"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

Monday, June 27, 2011

Warrior Travels: Chapter 4, The Chocolate City

"I don't believe anyone is a nothing. There has to be something inside, if only to keep the skin from collapsing. This vacant eye, listless hand, this damask cheek dusted like a doughnut with plastic powder, had to have a memory or a dream."

Retiring Marquette President, Fr. Robert Wild, stressed in his farewell interview that the university was founded on the strongly held belief of “first chances”—for immigrants, for women, for minorities. This belief spread onto the basketball court as well as reflected by Ulice Payne in his funeral eulogy of legendary Warrior coach Al McGuire:

"Coach (Al) . . . is an Irish Catholic son of an immigrant. His whole perspective was that. It was like him against the establishment. When we played, it was us against the establishment.”

“He would talk about the fact that 95% of his players were black in the early '70s, in the '60s. You know, it was like a pride thing in the sense that it was what he felt, and he let us know that it was part of the mission. It goes back to where he never really changed. I think that's why he identified with so many people.”

“Some guys say it, and some guys live it. Coach, he lived it. He lived it."

It was good to be back in the Chocolate City to see family. Marquette’s Jesuit roots in Washington DC also go deep, starting with the Les Aspin Center and stretching to Marquette’s new president and to its brother school, Georgetown University. Basketball players Bo Ellis, Jim McIlvaine and Lazar Hayward were all drafted by the Washington NBA team, although only Jimmy Mac actually played here. While I was yearning to stop at the DC standby’s like Ben’s, I also wanted to take in the pulse of the city as reform Mayor Adrian Fenty was just ousted (mainly for losing touch with his African-American base), and the new mayor, Vincent Gray had just been sworn in. Metro unemployment rates were below the national average and the DC economy was in a boom period with the increased federal government spending and a change in administrations. However, change and transformation were causing problems with the long-time make-up of the city as well, and African-American voters were not pleased with Fenty.

With a weekend of family meals and visits interspersed, I decided to take in the American vs. Colgate basketball game at Bender Arena. The now 17-8 Eagles beat Colgate in a Patriot League showdown in the only unranked road game for me all season. Jeff Jones, former Virginia coach and player-teammate to Ralph Sampson and Rick Carlisle on their Final 4 team, has revitalized American’s hoops program, going to the NCAA tournament two out of the last three seasons, with Marquette opponent Bucknell the only team ahead of them for 2011. If Marquette fans want a reminder of what the Big East means, they may want to ask any of the 2083 fans who went through the turn styles to see this one. After an evening of more family, I went back to the hotel to call it a night as the Marquette game was an early afternoon affair the next day.

As we stood in line at the Verizon Center Will Call, it struck me how the Marquette supporter make-up for each road game was entirely different. This group’s composition was mainly African-American, reflective of the city, area and Marquette’s basketball roster. Davante Gardner’s family and friends from Suffolk, VA were in for the game, as were various alumni eager to get their first glance at the team. There was a lot of Warrior Pride being spread around.
Talking with the group in line, I was reminded of this Sports Illustrated story about Marquette “first chances” under Al, and was glad to see the same philosophy still lives on under Buzz Williams, in true Warrior fashion:

“The first player McGuire recruited for Marquette was 6'3" Pat Smith out of Harlem, a center who could not see and could not shoot but who used what talents he did have to acquire a distinguished nickname, The Evil Doctor Blackheart. "McGuire understands our background and environment, and he forces us to remember," says The Evil Doctor. "He keeps reminding us we have nothing to go back to and he's right. Men from the ghetto shape up here." Meminger says, "Al tells Lackey, 'Hey, you haven't passed to a white man in four days.' He tells Brell, 'Goose, don't you see any brothers open?' I mean, he comes out and lays it on the line. We try not to get into cliques. If we do, there's trouble."
A big Warrior road turnout saw Marquette again disappoint in the second half after losing a big first half lead against Georgetown. The season was slipping away, and the fans were definitely edgy. This story was getting old, and it was hard to see it unfold. As a result, I concentrated on the fan diversions: The live burrito toss, the student sections under both baskets, the politically correct GU Jesuits also rolling out their version of the Gatling gun t-shirt cannon beneath the Washington Bullet rafter banners, and the home alum saying, “tough one for the Golden Griffins”. The Hoya fans were definitely the least hoops-informed of all home fans on my trips, which made the game’s outcome even harder to take—although Davante Gardner scored 12 points in ten minutes to excite his group.

The Marquette Alumni Club of DC was hosting a post-game event at Penn Quarter Sports Tavern, ironically right across from the Temperance Fountain. We stopped in for a drink and mingled for a bit before walking over to the National Mall to see the World War II Memorial. For some reason, even though I had been back numerous times, I had not visited this monument, and it was a must for me. My dad had been involved in just about every battle in Western Europe, from D-Day to post-liberation Germany. I had been to most of his war sites in Europe, but this unbelievably late tribute to the “Greatest Generation” had escaped me…the beauty of this design did not. Afterward, it was on to Chinatown for some dim sum at Ping Pong with family and friends to cap off a great visit.

As I headed back down Wisconsin past the Friendship Heights Metro station in my golden Marquette gear, I walked past a group of homeless men looking for some change. As is the urban way all too often, a pedestrian in a hurry not to notice puts his head down and plods on to his destination, afraid to feed a drug habit or for receiving a mental illness diatribe, or whatever rationale one can put together to keep moving. With 16,000 homeless on Washington DC streets, it is hard not to fall into this line of thinking for even the most compassionate among us, with the thought of just writing a check to a social agency to cover any sense of guilt. It is tough not to be hardened to this scene as it is so commonplace, fed by the many tourists on the streets.

Continuing on, I sidestepped a small cluster of men asking the tourists for help and not vice versa, and a man of the street stepped out and began shouting “Marquette, National Champions” at me. I had been called out, so I had to stop to hear the spiel. Or, so I thought. Instead, I received a “life lesson” from Clarence Ellis, who identified himself as Bo’s cousin. Clarence talked of pride about Marquette’s national championship team, of how great his cousin was and how lucky he was to attend Marquette University, with an accented emphasis on “University” as Bo always stresses if you notice. How Marquette and Al opened doors and gave hope to African-Americans where there wasn’t much. He attended Long Island University to play basketball, but he was there for basketball and not supported with his studies. But, the academics at Marquette were “real good, real good”. He just kept talking of his memories, and he wished me well. As he left, he again said “yes, the academics at Marquette were real good, they gave a guy a chance. Bo was lucky.” And so it ended as I stood there in silence, thanking God for this “first chance” moment.

In his article about Al’s Night, MU alum and journalist Dan McGrath quoted Warrior great and cousin of Clarence—to put my street conversation into perspective:
“He never promised me anything, except that I’d get a degree if I stayed four years, and that’s what my mother wanted to hear,” said Bo Ellis, a four-year starter and team captain of the ’77 national champions. “He was always real with me. He said, ‘We’d love to have you and you can help us, but we’re going to win whether you come or not.’

“I loved Coach McGuire as a coach,” Ellis said, “but I loved him even more as a person.”
Amen, brother. Amen.


"The Chocolate City" is the latest in a series chronicling the 2010-2011 Marquette hoops season from a fan's unique perspective. If you missed the first entries click on the tags below for earlier installments.

