4,Fr)HSHS001.2
Ferguson, Jamal (4,HSJr)HSHSHSHS1.9
Acker, Maurice (Gr)02.7GrGrGr
Burke, Dwight (3,Gr)0.1GrGrGrGr
Butler, Jimmy (0 star, Sr.)
Buycks, Dwight (3,Sr)JC1.72.9GrGr
Cubillan, David (Gr)01.7GrGrGr
Frozena, Robert (0,Fr)000GrGr
Fulce, Joseph (3,Sr)00.50GrGr
Hayward, Lazar (4,Gr)6.36.6GrGrGr
James, Dominic (4,Gr)3.4GrGrGrGr
Matthews, Wesley (4,Gr)6.6GrGrGrGr
McNeal, Jerel (4, Gr)7.4GrGrGrGr
Smith, Reggie (3,Fr)HSHS0TrTr
Total wins forecast25.123.62226.626
Additional spots to fill   12

I believe this gives a pretty good picture of the potential for the next two years. I believe the 2010 team was clearly better than the sum of its parts (22 wins vs. 19 projected through this method), while this year the total was not quite as good as the sum of its parts (22 wins against with 25 projected), and the latter pulled down the projections for the next two years.

The prediction last year was that MU would be back at about the Three Amigos level of a team that could make the tournament and possibly win a game, so the Sweet 16 did exceed expectations even though the 22 overall wins was three short (partly due to playing Duke, Gonzaga, at Vandy and in a tougher than expected Big East). That leaves the question of whether the team is truly ready for a deep run next year, now that the forecast is down to 26+ wins.

My subjective look at these projections are that I don't know if Crowder and DJO can take it to another level from the high level they already hit this year, but it looks like it's their team this year and Vander's the next.

They guys who clearly have more upside than this straight formula shows are Davante Gardner, who would have showed a strong season except for the long stretch of games he rarely played in, and Jamail Jones, who is still considered the 36th best freshman prospect in the country according to www.nbadraft.net. Unlike a few years ago, virtually everyone seems to have the potential to step in and be a big contributor, but this gives just the projected contributions based on their stats or star-ratings to date.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Buzz rewarded for being one of only 13 coaches to keep team in Top 35 three years running

News that Buzz Williams is likely to stay at Marquette rather than be part of the coaching auction elsewhere was met by happiness among almost all Marquette faithful, though some skeptics might argue Buzz has fallen short of expectations.

However, one interesting post noted fairly that if MU is paying a Top 20 salary that we should hope for Top 20 results, and that MU was almost there based on Sagarin and Pomeroy ratings. However, when comparing MU's three year performance under Buzz to all other schools based on that criteria, MU's consistency over Buzz's tenure is one of the best 20 in college basketball. Actually, only 13 programs have managed to finish as one of the top 35 teams in the country, and even if you soften the requirement to finishing in the Top 45 three years in a row, Buzz's performance is clearly one of the top 20 in the country:

Here are the final ratings according to Pomeroy of those 21 schools:

1Kansas 10225
2Duke 11135
3Syracuse 1541010
4West Virginia 982113
5Pittsburgh 531514
6Ohio St. 375114
7Purdue 1816914
8Brigham Young 21101315
9Texas 2318415
10Wisconsin 299715
11Washington 17301621
12Clemson 22202322
13Villanova 14213222
14Michigan St. 8234024
15San Diego St. 3341827
16Marquette 19333128
17Georgetown 27134528
18Florida St. 36243030
19Notre Dame 38381530
20Butler 45123731
21Florida 42451735

Remember, being a Top 20 program does not mean you are in the Top 20 every year, any more than being the top program means you win the National Championship every year. I don't believe anyone would have predicted three years ago that MU would make this list three years or the tournament three years running.

For those few who believe that if we are just critical enough of the time it will make them better because they will be scared of a critical post if they don't win the national title, I really don't believe it works that way. Buzz has this program on the right track.

Congrats Buzz, you deserve it!

Buzz Williams to remain at Marquette as head coach

According to reports today, Buzz Williams will remain as head coach at Marquette and have his salary bumped above $2 million per year. That salary would put Williams in the top 20 salaries in college basketball and increased expectations that accompany it.

Buzz Williams to return to Marquette

Saturday, March 26, 2011

MUTV Sports recaps season finale

Brad Galli reports from Newark where the Golden Eagles' season ran its course, at the hands of North Carolina. A 40-15 Tar Heel halftime lead proved insurmountable, but Buzz Williams tells Brad he saw only resolve from his team in the second half.

Separately -- many thanks to Brad Galli, Todd Warner and the entire MUTV Sports team for their outstanding coverage of Marquette hoops this season. Brad is graduating this spring, but Todd will be back for more.

Future looks fantastic as MU subs drub UNC starters for 8+ minutes

Since 1994, only five Marquette seniors have finished their careers with a Sweet 16 appearance; Robert Jackson (2003), Jimmy Butler, Dwight Buycks, Joe Fulce and Robert Frozena. Congrats guys! We knew it would end at some point, but not only do you leave with this great accomplishment but having successfully passed the baton to set up what could be a deep run next year ...

With 17 minutes to go in the game and UNC cruising to their 20th win in the last 22 tries with a 14-3 edge in turnovers, Buzz went to the bench.

For the next 8:30, Marquette fans got a glimpse of just how good this team will be next year as MU subs (who will all be back next year) dominated the UNC starters:

Subs 25-10 runFGFTAst.Reb.Stl.TOPts.
Vander Blue, Fr.0 of 12 for 200102
Junior Cadougan, So.1 of 14 of 421006
Jae Crowder, Jr.3 of 60 of 003016
Davante Gardner, Fr.3 of 31 of 102007
Starters2 of 20 of 002104
MU totals for 8 min.+9 of 137 of 7282125
UNC totals same 8 min+3 of 134 of 6060310

Vander Blue's defense was fantastic, including following a Jimmy Butler score by stealing the ball and going to the hoop to draw a foul. He swished both free throws to make it a 4-0 run in 5 seconds.

Junior Cadougan simply cut off the turnovers and added two beautiful assists and added a jumper and two drives to the hoop that resulted in four of four from the line.

