"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, November 11, 2019

#MUBB got the win and the Markus record out of the way, now the work begins

Solid, if unrevealing, win for #MUBB in the season opener against Loyola Maryland. We talk about the game and if there is anything of consequence to take away from it. (1:30). One important thing that came out of the game is Markus Howard setting the all-time MU scoring record so we talk about the record and Markus in general (8:00). We then turn our chatter to the upcoming Gavitt game against Purdue. We talk about what we think will happen, what a MU victory has to look like, and what concerns we have about the game going in to it(15:00). Then we discuss that other game on the schedule this week with that team 90 miles west of MU central. That's right it's #BadgerHateWeek, so we get into it and try not to overlook Wisconsin(29:27). Enjoy! https://scrambledeggs.podbean.com/mf/play/rt84gv/scrambledeggs_edit_111019.mp3

Monday, November 04, 2019

Let's light this candle! #mubb season kick-off pod

We made it, we got through the off-season with a lot of scars but we're now ready to roll so buckle up cause it's gonna be a long one. We kick-off the pod with some discuss of what take-aways(if any) we have from the secret scrimmage and the exhibition game (3:07). We then tackle our annual tradition of going nearly game by game and call our shots in terms of wins and losses for the season....one of us has been doubling down on his optimism pills (11:28). Once the season has been forecast we then tackle big picture questions on the season like what is the floor and the ceiling for this team and what will make this a successful season (38:12). As always, enjoy! https://scrambledeggs.podbean.com/mf/play/i3n6zw/scrambledeggs_edit_110319.mp3

Friday, November 01, 2019

Marquette Non-Conference Schedule Analysis

Earlier this week, Matt Norlander of CBS Sports released a ranking of the best and worst non-conference schedules. Marquette checked in tied for #14 in the country. While that definitely indicates a tough schedule, what I really like is how it is constructed. The best part of this schedule is not how hard it is, but rather how well it is set up to generate wins for Marquette against what I believe will be a harder schedule on paper than on the court.

Considering kenpom is one of the metrics factored into the NET and kenpom had the highest correlation to NET last year, I am going to compare the kenpom rankings over the years of previous schedules to determine where this one ranks. This is also the metric Norlander used for his article linked above. Further, I'm going to break down games by presumed Quadrants since that is where the Selection Committee will be looking come March.

One more note, I will strictly be using kenpom numbers for this. The reason is for a fair comparison. The alternative is to mix RPI and NET numbers, so to have one consistent metric, the one that came closest to mimicking NET was kenpom, and kenpom also goes back over Wojo's tenure for a full and fair comparison. I am adding a Quadrant 5 as well, to reflect the sub-300 home games that really drag on a team's strength of schedule. Here is how Marquette fared against these Quadrants by season in the past, as well as how many of each quadrant they play in 2019-20.


2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 Record Win Pctg 2020
Q1A 0-3 1-0 0-1 0-2 1-1 2-7 0.222 2
Q1B 0-0 0-1 2-1 1-0 3-1 6-3 0.667 3
Q2A 0-0 0-0 0-0 1-0 0-0 1-0 1.000 1
Q2B 3-0 2-0 0-1 0-1 0-0 5-2 0.714 0
Q3 1-0 0-1 1-0 2-0 1-0 5-1 0.833 0
Q4 1-1 4-0 3-0 3-0 4-0 15-1 0.938 5
Q5 3-0 4-0 3-0 2-0 2-0 14-0 1.000 1

So what does this tell us? First, Q1A games are very hard to win. That said, Marquette has flourished in the next three tiers, going 12-5 against Q1B and all of Q2. It's nice to see 4 of the projected 6 toughest games in those categories, insuring opportunities for quality wins. It's also worth noting Marquette is a combined 20-2 in Q3 and Q4 games. The 0.909 winning percentage in those two quadrants tells me that's where you want the bulk of the buy games to be. Q5 might be guaranteed wins, but I don't think you have to look further than the 2016 team to understand why you want to avoid those games. The Ellenson team had the most Q5 games and tied for the most Q4 games played and didn't go to the postseason despite one of only two Q1A wins Marquette has earned in non-con play under Wojo.

To get to the full 12-game schedule, I had to project opponents for the Orlando Invitational. Since we are using kenpom numbers, I projected the most likely opponents based on matchups, which led to neutral site games with USC and Maryland. Before we look at the Quadrant breakdowns, here's a reminder of what each Quadrant features:



Home Neutral Away
Q1A 1-15 1-25 1-40
Q1B 16-30 26-50 41-75
Q2A 31-55 51-75 76-100
Q2B 56-75 76-100 101-135
Q3 76-160 101-200 136-240
Q4 161-299 201+ 241+
Q5 300+



Let's break down the games in each Quadrant for 2020:

Quadrant 1A: Purdue (H), Maryland (N)
Marquette hasn't won a home Q1A game under Wojo, going 0-2. I like their odds to make Purdue the first, though I'm not convinced Purdue will still be Q1A come March. Maryland will be a tough test at any venue, though one of Marquette's two Q1A wins did come at a neutral site, last year against Louisville. Neither of these games are likely to hurt the resume come March.

Quadrant 1B: Wisconsin (A), USC (N), Kansas State (A)
The first thought I had was that having all of these away from home is tough, but then I noted that Marquette is 3-1 in Quadrant 1B games away from home, with the only loss at Indiana. The advantage to having these games away from home is that it gives a lot more cushion to where the teams need to be ranked. Wisconsin seems like to at worst remain top-75 while 86% of Big 12 teams have been top-75 in the past 5 years, so it seems likely that even a down Kansas State should be Q1B. USC is right on the cusp and could fall to Quadrant 2, but would be a solid game regardless, especially as it would mean a win over a Davidson team I believe will likely end up in this category. What I really love about these games is that if Marquette is legitimately good, they should be able to beat these teams on any court.

Quadrant 2A: Davidson (N)
I think this ends up being a Quadrant 1 team by the time the year is done. They have a favorable schedule and will be in the mix for their league title. Another reason why this is the most important game of the year is because of the two neutral site games above this one. With a win over Davidson, Marquette is projected to play two Quadrant 1 games. With a loss, they would be projected to play Quadrant 4 Fairfield and Quadrant 2A Texas A&M. Beating Davidson has a huge schedule impact.

Quadrant 4: Loyola-Maryland (H), Jacksonville (H), Grambling (H), North Dakota State (H), Central Arkansas (H)
Personally, I think the kenpom model is harsh on some of these teams. LMC and NDSU are both projected as Quadrant 3 teams by T-Rank and I feel have a good chance of ending up there. Grambling is another dark horse to reach Quadrant 3. The positive is that the majority of these teams project to the high side of Quadrant 4. Jacksonville could drop to Quadrant 5, but if they do, I expect they will be the only Q5 opponent we see.

Quadrant 5: Robert Morris (H)
I'll admit, this shocked me when I saw the kenpom numbers come out. T-Rank has RMU 78 spots higher in that ranking and second in their league. I'm not sure where the discrepancy is, but the Colonials return the bulk of a team that went 11-7 in their league last year while also adding two solid JUCO players. I feel confident saying this will be a Quadrant 4 team. Also, it's a good trend to see Marquette minimizing these games. Eleven from 2015-17, now just five projected from 2018-20. Well done by the schedule makers.

My final thoughts on the schedule are that there will be a little bit of a shakeup. I think Maryland should remain Q1A but expect that will be our only Q1A non-conference game. My expectation by the end of the season is that we have five games spread from Q1B, Q2A, and Q2B. I think that's the ideal schedule to bolster wins while also giving the Selection Committee some real quality to look at. On the buy end, I think it's more likely we end up with two Quadrant 3 and four Quadrant 4 games. That's a good way to spend money to get some decent wins while minimizing the number of true bottom-feeders.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Markus Howard Scoring Record Watch

As Marquette kicks off the 2019-20 season, one of the most anticipated moments of the season will be when Markus Howard breaks Jerel McNeal's all-time scoring record at Marquette. However, that's not the only record Howard has the chance to break this year. Howard begins his final season with 1,955 career points. Let's break down the scoring records Howard could pass as the soon-to-be-most-prolific scorer in Marquette history goes through his senior campaign.


I will go through these from the most likely to the least likely. I certainly don't expect Howard will pass all of these marks, but I do think he has a legitimate chance at most of them. If he gets the last one, Marquette will likely be spending the final weekend of the season in Atlanta, just like 1977. As the season progresses, I will keep a running tally (in blue) of where Howard is at, with all highlighted sections being accomplishments he has already surpassed.

31 Points -- All-time Marquette Men's Basketball Scoring Record (Jerel McNeal)
Howard will likely reach this mark in one of the first two games of the season, and almost certainly no later than the trip to Madison on November 17. Had he not been injured, he likely would've had this record before the end of last season. ***Howard surpassed this mark on November 5th against Loyola-Maryland.***

45 Points -- First 2,000 Point Scorer in Marquette Men's Basketball History
This is another mark that shouldn't take long. It could come as soon as the Purdue game on November 13 and certainly before the team heads to Orlando.