Friday, June 24, 2011

2011-12 Non-Conference Schedule Update

A little over a month ago, I took an in-depth look at Marquette's 2011-12 non-conference schedule. At the time, there were rumors of Florida Atlantic being the final opponent for Marquette's non-conference slate, but it looks like they decided to play West Virginia instead. Seemingly undaunted, Mike Broeker and company went out and made arrangements to face another school from the state of Florida, the Jacksonville Dolphins. While this is a far cry from the 1970 Jacksonville team that made it all the way to the NCAA finals behind Artis Gilmore before falling to UCLA, they did still beat the Florida Gators in Gainesville last year and aren't a team to be taken lightly. Before taking a look at Jacksonville, here's a reminder of the rest of Marquette's non-conference schedule for 2011-12:

11/14 Norfolk State (H)
11/19 Winthrop (N)
11/20 or 21 Mississippi/Drake (N)
11/22 Virginia/TCU/Norfolk State/Drexel (N)
12/6 Washington (N)
12/10 UW-Green Bay (H)
12/19 LSU (A)

TBD Vanderbilt (H)
TBD Wisconsin (A)
TBD UW-Milwaukee (H)
TBD Jacksonville (H)
TBD Mount St. Mary's (H)
TBD Northern Colorado (H)

If history holds up, I'd guess that Vandy will be played the last week of December, Wisconsin will be played December 3 (always a Saturday in December), and we'll open on Friday, November 11 against Jacksonville, Mount St. Mary's, or Northern Colorado. Here's a look at our last non-conference opponent for next year:

Jacksonville (Home, Mid-Major)
Last Year's RPI: 142
Three-Year RPI Average: 148.7
Key Returning Players: G Russell Powell (Jr), F Delwan Graham (Sr), G Keith McDougald (So)
Key Losses: G Travis Cohn, G Ayron Hardy
Expected RPI: 200

The Dolphins lose their top two scorers and will need Graham and McDougald to step it up in the scoring department. LSU transfer Graham was the man who scored the winning bucket against Florida last year, while McDougald poured in a career-high 18 points in the same game. Starting point guard Russell Powell will be counted on to control the offense, and the Dolphins return 8 players that posted 9+ mpg last year, so there's plenty of depth on the team. While they may experience a drop-off without Cohn and Hardy, this team will still be in the top half of the Atlantic Sun and shouldn't suffer too severe of an RPI drop. If McDougald and highly-rated sophomore big man Keion Palmer can post bit improvements, the Dolphins could be a top-150 RPI team again.

And there you have it, the final non-conference opponent for Marquette in 2011-12. Looking at the schedule, Marquette stands to have a huge boost in RPI and SOS next season. Based on last year, the average RPI of the 13 teams we should face (assuming best possible opponents in the Paradise Jam) is 136.5. By contrast, the average of our 13 non-conference opponents last year was 176. Even more important, this year we feature only one team with an RPI of 250 or worse in Norfolk State. Last year Marquette played six such opponents. This is a great bit of scheduling and exactly the kind of work that needed to be done to ensure Marquette get the highest seed possible in the 2011-12 NCAA tournament.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

JIMMY! Marquette grabs last guaranteed contract for 2nd straight year

Wow how things have changed in a few years for Jimmy Butler. Just a few years after being a homeless teenager and then ZERO star JUCO recruit, Jimmy is now one of only 30 NBA draft picks with a guaranteed contract.

For the third straight year Marquette fans waited until the final pick of the draft hoping to hear a player's name called. It worked out perfectly all three times.

Wesley Matthews was NOT picked then or through the 2nd round, so he did not get a guaranteed contract. Because Matthews was not picked, he was NOT locked into a contract, played one year at the minimum, and is now making more than each and every first round pick from his class including John Wall. (see salaries below).

Last year Lazar Hayward's name was the last called in the 1st round, giving him a guaranteed contract. The numbers below show the guaranteed figure that teams were scheduled to pay each year for the 30th pick in the draft. In theory, they have to pay from 80% to 120% of the contact, though Lazar actually received less last year the way his was structured.

As noted in the previous post, this means Marquette now has five players in the NBA that were NOT rated as one of the top 50 players in his high school class, and only UConn has more at six. Here are the salaries for Wall and Matthews, and the rookie scale for the 30th pick both last year and this that guide contracts for Lazar and Jimmy.

Wesley Matthews$5,765,000 $6,135,160 $6,505,320 $6,875,480 $7,245,640
John Wall$5,144,280 $5,530,080 $5,915,880 $7,459,924 $9,697,901
Lazar Hayward (30th pick scale)$877,300 $943,100 $1,008,900 ??
Jimmy Butler (30th pick scale)MU$850,800 $914,600 $978,400 ?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Marquette a top NBA factory?

Folks at Duke and Kentucky would initially laugh at the question.

If you combine the projected draft picks tomorrow night with the end-of-season rosters, Jimmy Butler would make Marquette one of 23 programs with five or more NBA players – but nowhere near Duke’s 16 or Kentucky’s 15.

In fact, Kentucky’s five first round draft picks last year almost matched Marquette’s seven 1st round picks EVER (Kentucky has 30 first rounders all-time).

1. A building or buildings where goods are manufactured or assembled.
2. A basketball program such as UConn, UCLA, Wake Forest, LSU or Marquette that transforms non-top 50 recruits into NBA players.

NBA Hotel Stops vs. NBA Factories
However, in most cases the NBA players who go to these elite schools were top 50 players out of high school who would have gone to the NBA no matter where they did their “hotel stop” in college for a year or two. When looking at the Recruiting Services Consensus Index, which calculated the combined ranking of the top 100 high school players every year since 1998, we see that Duke has only developed 2 non-top 50 players into NBA players – they had 14 come get to campus as Top 50 players and leave for the NBA.

Kentucky has also developed two non-top 50 players into NBA players, passing along 13 top 50 players to the pros. UNC has developed 1, sending 10 top 50 players to the pros. I’m not criticizing these blue chip programs at all – but wouldn’t it be more accurate to simply describe them as on another level at recruiting rather than being NBA factories, which discover or develop non-prospects and convert them into NBA players?

Jimmy Butler would make FIVE Marquette non-top 50 recruits in the NBA, and the third (along with Dwyane Wade and Lazar Hayward) who was not even a top 100 recruit. Wesley Matthews was #61 in his class and Steve Novak #57 according to RSCI.

Only UConn has produced more NBA players out of non-top 50 players (6), and only LSU has produced more NBA players out of non-top 100 players (4).

I believe this is crucial to the future of the program, because it will be difficult to ever truly go toe-to-toe with Duke, Kentucky, UNC and Kansas for most five-stars and even high four stars. But if we can steal an occasional one (Junior was #47 and Blue was #48 in RSCI) and become a player were other four stars and unheralded diamonds in the rough want to come because they view Marquette as TRANSFORMING or DISCOVERING NBA players, then MU could be truly loaded for years to come.

Since the disappointing draft two years ago, we have now had Wesley Matthews come out of nowhere to become the highest paid second year player in the NBA after not being drafted, Lazar Hayward come out of nowhere to be drafted in the first round, and now Jimmy Butler come out of nowhere to race up the draft boards and hopefully hear his name called before too late tomorrow night.

There are probably a lot of potential stars in high school right now who know they aren’t going to get the attention of Jonathan Wall, but might well believe they are good enough to work as hard as Wes, Lazar and Jimmy at Marquette to have a shot at the NBA.