Davante Gardner, the star of the entire game with a near dominant 16-point performance, hit all three of his shots during the stretch.

MU actually would have started the stretch with a 15-0 run except for two calls against Jae Crowder, first a technical after he pulled consecutive offensive rebounds away from taller UNC players to put in a shot, and another call for a "bump" right after MU stole a pass and had a path for a breakaway.

Seniors end on Sweet 16 and give others key experience
The key to the job Jimmy Butler, Dwight Buycks, Joe Fulce and Robert Frozena (nice trey to end your career!) did with the Sweet 16 run is prepare an MU team that is loaded to go further next year.

Tonight we started to see the huge jump good freshman usually make after one year with he play of Blue, Gardner and Cadougan (I know, technically a sophomore due to those 14 minutes I am really regretting from last year). With the point guard question looking solved tonight (Cadougan) and the potential to finally have a dominant inside scorer (Gardner) and the incredible leap 5-star sophomores usually take for their second season, the potential for Crowder to be a go-to leader of a very special team next year.

I've said this whole season - this year a bid and a tourney win to get the team experience for next year was the key. To get a taste of the Sweet 16 is way beyond what was needed to set up a deep run next year.

Now to the four that were so dominant today, MU also returns:

Darius Johnson-Odom (Jr.), who may be a preseason 1st team All-Big East player after going 2nd team this year.

Chris Otule (So.) and Erik Williams (So.), who have finally given MU a true front line that can block and alter shots.

Jamail Jones (Fr.), who is projected to be our best NBA prospect and gives us another 6-foot-6 inside/outside threat.

Dave Singleton (Jr., 6-4 guard) and Jamil Wilson (So., 6-7 4-star) who have been able to practice with the team all year while redshirting, making a smooth transition likely that could prevent some of the inconsistencies this year from not having played together.

And to that MU is going to add:

Going coast-to-coast to get two of the top swing men in the country in Virginia's Jamal Ferguson (6-4) and the top rated small forward in the west in Juan Anderson (recruited at 6-foot-6 but reportedly has grown a few inches since then - wow our line could actually look imposing).

The brother of one of the best players in the NBA in guard Todd Mayo.

Another point guard so tough he had Division 1 football offers as well in Derrick Wilson.

As one of only 12 programs to make the NCAA the past six years in a row, MU has now broken into the second weekend a year before it appeared they would be ready. Great job, and 2012 could be even more fun.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Curse of Jim Nantz...Marquette bounced from NCAA tournament

It's rare that Jim Nantz calls a Marquette University basketball game. He's the upper crest of sports broadcasters and typically only calls the biggest matchups in sport...the Masters, the Final Four, the NFL and other major sporting events. As far as Marquette fans are concerned, we just assume he contract laryngitis the next time he is asked to do play by play for a Marquette game. For those that may not recall, the last time Jim Nantz was behind the microphone for Marquette was April 5, 2003 in New Orleans. Marquette was in the Final Four and taking on #1 seed Kansas. At the end of the first half in New Orleans, MU trailed by 29 points, 59 to 30. The coach of the Jayhawks? Roy Williams.

Fast forward nearly eight years later and the curse of Jim Nantz struck again. Or maybe it's the curse of Roy Williams and Jim Nantz together in the same venue. Against Roy Williams Tarheels, Marquette took on the #2 seed in this year's House of Horrors for MU, the Prudential Center. This was the scene of the crime where the Golden Eagles were clobbered by Seton Hall several weeks back to close out the Big East regular season.

Much like in 2003, the opening minutes Marquette was competitive. In fact, MU took a 10-8 lead with 12:43 remaining in the first half (in 2003, MU trailed Kansas 14-12 with 13:35 left.) The remainder of the first half could only be described as surreal, much like 2003. North Carolina went on a 32-5 run in the last 11:20 of the half to take a 40-15 lead into the locker room. A stunning display that rivaled the 45-18 run KU went on in 2003 to close out the half.

Curse you Jim Nantz and Roy Williams!!

The second half started out much the same as UNC scored the first six points to put MU down by 31 points as an exasperated Buzz Williams called another timeout to get the boys on track. To MU's credit, the team fought hard to get back into the game and even cut the lead to 14 points with 4:21 left to play. It was as close as MU would get. Senior walk-on, Rob Frozena, hit the final bucket for MU with a 3 pointer in the final ten seconds. A nice touch on a night when nearly everything went wrong for Marquette.

MU finishes the season at 22-15. The 15 losses are the most by a MU squad since Mike Deane's last season in 1998-99 when MU finished at 14-15. Conversely, it was also only the third Sweet 16 NCAA appearance for Marquette since winning the national championship in 1977. An interesting season, with many ups and downs, a solid Big East tournament, a sensational first two games in the NCAAs and a stinker to finish the campaign. There's always next year.

Game recap


Warriors look to go from Sweet to Elite

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

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Know your opponent: Q/A with theTar Heel Fan Blog

Heading into the Sweet 16 we're pleased to welcome The Tar Heel Fan Blog to our blog for a fan's take on one of college basketball's most storied programs. Enjoy ...

There were a number of times this season where UNC overcame big deficits in the last 5-10 minutes to win. What is different about this team offensively and especially defensively in clutch time that makes them so effective at the comeback win?

I wish somebody knew so they could play the whole game that way. There is a tendency for this team to come out slow. It happened several times earlier in the conference schedule, went away then reared its head again in the ACC Tournament. The easy answer is the players are not focused until the win is at risk then a switch flips and they find enough offense to dig out of whatever hole they find themselves in. The fact UNC plays a faster pace and is very good defensively makes rallying a little easier. The surprising part is UNC is not a good three point shooting team except when it really needs a few threes to make up ground as was the case versus Miami in the ACC Tournament.

UNC has a great defense and an effective, yet comparatively mediocre offense. How do you see the match-up happening against a Marquette team with a good offense and a mediocre defense?

UNC's offense hinges on scoring in transition and working the ball inside first in the halfcourt. It suffers when the team loses focus and starts shooting quick shots. The key for UNC is to be patient especially if the Marquette defense is mediocre. On the flip side UNC is very good defensively but does not turn opposing teams over that much. Providing that remains the case, Marquette will get some looks, it becomes a matter of hitting them.