56 Points -- Markus Howard current 2019-20 scoring
Howard is up to 1,993 points for his career and averaging 28.0 points per game.

241 Points -- Top-10 All-Time Big East Scorers
This is small fish compared to what Howard could achieve on the year, but he could join the league's all-time top-10 during the Grambling game, assuming he roughly replicates last year's scoring pace.
 

250 Points -- All-time Marquette Basketball Scoring Record (Allazia Blockton)
I'll admit, I'm not a fan of comparing records between sports, but if I'm trying to include all the records, this is one of the records. Blockton established this mark last year and remains the only basketball player at Marquette to ever crest the 2,000 point plateau. As a slightly related aside, how nuts is it that last year's Marquette Women's team had 5 of the top-15 scorers in program history on the same squad? Anyway...at last year's pace, Howard would pass this mark in mid-December, either the Grambling or North Dakota State games.

258 Points -- All-time NCAA Brothers Scoring Record (Stephen & Seth Curry)
The Currys combined for 4,736 points. Markus' older brother Jordan scored 2,524 points for Central Arkansas. This record will likely fall in one of the games mentioned in the 250 point mark, but it's worth noting that the game after those two is against Central Arkansas. It seems likely Markus will either establish that record before or during that game against UCA. That might be a good time for Marquette to invite Jordan Howard to attend a game at the Fiserv Forum.

307 Points -- All-time "New" Big East Scoring Record (Trevon Blueitt)
Since the league reformation in 2013-14, it's Blueitt's 2,261 that stands atop the pile. Doug McDermott scored more for his career, but spent most of that career in the Missouri Valley, so he isn't counted here. This would also make Howard the 7th most prolific scorer in league history and is a number he could be expected to hit around the turn of the new year.
 

336* Points -- All-time Big East Scoring Record in Big East play (Lawrence Moten)
The asterisk is to note that this refers to conference games only. To break this record, Howard would have to average around 18.7 ppg in conference play. It's definitely a reachable mark, and could come after some of the marks listed below depending on how Howard plays in non-conference play. That would require Howard to average over 28.5 ppg in non-conference play, so expect this to occur before any of the marks below. If he has a season similar to last year, this record would fall around mid-February against Creighton or Providence.

570 Points -- All-time Howard Brother Scoring Record (Jordan Howard)
The brothers record would have fallen far earlier, but for Howard to become the family scoring leader, he'll need to score a bit more. At last year's pace, he would break this record on National Marquette Day against Butler.


678 Points -- All-time Big East Scoring Record (Troy Bell)
If this record falls, it will have stood for nearly 17 years. If Howard averages 21.9 ppg for the minimum 31 games Marquette will play this year. It seems likely he will play more games than that and score more points than that, so this should be within reach. At last year's pace, this record could fall at the end of February, possibly on national television against Seton Hall.

742 Points -- Top-25 All-time NCAA Scorers
Not an official record in and of itself, but to crack the top-25 all-time, Howard would have to score more in a single season than any Marquette player before him, but less than he scored a year ago. At last year's pace, this would happen on the final regular season game of the year against St. John's.


852 Points -- All-time Marquette Single Season Scoring Record (Markus Howard)
To establish the benchmark of expectations, Howard scored 851 points last year. That decimated the record set by Andrew Rowsey (716) the year before, but there is reason to think Howard can establish a new single-season scoring record for the third year running. First and foremost, Howard saw a downtick in his scoring after the injury suffered at the end of the Butler game, as his average dropped from 25.7 ppg before the injury (including the goose egg at Georgetown) to 22.9 ppg after. That 22.9 ppg was also far more inefficient, so with his usage in that span his scoring would've normally been expected to go up (he exceeded 40% usage 13 times last season, 6 of those were in the 8 games after the injury). This is a big number, but probably the baseline for expectations. At last year's pace, this would likely fall in postseason play.

966 Points -- All-time Big East Single Season Scoring Record (Kemba Walker)
Howard would have to break his record from last year by less of a margin than he broke Rowsey's mark a year ago, but this is a massive number. To illustrate, if Marquette went to the Big East Final and the Sweet 16, Howard would have to average over 26.8 ppg to break this record. It would also be one of the ten most prolific scoring seasons since the NCAA adopted the three-point line. Possible? Yes. Likely? No. And if it does happen, it is probably a great year for Marquette fans. This record likely wouldn't fall until the NCAA Tournament, and even then would require an impressive season.

1,045 Points -- 11th 3,000-point scorer in NCAA history
Now we're getting into the silly territory. This is highly unlikely, but if Marquette had a banner year (Big East title game and Final Four appearance) Howard could reach this mark by averaging 27.5 ppg. In the past 5 years, only 2 players have posted that kind of average, and neither did so for a high-major program. If this happens, it would almost certainly be deep into the NCAA Tournament.

1,054 Points -- Top-10 All-time NCAA Scorers
If he's going to crack the 3,000 mark, might as well swish a few more threes and climb into the all-time top-10. This would put him ahead of names like Hersey Hawkins, Oscar Robertson, and Larry Bird.


1,132 Points -- Modern NCAA Single Season Scoring Record (Bo Kimble)
If Marquette went to both the Big East Final and the NCAA Championship Game, Howard would have to average just over 29.0 points on the season to take down the biggest scoring season since the advent of the three-point line. This would also make Howard the seventh most prolific scorer in the history of the game. This is the mark that I consider to be about as far as I can stretch reality. Pete Maravich did have a bigger season than this, but records were not kept as accurately pre-1985, so this is the modern record. If by some miracle this one were to happen, get out the switchblades because we're cutting down nets in Atlanta again, which is about the same time we could expect this record to fall.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Marquette Preview

Marquette Golden Eagles
Coach: Steve Wojciechowski (97-69)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 49.0
3-Year kenpom Average: 39.3
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 30

Projected Starters: PG Markus Howard (5'11" Sr), SG Koby McEwen (6'4" RS Jr), SF Sacar Anim (6'5" RS Sr), PF Brendan Bailey (6'9" So), C Theo John (6'9" Jr)

After a 3-2 start that had fans asking the same old questions, Marquette would only lose to one team in the three months from November 23 to February 23, both home and away to St. John's. They were ranked in the top-10 in the country, Markus Howard was a dark horse in the National Player of the Year race, and things were good in Milwaukee again. But an injury suffered by Howard against Butler and aggravated against Providence led to a 4-game losing streak, all with leads squandered in the final 10 minutes, that ended their Big East title dreams. After getting some revenge on St. John's in the Big East tournament, a controversial loss to Seton Hall and an embarrassing defeat to Murray State in the NCAA Tournament ended their season. Then, with hopes high for the next year, Sam and Joey Hauser, the second and third leading scorers, announced they were transferring, leaving the team with more question marks than answers as the top-5 too-early pundit rankings evaporated.

Marquette's offense will likely start and end with how far Howard, a preseason All-American, can carry them. He is a multi-faceted scorer who is lethal from three and has improved at driving and getting to the line. The hope will be that more ball-handlers will take the pressure off Howard, who is adequate handling the ball but whose raw turnover numbers are inflated by a massive usage rate. McEwen will the second line of ball handling defense and will hope that his return to a secondary role, which he played in his first season at Utah State, will return him to more efficient offensive play. Anim will be expected to take a larger offensive role, but the key will be consistency as he had wild swings in efficiency and scoring last season. Bailey is a wild card, as he flashed driving ability, shot well down the stretch, and is a plus defender. He has the tools to be an all-league player, but the same could've been said of Jamal Cain a year ago. John is more regarded for his defense and will hope that depth behind him mitigates foul trouble. The bench is deep, with big men Ed Morrow and grad transfer Jayce Johnson providing options and muscle in the front court, Jamal Cain giving length and rebounding on the wing, and Greg Elliott and freshman Symir Torrence providing length and athleticism in the back court. Don't be surprised to see a redshirt, with Torrence, Cain, or freshman Dexter Akanno the likeliest options.

Offensively, Marquette has been a high-efficiency team under Wojo, taking and making a lot of threes. That will change a bit with the Hausers gone as the plan is to utilize more two-post sets. That said, McEwen, Anim, Cain, and Elliott have all had seasons where they shot 36+% from three, so the potential for continued three-point accuracy is there. Expect Howard to spend more time off the ball in hopes of freeing him up at the arc and the increased strength inside to lead to more offensive rebounds and opportunities at the line. Defensively, Marquette is a team that prefers man-to-man and saw a big spike last year when their worst defender, Andrew Rowsey, graduated. Running two sub-six foot players led to disastrous results, but Wojo has been able to inject more length and athleticism. While the loss of the Hausers will hurt on offense, Marquette's defense should be significantly better as Joey Hauser wasn't much better than Rowsey on that end and Sam, though a fine defender in a team system, didn't have the athleticism and quickness that players like Bailey and Cain, who will replace his minutes, do have. This team should be better contesting shots, forcing turnovers, and controlling rebounds than they were a year ago, which will almost certainly lead to their best defense under Wojciechowski.