Good luck tomorrow Jimmy!

Below is the table of the recruiting rank of the 23 schools with five or more NBA players/anticipated draftees listed in order of how many non-top 100 players they now have in the league, then how many non-top 50. The list of the actual players is below the table.

CollegeNon top 50 in NBANon-top 100 in NBATotal NBA players
Wake Forest538
Oklahoma State335
Georgia Tech319
Southern California215
North Carolina1111
Ohio State108

Team, RSCI Rank, Player (for 23 schools with 5+ NBA players/draftees); Arizona, 7, Chase Budinger, 7, Jerryd Bayless, 25, Mustafa Shakur, 27, Andre Iguodala, 33, Richard Jefferson, 71, Luke Walton, 87, Channing Frye, 99, Gilbert Arenas, 100, Derrick Williams, NR, Jordan Hill, pre-RSCI (1998), Jason Terry, pre-RSCI (1998), Mike Bibby; Connecticut, 5, Rudy Gay, 15, Kemba Walker, 18, Charlie Villanueva, 24, AJ Price, 41, Ben Gordon, 53, Jeff Adrien, 60, Caron Butler, 64, Hasheem Thabeet, 99, Emeka Okafor, NR, Hilton Armstrong, NR, Richard Hamilton, pre-RSCI (1998), Ray Allen ; Duke, 1, Josh McRoberts, 2, Luol Deng, 2, Kyrie Irving, 5, Kyle Singler, 7, Chris Duhon, 8, Carlos Boozer, 8, Shelden Williams, 10, Gerald Henderson, 11, JJ Redick, 16, Corey Maggette, 19, Nolan Smith, 26, Mike Dunleavy, 38, Elton Brand, NR, Dahntay Jones, NR, Grant Hill, pre-RSCI (1998), Shane Battier ; Florida, 10, David Lee, 13, Mike Miller, 25, Corey Brewer, 38, Matt Bonner, 46, Chandler Parsons, 47, Al Horford, 60, Marreese Speights, 72, Joakim Noah, 72, Udonis Haslem ; Georgetown, 6, Greg Monroe, 26, DaJuan Summers, 97, Patric Ewing Jr., NR, Jeff Green, NR, Roy Hibbert; Georgia Tech, 1, Derrick Favors, 5, Chris Bosh, 6, Thaddeus Young, 18, Gani Lawal, 22, Iman Shumpert, 46, Jarrett Jack, 53, Will Bynum, 91, Anthony Morrow, NR, Mario West ; Kansas, 6, Julian Wright, 6, Xavier Henry, 6, Josh Selby, 8, Mario Chalmers, 11, Darrell Arthur, 21, Cole Aldrich, 21, Drew Gooden, 22, Nick Collison, 23, Brandon Rush, 62, Kirk Hinrich, 65, Marcus Morris, 68, Darnell Jackson, 93, Markieff Morris, pre-RSCI (1998), Paul Pierce ; Kentucky, 2, John Wall, 2, Keith Bogans, 3, DeMarcus Cousins, 4, Brandon Knight, 7, Enes Kanter, 9, Patrick Patterson, 12, Tayshaun Prince, 19, Daniel Orton, 21, Rajon Rondo, 34, DeAndre Liggins, 46, Chuck Hayes, 52, Eric Bledsoe, 57, Jodie Meeks, pre-RSCI (1998), Jamaal Magloire, pre-RSCI (1998), Nazr Mohammed ; LSU, 11, Glen Davis, 12, Brandon Bass, 14, Anthony Randolph, NR, Chris Johnson, NR, Garrett Temple, NR, Marcus Thornton, NR, Tyrus Thomas ; Marquette, 57, Steve Novak, 61, Wesley Matthews, NR, Dwyane Wade, NR, Lazar Hayward, NR, Jimmy Butler ; Maryland, 23, Chris Wilcox, 55, Steve Blake, 93, Greivis Vasquez, NR, Jordan Williams, pre-RSCI (1998), Joe Smith ; Memphis, 3, Tyreke Evans, 5, Derrick Rose, 15, Elliot Williams, 27, Shawne Williams, 41, Chris Douglas-Roberts, NR, Earl Barron, NR, Joey Dorsey ; North Carolina, 3, Brandan Wright, 3, Raymond Felton, 4, Tyler Hansbrough, 5, Ty Lawson, 7, Marvin Williams, 8, Wayne Ellington, 9, Ed Davis, 15, Danny Green, NR, Brendan Haywood, pre-RSCI (1998), Antawn Jamison, pre-RSCI (1998), Vince Carter ; Ohio State, 1, Greg Oden, 8, Byron Mullens, 12, Kosta Koufos, 13, Daequan Cook, 21, Mike Conley, 31, David Lighty, 54, Evan Turner, pre-RSCI (1998), Michael Redd ; Oklahoma State, 33, James Anderson, NR, John Lucas III,NR, Joey Graham, NR, Stephen Graham, NR, Tony Allen ; Purdue, 23, E'twaun Moore, 47, JaJuan Johnson, NR, Carl Landry, pre-RSCI (1998), Brad Miller, pre-RSCI (1998), Brian Cardinal ; Southern Cal, 1, OJ Mayo, 5, DeMar DeRozan, 46, Taj Gibson, 89, Nick Young, NR, Brian Scalabrine ; Stanford, 9, Brook Lopez, 18, Josh Childress, 19, Robin Lopez, NR, Landry Fields, pre-RSCI (1998), Jason Collins ; Syracuse, 2, Carmelo Anthony, 8, Donté Greene, 20, Jonny Flynn, 56, Rick Jackson, NR, Andy Rautins, NR, Hakim Warrick, NR, Wesley Johnson, pre-RSCI (1998), Etan Thomas ; Texas, 2, Kevin Durant, 4, Avery Bradley, 9, Tristan Thompson, 12, LaMarcus Aldridge, 13, Cory Joseph, 15, Damion James, 17, TJ Ford, 19, Daniel Gibson 22, Jordan Hamilton, 29, DJ Augustin, 57, Maurice Evans, 82, Dexter Pittman, NR, Royal Ivey ; UCLA, 2, Jrue Holiday, 2, Kevin Love, 4, Dan Gadzuric, 10, Jason Kapono, 19, Trevor Ariza, 20, Jordan Farmar, 20, Malcolm Lee, 26, Arron Afflalo, 32, Tyler Honeycutt, 54, Matt Barnes, 98, Darren Collison, NR, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, NR, Russell Westbrook, NR, Ryan Hollins, pre-RSCI (1998), Baron Davis, pre-RSCI (1998), Earl Watson ; Wake Forest, 6, Chris Paul, 7, Al-Farouq Aminu, 43, James Johnson, 58, Darius Songaila, 58, Jeff Teague, NR, Ishmael Smith, NR, Josh Howard, pre-RSCI (1998), Tim Duncan; Washington, 4, Spencer Hawes, 17, Jon Brockman, 27, Quincy Pondexter, 45, Brandon Roy, 50, Matthew Bryan-Amaning, NR, Nate Robinson.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Warrior Travels: Chapter 3: Louisville

"Oh, we can populate the dark with horrors, even we who think ourselves informed and sure, believing nothing we cannot measure or weigh."