UNC opponents have shot well (>50% eFG%) in three of the last four games. Why do you think that is, and/or what's the UNC kryptonite defensively?

UNC's troubles in the past few games were less about the defense and more due to the offense turning the ball over too much. I also think UNC's defense is less effective when the other team wants to run with the Heels. In the past, UNC was so good at the faster pace it was suicide to try and match them. This season the offense is less powerful which means running with UNC is not necessarily a bad idea since teams can get to the hoop before the Tyler Zeller and John Henson set up shop. Once in the halfcourt it becomes a tougher proposition of either shooting threes or risking blocked shots on the interior.

UNC's strength lies with its defense, which carries the Tar Heels even when the offense struggles. When the offense struggles it seems that the Tar Heels are prone to the turnover, poor shooting or both. What's the inside scoop there?

It is usually turnovers though poor shooting has been an issues especially from beyond the arc. Much of the poor shooting results from settling for outside shots instead of getting the ball inside to the bigs or working for a better shot than a quick three.

UNC started the season 4-3, then endured the mid-season transfer of starting point guard Larry Drew ..... yet the Tar Heels rolled in the last ten weeks of the campaign. What were the drivers in the unexpected Tar Heels surge?

Kendall Marshall is given a lot of the credit for moving the team up a notch. Harrison Barnes is shooting better since Marshall entered the lineup. The way he runs the offense and passes the basketball adds a different dynamic. Chemistry is underrated as a factor team success. Larry Drew did not mesh with the team and there is a sense his leaving really put everyone on the same page. Plus it put Marshall on the court more which ended up being a good thing.

What type of opponents tend to give the Tar Heels trouble? (...and do you foresee trouble from the Warriors)

Generally it has been three point shooting teams or teams with physical big men. Not many teams have the size to match UNC's interior play so generally teams that can shoot threes are problematic. However if a team has players who can push Zeller and Henson around while controlling the boards it makes life difficult for UNC if the offense is sputtering. Oftentimes even if the shot is not falling, UNC can collect offensive rebounds for putbacks.

Thanks very much!

Sweet 16 prep: Four Myths About UNC

It should surprise no one that all of Marquette is keenly focused on one thing right now: Friday's game with the North Carolina Tar Heels. Well, maybe two things with all the coaching rumors, but we're going to discuss UNC. As everyone tries to break down the game and figure out how Marquette can win, it seems that our expectations of Marquette playing their game is clouding the truth about what UNC's game actually is.

Here are a few myths that should be dispelled before the UNC game.

Myth 1: Get UNC in a hole and you can beat them

Okay, if it's a big enough hole, and you're good enough, this is somewhat true. But plenty of teams this year have had UNC down and made the mistake of thinking they were out. Virginia was up 50-44 with 6:40 to play at home, but then succumbed to an 18-6 run to end the game. Virginia Tech led by as many as 16, and had a 52-47 lead with 5:01 to play before a 17-9 UNC run closed out their upset bid at Chapel Hill. Miami had two chances, leading by as many as 14 in the first half before being held to just 4 points in the final 4:17 of a 74-71 home loss, and in the ACC Tournament led by 19 with 9:56 to play before a 27-6 UNC run left them heartbroken. Clemson also got a double-dose, being held scoreless for 4:35 in the waning moments as a late lead turned into a home loss in February, then saw a 73-66 lead disappear as they went scoreless in the final 3:56 before falling in overtime in the ACC Tournament a month later. It happened most recently to Washington, who took lead after lead in the second half against the Tar Heels only to be held to 4 points in a 4:06 stretch late as UNC took back the lead and put away the game.

Marquette has had their share of close losses and late collapses. Notre Dame, UConn, and most painfully Louisville all stand out as bad memories. This team needs to put together a full 40 minutes to be UNC, because no team in the nation has been better at finishing the comeback. The teams that bet UNC did so by scoring consistently in the second half, not by coasting on a big lead. If Marquette gets up, they have to keep scoring consistently, avoid the 2+ minute droughts, and put their foot on UNC's throat.

Myth 2: Foul Trouble and Free Throws Will See Us Through

If we can get UNC in foul trouble and win the battle at the free throw line, we should win this game. However, that's a very tall order. UNC is second in the nation in terms of defensive free throw rate. Their starters don't foul much, and getting them in foul trouble will be very difficult. John Henson and Kendall Marshall have never had more than 3 fouls in a game this year. Neither Tyler Zeller nor Harrison Barnes have fouled out even once. The only starter to foul out was Dexter Strickland, and he's only fouled out once, on the road against Duke. In fact, the only other player to foul out all season was Justin Knox against Minnesota in November.

Marquette thrives on getting their opponent in foul trouble, and making more free throws than their opponent takes. But against a team that rarely fouls and doesn't give you chances at the line, it will be far more important that Marquette make their shots from the field, because the odds are those calls won't be there come Friday.

Myth 3: Slow UNC Down to Beat Them

Quite simply, playing at a slower pace does not improve your chances for beating UNC. Instead, it makes it more likely that they will win. In games with 72 or fewer possessions, UNC went a stunning 12-1, including 7-0 in games with 68 or fewer possessions. Marquette, on the other hand, was 15-12 in games with 72 or fewer possessions. Why play a slow-down game when UNC barely ever loses those games and Marquette only wins a little over half the time? On the other hand, in games with 73 or more possessions, UNC is 16-6 while Marquette is 7-2.

The bulk of UNC's losses come in faster-paced games, while Marquette's odds of winning also improve when the game is played at pace. MU needs to be able to match UNC's pace to have a chance of winning.

Myth 4: UNC has a Great Offense and Mediocre Defense

While North Carolina can score a ton of points, they actually have a more efficient defense than they do offense. According to kenpom.com, they have the #7 defense in the country, and they do almost everything well, limiting effective field goal percentage, shooting percentage from both 2 and 3, offensive rebounds, and getting blocks. Defense will be a huge key to this game, and it seems the magic number for efficiency is 99. When UNC holds their opponents below a 99 offensive efficiency, they are 23-1, but only 5-6 when their opponents break 99. Marquette has a similar resume, going 18-1 when holding opponents below 99 but only 4-13 when allowing above 99.