While the Hausers will be missed on offense, there are enough shooters and productive post players to offset, or at least minimize the impact of, that loss. This is also likely the best defensive team in the league, as the added length, quickness, and rim protection of players like McEwen, Elliott, & Johnson have the potential to make a strength even stronger. This team won't look like what Marquette fans are accustomed to under Wojo, but the defense is stout enough to hold down the fort until the offense catches up. Expect this team to be better in March than they are in November, and better than they were a year ago with the Hausers.

Marquette Memory: In 2002, Marquette traveled to Cincinnati with a chance to seize pole position in the Conference USA title race, but squandered a 4-point lead with 30 seconds to play, then followed that up by conceding a double-digit lead in the last 12 minutes in a loss to East Carolina 4 days later. Marquette would go on to earn a 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament but suffered a first-round loss. Adding insult to injury, starter Odartey Blankson transferred after the season. In 2019, Marquette squandered leads to Villanova, Creighton, Seton Hall, and Georgetown to throw away a Big East title. They earned a 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament and suffered a first-round loss. And then saw the Hausers transfer. The silver lining is the 2002-03 Marquette team, led by transcendent scorer Dwyane Wade, won Conference USA and went to the Final Four. We'll see what the 2019-20 Marquette team, led by transcendent scorer Markus Howard, can do in league play and beyond.

Friday, October 25, 2019

DePaul Preview

DePaul Blue Demons
February 1, fiserv.forum; March 3, Wintrust Arena, Chicago, IL
Coach: Dave Leitao (106-116 at DePaul, 191-211 overall)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 174.3
3-Year kenpom Average: 133.3
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 139

Projected Starters: PG Devin Gage (6'2" Jr), SG Jalen Coleman-Lands (6'4" Sr), SF Romeo Weems (6'7" Fr), PF Paul Reed (6'9" Jr), C Jaylen Butz (6'9" Jr)

To start the New Year, DePaul was the ultimate "almost" team. They had squandered second-half leads of 14 points (Northwestern), 9 points (Boston College), and 6 points (Xavier) to lose. Hold on in those three games and they would've been a NIT lock and even had a chance to make things interesting as a fringe bubble team, especially with sweeps of fellow Big East bubble teams that did make the field in Seton Hall and St. John's. Instead, they went to the CBI, where they made it to the final before falling 2-1 in a best of three series to South Florida. Even still, DePaul finished with a winning record for the first time since 2007. Then they lost their top three scorers, Max Strus, Eli Cain, and Femi Olujobi, to graduation.

There are some reasons for optimism. Paul Reed is back and was picked to the preseason All-Big East Second Team after averaging 12.3 ppg/8.5 rpg last year. Jalen Coleman-Lands returns from injury and, along with Devin Gage, give hope of reliable complimentary scorers. Romeo Weems is a top-50 recruit who adds scoring and athleticism. Butz is a reliable presence while Charlie Moore, Darious Hall, and Lyrik Shreiner give them options off the bench.

On offense, Leitao likes to run a four-out one-in motion offense. Lots of cuts and screens to get the top scorers open. Last year that often led to Strus threes, but most of the time Leitao's teams will seek to use those cuts to drive inside, attacking the interior and crashing the offensive glass. With a front court of Butz, Reed, and Weems, there's reason to believe that will work. On the other end, it's tough to tell what will work. Leitao has only had a top-50 efficiency defense twice in his career. His first year at DePaul with Pat Kennedy's players and two years ago. So what made them successful in 2017-18? Frankly, I think it was a fluke. They did well at turning teams over, but in large part because they were top-50 in non-steal turnover percentage. Turnovers were their one real strength but more than half their turnovers came of the non-steal variety. While that includes taking charges, it also includes opposing players throwing the ball away, being out of control, or otherwise making any number of errors.

I really like Paul Reed. I like the potential of this front court crashing the boards. I even think Gage and Coleman-Lands can form a decent backcourt. But this is a team that finished last in the Big East and lost their top three scorers. It's hard to imagine them being better than they were a year ago. Maybe in two years, when the juniors are seniors and Weems has some experience, this team can claw their way up the league, but this year it just doesn't seem possible. DePaul did beat some tourney teams last year and will probably win a few they shouldn't, but any finish higher than 10th would be a massive accomplishment for this team.

Marquette Memory: In every season that ends without a NCAA Tournament bid, there are moments that can be pointed to as to why. In the 2015-16 season, there were three. The opening night loss to Belmont. The James Milliken three at the Bradley Center that sealed Creighton's road win. And then there was the DePaul game at home. The largest lead for either team had been 6 points, but when Duane Wilson's tip in with 8 seconds to play put Marquette up 56-54, it seemed the game was over. Instead, Billy Garrett drove right down the heart of the Marquette defense and Luke Fischer seemed to realize he couldn't make the stop so instead allowed Garrett to score, forcing overtime. Somehow, despite Fischer allowing the basket without resistance, the refs called a foul and sent Garrett to the line with 1.1 to play. Unlike the foul, the free throw was no phantom and Marquette lost another nailbiter, and along with the aforementioned losses, any hopes of postseason play for Henry Ellenson.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Butler Preview

Butler Bulldogs
January 24, Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN; February 9, fiserv.forum
Coach: LaVall Jordan (37-31 at Butler, 48-55 overall)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 40.0
3-Year kenpom Average: 39.0
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 60

Projected Starters: PG Aaron Thompson (6'2" Jr), SG Kamar Baldwin (6'1" Sr), SF Sean McDermott (6'6" Sr), PF Jordan Tucker (6'7" Jr), C Derrik Smits (7'1" Sr)

Butler started last year 3-0. They never again strung three straight wins together on the season and never won two straight against top-100 opposition, which is problematic when you play in the Big East. That led to their first losing season since the ill-fated 2013-14 season under Brandon Miller. It was a significant step back after Jordan's initial success with Chris Holtmann's leftovers.The real struggles came in road games as the Bulldogs were just 2-10 in away games, and both wins came over teams ranked 100 or lower in Pomeroy. And as above, that is problematic when you play in the Big East.

Butler returns most of that team that still managed to make the NIT. Baldwin, Thompson, and McDermott started every game for the Bulldogs and Tucker became a spot starter once he became eligible. Baldwin has established himself as the ball-dominant leader, but he is a low-efficiency, high-usage player who has seen his offensive rating decline every year since he arrived at Hinkle. One of Butler's main problems is that their highest efficiency returning starters, McDermott and Thompson, are sub-20% usage players. The only other returning player above 20% usage was Tucker, who was even less efficient than Baldwin. Smits joins as a grad transfer from Valpo, but his usage and efficiency last season was more similar to Baldwin than McDermott. This is a team that seems to prioritize who dominates the ball in an inverse fashion to how they should. They do have the makings of a good bench, with Henry Baddley and Christian David returning and joined by Milwaukee transfer Bryce Nze and four-star freshman Khalif Battle.

On offense, LaVall Jordan claims to prioritize transition and efficiency, but the Butler way has long been slow-down, methodical offense that tries to get shots close to the basket. He hasn't changed that formula. At their best, they want to run pick-and-roll constantly and create options out of that. Defensively, Jordan cited their struggles last year as being due to a lack of versatility. They couldn't handle the physicality of Big East play and often got caught in rotation. The hope is that this year's roster is better equipped for that.

Butler was generally a tough out last year, but they still were out more often than not. In a normal year, the experience gained would be enough to move them up the standings, but virtually everyone ahead of them returns as much or more. Further, I'm of the opinion that Kamar Baldwin is the worst best player on any team in the Big East. He's ball dominant and inefficient. Consider this, in games when Baldwin had a 100+ offensive rating, Butler went 15-4. In games where he was sub-100, they went just 1-13. Butler went as Baldwin went, and if he's not playing well, they are virtually assured of losing. I think they will be better than last year, but expect that simply won't be enough to do any better than another NIT berth.

Marquette Memory: Marquette hadn't won at Hinkle Fieldhouse since 1990 when they came in to face the 13th ranked Bulldogs for a matinee on January 16, 2017. In the first half, everything was coming up Blue and Gold. A 14-3 run to end the half saw Marquette to a 16-point lead at the break and it looked certain the 27-year drought would end. The lead got up to 18 before Butler mounted their comeback, and once it started, it came like a freight train. It took just over 10 minutes and a 35-16 run for Butler to take the lead. Marquette did battle back to take another lead with 5:29 to go, but the Bulldogs finished on a 23-12 tear en route to an 88-80 Butler win and extended Marquette's Hinkle losing streak that wouldn't be broken until earlier this year.

