"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

Friday, August 30, 2019

Robert Morris Preview

Robert Morris Colonials
November 20, fiserv.forum

Coach: Andrew Toole (168-140)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 234.3
3-Year kenpom Average: 262.7
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 229

Projected Starters: PG Jon Williams (6'1" Jr), SG Josh Williams (6'2" RS Sr), SF DJ Russell (6'7" Jr), PF Charles Bain (6'8" Jr), C Yannis Mendy (6'8" Sr)

After a rough non-con start, the Colonials turned things around in conference play. They started 7-1 en route to an 11-7 NEC season and an invitation to the CIT, where they fell in the second round to Presbyterian. The Williams brothers backcourt was a large key to their success, as elder brother Josh led the team in scoring and younger brother Jon led them in assists. The Colonials return two other starters in Bain and Mendy. This is an experienced team with a mixture of returning talent and an infusion of quality JUCOs that should challenge for the NEC title this year.

Josh Williams averaged 14.5 ppg last year and is the star of the team. He also owns a three-point record that would make Markus Howard envious. He connected on a NCAA-record 15 three-point field goals in a game last year, albeit against D3 Mount Aloysius. Along with his brother Jon, the Colonials have an experienced back court, both of whom can shoot and distribute. Up front, Russell is the man to watch. He was rated one of the top-50 JUCO transfers in the country and said Coach Toole "is expecting me to get a double-double every night and if I don't do that, something is wrong." In addition to Bain and Mendy, the Colonials have another JUCO forward in AJ Bramah that will be expected to contribute immediately.

It's hard not to feel a bit for Andrew Toole. In his first 5 years, his team played in 4 postseason tournaments, including two NIT invites and one NCAA berth. He won at least one game in each of those trips, most notably on the road at Kentucky and St. John's in the NIT. But that success came with a cost: transfers. Toole's 2015 NCAA team included Marcquise Reed, who would later lead Clemson to a Sweet 16, and Rodney Pryor, who would later lead Georgetown in scoring and rebounding. Dachon Burke won NEC rookie of the year before picking Nebraska over Marquette when he left RMU, and just this summer another NEC rookie of the year winner, Koby Thomas, left the program.

Toole has planted his flag as a pressure-oriented defensive coach. His teams are going to generally play a high-pressure man defense designed to turn opponents over. The downside is this can turn into a feast-or-famine approach and if they aren't generating turnovers, they aren't stopping opponents from scoring. In addition, they lost their two best ballhawks in Malik Petteway and Matty McConnell, so it will come down to the Williams brothers or the new arrivals to show they can keep the pressure on. Offensively, Toole's best teams thrived at making threes and scoring quickly in transition. Transfers out have led to an offensive dropoff over the past four years. This year's RMU side brings back more minutes than any team since the 2012-13 team that beat Kentucky at Rupp including 6 of their top 8 players from last year. Expect this Colonial team to go back to relying on threes and to hit the offensive glass hard.

Toole was 110-65 in his first five seasons at Robert Morris before the transfer talent drain led to three straight losing seasons. Last year the Colonials had their first winning record for both conference play and overall since the 2015 NCAA bid. Look for a return to that level of play this year. They have the top-of-the-roster quality and overall depth to be one of the best teams in their league. Is it enough to pull off an upset in Milwaukee? Not likely, but this will likely be a top-half of Quadrant 4 game.

Marquette Connection: It isn't often that Robert Morris is recruiting against the likes of Marquette, but this year is an exception. On June 20 of this year, Marquette offered 2020 big man Zed Key. Robert Morris offered him on June 15...of last year. This is the conundrum of small school recruiting. Andy Toole was in on Key early, but as Key became better known, it became less likely RMU would land him. Now that Key holds offers from schools like Marquette, Florida, Ohio State, Cincinnati, Providence, Seton Hall, Georgia, Notre Dame, Illinois, and St. John's, it seems unlikely he'll be a Colonial.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