At the Falls of the Ohio River sits the city of Louisville, the northern entryway into the South. The river has given life to this city and taken it away. Slaves were traded here and the Underground Railroad offered freedom across the water. A border state city that was the base for the Yankees, yet had sentiments for the Rebels. In these same conflicted ways, the Falls City represented the best and the worst, the highs and the lows, of my Marquette sojourn.

Driving down the I-65 for the second time in a tad over two weeks, I pretty much had the feel for the road. Absent were the holiday RV’s and campers. The truckers were still out in force, however, and the Cracker Barrels at every exit were still open and busy. I left work before noon on Friday with the intent of putting the miles behind me for the early 11AM EST game start on Saturday, January 15th. This road trip commute was about speed to destination. Marquette was off to a great 3-1 Big East start, and I was feeling pretty optimistic for a Road W over the Redbirds, which would pretty much ensure a high conference finish in my mind.

The hype about the long-time and heated Marquette-Louisville hoops rivalry seemed to be dying down lately, with blow-out games more the norm. Rather than last second game winners, the one recent highlight had been Buzz Williams sideline two-stepping, as made famous by the YouTube magic of MU grad Brad Forster. I was very excited to check out the sparkling, new KFC Yum! Center, yet I had consternation about the rabid, red-pleathered University of Louisville fans who did not have a great reputation for warmly welcoming sports visitors.

I arrived at the Louisville Downtown Marriott around dinner time. The modern hotel had a beautiful, open-space lobby, perfect for mingling and meeting up. This was also the Marquette team hotel, and at first glance, it was obvious that a fair amount of influential alumni had made the trip down for the game. Although this was a home game, there were plenty of University of Louisville fans and notables hanging around as well. The ESPN crew was on the hotel registry. Champion’s, a sports bar and grill, which hosts the weekly Rick Pitino luncheon, is attached to the lobby. There was a rock band groupie feel to the hotel that was very different. This was a place where sports sycophants rubbed elbows.

After checking in, I headed down to Champion’s to decompress, re-nourish, and connect with some friends. As I walked in, I waved to a few of the dedicated Marquette Athletics Department roadies who were meeting up to head out to dinner. I bellied up to the bar to get a good view of the screen and wait for my arrivals. A familiar-faced man in a running suit who was working his mobile phone hard sat down on the barstool next to mine, and gave me a nod. I was sipping on a yard of the local craft, Falls City, that had a nice golden taste to it, while watching the game du jour. (I learned later that this brewery was once owned by Falstaff, which made me wonder about the taste profile.)

As our now assembled group ordered off the bar menu, I tried to place the face of the jogging suit guy. I overheard him say (not that I was trying to listen, mind you, but a hotel bar was the Facebook of the 80’s): “Yes, he is ready to move. He has been there three years and his bags are packed.” Then it hit me. I was sure it was Jimmy Sexton, sports agent meat peddler who basically mops up in the South. We all like a conspiracy theory and some good gossip, but the facts matched-up with Buzz, and soon after Buzz’s name started circulating for the Arkansas job, a job that Sexton client Mike Anderson eventually took after some patented maneuvering. Was he shopping Buzz, trying to create a market for a current client, or was this some other candidate he was pushing? (Or, more likely, was it Mike, a headhunter, talking to a human resources manager about a potential offer to a vitamin sales rep.) Whatever the reality, my now well-oiled imagination was having fun rubbing elbows.

On game day morning, I lined up at the hotel restaurant breakfast buffet, and sat with some long-time MU fans. They were excited for the game, but voiced concern about another mid-season transfer, to go with some other perceived foibles. While they liked Buzz, they were questioning his inexperience in running a major program, and whether it would eventually hurt Marquette’s reputation. These were Jesuit stewardship comments, wanting to win the right way--not wanting to recruit on rented talent or to be a coach stepping stone program.

Arriving early at the KFC Yum! Center, I did a walk-about of the interior. The design is very fan-friendly, with varied restaurants, bars, menu choices contained inside—with walk-throughs to your seats. This new riverfront arena is the big sister to the U of L practice facility of the same name located on campus. The Louisville Basketball Hall of Honor is contained in the arena. Nice touches like projected game statistics on overhangs and handing out sponsored official statistics at half time and after the game make this a great fan experience, something the Bradley Center could learn from. The Louisville fans are very knowledgeable and loyal, and treated us with warmth, blowing away the stereotype.

And, the first 85% of the game was a great Marquette fan experience. The Golden Eagles built an 18 point lead, and the Red Loyals were streaming out, mumbling Pitinounsweet nothings” under their breaths. The remaining Redbird fans sat there in stunned silence. Our Marquette fan pod sat respectfully tame, cheering at appropriate road levels. Then, a slow-motion disaster unfolded right before our wounded eyes, resulting in yet another last second loss. The breakfast buffet concerns about inexperience came home to roost. The Vanquishers became the Vanquished in the blink of an eye.

We now sat there in stunned silence. The Louisville fans were incredibly empathetic, even apologizing, certain not to rub it in. It was perhaps the oddest fan experience one could imagine. The season was now in an emotional shambles for the MU fanbase. I circled back to Champions for a medicinal ale quickie—and ESPN’s Bill Rafferty was holding court at the back tables, in true Irish fashion.

After I dug the Oedipus brand pencil out of my eye at the back bar, I somehow found my way to the Louisville Slugger Museum. Besides college hoops, baseball is a favorite sport. I have always wanted to visit the Hillerch & Bradsby facility. If I had a “Bucket List”, this tour would have been on it, and it did not disappoint. Let’s start with the entrance, the world’s largest bat sits right outside this truly American heiau. The world’s largest glove, a live batting cage, a simulated fast ball exhibit, a plant tour, hall of fame, and a mini bat on exit were the highlights. This is “Man Law Hallowed Ground”, where the wives were lined up post-tour to order custom bats for their husbands, not really fully understanding the emotional attachment to their childhood that they were satisfying for—just a women’s sixth sense knowing that it was somehow important to their caveman’s psyche—no questions asked. Very Oedipus, indeed.

Meanwhile, it was time to eat and drink. I headed to the Fourth Street Live District to check out this civic reinvestment to bring social life back into the city. I was greeted by a reveler who had his shirt off in 40 degree weather with a “my nipples are popping” proclamation to the world. Somehow, his rather good looking girlfriend thought this was “cute”, which was a final signal that I needed to find a shot ‘n a beer place away from this commercial zone. I was just now plain pissy, entering the next stage of death and dying.

The next day, on the drive home, I felt like Marquette Nation was in complete disarray. My passive-aggressive acceleration over the Ohio was intended to put the Falls City in my rearview SUV ozone fog. I just needed a warm bed and a wet-nosed dog named Charley to kick. My irrational mind was looking for a psychological escape. Flat, straight and long, I-65 provided that.

"Louisville" is the latest in a series chronicling the 2010-2011 Marquette hoops season from a fan's unique perspective. If you missed the first entries click on the tags below for earlier installments.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Warrior Travels: Chapter 2, The Music City

(After a quality conversation) “When he went away I felt a sweetness like music, if music could pleasure the skin with a little chill.”