Defense will be a huge factor, and UNC's is one of the best. One interesting additional note here, in UNC's four worst defensive performances, they won all the games. Those four games also featured four of their seven best offensively efficient performances. That should serve as a reminder of how dangerous they are late in the game: UNC trailed in three of those games with under 5:00 to play.

Another perspective on UNC's 19-2 mark since Marshall took over the point

Yesterday we laid out the reasons Marquette–UNC looked like it could now be a toss-up based on the formula that has correctly predicted enough bracket games this year to have me in the 97th percentile on ESPN and winning the only separate bracket I entered (1st of 219 entrees in a Washington DC bracket).

Basically, looking at the 5 factors that determine NCAA tournament winners, MU is now the hotter team since the regular season ended and UNC is coming up to Big East country after enjoying the entire ACC and NCAA tourney games in their home state. That leaves MU as now having the upper hand in three of five predictors (hotter team, venue and experience), which is almost enough to balance out UNC’s bigger advantages in the other two (TALENT with 4 guys who will be in the NBA within two years, a BETTER TEAM based on Sagarin).

While ultimately reaching the same conclusion, I believe Jim Bianco (Business 84) did a nice job of laying out another perspective on who UNC is and the edge they have in going 19-2 since freshman Kendall Marshall replaced Larry Drew at the point – a time span during which MU went just 10-8. So from Jim …

Who Is UNC?
On January 16 UNC lost to Georgia Tech. After that game Freshman Kendall Marshall replaced Larry Drew at the point (Drew has since left the program ... the fourth UNC transfer in the last six months). UNC went on a 19-2 run to go from a bubble team to a #2 seed.

Who Did UNC Beat?
Below uses KenPom stats as they are the easiest to work with.

UNC Current Top 25 wins since Jan 16 (Marshall)
Jan 18 #22 Clemson, home
Feb 12 #22 Clemson, away
Mar 5 #2 Duke, home
Mar 12 #22 Clemson (OT), Semi-home
Mar 20, Washington, Semi-home
Total = 5

To be fair ....
Feb 6 #27 FSU, away
Mar 2 #27 FSU, home

UNC Current Top 25 losses since Jan 16 (Marshall)
Feb 9 #2 Duke, away
Mar 13 #2 Duke away
Total = 2

5 and 2 against top 25 sounds impressive (7 - 2 if you include FSU). However, since January 16, UNC has largely shown an ability to beat Clemson (3 times) and FSU (twice). Clemson won a play-in game against UAB and was handled easily by WVU. FSU beat ND to advance to the Sweet 16. I did not know the ability to win the National Championship rests of the ability to beat Clemson on all surfaces?

Sure UNC beat a lot of top 100 teams to amass a 19-2 record since Marshall started at the point. But top 100 are not left. Only top 25 are left, including #21 MU.

Who Did MU Beat?
What about MU over the same period? January 16 is also a good starting point as it is the day after the Louisville debacle. MU is 10-8 over the same period.

MU Current Top 25 wins since Jan 16 (Louisville Debacle)
Jan 29 # 11 Cuse, Home
Feb 24 #13 UConn, Away
Mar 9, #21 WVU, Neutral
Mar 11 #11 Cuse, Neutral
Total = 4

And to be fair …
Mar 18 #42 Xavier, Neutral

MU Current Top 25 losses since Jan 16 (Louisville Debacle)
Jan 22 #15 ND, Away
Jan 25, #13 Uconn, Home
Mar 2 #24 Cincy, Home
Mar 10 #14 Louisville, Neutral
Total = 4

At first blush MU's 4 and 4 record (5 and 4 with Xavier) is not as impressive as UNC's 5 - 2. But MU has also beaten 3 different teams, like UNC.

MU has shown an ability to throttle a top guard in Xavier's Tu Hollaway (A-10 POY) and Syracuse’s Center Rick Jackson (projected NBA first round pick).

Louisville Debacle Part 2??

If you take the names off the two teams above, then it really looks like a 3 point UNC game like the statisticians Pomeroy and Sagarin have it. In other words, a 1 or 2 possession game as Buzz Williams likes to say.

Attach the names and then the emotions like to fly. How else could one rationalize CBS analyst Wally Sczerbiak (a former Miami of Ohio Player, and also a MU rejected recruit) saying; Congratulations to Buzz Williams and Marquette. Enjoy it, because North Carolina is going to squash you like a bug.

Or ESPN’s barcketologist Joe Lundari saying; I don't think there's a guy on Marquette who could crack the top on UNC. I think this is an easy win for the Tar Heels.

They said it based on UNC’s well deserved reputation. In a close game they expect UNC’s opponent to wilt from the pressure. Who can blame them for thinking this?

See what Miami (“The U”) did on March 10 when The U led or was tied for 39:59 of the game (and led by 19 at one point). UNC’s only lead, and only when it mattered, came from a Tyler Zeller lay-up in the game’s final second. This followed an epic collapse by Miami complete with dribbling off their own leg, throwing the ball out of bounds and missing bunnies down the stretch.

Or yesterday’s Washington game that featured poor play by Huskies down the stretch giving UNC opportunity after opportunity to win, which they did.

Time and again teams look up at the clock and see a close game with little time. Then they look at the Carolina Blue, get intimidated and choke. Will this happen to MU?

My answer is no. Lundari and Sczerbiak may think all #11 and #12 seeds are alike, Cinderella teams just happy to be in the mix. However, what they are not accounting for is MU plays in the Big East, in an NBA Arena (and frequently with NBA stars in attendance) and has played 15 games against the current top 25 (Sagarin data) including Sweet 16 teams Wisconsin, Duke and Uconn (twice). By contract UNC has played only 9 of the current top 25 teams including sweet 16 members Duke (twice) and Florida State (twice).

What To Expect

If Sagarin and Pomeroy are correct, look for a 1 to 2 possession game. What Lundari and Sczerbiak then expect is MU to act like Washington or The U and give the game to UNC.

UNC should be favored and they should not expect MU to give them the game. They will not. They did this already against Louisville on national TV and learned from it. Recent games at Uconn, Xavier, WVU and Syracuse (twice) prove this. What UNC has to do is not come with a Miami, Duke or Washington effort (3 or their last 5 games) because they will lose. What MU has to do is coming with a WVU, Xavier or Syracuse effort (three of their last four). If they do, they can win.