Monday, October 21, 2019

St. John's Preview

St. John's Red Storm
January 21, fiserv.forum; March 7, Madison Square Garden, New York City, NY
Coach: Mike Anderson (0-0 at St. John's, 369-200 overall)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 103.0
3-Year kenpom Average: 87.0
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 93

Projected Starters: PG Rasheem Dunn (6'2" Jr), SG Mustapha Heron (6'5" Sr), SF L.J. Figueroa (6'6" Jr), PF David Caraher (6'6" So), C Josh Roberts (6'9" So)

St. John's started the year on a tear, though their 12-0 start was bolstered heavily by playing 10 sub-100 kenpom teams. From there, St. John's showed they could play with anyone, going 3-1 against Marquette and Villanova, the top teams in the Big East. They also showed anyone could play with them, as they went 1-5 against the three teams tied at the bottom of the league (Butler, Providence, DePaul). The Selection Committee rewarded their mediocrity with a NCAA bid as St. John's became the second-worst kenpom ranked team (81) to earn an at-large bid. They responded by taking a beating from Arizona State that wasn't as close as the final score indicated, fired head coach Chris Mullin, and watched five of their top seven players leave the program.

The good news for new head coach Mike Anderson is he has Heron and Figueroa back, both of whom scored 14+ ppg last year. The bad news is he has no other proven high major players. Dunn (St. Francis-NY) and Caraher (Houston Baptist) put up double-digit points, but did so for sub-300 teams. Ian Steere was denied an eligibility waiver, so little used Josh Roberts is likely the man in the middle. The bench features two returning players, none of whom played significant minutes, and a glut of transfers. It's hard to know what to expect from them, though it seems likely that it will take time for this bunch to fit together.

Chris Mullin's plan was to force turnovers and get points in transition, which goes in line with Mike Anderson's strategy. In his 17 years, Anderson's teams have been in the top-20 in defensive turnover percentage a staggering 12 times, which means his teams are usually in the 94th percentile or better forcing turnovers. This leads to lots of transition opportunities, where his teams are most efficient. When his teams do get into the halfcourt, they are still adequate and like to share the ball, focusing on fast passes and attacking. He doesn't call out many set plays, instead allowing his players to have freedom on the offensive end. Defensively, they start with heavy ball pressure and seek to funnel attackers into one monster shot blocker. Guys like Daniel Gafford, Moses Kingsley, and Hunter Mickelson have thrived under Anderson. As he builds his own roster, expect small, quick guards and forwards that aggressively attack the ballhandler and one monster under the hoop.

The general thought is that Anderson's first outing will be a rough one. I tend to agree, but in three prior stops, Anderson has had a winning record each time and averaged a 7-9 record in conference play. He has also showed a knack for finding immediate contributors. With two proven players they can rely on, I expect Anderson will surprise some people. His aggressive style will likely lead to some feast or famine nights, but I have no doubt they will feast at times. I expect them to be in the bottom three, but the Johnnies are better at head coach than they were a year ago and Heron and Figueroa are the type of players that will win some games. Don't overlook this team, but also don't be surprised if in his first year, they have a late-season swoon. Perhaps it's the high-pressure testing players endurance, but in Anderson's first years in the past, his teams are 1-9 against top-50 opposition in February and March. That's the good news. The bad news is that 1 was a victory over Marquette in the 2003 Conference-USA tournament. Of course, Marquette then went to the Final Four, so it wasn't all bad.

Marquette Memory: Buzz Williams' tenure at Marquette ended with a thud. After being picked to win the league in the inaugural "New" Big East, the 2014 team sputtered through the season but still had a chance to secure a bid with two games to play. First, they lost a 1-point decision in double-overtime at Providence. They returned home to take on the Red Storm in what would be Buzz's final game at the Bradley Center. Regulation featured 11 ties and 7 lead chances before St. John's took what looked like a decisive 72-66 lead with 22 seconds to play. Marquette finished regulation with a flurry. Davante Gardner was fouled with 11 seconds to play and automatically sank two free throws. Derrick Wilson made a quick steal and found Jake Thomas for a layup. Then, after a Jamil Wilson foul, Orlando Sanchez missed the front end of a one-and-one and Marquette was off to the races as Todd Mayo hit a buzzer beating layup to force overtime. The teams went back and forth in overtime. The game ultimately featured 18 ties, 13 lead changes, and Derrick Wilson missing a jumper at the buzzer of the second overtime to end the game, any last hopes of an at-large bid, and Buzz Williams' coaching career in Milwaukee.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

About that Pomeroy Ranking...

The new kenpom.com rankings are out and Marquette fans should be pleasantly surprised to see their team checking in at #17 in the country. Considering other rankings we've seen include T-Rank having them at #33, Three Man Weave slotting them in at #32, and most of the poll voters having them anywhere from the mid-20s to unranked, this is something many didn't see coming.

First of all, Pistol Brad at Anonymous Eagle did a nice job of breaking down the individual players that likely contributed to the improvement. If you want to check out my Twitter feed, I posted a response to that article, but I felt it deserved a full article, so here we are.

When considering Pomeroy's rankings, we have to remember virtually everything is based on the Four Factors. The factors are effective field goal percent, turnover rate, offensive rebounding, and free throw rate. Let's look at each one individually and determine how they will likely change with Sam and Joey Hauser gone and Koby McEwen, Jayce Johnson, and Greg Elliott in.

Effective Field Goal Percentage: This is a mathematical calculation of how many points a player gets per shot they take. If you need a formula explanation, scroll down to eFG% here. The Hausers take with them 133 made threes and combined to make 40.9% from beyond the arc. The team three point percentage will likely decline and their overall combined eFG% last year was an impressive 56.3%. For comparison sake, if the Hausers were a team, that number would rank 7th in the nation. So what about the replacements? If we consider the most recent seasons for Johnson & Elliott, as well as Koby's first season (when his usage was lower, which it likely will be this year) the three combined for an eFG% of 56.7%. This definitely cherry picks McEwen's stats a bit, but I think it is safe to say that while this number may decline slightly, it won't fall off a cliff as much as some might expect because Marquette should have better interior finishing.

Turnover Rate: While Sam Hauser had an excellent 11.9% turnover rate, Joey was a fairly abysmal 22.3%. Elliott (19.9%), McEwen (19.2%), and Johnson (17.0%) are all significant improvements on Joey's numbers. But the real factor to consider is how much we are hearing about Brenden Bailey being a projected starter. Bailey's stunning 6.3% turnover rate, had he played enough minutes to qualify, would have been 4th in the country. More ballhandlers and better ballhandlers should lead to an improvement in turnover rate.

Offensive Rebounding: For front court players, the Hausers were not good offensive rebounders. Sam pulled down just 3.7% and Joey 3.6% of available offensive rebounds. For comparison, Brendan Bailey pulled down 6.5% of available offensive rebounds, nearly double what either Hauser did. But of players that will replace their minutes, Bailey is on the low end. Jamal Cain got to 7.2% of offensive rebounds, Theo John got to 11.1%, Jayce Johnson got to 14.1% (27th in the country), and Ed Morrow got to 15.5% (he would've ranked 11th had he played just 1.6 more mpg). Even Greg Elliott got to 4.5% of offensive rebounds as a freshman. Quite simply, the departure of the Hausers should VASTLY improve Marquette's offensive rebounding. Last year, Marquette improved 80 spots in the rankings from #211 to #131 in offensive rebounding. I expect a similar improvement this year with the Hauser minutes going to players that are much, much better at crashing the offensive glass.

Free Throw Rate: Sam's 92.4% free throw percentage was a stellar 4th in the nation, but it would've meant far more if he actually got to the line. His 20.9% free throw rate was lower than anyone on the team except Jamal Cain. Joey had a respectable 38.4%, but even that won't be hard to replace. Of the newcomers, McEwen had a 37.4% free throw rate, Elliott had 44.9%, and Jayce Johnson had 59.0%. Marquette should be much better at getting to the line. They may not convert at the same rate, but free throw rate is far more important than percentage because of the dual effect of the raw attempts generating points and the fouls on the defense making it easier to attack offensively.

So on offense, the eFG% should roughly be a wash because interior scoring will be better while the team should be better at turnover rate, free throw rate, and significantly better at offensive rebounding. In terms of overall efficiency, this team actually projects to be better in 2019-20 without the Hausers than it was with them in 2018-19. That said, I think the team would be even higher had they stayed. McEwen and Elliott would still be here and as much as Jayce adds certain qualities the brothers don't have, the improved shooting from deep and the expected improvements from what the brothers actually did in 2018-19 versus them being expected to be better in 2019-20 would've likely led to a top-10 offensive ranking. Still, it's understandable why MU should be better on the offensive end this upcoming season.