We aren't going to use the jump to conclusions map - foreign tour edition

The off season is starting to come to the close so it's time to get back in the podcast studio and catch up on things. We kick-off with a discussion of the foreign tour(3:40) and how practical the two center line-up actually will be(8:50). We then spend some time on key cog(in our opinion) Koby McEwen to determine if the tour told us anything about his performance(15:32). We then talk team ceiling and what has to go right to achieve it(21:11). Next up is the news that MU will play UCLA twice and that means we get to host(cue evil music)......Mick Cronin so we discuss how much or little we will enjoy that(25:33). Speaking of schedule, we talk impact of the UCLA home and home on the schedule in 2020 plus a 20 game conference schedule and wildly speculate as to what that does to the annual Badger game(29:30). We close out the pod with a walk through of recruiting news, the medical disqualification of Ike Eke and reminisce about the fun TBT run that the MU alumni went on(33:45). As always, enjoy!


Monday, August 26, 2019

UW-Madison Preview

UW-Madison Badgers
November 17, Kohl Center

Coach: Greg Gard (80-47)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 55.3
3-Year kenpom Average: 35.7
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 25

Projected Starters: PG D'Mitrik Trice (6'0" RS Jr), SG Brad Davison (6'3" Jr), SF Brevin Pritzl (6'3" RS Sr), PF Aleem Ford (6'8" Jr), C Nate Reuvers (6'11" Jr)

The 2018-19 Badgers had an up-and-down season that ended with a thud similar to the one felt by Marquette fans as both teams were boat-raced by 12-seeds in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. For UW-M, it was Oregon that stomped all over the memory of Ethan Happ, who left Madison as the third-leading scorer and all-time leading rebounder in school history. The other guy UW-M fans may really miss is Khalil Iverson, who also graduated and was the only consistent scoring option in the last two months of the season aside from Happ. The majority of the team returns, but the question remains who will step forward as the star on a team that has plenty of depth but little obvious top-end talent.

Trice will be the leading candidate as he is the top returning scorer and assister, but his numbers are deceptive. Coming into last year's Marquette game, Trice was averaging 17.0 ppg and shooting 60% (30/50) from three. He had four 20-point games in UW-M's first nine outings and looked like the Robin to Happ's Batman. Starting with their game against Marquette, however, he averaged just 9.6 ppg, shot 31.7% from three, and didn't reach 20 points in a game again the rest of the season, including scoring in single-digits in 11 of UW-M's last 13 games. Davison, Pritzl, and Reuvers have all shown the ability to step up, but also all suffered from similar inconsistency down the stretch. If none of them can step forward, Kobe King, Micah Potter, and Tyler Wahl provide options off the bench.

The one thing that won't change about UW-Madison is their play style. Slow, methodical offense designed to drain the shot clock and find a good shot in the last 10 seconds with a rigid man-to-man defense focused on limiting three point attempts and accuracy. One thing that will likely change is the volume of threes they shoot. Happ dominated the ball, which meant lots of 2PFGA at the rim. With his departure and Reuvers likely getting those minutes, expect a lot more 3PFGA from the Badgers this year.

It's hard to know what to expect from UW-Madison this year, and pundits seem to agree. I've seen them ranked as high as fifth and as low as eleventh in the Big 10. The most likely scenario is a team that is situated right on the bubble throughout the season. Marquette fans should feel cautiously optimistic going into this game. Without Happ, this won't be the same UW-Madison team, but Greg Gard still boasts a .763 winning percentage at the Kohl Center, and visitor wins there rarely come easy.