Can’t wait for Friday.

A dose of reality

.....Also if you're interested in downloading your own three-point goggles, click here. \\\OO///

These goggles are kind of a big deal these days.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

NCAA Q & A with Warrior great Jim McIlvaine

We're pleased once again to welcome Marquette legend Jim McIlvaine back to the blog for his take on the 11th seeded Warriors they move into the Sweet 16 against the 2nd seeded North Carolina Tar Heels. As a senior at Marquette, Jim led the Warriors to the Sweet 16 -- while dealing with chatter about the coaching carousel. Sound familiar? With these perspectives in mind, who better to help set the stage for this weekend's action.

As a reminder you can stay in touch with Jim on his own blog over at ESPN Milwaukee. And be sure to listen to Jim and Steve "The Homer" True as they call the action on Friday night.

Marquette is 4-1 since Buzz Williams held a lengthy, closed-door team meeting after the Seton Hall defeat. What has been different about this team since that point, if anything?

I think the thing stuck out to both Homer and I in the games after that meeting was the shot selection we saw from the team. Buzz Williams'-coached teams have always seemed to be very conscientious about their shot selection and routinely passed up good shots in search of great shots. While I would far prefer that to a team with no conscience, I think Marquette has been more willing to take some of those good shots earlier in the offense, than we saw earlier in the season. I don't know what was said specifically in that meeting, but I also think talks like that can help re-focus a team. Sometimes things can build up over the course of a season and having an opportunity to just air some concerns or thoughts can help restore confidence and put guys in a better frame of mind.

Chris Otule and Junior Cadougan have shown remarkable improvement within the season, surprising many. To what do you attribute their more consistent contributions?

I think time within the program always helps players. That includes time learning the system, getting comfortable with teammates & coaching styles. Even improvements in strength & conditioning can help a player's confidence tremendously and when I look at the way both Junior & Chris' bodies looked when they first came to Marquette and compare it to how they look now, you can see the difference in what Todd Smith has been able to do with those guys. I think the arrival of Davante Gardner has also helped Chris, as post players can learn a lot just from playing against each other every day in practice. As Chris and Junior have gotten opportunities to play, every good play they make and every solid game performance they have builds confidence- confidence they have in themselves, confidence their teammates have in them and confidence the coaching staff has in their ability. I think what we are seeing now is the cumulative result
of all of those factors and probably several more.

We're in the Silly Season of coaching rumors. You dealt with this as a player at Marquette. Do you think the "Buzz to NAME THAT UNIVERSITY" chatter is any type of distraction for the players, especially in this era of media over-saturation?

I think it really depends on how the coach chooses to handle it with his players. Kevin O'Neill was always very honest and forthright with us when he was being named as a candidate for other jobs. We knew during my junior year that Vanderbilt was pursuing Coach O'Neill, because he told us first, but he also told us not to discuss it with anyone. When he put it out there for us, it really diffused any potential distractions that could come up if someone from the Nashville press started asking players questions about it. I don't know if that approach will work with every team, but I think the nature of the relationship Coach O'Neill had with our team allowed him to be more open with us about those issues when they came up that year and the next year. I can understand that a fan may look at the possibility of a coach leaving for perceived greener pastures as a betrayal of some kind, but the life and career of a basketball coach is very different than that of a typical working American. When teams are doing great, fans want coaches to sign long-term deals and never talk to other schools. However, if the same team begins to struggle, fans can immediately shift gears and call for a replacement.

The job security of a college coach swings both ways and Bruce Pearl is a great example of how quickly a coach can go from hero to zero in the eyes of fans and the administration. The kind of staying power Jim Boeheim has had at Syracuse or Greg Kampe has had at Oakland is really the exception and not the rule. The lack of real job security necessitates that most coaches at least consider offers that come along. When Coach O'Neill left Marquette, I think he made sure all of his players had a very good understanding of why he made that move. While we were sorry to see him go, we understood why he left and respected his decision. In many ways, I think we were happy for him, because he was receiving the recognition he deserved for the job he had done bringing Marquette back to national relevance again.

Next up for MU are the Tar Heels. How do you think MU will combat the Heels significant size advantage? Do you think that UNC will have to adjust its rotation (ie, go small) to combat MU's strengths?

I think teams always try to make their opponents match up with their size and style of play, versus the other way around. When you try to play to the strengths of someone else, instead of your own, it can create a lot of problems because you're playing their game and not something you are familiar with or comfortable doing. Carolina is really good, really long and really deep, but I've always felt that we have a chance against any team that plays man to man defense against us, because that plays to our strengths of attacking the basket.

What are the most surprising aspects Marquette's play in the NCAA tournament?

I don't know if anything really surprises me, because we knew this team was capable of competing with anyone and we saw examples of that throughout the season. If anything, the fact that they've been able to battle back from deficits, hold off runs by opponents and finish games has been very satisfying. I know it was frustrating for everyone to see Marquette get to a double-digit lead and not win the game, but I think this team is peaking at the right time and finishing the games now that weren't coming out in our favor earlier in the year.

Notwithstanding the Sweet 16 appearance, do you think MU will be better or worse next year?

I looked at the loss of Lazar Hayward, Maurice Acker and David Cubillan last year and wondered how Coach Williams would be able to replace that leadership and production and I could easily look at the seniors this year and wonder the same thing. At the end of the day, I just need to put my trust in the coaching staff, as I believe they know what it takes to win and have our program trending in the right direction.

Thanks very much, Jim!

Warriors are in demand

One of the greatest weeks for any alum (at least one who is a basketball fanatic) happens when your team reaches the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The Warriors had been away from this limelight for far too long. With MU back in the mix the program as well as the university are garnering more than their share of attention. Let's just hope the Warriors handle the spotlight with a minimum of distractions, as Alan pointed out yesterday.

To die hard fans many of the storylines are tired or at least familiar, but to the casual college basketball fan, this week offers a week of glowing coverage and attention to the program and the institution. We'll have more substantive coverage coming leading up to the game, but in the meantime enjoy a sampling of the high-profile coverage of Marquette hoops.