Defensively, it's just as easy to see why this team will project to be better without them. When it comes to challenging shots and limiting eFG%, the team will have more athleticism and shot blocking/challenging ability without them. Neither of them excelled at creating turnovers. They were decent but not exceptional defensive rebounders and the addition of Johnson (23rd in the country and 5th among high major players) and particularly Koby McEwen (19th in the country for players 6'4" and under, one of the elite rebounding guards) should more than offset the Hausers. Sam was excellent and Joey average at defending without fouling, so that aspect may get worse, but it is the least important of the four factors and if the other three are all better, it's easy to see why this team should be better overall on the defensive end.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Georgetown Preview

Georgetown Hoyas
January 18, Capitol One Center, Washington, D.C.; February 26, fiserv.forum

Coach: Patrick Ewing (34-29)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 118.0
3-Year kenpom Average: 87.7
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 42

Projected Starters: PG James Akinjo (6'0" So), SG Mac McClung (6'2" So), SF Jamorko Pickett (6'8" Jr), PF Josh LeBlanc (6'7" So), C Omer Yurtseven (7'0" Jr)

Georgetown had about as mediocre a year as one could have last year. Non-con losses to Loyola-Marymount and SMU were head-scratchers and did damage to what was a very favorable schedule. In conference play, they split with 7 of their 9 opponents, sweeping only Providence and being swept by Creighton. So while they won some big games, they lost some bad ones as well. In Ewing's second season, they fell in the kenpom rankings for the second straight year, from 69 under Thompson III to 94 in Ewing's first year and 100 last year. They also lose leading scorer and rebounder Jessie Govan.

So where's the optimism? A great freshman class, buoyed by the Big East Rookie of the Year, James Akinjo. Both of their backcourt debutants averaged over 13 ppg, though multi-talented Josh LeBlanc was the most efficient offensively while providing boards on both ends. In addition, Yurtseven provides a big, experienced presence to be a like-for-like replacement for Govan and immediately is a contender with Theo John for best big man in the Big East. Pickett, the first big recruiting win for Ewing, has been terrible offensively (sub-90 ORtg his first two years) but provides needed length on defense. The bench is thin. Jagan Mosely, Jahvon Blair, and grad transfer Terrell Allen are competent backups, but are 6'3". Galen Alexander is the only real front court relief, aside from a bundle of expected freshmen projects.

On offense, Georgetown plays ultra-fast, a sharp contrast from the Thompson years. Despite finishing in the top two in the league in pace every year under Ewing, they also finished in the bottom four in efficiency. The reason is twofold. First, because players like Blair, Pickett, and Akinjo have been indisputably terrible inside the arc and because Jessie Govan, who had the highest interior usage, was mediocre (52.8 2PFG% the last two years) in that regard. Further, while they're a more efficient team from three, they don't take a ton of shots outside the arc. They will hope another year of experience will improve upon that, but it's the same poor finishers and Omer Yurtseven's 54.8 2PFG% in two years at NC State is only a slight upgrade from Govan. Defensively, there's no real identity. Despite Ewing being a staunch defender as a player (like Wojo) he hasn't been able to convey that to his team.  They don't have enough depth and length to stick with a zone and usually seem overmatched in man. I've seen Hoyas fans indicating that was largely Govan's fault as an immobile tree that only blocked shots, but if the answer to that is Yurtseven, I don't think expectations should change much.

On paper, Georgetown looks like a clear #7 in the Big East. They have some talent, but the ball will likely spend too much time in the hands of less efficient players like Akinjo and McClung. If Yurtseven fits in immediately and they run the offense through him and LeBlanc while finding a defensive identity, maybe they can move up in the pecking order, but they just seem to have too many holes in the starting lineup and especially bench to be a top-half team. The ability to get Ewing's first NCAA berth is there, but it's worth noting that despite the optimism around the program, they have regressed in overall efficiency rankings per Pomeroy in each of his first two seasons.

Marquette Memory: After narrow wins over St. John's and Villanova, Marquette was one win away from reaching the 2010 Big East Tournament final. The only thing standing in their way was a Georgetown team they had beaten 3 straight times, including a 62-59 win in D.C. earlier that year. From the outset, it wasn't meant to be. Georgetown started on a 15-4 run and every time Marquette surged back, the Hoyas had an answer. Maurice Acker's layup pulled Marquette to a manageable 56-51 deficit before a decisive 14-1 Georgetown run put the game away. Greg Monroe led the Hoyas with 23 points, 13 rebounds, and 7 assists as they ran Marquette out of MSG with a 23-point defeat.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Xavier Preview

Xavier Musketeers
January 15, fiserv.forum; January 29, Cintas Center, Cincinnati OH
Coach: Travis Steele (19-16)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 35.7
3-Year kenpom Average: 37.0
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 37

Projected Starters: PG Quinton Goodin (6'4" Sr), SG Paul Scruggs (6'3" Jr), SF Naji Marshall (6'7" Jr), PF Jason Carter (6'8" Jr), C Tyrique Jones (6'9" Sr)

It was a rough start for new head coach Travis Steele, who was staring at a losing overall record and 6-game Big East losing streak on February 9. The Musketeers rallied to win 7 of their next 8 and were only denied a spot in the Big East Tournament title game when eventual champion Villanova rallied from 7 down with under 4:00 to play to force overtime and knock them out in the semifinal. Xavier was invited to the NIT, where they also lost in overtime to the eventual champion, Texas.

Hope is blossoming in Cincinnati. While they did lose three graduate transfers, they return the core of last year's team. Marshall, Scruggs, Goodin, and Jones all averaged double-digit scoring. Marshall is the presumed leader, moving down to the small forward position thanks to the physical presence of grad transfer Jason Carter (who has two years eligibility). Marshall is a multi-talented player that can put up big raw numbers, but has issues with turning the ball over and isn't a particularly good shooter. Scruggs and Goodin are both capable backcourt options, but while both have shown flashes, at least one needs to step up as a reliable second scorer. Jones is the most efficient of them, largely because of his ability to dominate on the offensive glass. The rest of the roster is a question mark. Carter and fellow grad transfer Bryce Moore both have experience, but have to make the step up from bottom of the MAC teams as both finished last in their divisions last year, Carter at Ohio and Moore at Western Michigan. The rest of the roster is freshmen. Of those, expect to see dynamic scoring guard KyKy Tandy and big man Zach Freemantle the most. Tandy offers a downhill attacking ability while Freemantle is expected to be the main front court backup.

Steele was the architect of the Chris Mack offense. While Steele, like many coaches, preached pushing the pace in his early interviews, his actions were the opposite. At their best, Mack's teams spread the floor out with multiple wings and are aggressive attacking toward the basket. This allows them to get to the line and take advantage of stalwart big men like Jones cleaning up the glass. On their face, this team has the roster to do that, with a variety of long players able to play on the perimeter and drive downhill, but Steele played at the slowest pace of any Xavier team since the shot clock was shortened to 30 and the lowest tempo ranking (302) of any Xavier team in the advanced stats era. Defensively, Steele has proven malleable. He often employed a zone last year to try to keep sharpshooter Ryan Welage on the floor, as he was a complete defensive liability. Expect more man this year, though I'll need to see more to be convinced Xavier's defensive strategy is anachronistic. Under both Steele and Mack, their best asset is on the defensive glass. They don't do enough to challenge shots and don't create the turnovers and transition chances Steele talked about when hired. They also allow teams to take and make too many threes while not having the ability to counter that on the offensive end.

I want to like this Xavier team, but there's a lot to clean up for them to be a Big East contender. Their three primary ball-handlers all had turnover rates north of 21% (think Joey Hauser, only at PG, SG, and SF). They were an anemic three-point shooting team and lost their best shooter. And despite having length all over the floor, they don't turn teams over. To be clear, Steele had a tough job, taking over for a great coach and having to replace four seniors, including Trevon Blueitt and J.P. Macura. But currently, there's no clear leader (six players averaged 18+ mpg and 20+% usage last year) and it's hard to see what this team's identity will be. They have a favorable non-conference schedule that has their toughest games (Missouri & Cincinnati) at home with winnable road games (at Wake Forest & TCU) and a non-con tournament where they should be able to get at least 2 wins. I expect Xavier to start strong, but once Big East play starts, I think this team comes back down to earth and finishes around the middle of the pack. They have enough talent to get to the NCAA Tournament, but not enough of a clear identity to be a true contender.

Marquette Memory: Xavier was ranked #6 in the country and on their way to a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament when they opened Big East play at the Bradley Center. Andrew Rowsey led the way in a back-and-forth affair. A Jamal Cain three put Marquette ahead with 10 minutes to play, but a 14-4 run put Xavier in the driver's seat. Marquette did manage to tie it once again, at 80, but cold shooting at the arc from Markus Howard (1/8 from three) likely doomed them in their failed upset bid as the Musketeers left the BC with a 91-87 victory. In a season where Marquette went 0-6 against teams that finished on the top two seed lines, that was maybe their best shot at a resume-affirming win as they instead had to settle for the NIT.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Seton Hall Preview

Seton Hall Pirates
January 11, Prudential Center, South Orange, NJ; February 29, fiserv.forum

Coach: Kevin Willard (169-126 at Seton Hall, 214-175 overall)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 44.0
3-Year kenpom Average: 45.7
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 29

Projected Starters: PG Quincy McKnight (6'3" RS Sr), SG Myles Powell (6'2" Sr), SF Myles Cale (6'6" Jr), PF Sandro Mamukelashvili (6'10" Jr), C Ike Obiagu (7'2" C)

Seton Hall had a roller coaster of a season last year. They had a rocky 1-2 start before finishing non-con on a tear, including wins over Kentucky, Miami, and Maryland away from home. They started conference play 2-0 before dropping six of their next eight games. A three-game winning streak was followed by a three-game losing streak. They rallied at the end, earning home wins over Marquette and Villanova before a trip to the Big East Tournament final proved just enough to earn them an at-large bid. It wasn't overwhelming success, but it was a solid result for what was expected to be a transitional year.