Just seven months prior to my first Marquette trip into Dixie, the city of Nashville had experienced “1000 year floods”, caused by a cluster of storms which dumped more than 19 inches of rain in two days. A good portion of the city was flooded when the Cumberland went over its banks, causing damage to the Grand Ole Opry House, Schermerhorn Symphony Center, Bridgestone Arena (NHL Predators) and LP Field (NFL Titans) among others. Twenty-one people lost their lives in Tennessee due to the floods. This was a devastating blow to the state’s capital, a city who had been on the make—with at least $1.5 billion in damages incurred.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s was doing its part to ease this pain. The home state university was playing the University of North Carolina in the sold-out Music City Bowl, in a stadium that had been the world’s largest swimming pool back in May. Marquette was in town to play one of the city’s cultural and economic engines, Vanderbilt University, in a mid-semester break hoops special at historic Memorial Gym. The Opry had reopened about three months prior and was featuring its holiday shows. Out-of-towners were piling in with open wallets and this friendly Belle of a city was appreciative. Even a jaded Yankee could immediately notice the effects of Southern hospitality—that life begins to slow down, the little surprises are prized a bit more, and the worries of the world matter a bit less.

I had impatiently driven the interstates the eight hours to Nashville on December 28th, the day before the game with the Commodores. As I headed south, the number of trucks increased, and also a new phenomenon for me, the number of RV’s and camping trailers that were clogging the road for the holidays. I pulled into my Nashville hotel just around dinner time, showered and took the hotel shuttle to meet some friends at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge for some grub and music. We took in some John Stone at the bar while we ate and drank Miller, which was a “Milwaukee Buck” a bottle. Tootsie’s is a famous tourist honky tonk on lower Broadway, the country music street. To say the least, Tootsie’s is very eclectic, and at one point, Bridgett the Bar.Songtender apologized for my late arriving burger as the cook had to also “man” the back bar. First things, first at Tootsie’s.

Gameday arrived and I stumbled out of bed and walked across the street to Gigi’s to grab cupcakes for breakfast (read about Gigi’s life story). After the chocolate and banana cream orgasm, I was feeling whole again and decided to check out Athens in Nashville. Yes, the Parthenon was recreated here as part of the Centennial Exposition in 1897. It is also where I came to experience the gold, multi-story Warrior, Athena. Hmmm, I won’t go there.

From there, it was on to Jack’s for some awesome Bar-B-Que, where there were many MU fans. Jack’s is the hall of fame of BBQ, featuring various dishes and sauces from around the US. The line was down the block, but Jack’s moved us through speedily. I ordered the combo, and promptly entered swine nirvana.

After lunch, it was into the car for a 15 minute drive to Opryland to check out the Grand Ole Opry. The flood damage to Opryland was complete. The resort and the GOO were now reopened, but the mall complex was all barricaded in an insurance dispute. This complex has a suburban feel to it, but never-the-less, the dichotomy of the historic downtown Broadway compared to the tourist attraction Opryland conveys the adaptability of Nashville to bring the joy of its country music to every type of visitor.

As I continued to discover on my basketball travels, Marquette apparel is a billboard to open conversations with strangers. Unexpectedly and perhaps shockingly, the people I ran into in Nashville were better-educated about Marquette basketball than those in any other city I visited: The hotelier who was originally from Chicago, the Tennessee fans with their then Milwaukee Bruce connection, and the Vandy loyals, who love their hoops program. More so, the UNC fans who knew everything about Marquette: the Warriors to Golden Eagles story, Al, Buzz, 1977, and our detailed hoops history. One Tar Heel fan asked me: “Is Marquette in town?” I told him yes to play Vanderbilt, and he said, “I am going to get tickets”. Sure enough, I saw numerous Tar Heel fans later at the game (and Tennessee too). I love the South.

Memorial Gym is an old bandbox—a theater on an elevated stage. A bunch of middle-aged, wider girthed Marquette male alums of the “In-between Generation” like me made this holiday trip, snagging tickets in the student section. The seats were basically two by fours, so we were fine that the few Vanderbilt students decided to stand and cheer all game. Good thing, as the game was an action-packed, back and forth affair which ended badly with a last second shot and Jim Burr misses on four travels, two intentional fouls and a leg-saw trip (which would turn out to be his best game of the season). Vandy had not lost a home out-of-conference game in over two years, and their coach and players were up to the task of defending their hardwood versus our still big game-virgin Golden Eagles. This was just a great college basketball game, and no fan felt gypped. The rematch in Milwaukee this upcoming season should be equally exciting as both teams should be highly ranked.

Post-game, it was on to a Vanderbilt grad student hang-out, the Broadway Brewhouse & Mojo Grill --with 72 beers on tap. I had some Yazoo, the local craft, and some late dinner from their attached Mojo Grill. Half the joint was a dive bar, another part was a tent, and the brightly-lit Mojo was a little bit of everything. Not unlike the Marquette basketball team’s identity.

After check-out the next morning, I loaded the truck, turned on the local country music station, and pleasantly cruised the southern hospitality highway back up north—not minding the loss, the truckers, or the holiday camper traffic—that is until I hit the roadside religious sign in Columbus, Indiana, the unofficial interstate demarcation between north and south—and the road and game rage returned as life again became sadly more complicated as the miles passed. I leaned forward to crank up the country music to wash that northern urban angst back into holiday submission. Hell, I even stopped at a Cracker Barrel.

"The Music City" is the latest in a series chronicling the 2010-2011 Marquette hoops season from a fan's unique perspective. If you missed the first entries click on the tags below for earlier installments.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

With JUCO updates, on paper Marquette looks like 6th in BE

Thanks to a lot of updates from bloggers and athletic departments across the country, I’ve been able to update the team-by-team list of Value Add for the top 3000+ players who will be playing Division I next year, and have created an open-access link at Real-time updated 2011-12 rosters for all teams so that anyone who wants can access it at any time and add their own updates or check on what has been added.

A special thanks to Villanova by the Numbers for some great follow-up pieces and confirming the defensive ratings seemed to match what they’ve seen, and to JUCO Recruiting for being on top of the JUCO world so I could project out all the JUCO signees.

The top two players from last year’s JUCO class were Florida State’s Bernard James (+8.3%, improved team's points score/allowed by 8.3%) and our own Jae Crowder (+5.6%), but scroll down for the top JUCOs this year at the bottom of this post. I projected out this year’s JUCO signees, and it looks like West Virginia has the inside track on by far the best player left in the much travelled JUCO Karron Johnson. If they get him, it appears to creates an absolute logjam for 6th place in the Big East if the Value Add players out.

Here is a breakdown of the three tiers the Big East seems to break into with the cumulative projected Expected Value Add of each player for the 2011-12 season. In parenthesis, I listed each team’s best player and any other player they have expected to be one of the best 30 in the conference, and where Value Add calculates they should rank in value next year.

Top Tier: Can Marquette make the huge leap into this group?
Last year USA Today’s basketball preview asked why every preseason Marquette is an also ran, and by the end of every season they are in the Big East discussion. Based on Value Add, there are five teams that seem head and shoulders above the rest of the Big East, but if Jamil Wilson is the top flight player we believe he is, and Junior Cadougan and DJO play like they did down the stretch, and Davante Gardner picks up where he left off against UNC, then all four will be MUCH higher than their season Value Add would indicate, and we could be in this mix.