Finally, CBS Sports also has this video preview of Friday night's game. Jon Rothstein picks the Warriors to pull off the upset.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Memo to Marquette: Don't Get Sidetracked

We knew we could beat Xavier, but after years of earlier-than-hoped-for exits, there was plenty of relief from the Marquette faithful when the final buzzer went to signal our victory. And while we beat Syracuse less than two months ago, it came as a surprise to many, not only Warrior fans but also the national media. In an instant, we went from the Big East team that didn't deserve to make it in to the rag-tag bunch of JUCOs conquering the world, starting with our JUCO coach and continuing to four of our most important contributors.

It all started with Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe writing an article about Buzz's journey to the Big East and mentioning the JUCO history of himself and his players. questions to Buzz during the post-game press conferences. It continued when Buzz was joined by Crowder, Butler, and Buycks at the podium for their post-game presser after beating Syracuse. By Monday morning, it went from being a small sideshow to suddenly being "the story" about Marquette. Before I could blink, it seemed Buzz was everywhere, defending our team and their backgrounds on ESPN First Take, then on Mike & Mike, followed by Scott Van Pelt, and before the day his done he'll appear on PTI.

What Buzz has to say generally seems to follow the same script. He doesn't belong in a class with guys like Thad Matta, John Calipari, and Roy Williams. He and his players took the road less traveled. It shouldn't be about where guys like Butler and Crowder came from, but rather about their talent and accomplishments on the court. The issue isn't whether or not he and his players are "JUCO guys", but rather that they are now all "Marquette guys". And that his biggest concern is not about their roots but rather about how they represent Marquette not just on the court but also off it.

While Buzz is right on all of these points, I really wish it would all stop, and I wish Buzz would take a break. As proud as the Marquette family is of Buzz and his guys, and as impressive as their accomplishments are, the biggest thing Buzz is right about is that it isn't about where they come from. Not where they come from in terms of places like Indian Hills Community College or Tyler Junior College, but also not where they come from in terms of beating Xavier and Syracuse. When all is said and done, there will be plenty of time to look back at where all of these players and coaches came from.

Right now should be about where they are going. It should be about North Carolina. While most pundits don't give Marquette a chance, a few realize that with a week to prepare, the Warriors have a real chance to give the vaunted Tar Heels a run for their money. This team, regardless of where they may be from, has an opportunity to remind UNC that we are Warriors Forever, and that the disappointment they felt in 1977 can be handed to them all over again if Buzz and the young men that proudly represent Marquette can send them back to Chapel Hill with their tails between their legs. Critics of Marquette and its fanbase complain that we bring up 1977 too often. Well, this is one time when we can tangibly link the present to that fateful night in Atlanta. I say we do it all over again in Newark, maybe UNC can hang a banner that says "NCAA 9th Place 2011".

So my message to Buzz, his staff, and all the young men that so proudly and honorably represent all of Marquette as its Warriors is this: Forget about the past, forget about where you come from, and forget about what all the critics have to say. Because you are Marquette. You are Marquette. You represent all of us, and never once have you failed to do it in a proud and honorable manner that should make any alum, student, or fan proud to call you their brothers and frontline Warriors. So forget the talk shows, the critics, and all the crap they spew, and focus on film, game-planning, and giving us all a night to be proud of.

Win or lose, we will still be proud of you. Win or lose, we will still embrace you as our most visible representatives. Win or lose, you will still be Marquette. But make no mistake, we're all hoping for a win, and hoping to celebrate alongside you, whether its in Newark, Milwaukee, or in spirit from California, Africa, Europe, or anywhere Marquette may exist. You've got at least one more night to Grind Together and Shine Together. Focus on that, for all of us.

Bracket formula has me in ESPNs 97th percentile - says MU virtually even with UNC but no Final 4

Based on the formula I posted before the tournament and emailed to 7,000+, three of the four teams with the most NBA talent are in Newark with us (only Kansas is elsewhere). Of the Sweet 16, we also get three of the five Sweet 16 teams who had a bracket rating of more than 100 (Duke and Kansas the only two that are elsewhere).

However, due to UNCs narrow escapes throughout the ACC and NCAA tourney games so far, the formula now gives MU almost a 50-50 chance of stunning UNC - but almost no chance against the Ohio State-Kentucky winner Sunday. Here is what the formula says:

KentuckyMarquetteN. CarolinaOhio St.Notes
Sagarin90868996MU, OSU up 1
Hot/Cold22-23UNC drop off
Experience-20-22more than K,NC
Home adv.-13-11shift to BE country
NBA talent10088All outflank MU
Bracket rating999192110Elite 8 possible

In this post I want to cover; A) just how accurate the formula has been in picking winners this tournament, B) why the formula now shows UNC-MU as a toss-up, and C) the fact that if you throw out having to play a 3rd consecutive night in the Louisville game, MARQUETTE HAS BEEN A BETTER TEAM IN EVERY CONFERENCE AND NCAA GAME THAN UNC HAS BEEN IN ANY OF THEIR CONFERENCE OR TOURNAMENT GAMES. If that trend continues Friday, Marquette wins.

A. Formula has been EXTREMELY accurate – 97th percentile in ESPN

The formula rundown I posted and emailed to 7,000 people around the country has been right on. So far:

1. I usually try not to post self-serving items, but ... My bracket on ESPN (yes I only posted one) has me in the 97th percentile with Florida and the rest of my Final 4 intact.

2. I met a client between the OSU and MU game that said hundreds of people in their offices in Akron, OH have my formula picks taped up over their desks because the picks have been so accurate, and

3. Of the numerous people who have emailed me to tell me they are winning their pools based mainly on my picks, this was my favorite: “Pud, i'm in 4 pools, and in first place in all 4 of them. I haven't watched a college basketball game since Maryland won the finals back in '03. And before that, it was maybe 10 years. I based most of my picks off of your ridiculous emails! Thank you!” (My note, while this friend has great season tickets to the Washington Wizards, I’d say he really doesn’t follow college basketball in light of the fact that he didn’t know his alma mater actually won the title in 2002).