Most of that team comes back for the Pirates. Powell leads the way and, along with Markus Howard, is one of two Big East players that is expected to be in the running for All-American honors. Cale, McKnight, and Mamukelashvili are all decent complementary scoring options. In the middle, Obiagu leads a hosts of bigs, including Romaro Gill, Taurean Thompson, and Tyrese Samuel. While they won't likely contribute much offensively, they have a lot of rim protection options.

On offense, Seton Hall's strategy was basically run everything through Powell. He took 31.4% of the shots when he was on the floor, no other player that averaged double-digit minutes took more than 20%. They ran a ton of screens for him and when he drew extra attention, he would be used as a decoy to open up the bigs down low. It seems their entire offense is either designed for Powell or to take advantage of the attention given to Powell. Defensively, they were decidedly mediocre last year. They want to chase teams off the line and funnel them into the shot blockers, but don't really excel in any aspect. The additional size and experience should help, but consistency has been a problem for them throughout Willard's career so it's hard to expect that with a fairly static roster.

The consensus seems to be that Seton Hall is ready for a breakthrough. The Big East coaches picked them to win the league and they are consistently picked as a top-2 Big East team and top-15 team nationally. I don't see it. This is essentially the same roster that looked certain to go to the NIT in early March. Their offense is completely reliant on one player and their defense is shaky at best. In addition, Kevin Willard has struggled to get the best out of his most talented teams. Powell is a phenomenal talent but there's no one who has shown the ability to be the Robin to his Batman. Further, while you don't need to be a great defensive team to top the polls, you need to be able to get stops, and I'm not convinced Seton Hall can do that. This looks like a tournament team, but I think they're more likely to be a middle-of-the-pack team in the league and in line for a seed in the 6-9 range than the 3-5 pundits seems to be expecting.

Marquette Memory: Let's go all the way back to March of this year. After Marquette choked away a 13-point lead in under 10 minutes at the Rock, Wojo's team faced Seton Hall a second time in 9 days at Madison Square Garden with a trip to the Big East Tournament final on the line. Marquette was leading with 12:48 to play when James Breeding took over the game. The problem being, of course, that James Breeding was a referee. An altercation under the Seton Hall basket led to Marquette starters Sacar Anim and Theo John being thrown out along with Seton Hall's Sandro Mamukelashvili and Myles Powell. Then, inexplicably, despite having been called for both a flagrant and a technical foul, the refs called for Myles Powell to come back from the locker room. Powell rallied the Hall from a 5-point deficit, scoring or assisting on 14 of SHU's final 23 points. Oh, and despite the traveshamockery this game was, Breeding went on to officiate in the Final Four.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Providence Preview

Providence Friars
January 7, fiserv.forum; February 22, Dunkin Donuts Center, Providence RI

Coach: Ed Cooley (162-110 at Providence, 254-179 overall)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 52.7
3-Year kenpom Average: 67.3
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 23

Projected Starters: PG Luwane Pipkins (5'11" RS Sr), SG David Duke (6'5" So), SF A.J. Reeves (6'6" So), PF Alpha Diallo (6'7" Sr), C Nate Watson (6'10" Jr)

The Friars had a respectable non-conference season, despite an upset home loss to Luwane Pipkins' Massachusetts team. Then came the injury to freshman scoring star A.J. Reeves. Reeves was averaging 14.2 ppg before his injury. Reeves missed 9 games in the middle of the season that included a 2-4 start to conference play and after getting back he only scored 6.9 ppg the rest of the way. They finished 7-11 in conference play, but had leads in the second half or overtime of 7 of those losses. Providence was constantly the team that had chances to win and couldn't get it done, which led to them missing the NCAA and accepting a NIT bid.

Ed Cooley returns the majority of last year's team. Diallo is long, do-everything forward that will be expected to carry the load, but he has a lot of help. Watson averaged double-digit scoring and Reeves looked like a go-to scorer in flashes. Transfer Pipkins, who was instrumental in the Friars' upset loss a year ago, is reminiscent of the point guards Cooley has thrived with; guys like Kyron Cartwright, Bryce Cotton, and Vincent Council. He's a quick, heads-up guard that can score and distribute. The question will be if his offensive skills (averaged 18.9 ppg/4.5 apg the last two years at UMass) will translate to the Big East. The other question mark is who the fifth starter will be. Duke seems to be the safe bet, but if Emmitt Holt is healthy, he could be a difference maker. The 6'7" forward was granted a sixth season and, if he's back to his 2017 form, could give the Friars the most complete starting five in the league.

Cooley's offense is predicated on the transition game. He wants his teams to force turnovers and press the attack quickly. They look to drive first, but will kick it out to open shooters and continue pressing the secondary break. Their fluid passing means a lot of assists. Cooley generally runs through a ball-dominant point guard. Last year's lack of success largely came down to not having that guy. Consider this, in Cooley's first seven years at PC, his lead guard had a top-20 in the nation assist rate every single season. Lots of ball movement, lots of passes, and one maestro pulling the strings. On the other end, pressure is the name of the game. Friar defenders will guard tightly and seek to get into passing lanes. They try to take away the dribble and force opposing teams to pass the ball, which allows their long defenders to get into those lanes, create turnovers, and start the attack.

The consensus on the Friars seems to be bottom half of the Big East, fighting for a spot on the bubble. The real outlier is T-Rank, which has them 23rd in the nation. Personally, I think the Friars are very underrated. In a league where few teams have senior leadership, Pipkins and Diallo figure to have the ball in their hands a lot. Both Reeves and Watson have proven themselves to be reliable complimentary scorers. And while it's a big if, if Emmitt Holt comes back and is anything like what he was in 2017, they would be adding a proven, physical 23-year-old Big East big man. Ed Cooley is widely regarded as one of, if not the best coaches in the league outside Jay Wright. His team has athleticism, length, scoring, and experience. This team looks like a comfortable NCAA team, and if healthy, they could be a surprise contender for the Big East title and protected seed in the NCAA Tournament.


Marquette Memory: The lights went out and Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" belted out over the Bradley Center sound system. Phone screens sprang to life, creating a concert like atmosphere in the building, where just moments before, a basketball game had been going on. Most of the fans first realized what was going on when Providence forward Sidiki Johnson fell to the ground, flailing away from a bat flying around the court. Shortly thereafter, players were swinging and throwing towels at the bat. Ed Cooley was shrouded in a towel. The refs tried to resume the action, but there was no deterring the bat until it was serenaded out of the BC by Whitney. After it finally flew through the roof, the game resumed and Marquette finished off an 81-71 victory over the Friars. It was one of the most unforgettable moments in the history of that building.


Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Villanova Preview

Villanova Wildcats
January 4, fiserv.forum; February 12, Finneran Pavilion, Philadelphia, PA

Coach: Jay Wright (448-175 at Villanova, 570-260 overall)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 9.7
3-Year kenpom Average: 11.0
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 19

Projected Starters: PG Colin Gillespie (6'3" Jr), SG Bryan Antoine (6'5" Fr), SF Jermaine Samuels (6'7" Jr), PF Saddiq Bey (6'8" So), C Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (6'9" Fr)

Villanova started the season in uncharacteristic fashion, losing more non-conference games (4) than they had in the past five seasons combined (3). Jay Wright juggled the lineup, finding more success with additional minutes for Samuels and Bey. That led to an 11-1 start to Big East play before a late-season lull saw them dropping 4 of their last 6 games. Even still, they won the Big East regular season outright and followed it up with a Big East tournament title. The Wildcats fell in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but you know you have a special program when a "down year" involves winning the double-championship in your league.

'Nova lost their two best players in Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, but have a star-studded recruiting class to replace them along with a cadre of experienced juniors and sophomores that will have them staying in the mix for Big East titles. Gillespie, Samuels, and Bey were all highly efficient role-players that will need to step up and be more productive in expanded roles. Antoine is a shot-maker and the biggest star of the recruiting class, but his health is a question. They hope to have him to start the season, but he could be out until the start of conference play. If he's not around, more will be expected of another 5-star recruit, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who is expected to start up front ahead of reliable veteran Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree. Jay Wright has a young but talented bench, with Cole Swider and Eric Dixon providing front court depth. Another name to watch is Justin Moore. He isn't as flashy as Antoine, but is a hard-nosed guard that could earn minutes early if Antoine isn't ready to go. If some of the returning guys show they can score, a tougher, defense-first guy may be a welcome addition.