Marquette Connection: When Marquette goes to Madison this year, they will be trying to accomplish something they haven't done in more than 35 years: beat UW-Madison for a third straight time. The last time this happened, Rick Majerus coached Marquette to his only career win over the Badgers on February 16, 1984. After holding a 28-22 halftime lead, Marquette used a 14-4 run in the second half to open up a 15-point lead that would equal the margin of victory. It was clearly a different time in the rivalry, as Marquette raised their record against the Badgers to 22-2 since 1969 with the win. Milwaukee Sentinel Badger beat writer Bud Lea wrote "The Warriors own the Badgers" and Majerus' own post-game comments further illustrated the significance of the rivalry: "It means nothing anymore. I'm glad we won, I'd be OD-ing on soda all night if we had lost." Suffice to say, Steve Wojciechowski will probably take this year's tilt a bit more seriously.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Purdue Preview

Purdue Boilermakers
November 13, fiserv.forum

Coach: Matt Painter (321-159 at Purdue, 346-164 overall)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 13.3
3-Year kenpom Average: 11.0
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 8

Projected Starters: PG Jahaad Proctor (6'3" RS Sr), SG Eric Hunter (6'3" So), SF Nojel Eastern (6'6" Jr), PF Aaron Wheeler (6'9" So), C Matt Haarms (7'3" Jr)

In the last four years, Purdue has been on a roll, earning a 5-seed or better every year, going to two Sweet 16s before last year's Elite 8 run that ended in overtime to eventual National Champions Virginia after an incredible tying buzzer-beater to end regulation. However, gone are Carsen Edwards, Ryan Cline, and Grady Eifert, all starters that combined for 54.5% of the team's scoring, 54.6% of the team's assists, and 31.3% of their rebounding. That's a ton of production. Those losses have led to most early projections leaving them out of the top-25, though as seen above, Torvik's advanced stats model still has them in the top-10.

Simply, there are a lot of questions to answer. The first is who will play the point. Grad transfer Jahaad Proctor (19.5 ppg/3.3 apg at High Point) may get the first look, though he spent most of his time at the 2. Nojel Eastern seems certain to start and might also get a look at the 1, though his reputation as a lock-down defender came from guarding wings. Purdue fans are tabbing Wheeler as their next potential NBA talent while monster big man Haarms will likely retain the starting center spot. There's depth for the final starting position, with Hunter, Sasha Stefanovic, Trevion Williams, Evan Boudreaux, and Brandon Newman all being bandied about as possible starters.

While there are questions about the starting lineup, there's no doubt Purdue is deep and talented, even if no one on this roster has had to carry the load for a high-major team before. I expect Eastern and Wheeler to develop into the offensive 1-2 punch but the team not to fully realize their identity until conference play. While that seems like a good sign for Marquette, the same could've been said about the Indiana team that bludgeoned Marquette in the Gavitt Games last year and some of these same Purdue players were part of the team that pounded Marquette at the BC two years ago.

Purdue's renaissance under Painter has largely come down to a change in style of play. Purdue was known as a gritty, defense first team that was going to leave opponents battered. From 2010-14, their aggressive play style led to diminished results as the game became more perimeter oriented and games were officiated tighter. Painter realized their deficiencies and changed how they played. This started by recruiting longer, more athletic players. They became a team that focused on ball movement and finding the best shot, which increased the percent they took beyond the arc, both in terms of accuracy and in the volume of threes taken. Defensively, their turnover-oriented style was too physical for the reduced contact allowed in the rules changes so they focused on staying in front of their opponents and defending straight up. In many ways, they have undergone a similar transition to the one Marquette went through when Buzz Williams left and Steve Wojciechowski took over. The three-oriented offense, a defense that wants to challenge shots rather than creating turnovers, this will be a matchup of strength versus strength with the only difference being Marquette wants to play a bit faster.

It's tough to forecast what Purdue will be this year. I almost certainly think the T-Rank above is too bullish. Most pundits have the Boilers as a top-half Big 10 team and it seems foolish to not expect them to make the NCAA Tournament. The question is still who will score. Eastern, Wheeler, and Haarms have all shown themselves to be efficient in low doses but have combined for just one 20+ point game in all their careers (Haarms scored 21 against Illinois last year). Proctor scored at High Point, but has averaged just 5.5 ppg in his career against top-100 kenpom teams, which will be the norm for him this year. If any of the other players can prove to be an effective scorer while not being a defensive embarrassment, they will likely get a lot of minutes. This looks like a fringe top-25 team that should be on the right side of the bubble, but if they can't find someone to shoulder that load, it could be a long year in West Lafayette.