No one including me followed the formula exactly. For example, many subbed Michigan in when the AD basically announced they were firing Pearl. As outlined in my post, I picked Marquette to go Sweet 16 despite the formula having them losing narrowly in the first two match-ups, and I also picked Richmond for the Sweet 16 in my ESPN entry because the formula showed them beating Vandy and virtually even with Louisville, and I just didn’t believe Louisville could beat the Spiders.

B. Formula calculates UNCs edge of MU has slipped from 101-87 to just 92-91.

The bracket I did before the tournament has UNC beating Marquette Friday, with the only slight edge for Marquette being experience. The formula showed UNC as the better team (Sagarin 89-85), the hotter team (+4 to 0) and giving a huge edge in NBA talent (+8 to 0).

The NBA talent is still the factor that could let UNC run away with the game, as they get points here for the www.nbadraft.net projections of with 5th pick Harrison Barnes (6-foot-8); 60th, Kendall Marshall, 6-3; 66th, John Henson, 6-10; 73th, Tyler Zeller, 6-11. Basically, four of our guys will be matching up with someone who should be in the NBA within two years, and that could lead to another Roy Williams blowout of MU.

But what has improved is the venue, as UNC moves from five tournament games in their home state to Big East country in New Jersey, and the fact that UNC is no longer the hotter team coming in.

C. Postseason – MU 10 points a game better than UNC this post season

As for the Louisville game, I believe MU has proved that its reliance on speed and quickness to overcome other weaknesses makes it a poor team when playing a third consecutive day. The only three times this has happened in the last two years were the blown 18-point lead to FSU, and the blowout losses to Georgetown and Louisville in the 3rd game of the last two Big East tournaments.

However, if you throw out that one Louisville game, Marquette has played a better game in EVERY post season game this year than UNC has played in ANY post season game. Here are the game-by-game Sagarin ratings:

MU opponentMUUNCUNC opponent
West Virginia9388Clemson
Xavier9488Long Island
Post season (ex. Lville)9585Post season

Amazingly, that means if these were the only games of the season, Sagarin would calculate Marquette as 10 points better than UNC. In fact, even if we include getting blown out by Louisville back into the averages, Sagarin would calculate Marquette as a 3-point favorite over UNC (88-85 rating) based just on the five post season games for each.

As you will note, the formula shows the Kentucky-Ohio State winner blowing out whoever wins the Marquette-UNC game. As I have covered over the past could of years, it almost always takes three players who will be in the NBA within the next two years to make the Final Four, and Marquette is the only team in Newark this weekend who doesn't have them.

However, the Elite 8 is not impossible.

MUTV Sports continues Sweet 16 coverage

Todd Warner reports from Centercourt as the players react to students, faculty and fans cheering them on as they walk through campus. Marquette is embracing the underdog role once again as they have perennial college basketball powerhouses Kentucky, Ohio State and North Carolina in their region.

Brad Galli found a surprising but welcoming face at the Buzz Williams Radio Show Monday night. Current Minnesota Timberwolves forward Lazar Hayward decided to spend time during a three-day NBA schedule break to visit his former team as they prepare for the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Predator juiced the Orange

Here is a quick question for MU fans. Which player dominated the second half against the Syracuse Orange?

If you answered Jae Crowder, you're correct.

While Darius Johnson-Odom is rightfully enjoying spotlight for his clutch three-point basket with 26 seconds remaining, the 6'6" Crowder is the player who quietly carried the Warriors to victory and a berth in the Sweet 16.

In the second half, The Predator put MU on his back and delivered 14 of his 16 points to go with a team high seven rebounds and three assists. Realize that as a team the Warriors scored 32 points in the second half, and you'll appreciate just how dominant Crowder was against the favored Orange.

Of course, it was not just that Crowder had his way with the Orange, it was how his play lifted his team in key spots. Lost in the worthy adoration of “The Dagger”, note that Crowder hit the game's most important shot to that point, a confident three-pointer to tie things up at 59 with 2:26 remaining. A pair of free throws with ten seconds left moved the MU lead to five points, capping the Warriors' scoring on the night.

The Predator was effective offensively throughout the final 20 minutes, including a dominant stretch that stopped Syracuse's biggest run of the second half while sparking a 7-0 run by the Warriors. Let’s set the stage. After MU pulled ahead 41-40 with 14:03 remaining, the Orange went on a quick 6-0 run, forcing Buzz Williams to call a timeout. Out of the timeout Crowder stopped the bleeding, cutting the 'Cuse lead to 46-43 with 2:20 remaining.

With the Warriors trailing by the same score one minute later, Crowder delivered a dandy assist on a fast break to a cutting Junior Cadougan, who then completed the old fashioned three point play to tie the game at 46 with 11:19 to play. Less than a minute later, Crowder put MU ahead, 47-46, with a free throw at the 10:47 mark.

In addition to setting up “The Dagger” and sparking that vital stretch midway through the second half, let’s not forget that Crowder went 7-8 from the free throw line. Jae, a 61% free throw shooter on the season, went 4-4 in the final five minutes of the game.

His 16-points were the most Crowder has scored since lighting up the Orange for 25 back on January 29. While Crowder's late-season swoon was a cause for concern as MU headed to the tournament, he has bounced back with three consecutive double-digit outings - the first time he has done that since a four-game streak capped by the win over Syracuse in January. Crowder's resurgence is a key, and overlooked, reason why MU has made their first Sweet 16 since 2003.

MUTV Sports covers the Warriors' trip to the Sweet 16

Brad Galli, Todd Warner and the entire MUTV Sports crew worked through the night to recap the Warriors' thrilling win over Syracuse to advance to the Sweet 16. The game recap and team reaction is embedded here, but be sure to watch the impressive series of interviews linked below.

Junior Cadougan Interview
Dwight Buycks Interview
Chirs Otule Interview
Vander Blue Interview
Joe Fulce Interview
DJO Interview
Jimmy F. Butler Interview

Sunday, March 20, 2011

MU reaches 14th Sweet 16 in school history

Marquette played an inspired game tonight against Syracuse and defeated their Big East brethren to earn their 14th Sweet 16 in school history and their first since Tom Crean's Warriors went to the Final Four in 2003.