Anyone familiar with the Big East has to be familiar with Villanova. Offensively, they are going to spread the floor with a 5-out offense while raining threes like a meteor shower. And the same long, athletic, lethally accurate athletic mismatches are going to be tough, steadfast defenders that get a hand up on every shot and defend without fouling. The Wildcats have slowed their pace in recent years, particularly on the offensive end, where they have been in the bottom third of tempo each of the past 4 years. This is a slow-down club that plays beautiful offense and suffocating defense.

This Villanova team looks like they will be absolute world-beaters...in 2020-21. While they have the talent to win the Big East this year, they don't have anyone that has proven they can shoulder the load for a contender. If Bey or Gillespie can become a First Team Big East player, if Antoine can be a go-to scorer, if all the newcomers are ready to contribute on both ends, if all those things come together, maybe they can reach their peak this year, but it feels unlikely. There will be bumps along the road and this team just looks a little too young to run over the league this year. We saw that even in a down year, Villanova can win Big East titles. That could be the case this year, but while they look like a top-3 team, I don't think they're the prohibitive favorite so many are making them out to be.

Marquette Memory: Marquette was ranked #8 in the country and atop the Big East when Dominic James went down against UConn. They lost that game and slumped to a 4-game losing streak heading into the Big East Tournament. Things started well enough as Buzz Williams' team drilled St. John's, but then they faced Villanova in the quarterfinals. After falling behind 47-31 at the half, a furious second-half rally allowed Lazar Hayward to hit a three with 1:36 to play that put Marquette ahead 75-74, their first lead since it was 3-2. Two squandered offensive possessions later and Villanova got the ball back with no timeouts and 14 seconds to play. The Wildcats played around the perimeter before Reggie Redding drove the lane with time running down. Jerel McNeal left his man, Reynolds threaded the needle to Dwayne Anderson, and a layup at the buzzer ended Marquette's upset bid. Just one more disappointing loss in a season that saw Final Four aspirations evaporate in the final month of the season.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Creighton Preview

Creighton Blue Jays
January 1, CHI Health Center, Omaha NE; February 18, fiserv.forum

Coach: Greg McDermott (207-109 at Creighton, 487-304 overall)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 41.0
3-Year kenpom Average: 37.7
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 33

Projected Starters: PG Marcus Zegarowski (6'2" So), SG Davion Mintz (6'3" Sr), SF Ty-Shon Alexander (6'4" Jr), PF Mitch Ballock (6'5" Jr), C Christian Bishop (6'7" So)

***Updated to reflect the injury to Jacob Epperson***

The Jays stumbled in their consequential non-conference games and got off to a terrible start in Big East play before rebounding to win their final five conference games & earning a NIT bid, where they were able to win a couple games before squandering a halftime lead and falling on the road at TCU. There were high hopes with everyone expected back, but on an already undersized team, the two bigs that played the most minutes, Martin Krampelj and Samson Froling, left to pursue professional options.

Creighton has a lot of offensive firepower mixed with defensive questions. Five of their top six scorers are back and transfer wing Denzel Mahoney averaged 19.3 ppg as a sophomore at Southeast Missouri State. Alexander and Ballock both have big-time scoring abilities and aside from the bigs, everyone can shoot the three. The Jays suffered a blow when they lost Jacob Epperson, who figured to start at center. That leaves them with the undersized Bishop, who showed a few flashes in limited minutes last year, or Idaho State grad transfer Kelvin Jones, who was marginally efficient for a sub-300 kenpom team. Size will be a challenge all year long, which could lead to another defense-challenged squad.

Offensively, Creighton is lethal. They run a spread motion offense that wants to get efficient shots up before the defense can get set. They take and make a ton of threes, as last year they finished in the top 30 in the percentage of field goals taken beyond the arc, three-point field goal percentage, and the percentage of points gained from three. As a team, they don't crash the offensive glass, but the four guys that played in the middle for them were all good offensive rebounders and shot over 60% from two. The question this year is if Bishop or Jones will be up for that challenge over a sustained Big East season. Defensively, they were a sieve most of last year, but that changed in the final month of the season. Collectively, the team increased their effort, closed out better on threes, and pursued turnovers. Their forced turnover rate went up, opponent three-point shooting went down, and Creighton went from having one of the league's worst defenses to the best over the final five games of conference play.

This Creighton team is a lot like Marquette's 2018 NIT team. Lethal shooters all over the floor, but questions defensively and insecurity at the center position. I initially thought they were a dark horse to challenge for the league title, but without a reliable interior presence this is a team that will live and die on making threes. I feel they went from a likely safe single-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament to a team that will be more likely be on the bubble most of the year. The Jays are going to score, but running an undersized, effort-based defense for an entire season will challenge any team.

Marquette Memory:  Marquette started the season as Big East favorites, but the 2014 team was struggling to stay on the bubble when Creighton came to town in February. While the overall record was okay, losses to Ohio State, Wisconsin, San Diego State, Villanova, and Creighton meant Buzz's team didn't have that marquee win on the resume. Doug McDermott and Ethan Wragge were determined to keep it that way. They combined for 47 points as Creighton started the beat-down early and never let up. The loss snapped a 3-game Marquette winning streak and began a slide that led to Buzz Williams' departure as MU lost 5 of their final 7 games. And on a personal note, it was the only time I ever saw Milwaukee Police come into the stands at the Bradley Center as they had to remove a number of rowdy, drunken, abusive Creighton fans.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Very Preliminary Value Add Projections Put MU 30th, Powell & Markus Possible National POY

Click here for the VERY preliminary dump of Value Add Projections for all the players in the system. Due to be swamped at work for a few months, I pulled this together as best I could with a 20 hour marathon day, so corrections or comments are welcome and you can type into Column C on the first slide by any player. 

I purposely just follow my script of what a players value should be this year based on his year in school and the normal progression based on last year's value, as well as rankings of freshmen, JUCOS and www.nbadraft.net rankings. While I have a system for mapping transfers, it is certainly not foil proof, and there are certainly other places errors can be made such as I assume anyone I had down as a senior is no longer eligible, but of course in some cases they are. I also purposely do not spend any extra time adjusting Marquette or other Big East players - if there wasn't already something in the system that would "automatically" generate a projected rankings, then they have a 0.00 for now because that is what would happen with all other teams.

With all those qualifiers, the following are a few tables.

First, in the Big East Villanova ranks 11th in the country, Creighton 22nd,and Marquette 30th for the top three spots. I did not look to see if this jives with preseason forecasts, just ran the numbers with what I had in the system. I also rank every team based on NBA potential, giving each player a ranking of 100 (best) to 1 (longshot) based on DraftNet rankings and then giving each team the total of their players plus 25 extra for each player (so Markus is an 86, which gives MU a 111 which would rank MU 33rd based just on NBA talent.

Team ProjectionRankValue AddNBA Talent RankPlayersNBA ProspectsNBA Talent2019 Rank2019 Seed
Villanova1142.1717103261306
Creighton2236.963811111255NIT2
Marquette3034.1339141111335
Seton Hall3432.9485131286010
Xavier4531.463211312165NIT3
Georgetown5230.9724102204100NIT3
Butler6428.67521118772NIT5
Providence7227.161610426379NIT4
DePaul11419.9130102139118
St. John's13818.166691598811

Second, here are the Top 25 players that pop up in the projections, and interestingly DraftNet does not have Myles Powell showing up as a prospect yet but he does project as the second best player in the country, whereas they are ranking Markus a good bit higher this year even though he projects just a shade below Powell in 6th in the preseason projections (I did meet with the founder of DraftNet in San Francisco last year and his track record is pretty amazing). Here are the top 25 projected players - and yes please point out any place I am listing someone on the wrong team or who has left.