1. Louisville +56.3% (Kuric 2nd, Smith 10th, Siva 11th, Dieng 25th)
2. Syracuse +52.5% (Joseph 5th, Jardin 13th, Triche 16th, Fair 28th)
3. UConn +44.5% (Lamb 3rd, Oriakhi 4th, Napier 18th, Smith 21st)
4. Pitt +41.5% (Gibbs 1st, Taylor 24th)
5. Cincy +39.5% (Gates 9th, Dixon 12th, Kilpatrick 15th, Wright 17th)

2nd tier: Marquette atop log jam for 6th through 12th
With MUs potential upside mentioned above, I believe they could pull away from this group. However, St. John’s is the dangerous variable to take over late again as they have the best JUCO catch in the country between #2 Nurideen Lindsey and God’s Gift Achiuwa to add to one of the top couple of freshmen recruiting classes in the country with Harrison, Harkless, Pointer, Sampson and Garrett all with the potential. If the JUCOs and Freshman can gel by mid-season, I really hope MU gets St. John’s early in the schedule. I would have put Seton Hall in the lower tier with Hazel gone, but their returning defense is so strong that they could compete for the middle with any scoring. Obviously DJOs weak early season held his rating down as he was a top 10 player once conference play started.

6. Marquette +23.4% (Crowder 7th, DJO 22nd)
7. Georgetown +23.4% (Thompson 14th, Clark 20th)
8. West Virginia +23.1% if sign +5% Karron Johnson (Jones 9th)
9. St. John’s +22.6% (JUCO Lindsay 30th, many FR could be)
10. Notre Dame +21.0% (Abromaitis 6th)
11. Nova +20.2% (Wayns 26th)
12. Seton Hall +19.8% (Theodore 19th, Edwin 27th, all defense)

3rd tier: TCU would be in the mix if joined this year
Obviously jumping to the Big East is a huge test for TCU, but they could follow the Virginia Tech example of using the conference switch to start hauling in better recruits. With 6-foot-7 Carlon Garlon already a top 500 player and scheduled to still be playing in 2012-13 and three JUCO top 100 players in Adrick McKinney (6-9), Nathaniel Butler (6-6) and Connell Crossland (6-7) they have a year of MWC play to gel and could be respectable with a good recruiting class before their first BE season. South Florida has the 9th best JUCO class, and while the top-rated JUCO is ANOTHER 6-foot-10 player in Andre Jackson, the guy to watch will be JUCO point guard Blake Nash. He was a top 50 JUCO player, and if he is even average at the point, their front line could carry them out of the lower tier.

13. TCU +11.2% (Cabot 23rd)
14. Providence +10.9% (Batts 51st)
15. S. Florida +10.1% (Noriega 52nd)
16. Rutgers +8.6% (Biruta 29th)
17. DePaul +8.4% (Melvin 52nd)

Here are three lists of Top JUCOs. First, here are the JUCO players ranked in the top 100 that already have signed with a Big East team:

JUCO rankTop BE JUCOs by school Value addSchool
#2Nurideen Lindsey6-foot-45.00%St. John's
#8Cheikh Mbodji6-foot-92.77%Cincinnati
#24God's Gift Achiuwa6-foot-80.92%St. John's
#26Dominic Rutledge6-foot-80.88%West Virginia
#34Andre Jackson6-foot-100.28%South Florida
#49Adrick McKinney6-foot-80.10%TCU
#41Blake Nash6-foot-00.10%South Florida
#84Nathaniel Butler6-foot-6 TCU
#98Connell Crossland6-foot-7 TCU

That leaves only four JUCO players available in JUCO Recruitings top 100. JUCO Recruiting does not actually rank Karron Johnson, presumably because he left his JUCO team before signing with Oklahoma and decommitting, but he is at the top of other ratings and the report is he is 75% committed to WVU. Bryant Crowder says he is on track academically, but his suitors seem to be Hofstra, UTEP and Florida International. I'm not sure about where the other three are looking, though I saw a debate on the Missouri State page about whether they should sign former MU recruit Monterale Clark.

JUCO rankTop Available JUCOsHeightValue addPossible
left teamKarron Johnson6-foot-85.00%WVU, IA St.
#32Bryant Crowder6-foot-100.28%Hofs, UTEP, Fl Int
#38Monterale Clark6-foot-100.19%Missouri St.
#57Richard Anderson6-foot-8 undecided
#81Josh Mason6-foot-4 Iowa?

The 45 JUCOs who added value this year
And finally, as a complete byproduct, I flagged the 2010 JUCOs to see how they did last year, and 45 played at a BCS Value Add-level. Only Bernard James of Florida State was more valuable than Jae Crowder, and noone else was close.

FnameLName ORtgDRtgValue Add
BernardJamesFlorida St.107.986.38.27%
ScottBamforthWeber St.119.1108.13.21%
BenSmithWichita St.129.498.52.97%
J.R.CadotTexas Christian123.7103.12.95%
MarquiseCarterGonzaga 11696.42.84%
JoeRaglandWichita St.116.597.82.77%
DesmondHollowayCoastal Carolina112.4102.02.22%
LazericJonesUCLA 100.497.22.21%
DeJuanWrightFlorida International109.8113.22.14%
KennyMooreTennessee St.106.4108.41.94%
DarrellWilliamsOklahoma St.103.696.21.80%
FaisalAdenWashington St.
EloyVargasKentucky 105.592.61.59%
ShayShineHigh Point105.3112.61.42%
HughRobertsonSouth Florida99.6101.91.06%
MamadouSeckSouthern Illinois101.9101.31.01%
BrianBryantMississippi St.105.1104.70.91%
FreddyAsprillaKansas St. 90.594.20.88%
DwightMcCombsCentral Florida111.5100.50.65%
TimTolerNorthern Illinois100.6110.50.52%
BoIngramTexas Arlington101.3106.90.38%
MylesWalkerIndiana St.
RyanAllenWisconsin Milwaukee99101.70.28%
BrandonMcGeeGeorgia St.100.1101.10.28%
SammyYeagerTexas Christian98.2102.90.28%
EricFrederickFlorida International99.6113.60.26%
EricBucknerGeorgia St.99.3100.00.22%
TobyVealVirginia Commonwealth 100.3100.30.21%
DanielKingTexas Southern101.2106.60.19%
BennieRhodesFresno St.99.1105.50.14%
RayshawnGoinsJames Madison96.5104.20.07%
NickMcFarlinEastern Illinois100.2111.00.05%
RodSingletonMontana St.97.6111.20.05%

Monday, June 13, 2011

Warrior Travels: Chapter 1: The City of Fountains

"It is said that generations separate and define us."

In Marquette terms--and maybe this is unique to MU--generational breaks are determined by school nicknames or basketball coach tenures of our college youth. Like in history, the most influential Marquette generations seem to skip over transitional ones sandwiched in between. For all practical purposes, the two most dominant Marquette generations are the McGuires and the Creans, roughly lining up with the Baby Boomers vs. the Gen X’ers—or the Warriors vs. the Golden Eagles. These are the bridges that connect us.

As I deplaned, the late November weather in Kansas City was in the unseasonably hot 80°s, warming up the excited anticipation of the first big basketball games of the season. Like the weather, the young promise of Marquette’s nationally ranked back-to-back recruiting classes under a young Buzz Williams was about to be revealed against three top ranked teams, including the defending national champion powerhouse. Unbeknownst to me prior, Kansas City is coined The City of Fountains, with only Rome having more. Symbolically, this trip’s theme was to become the Fountain of Youth.