The final score read 66-62 and it was every bit that close for most of the contest. Syracuse jumped out to a 7-0 lead and lead by as many as 10, but Marquette fought back to tie the game at 21-21. The remainder of the contest saw 11 lead changes in this back and forth affair.

With the game tied 59-59 and under a minute to go, the Warriors got a huge break as Syracuse failed to in-bound the ball properly and committed an over the back infraction. MU ran a play and freed up DJO for the biggest three pointer in his life with 27 seconds remaining in the game. It was golden. Syracuse attempted to answer with a three of their own, but Scoop Jardine's shot was errant. MU salted the game away with four critical free throws from Junior Cadougan and Jae Crowder.

DJO led MU with 17 points and Jae Crowder chipped in 16. MU's defense forced Syracuse into 18 turnovers.

Marquette is now on it's way to New Jersey to play the North Carolina Tar Heels on Friday night.

ESPN Game recap

Box Score

Buzz one of most successful 3rd year coaches ever; reloaded roster gives MU shot tonight at 1st Sweet 16 since 2003

Eleven of the greatest coaches of all-time combined to win two NCAA tournament games in their first three years at a major program. Tonight Buzz can top their combined efforts with an upset of Syracuse to send MU to its first Sweet 16 since 2003.

Wonder why Buzz is among the hottest coaches in the country? Quite simply, he has accomplished more in his first three years than almost any of the all-time great coaches.

With the help of Mark Henderson (Class of 1992), I've compiled the records of 12 of the all-time great coaches. This list includes every coach who has 1) won 800 games, 2) taken a major team to the last 10 NCAA tournaments, or 3) is named John Wooden or Al McGuire. Through the first three years at a major program, Buzz has a better record than the 12 combined (.673 to .644). Tonight Buzz can tie the 12th coach on the list, Bobby Knight, with three NCAA wins in his first three years. Only tonight's opponent Jim Boeheim matched Buzz by being invited his first three years. Here are the numbers:

Coach1st 3 yearsNCAA WsNCAAsNITsCareer WCareer LNotes
Adolph Rupp, Kentucky0.864NANANA876190Helms Champ 3rd year
Jim Boeheim, Syracuse0.841130855300Buzz's opponent today
Bob Knight, Indiana0.7653116612403 titles 4th-16th season
Eddie Sutton, Ark/KY/OkSt0.7560107162654th year 1st of 11 Sweet 16s
John Wooden, UCLA0.7300106201471st Elite 8 in 14th season
Buzz Williams, Marquette0.67323066323 bids; goes for 1 Sweet 16
Tom Izzo, Michigan St.0.604112383159Bids 3rd-16th seasons
Rick Barnes, Prov/Clem/Tex0.6000213211221st 9 seasons 0 NCAA wins
Dean Smith, UNC0.5650008792541st 5 yrs=0 bids, next 3 Final 4s
Jay Wright, Nova0.531003203984th year 1st of 10 straight bids
Al McGuire, Marquette0.524001295801st of 8 Sweet 16s in 4th year
Jim Calhoun, UConn0.5050026012282 National titles
Mike Krzyzewski, Duke0.4470008262244 National titles

Most Marquette fans in Cleveland this weekend volunteered shock over the handful of vocal Buzz critics on the blogs, and the occasional blind assertion such as "Buzz obviously isn't a good coach," are truly laughable in light of the record.

The fact that ANYONE could still have any doubts about Steve Cottingham's first major decision three years ago in hiring Buzz is baffling at best. How good did the prospects look for three straight NCAA bids when Buzz took the helm three years ago? Are you kidding me?

Outlook when Buzz hiredWhat actually happened
2009It appeared Crean left Buzz with one year in the tank with Lazar and the Three Amigos back for a finale.Buzz was often mentioned as a potential National Coach of the Year and took MU into the Top 10 until Dominic James broke his foot. Even with that injury, MU came within one bucket of the first Sweet 16 since 2003.
2010With Crean's recruits scattering, it appeared Buzz would have Lazar and no other 3-stars or better - a recipe for dropping to the bottom of the Big East.Instead Buzz coached up two senior guards (Acker and Cubillan) and shocked everyone by reloading immediately with JUCOs (Butler, Buycks, DJO) to make a shocking run to a bid.
2011With no known 3-star or better slated for the 2011 roster when Crean left it appeared this could really be the end.Consecutive top 25 recruiting classes in his first two years and another huge JUCO in POY Jae Crowder, MU is even better than last year according to the computers, and one game from the Sweet 16. And Buzz has developed our first two centers since 2003!
2012It appeared 2012 would be the earliest MU could possibly rebuild to return to the NCAA tournament post Three Amigos.Crowder and DJO will join four players rated among the top freshman and sophomores next year in the country by www.nbadraft.net.

Prospects for win tonight

Will Buzz be outcoached by Boeheim tonight? Could be, as Boeheim is one of the all-time greats. But it's hard to find a 4th year coach who has ever been more prepared.

In just three years Buzz has transformed MU from basically a 4-man rotation of 6-foot-5 and under stars to a team of 11 players who can all contribute and give any combination from tall to fast:

Darius Johnson-Odom2nd team all-Big East DOMINATED Xavier
Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder, Davante Gardner, Joe FulceRated in top 3% of all players in offensive efficiency accordinging to Pomeroy.
Dwight Buycks and Junior CadouganRated in top 10% of all players in assists.
Vander Blue and Chris OtuleEmerged as two of the top defenders in the league, as Vander steals and Otule is best shot blocker in Big East.
Erik WilliamsMove to starting line-up has shored up MUs defense by giving 6-foot-7, 6-foot-11 defense at rim.
Jamail JonesTop rated NBA prospect on the team according to draftnet.
Robert FrozenaEven the 4-year walk on took the court in opening round.

The fact that MU has a 32% chance to go to the Sweet 16 less than three years after learning that recruits were bailing in the wake of Tom Crean's move to Indiana is a tribute to Buzz and the great group he has put together.

Take a look at the final records put together by those 12 great coaches, and how many of them didn't even start to have any real success until their fourth year or later, and it will quickly become apparent that Buzz could build a truly fantastic run at MU.

An upset of Syracuse tonight would put Buzz that much further ahead most of 12 of the greatest coaches of all-time.