NameRankTeamValue Add 5HtClassNBA?
Cassius Winston1Michigan St.12.346'1"Sr74
Myles Powell2Seton Hall11.166'2Sr
Sam Merrill3Utah St.10.186'5Sr
James Wiseman4Memphis107'0"Fr98
Jordan Ford5Saint Mary's9.996'1Sr
Markus Howard6Marquette9.835'11Sr86
Jon Axel Gudmundsson7Davidson9.646'5Sr
Isaiah Stewart8Washington9.56'9"Fr99
Anthony Lamb9Vermont9.476'6Sr
Davide Moretti10Texas Tech9.176'2"Jr
Desmond Bane11TCU9.106'5"Sr34
Terry Taylor12Austin Peay9.096'5Jr
Grant Riller13Charleston9.036'3Sr
Anthony Edwards14Georgia96'4"Fr100
Devon Dotson15Kansas8.916'2So70
Jarron Cumberland16Cincinnati8.846'5Sr12
Cameron Reddish17Duke8.86'71 Fr
Tres Tinkle18Oregon St.8.86'8Sr30
Kerry Blackshear19Florida8.786'10"Sr68
Xavier Tillman20Michigan St.8.786'8"Jr
Skylar Mays21LSU8.706'4"Sr
Obi Toppin22Dayton8.646'9So71
Ignas Brazdeikis23Michigan8.526'7"So88
Cole Anthony24North Carolina8.56'2"Fr99
Tyreke Key25Indiana St.8.486'2Jr

Finally as you scroll through the sheet it is organized team by team. If I know a player is not eligible until next season then you see a /2021 by the team name. If I do not have a figure for a player yet, then they have a 0 for now - not an indication that they will not have value,just that they are not ranked yet. Very interesting that besides Markus, MU has two centers projected to be in the top 15% of all players in Theo and Jayce, Ed Morrow is just behind them, and it will be interesting to see if he shoots higher as a true power forward instead of an undersized center, as well as if Symir Torrence is already as strong as he projects - or if the reports of Koby McEwen being even better than his ranking would indicate bear out.

Marquette PlayerProj Value AddClassNBA Rank
Dexter Akanno0Fr
Sacar Anim2.256'5Sr
Brendan Bailey2.096'8So
Jamal Cain1.046'7Jr
Brendan Carney0
Greg Elliott36'3So
Tommy Gardiner0So
Markus Howard9.835'11Sr86
Osasere Ighodaro/20210
Theo John3.556'9Jr
Jayce Johnson3.67'0Sr
Michael Kennedy0
Justin Lewis/20210
Koby McEwen2.366'4Jr
Ed Morrow3.376'7Sr
Symir Torrence3.046'3"Fr
Team34.13111

That is a quick summary of a cram job to try to get as much as I could organized and into the sheet. It is not on the www.valueaddbasketball.com website yet because I want a few eyes to see it first to note any obvious mistakes.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Central Arkansas Preview

Central Arkansas Bears
December 28, fiserv.forum

Coach: Russ Pennell (49-108 at Central Arkansas, 142-166 overall)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 277.0
3-Year kenpom Average: 274.3
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 281

Projected Starters: PG DeAndre Jones (5'11" Jr), SG Khaleem Bennett (6'4" So), SF Rylan Bergersen (6'6" Jr), PF Eddy Kayouloud (6'7" So), C Hayden Koval (7'0" Jr)

The Bears started 2018-19 in poor fashion, going 5-8 in non-conference play with three of those five wins against non-Division I opponents. Conference play began well as they got off to a 5-2 start, but seven straight losses sank their season as they sputtered to a 14-19 finish. The main reason was a porous defense that allowed over 1.00 points per possession in 17 of 19 losses.

While leading scorer Thatch Unruh is gone, the Bears return four starters from a team that tied for the second-most wins in a single season in program history.  Jones and Koval are proven scorers that can get baskets both inside and outside the arc while Kayouloud flashed big game potential on a number of occasions last year. UCA got a big mid-September boost when BYU transfer Rylan Bergersen was granted immediate eligibility. The wing struggled for minutes with the Cougars, but has the potential to be an immediate difference maker as a sharpshooter with size. This is a team that has a lot of length on the bench, with six additional players between 6'5" and 7'0". The tools are there to improve defensively, the question will be if Pennell can get that out of this team.

UCA runs a five-out motion offense. Even Koval can hit threes when called upon, though don't be surprised to see a heavy rotation on the wings as Pennell searches for someone to replace Unruh's long-range efficiency and scoring. This is an up-tempo offense that moves the ball well, puts up a lot of threes, and when attacking inside, gets to the line. They don't run many set plays but do a good job of creating for each other. At the other end, they simply haven't been good. They don't do much well at all. Pennell has only had a top-300 defense once at UCA and that was a team ranked #268 in efficiency in 2017-18. What that defense did well was block shots (thanks to Koval), force turnovers (thanks to Jones), and forced teams inside with tenacious perimeter defending. They have the players and length to make that work, but that team was also much better at putting the ball in the basket which allowed them to get back and play in a set defense. The better they are at scoring, the better they will be at defending.

When I originally composed this, UCA looked like a dud on paper but I felt they had potential to be better than the pundits were predicting. With the addition of Bergersen, I'm even higher on this team. Their T-Rank jumped from 294 to 281 after that addition and he provides a replacement for Unruh. Their 8-10 record in the Southland was also the second best in program history. Most of the teams in the Southland lost more than the Bears did and after prohibitive favorites Sam Houston State, the league is wide open. I expect them to finish over .500 in league play and contend for a top-half finish. While they will likely be one of the low points on the schedule, when the worst opponents on your schedule look like NET 250-275 opponents, it's a lot better than the 3 average sub-300 opponents MU has faced in Wojo's first 5 seasons.

Marquette Connection: Single season scoring average record, Howard. Single season points scored record, Howard. Single season field goals made, Howard. Single season three point attempts, Howard. Career points scored record, Howard. Wait a minute...Markus doesn't have that one yet! That's because those records come from the Central Arkansas record book, where Markus Howard's older brother Jordan was a star for four years and shattered many of their all-time records. The elder Howard was one of the most prolific scorers in the nation as a Bear, as his 25.3 ppg as a senior ranked 3rd in the country. But there's one record that neither brother could accomplish on their own, and that's the all-time record for points scored by two brothers in NCAA history. In 2013, Seth and Stephen Curry took that record away from Tyler and Ben Hansbrough. Their record stands at 4,736 points. As of the preseason, the Howard brothers have combined for 4,479 points, third best in NCAA history. They are 6 points behind the Hansbroughs and 257 points behind the Currys. There's a chance that by the time this game tips off, the Howard brothers will stand alone atop this list, providing a connection between Central Arkansas and Marquette that remain etched in the NCAA record books for a long, long time. If Jordan is available, a pregame ceremony featuring both Howard brothers to celebrate the cross-program record that will likely be broken either before or during this game would be pretty darn cool.

Monday, September 30, 2019

North Dakota State Preview

North Dakota State Bison
December 20, fiserv.forum

Coach: Dave Richman (96-67)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 181.0
3-Year kenpom Average: 181.7
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 142

Projected Starters: PG Vinnie Shahid (5'11" Sr), SG Jared Samuelson (6'3" Sr), SF Tyree Eady (6'5" So), PF Tyson Ward (6'6" Sr), C Rocky Kreuser (6'10" Jr)

Last year the Bison came into the Summit League Tournament as the hunter. After a 15-15 regular season earned them the league's 4-seed, they capitalized when the top seed South Dakota State lost in the first round. Wins over Oral Roberts and surprising Western Illinois gave them a relatively easy road to the final, where they dominated the first half and coasted to a win and NCAA berth as they defeated Nebraska-Omaha. Their run continued as the won a First Four game in Dayton and played close to overall top-seed Duke in the first half before the Blue Devils put the screws to them in the second half.

Now the Bison go from hunter to hunted. T-Rank has them as the favorites in the Summit as they return five starters all but one key contributor. Shahid and Ward are the stars, the top two scorers, and also lead the team in assists and rebounding, respectively. They present a unique threat as all five starters had at least 24 three-point makes and all shot at least 32.0% from beyond the arc. The Bison bring back experience, talent, and more depth than anyone else in their league. They are going to be a threat to return to the NCAA Tournament and are, on paper, the best buy game opponent Marquette will face this year, albeit by a narrow margin.

What makes the Bison effective is their offense. They were top 100 in eFG%, 3PFG%, 2PFG%, FT%, and literally every player on the roster can to hit the three. They play at a deliberate pace and take and make a lot of threes. This shortens the game and maximizes their ppp. They also are exceptional at not turning the ball over. All of their returning players had a turnover rate under 20%; for comparison sake, Marquette had 5 rotation players with a 20+% turnover rate last year. On defense, they will speed you up while trying to control the offensive glass and keeping opponents off the free throw line. However they are a poor shot defending team. Effective offensive teams are their kryptonite. They lost their first 12 games against kenpom top-150 offenses and finished the season just 2-13. When the Bison can be scrappy and run their offense, they win, but when they have to keep up with teams that can also score, they are in trouble.

The Bison showed promise last year and the table is set for them to win their league and return to the NCAA Tournament. In 5 seasons, Dave Richman has 4 campaigns with 19+ wins and should be confident his team can repeat that feat this year. Marquette has made a habit of having marquee buy games in recent years, and while North Dakota State is not on par with Buffalo or Vermont, this is a high-ceiling team that should be a Quadrant 3 opportunity.

Marquette Connection: This game will be a Minnesota reunion game. Both Vinnie Shahid and Sacar Anim played with the same Howard Pulley AAU team. On the high school side, Theo John's senior year at Champlin Park saw him face off against both Rocky Kreuser's Totino-Grace and Jarius Cook's Park Center teams (John's team won both contests). It will be a North Star showdown at the Fiserv Form.