Looking back, I was the most unplanned on this trip. I had researched the entertainment areas and the College Basketball Experience on the internet. I knew about the BBQ and Jazz heritage. The Marquette Alumni Club of Kansas City was communicating the many events they had arranged. But, I wasn’t too organized as I had been very work-stressed in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. I had just wanted to escape for this trip, to just let events come to me—and they did.

After I settled into my hotel room, I headed down to the lobby. Dressed in my Warrior gear, I piled off the hotel elevator and took two steps only to be greeted by a “MU, Rah, Rah” serenade by a cane-wielding octogenarian from Arkansas. She stopped me and introduced herself and told me her Marquette story after she called over her son, who was trying to secure a table at the hotel restaurant. Her and her now deceased husband met at Marquette. They attended the 1977 Sweet 16 and Elite 8 wins in Oklahoma City. She still has a hanging photograph of them with Al and Pat McGuire after the Wake Forest win. Her children went to Marquette. They were excited to drive up from Arkansas to Kansas City as Marquette does not play too many games in the region. As concerned sons do, he was trying to hurry his elderly mom along to lunch so she could sit down and get settled, so we parted ways. I could have listened to her sweet Marquette stories all day…and she could have told them.

I took a short walk to and through the Kansas City Power & Light District. This is a great entertainment area that has been developed to include restaurants, bars, theaters, an outdoor events pavilion, bowling, and shopping, and borders the Sprint Center and the adjoining CBE. The Marquette Alumni Club was sponsoring a gathering at Johnny’s Tavern, and then all were heading across the street to cheer on the team and attendees on the red carpet for the CBE Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

The Golden Eagles were the last team to arrive, and MU had the only partisan fans cheering on the red carpet. The Club did a fantastic job arranging events throughout the tournament, and they were very welcoming in a Midwestern way. I was impressed with how active the club is, with a great mix of members. Then, it was back to the hotel for some dinner and sleep.

First up for Day 2 was the CBE. This hands-on museum was designed for the hard-core hoops fan. There was an arena-full of interesting exhibits, films and interactive displays. After the three point shooting contest, the free throw pop-a-shot, the passing drill, the dunk machine, and the Windex rebounding activities, I was panting like an Iditarod husky. Thank goodness the skinny jeans were left in the closet. The Gallery of Honor was especially well done. Oddly, no Marquette players are members. However, coaches McGuire, Hickey, and as of the previous night, Winter, are all enshrined. More Marquette generations.

Exhausted from the pay-for-play workout, I headed to the Power & Light to grab some lunch and brew. The local Kansas City craft beer of choice is Boulevard. After a golden one (or two) and burger for lunch, I headed back to the hotel to pick-up my tickets from Marquette Athletics and catch up on some work.

Johnny’s was again the Warrior meeting place of choice for the pre-game, and the turnout was very solid. Because school was still in session for students and families with young children, this trip was almost exclusively empty-nester McGuires and Creans. Johnny’s was well-stocked with Miller products in preparation, and the MU Faithful were ready to talk basketball. I met some Creans, in from all waypoints, who were using the CBE tournament as a reunion. I also mingled with some empty-nester McGuires, mostly in from Milwaukee. What I found interesting about the McGuires was that each came with their spouse, about half of whom attended Marquette as well. MU had traveled well.

As the game approached, I marched across the street anxious to see the Warriors take on the Dookies in their first big test of the season. My first stop was a BBQ stand inside the Sprint Center, where I secured a BBQ dog. This was a whole lot of good on a bun, and it took some utensils to eat, I must confess. I have come to the conclusion that this town would do BBQ with morning eggs. I grabbed a beer and headed to my seat to watch the game in an arena that was about 85% Kansas State fans from nearby Manhattan, KS.

Going against the defending national champions, the neophyte Warriors fell behind at half, only to climb back into it in the 2nd behind Davante “Coach K Has No Answer” Gardner. MU looked good, but the first half and Duke’s insiders beat us in the end. In the other game, the hometowners beat the Zags handily to set-up the winners’ match-up the locals wanted badly. The losers’ bracket would turn into “The Battle of the Jesuits” as a result. On hand to see Buzz: Tyshawn Taylor. Between and after games, I floated between the Creans, the McGuires and the Athletics Department telling and reveling in stories at the back of the arena high tops. The common theme: Miller Lite, and generally, the sense was that MU’s youth stacked up well to the #1 team in the land, and fans were feeling the confidence creep in from generations past.

After I shaved my tongue the next morning, I headed down to the Blue & Gold Fund Brunch at the team hotel. This donor group was mostly McGuires. I was amazed to learn that many did not even attend Marquette, but they fell madly in love with Al and Marquette basketball along the way. Their lives are all about Marquette, its values and traditions, and all have donated in big ways to support student-athletes, not asking much in return—and all behind the scenes. These are the unsung heroes of Marquette athletics. More so, some only graduated high school, yet have sent a couple of generations of their offspring to the hilltop in Milwaukee. Very inspiring, but this brought home how much Al was loved and what he meant to Marquette.

The Marquette Generation Mixer again continued later in the afternoon at Johnny’s before the Zags game. This time I hung more with the Creans. Between the two, both generations love Marquette basketball, and both are equally impressed with the other. DWade, Butch, Dean, DJ, George, Wes, Bo, Jerel—the stories never end. Being one of the few of the “in-betweeners” there, I could bridge the generations with perspective: Both successful basketball coaching regimes were matched by successful terms of university presidents. In between, identities and generations were lost.

I headed back to the Sprint Center for the evening’s match-ups and with a hopeful MU outlook. However, Buzz’s inexperienced team was flat and Gonzaga edged MU out in another close one. Duke then blew out Kansas State, which left MU with the two closest games in Kansas City, yet with the most losses--a theme that would permeate the season. Jimmy Butler was named to the All CBE team. However, Marquetters now left Kansas City unsure and wary of the team’s youthful identity—yet most were also hopeful of the promise of the Buzz Generation to come.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Warrior Travels: “Preparation”

"In long-range planning for a trip, I think there is a private conviction that it won't happen."

Like Steinbeck, I was insisting on traveling alone on my “Marquette Travels” so I could meet new people and see places along the way that I normally wouldn’t. Meeting up with friends and family was fine. There was no dog to take along, and I doubt a pet would make it through arena security anyway. So, I nicknamed my GPS “Charley” as, next to a dog, a GPS unit is a man’s best friend. I would drive when time allowed, but air travel was also required for necessity’s sake. Finally, although Steinbeck made a point about roughing it by camping in Rocinante, recent revelations show that he enjoyed a few spa days along the way. Thus, I decided to whip out my major hotel card points and stay in urban comfort.

In the end, my itinerary:

  • Would take me to Marquette’s first and last road games of the season.
  • I would travel to the most western games on the schedule and to games on the East Coast.
  • In equal measure, I would visit arenas north and south of the extended Mason-Dixon line.
  • I would spend 16 nights in hotel stays or about $2500 worth if I wasn’t using hotel points.
  • Potentially, 24 different bars were frequented but my memory may be a little hazy.
  • I saw 14 eventual Big Dance teams lace-up their kicks.
  • Fifteen NCAA Division I games were viewed in the regular and post-seasons, 14 of them involving ranked teams, and 10 different ticket purchases would be required to view all of the games.
  • Marquette would finish 2-6 in the 8 games I witnessed, all against ranked opponents. Some of these games represented the lowest lows of the season, while others were the highest highs.
  • In all, I visited six cities, traveling over 6,200 miles. To put that in perspective, that is a hair more than a coast-to-coast drive on US Route 50and back again! Counting the home games I drove up to Milwaukee from Chicago, I estimate that I traveled 7726 miles to see the Warriors play hoops this past season--the rough equivalent of 21 fill-ups, 3 oil changes and $1400 in fuel/oil charges.
Needless to say, this required quite a bit of pre-planning in terms of logistics, emails, phone calls, financials and the day job. But, it was well worth the obsession, and cheaper than a shrink.