Marquette Connection: 0-9. That is Marquette's series record against Purdue. The series dates back to 1932 and Marquette has never secured a win against the Boilermakers. It is the most frequent opponent Marquette has played and never defeated. This includes, most famously, the 1969 Elite Eight matchup where Rick Mount sank Marquette's Final Four dreams 75-73 on a buzzer-beating 20-foot jumper in overtime. It also includes the 86-71 Gavitt Games defeat from 2 years ago at the Bradley Center. Purdue is one of only two Big 10 teams Marquette has never defeated, but the other is Maryland, who they have never played (but could in Orlando this year). If you need any extra motivation, Marquette's abysmal record against Purdue and in the Gavitt Games should be reason to really cheer for a victory in this one.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Loyola-Maryland Preview

Loyola University of Maryland Greyhounds
November 5, fiserv.forum

Coach: Tavaras Hardy (11-21)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 271.7
3-Year kenpom Average: 273.3
2019-20 T-Rank Projection:153
Projected Starters: PG Isaiah Hart (5'11" Jr), SG Chuck Champion (6'4" Sr), SF Andrew Kostecka (6'4" Sr), PF Brett Holcombe (6'8" Jr), C KaVaughn Scott (6'8" Sr)

The results in Hardy's first year weren't pretty, but there were some reasons for optimism. After starting 4-12 (0-3) the Greyhounds went 7-9 down the stretch, including a win over a Colgate team that went to the NCAA Tournament. The Greyhounds return everyone of note, which has them projected by T-Rank as the third best team in the Patriot League. This ranking is also notable because, if accurate, it would be the best Greyhound team since they joined the Patriot League in 2014.

These lofty projections start with Andrew Kostecka. The do-everything forward ranked first or second on the team in scoring, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks with a stellar line of 21.3 ppg/4.8 rpg/2.4 apg/2.7 spg/0.9 bpg. He also led the team in minutes, offensive efficiency, and usage. But while he's the star, he has help. Hart, Champion, and Holcombe all averaged double-digit scoring and this starting lineup has been playing together for 3 years. This team also has depth as they return three other players that averaged 13+ mpg and started at least one game last year. Further, keep an eye on Spanish freshmen Golden Dike & Santi Aldama. Dike is a 6'7" forward & was regarded as a 4-star prospect by Evan Daniels. He could be a threat to crash the starting lineup or at least give quality minutes off the bench. Aldama is a 6'11" prospect that can stretch the floor & was named MVP of the U-18 FIBA Europe championships.

In his first year, Hardy promised an exciting, up-tempo style of play and he delivered. The team played at the fastest tempo for a Greyhound team in over a decade. They love to get out in transition, but in the halfcourt are very good at sharing the ball. Last year they largely ran a 4-out/1-in system  thanks to their guard depth, but even with the return of big man Brent Holcombe that won't change much since he averaged 2.4 three point attempts per game. On the other end, they play high-pressure defense that led to the 7th highest steal rate in the nation. That didn't translate to efficiency, however, in large part because of their terrible three-point defense. It makes sense, as gambling for steals can lead to open looks at the arc.

Hardy did a great job keeping this team together. The Greyhounds are experienced and deep. Considering he just took over last year, that's somewhat amazing as there are some legitimate high-major players here and the usual expectation for a new coach is mass transfers. They should be right in the middle of a four-team dogfight for the Patriot League title, though Colgate will be the favorites. If they stay healthy, there is a realistic change for this to be a Quadrant 3 (NET ranking 76-160) game.

Marquette Connection: LUM Head Coach Tavaras Hardy began his college basketball career at Northwestern, where he was a two-time All-Big 10 player. He was recruited there by none other than former Marquette head coach Kevin O'Neill. Not surprisingly, Hardy had similar recollections about O'Neill as the Marquette faithful did. He said this when O'Neill was hired at USC: "“He’s going to tell it like he sees it, and sometimes he’s going to say it in an animated way. Sometimes it’s actually funny, but it’s no secret that he has a different vocabulary than a lot of people.”