"Preparation" is the second entry in a series chronicling the 2010-2011 Marquette hoops season from a fan's unique perspective. If you missed the first entry please click here to read "Travels with Charley: In Search of America".

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Welcome Jake Thomas - Buzz gets his shooter with a schollie left

Welcome to Marquette Jake Thomas!

Wow, Buzz and the staff set a new bar for walk-ons last year by grabbing David Singleton - who was the 61st best steals guy in the country. Now he has grabbed a great 3-point shooter who put in over 30 minutes a game each of his first two seasons at South Dakota and would be expected to rank as one of the Top 50 guys in the Big East Conference this year based on Value Add if he didn't have to sit out.

Anticipated Big East ranks based on Value Add
(if Thomas could play this year)

BETeamNameORtgDRtgAnt. Value AddValue SubAnt. Tot Value

(NBA prospect Jamail didn't have enough minutes to calculate)

Now a 109.3 Offensive Rating is phenomenial for a guy who plays most of the minutes like Jake does. As you can see, it actually ranks better than many of the top players in the Big East, but the Value Add takes into account the lower level of competition.

To not be completely Pollyanna, I should acknowledge that the Defensive Rating of 115 jumps out on this page. The bad news is that with the questions regarding Marquette being on the defensive end of the floor, Jamil has a below average defensive rating, David's is a little worse than his, and Jake's is very bad.

The good news is that defensive ratings are still mainly based on team defense, so 78% of the time a below average Oregon defense, a pretty bad High Point defense, or a terrible South Dakota defense gave up an easy basket, these three got one-fifth of the blame if they were on the court. While we feel confident that David is probably actually a pretty good defender due to his great steal numbers, it appears a stronger Jamil would be a good defender, that will be the question mark with Jake. Jake's defensive rebounds, steals and blocked shots are all decent, but playing on such a bad defensive team the only question is if he is a great scorer who is a defensive liability.

The good news is that down the stretch, Marquette played phenomenial defense in their last six wins of the season, giving up just 0.91 points per trip against six very good offenses including the national champions on their home court. A 0.91 makes you one of the Top 20 defenses in the country, and once adjusted for level of competition, MU would have challenged for the best defense in the country if those games were the whole season.

OppPtsAllPossPer trip

So there seems no doubt that Jake will be a great offensive player on the court, and the only question is whether he is a liability on defense to offset some of that.

Either way, there will be huge value to finally having a pure shooter to complement all our drivers. Not to compare him to Novak, but obviously as our guys drive to the rim knowing if the collapse Jake can make them pay with a kick-out for the trey will be key the year after DJO is gone. Here are his numbers from behind teh arc:


Certainly the skeptic will note the drop in percentage, but 3-point percentage drops the more of them you have to take. Obviously defenses knew by last year that you had to contest the three, so a guy who shoots this much from behind the arc is shooting tired with a lot of defensive pressure and still hitting.

South Dakota rarely got to the line or grabbed an offensive rebound, so with little threat to drive, it is probably safe to assume Jake is going to see a lot more space for his shots with teams collapsing around our other players.

With him signed as a walk-on, Buzz gets the shooter to replace DJO after this season, and still has a scholarship to find the right JUCO player to add value for next year if he chooses.

You know the program is going in the right direction when you get excited about walk-ons every year.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Travels with Charley: In Search of Marquette America

It is time to breathe some life into the endless off-season . With help from our own Mark Twain, Dr. Blackheart, today we're beginning a series of 10 essays which chronicle the author's travels and experiences with the 2010-2011 Marquette hoops team. As you'll see, these entries are not your typical blogging fare (in a very good way).

We will run two of the entries per week -- one every Monday and Friday for the next five weeks. And now, let's hit the road with Charley, courtesy of guest contributor Dr. Blackheart:

Travels with Charley: In Search of Marquette America (Chapter One)

"I am happy to report that in the war between reality and romance, reality is not the stronger."

In September 1960, a life-weathered John Steinbeck packed up a custom-made camper he named Rocinante (after Don Quixote’s horse) and his “French gentleman’s poodle” Charley and set out to “roadtrip” America. His book, Travels with Charley: In Search of America, was published in 1962 and chronicled his journey to numerous places and his observations about the “New Americans” he met along the way. In typical Steinbeck fashion, his travelogue diary reflected on the melancholic, yet he also looked for the optimistic, humoristic side of the human condition.

Exactly fifty years later, I sat in my home office pondering the newly released 2010-11 Marquette men’s basketball schedule. The ninth anniversary of 9/11 had just passed, and the many conflicts around the globe involving US troops weren’t any closer to being resolved, and were, in fact, becoming more strained and uncertain. The US economy was still in a tailspin with unemployment rates over 9.5%. Home foreclosures were at devastating levels, and government deficits were growing at double digits. After the inauguration of a 40-something, junior US senator as president (the first African American) a little less than two years prior, the upcoming mid-term elections were dominating the news (and our advertising space), and would provide the first public test to his party’s legislative agenda.

Sipping my third craft while studying the schedule it seemed to me that it might be a good idea to escape this reality around me and experience first-hand a different side of “Marquette Nation”. Glancing at the list of away games, some locations caught my interest for various reasons, so I started to chart out any conflicts on my work and personal schedules as I toyed with the idea of embarking on my own Travels.

With the details beginning to loosely fall into place in the following days, I found myself romanticizing about Steinbeck’s adventure in relation to this potential one. In the summer as a kid, my father would take me on his traveling salesman routes to small towns in Roadside America. These nostalgic childhood memories never seem to leave you even after the people do. It is always the oddity that stays with you and imparts in you what you are and what you have become. For my father, it was about spending precious time with his son, something that he never had the chance to experience with his father in his childhood years. For me, it was about getting his undivided attention--and to see the world’s largest ball of twine!

With these thoughts now on my mind, I went about definitively circling dates and making plans. As I further pondered what Steinbeck’s “wanderlust” motivations were, I was reminded of the parallels of this time in America 2010 to Steinbeck’s back then. The US economy was also moving into recession and nuclear and “Cold War” issues were at their peak back in 1960. Social and political unrest were raising their ugly heads. America was just entering into another war in Asia—its third there in 20 years. And, a 40-something, junior US senator was about to be elected the first Catholic president.

To continue with the melodrama, many of these parallels about uncertainty, conflict, experience and tests ahead could be extended to the Marquette basketball program as they entered the season: Marquette’s third conference in 20 years, a bunch of new or non-battletested players, uncertainty about the swing of power that the football schools held over conference realignment, and a young, promising head coach from the South who assumed power unexpectedly and ahead of his time two years prior, but whose impatient fanbase was just getting a feel for.

And so, the seeds of this journey to discover “Marquette America” were sown. I immediately made plans to prepare “My Rocinante.