"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, January 31, 2005

Losses without Travis won't kill MU's NCAA tourney chances

Since this is my first post here, let me thank Marquette Hoops for inviting me to blog on topics relevant to MU. I hope that I can provide some entertainment, a bit of enlightenment, and every once in a while generate just a bit of controversy (if only to keep things interesting!).

I’ll start with the controversial:

I don’t think the losses while Travis are devastating to our NCAA chances.

Yes, our RPI may get downright ugly, and we may wind up with only 19 or 20 wins against 10 or 11 losses. But the NCAA selection committee does take injuries into consideration when they determine bids to the tournament. This article in the Las Vegas Review Journal specifically calls out the different impact of Texas losing P. J. Tucker to grades and LaMarcus Aldridge to injury.

We can see the impact on teams in a couple other recent examples. In 2001, Florida finished with a 23-7 record, and a 17 RPI—territory that typically suggests a 5 seed. However, they received a 3 because three of their seven losses were sustained when starting PG Teddy Dupay was out with injury. It happens the other way as well—despite an upset loss to SLU in the 2000 CUSA tournament, Cincy remained the #1 RPI team, and Bearcat fans assumed their #1 seed was secure. However, the committee realized that they were a different team without Kenyon Martin (updated with correction--was Forston--hat tip to Alan), and pushed them down to a 2 seed.

The implication: NCAA will give MU some slack for the losses we incur without PG Travis Diener. The question is how much. Let’s play out one scenario to see what might happen with NCAA tournament selections:

Say that Diener can’t come back for another three weeks—just in time for the DePaul game on February 20th. Between now and then, MU will play five games: UAB, USM, @TCU, Louisville and @ECU. Without Diener, MU still stands a good chance of beating USM, a reasonable shot at TCU and ECU; and probably no chance of beating UAB or Louisville. It’s not unreasonable to think that MU might get through that stretch with a 2-3 record.

Assuming Diener is back in the lineup on 2/20, MU plays DePaul, Houston and SLU at home, and Cincy on the road. A reasonable expectation is that with Diener back in the lineup MU will go 3-1 over this stretch, making the final pre-CUSA tourney mark to 20-9, 8-8 in conference. Ordinarily, that’s probably not NCAA tournament material. However, given that Travis is a first-team all-CUSA player, and a Naismith, Cousy, and Wooden award finalist, I think he qualifies as that “key player” for which merits the special injury consideration.

Including the Charlotte game, five of MU’s eight conference losses will have come with the best player on the team injured. In games with a healthy Diener in the lineup, MU will have a strong “body of work” with a 19-4 record, good wins over Wisconsin and Kent, and good losses to Arizona, Cincy, and Depaul. The 3 conference losses with a healthy Diener were all on the road against difficult opponents in tough venues (Memphis, DePaul and Cincy). None of those will be considered “bad” by the committee.

The key is that Diener come back from his injury in time to show that he has returned to his pre-injury form, and MU wins with him back in the lineup. Obviously, if Diener returns to losses against DePaul, Houston, or SLU the argument goes out the window. However, if MU can put together a nice run with Diener back for three or four games at the end of the season, any losses in his absence will have far less impact on Marquette’s NCAA chances.

So, is an NCAA bid a lock if Diener can come back and demonstrate his pre-injury form? No. But MU's 19-4 record with him in the lineup should be good for an NCAA bid.

Stat of the Week

Under Tom Crean, Marquette is 13-14 against nationally ranked teams for a .481 winning percentage. All-time, Marquette is 82-120 (.406) versus nationally ranked teams.

Jan. 8, 2000 - at #3 Cincinnati 67, Marquette 48
Jan. 12, 2000 - Marquette 69, at #21 DePaul 48
Jan. 15, 2000 - Marquette 66, #25 Louisville 64 (OT)
Jan. 23, 2000 - #1 Cincinnati 72, Marquette 60
Dec. 23, 2000 - #16 Wisconsin 52, Marquette 47
Jan. 13, 2001 - at #9 North Carolina 84, Marquette 54
Nov. 23, 2001 - Marquette 50, #20 Indiana 49
Dec. 29, 2001 - at #25 Wake Forest 64, #19 Marquette 59
Feb. 2, 2002 - Marquette 74, #4 Cincinnati 60
Feb. 22, 2002 - at #4 Cincinnati 63, #9 Marquette 62
March 9, 2002 - #5 Cincinnati 77, #13 Marquette 63 (CUSA Tourn)
Feb. 9, 2003 - #15 Marquette 68, #14 Wake Forest 61
Feb. 15, 2003 - #2 Louisville 73, #11 Marquette 70
Feb. 27, 2003 - #10 Marquette 78, at #11 Louisville 73
March 22, 2003 - #9 Marquette 101, #24 Missouri 92 (NCAA)
March 27, 2003 - #9 Marquette 77, #4 Pittsburgh 74 (NCAA)
March 29, 2003 - #9 Marquette 83, #1 Kentucky 69 (NCAA)
April 5, 2003 - #6 Kansas 94, #9 Marquette 61 (NCAA)
Dec. 1, 2003 - #24 Marquette 71, #23 Notre Dame 58
Dec. 13, 2003 - at #9 Arizona 85, #22 Marquette 75
Dec. 20, 2003 - at #22 Wisconsin 62, #23 Marquette 58
Jan. 14, 2004 - #10 Cincinnati 85, at #21 Marquette 73
Jan. 31, 2004 - Marquette 77, at #4 Louisville 70
March 6, 2004 - Marquette 81, #25 Louisville 80
Dec. 11, 2004 - Marquette 63, #24 Wisconsin 54
Dec. 18, 2004 - #15 Arizona 48, at Marquette 43
Jan. 26, 2005 - at No. 12 Louisville 99, Marquette 52

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Looking ahead, looking (Big) East

The Northwest Herald (a suburban Chicago rag) delivers a 'state-of-the-defectors' analysis today. MU, DePaul, Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida are all " playing in two conferences this season, one trained eye on the top of the C-USA standings but one curious eye taking notice of what is going on in the Big East." I have my doubts about this from the perspective of the coaches in each of these programs -- winning in C-USA is hard enough. However, from a fan's perspective, this rings true. Throughout the current campaign, one can't help but look ahead to what will become the greatest basketball conference in history on July 1, 2005. Just how will MU fare in the expanded Big East? We'll find out soon enough.

MU fans are familiar with Tom Crean's preparation for next year's eastern migration (recapped in this article yet again), but it appears that Huggins has the best perspective on what the move means to this year's squad, "We're going to do what we always do. We're going to recruit the best student-athletes we can to come to school here. We're going to field the best team we can possibly field. When conference play starts next January, we'll have scouted everybody. We'll be ready. I'm not going to waste my time or my assistants' time and cheat our kids."

Saturday, January 29, 2005

MU captures 15th win by defeating SLU on the road in 2OT

Marquette had to make a go of it again on the road without their pre-season All-American Travis Diener. For much of the game it appeared the loss of Diener may be too much to overcome. MU shot only 29.7% for the game and had one drought of over 11 minutes without scoring in the second half.

But in the end, Marquette pulled it out 55-51 in double overtime. The Warriors were led by Steve Novak's 23 points and some clutch shooting at the end by Joe Chapman and Dameon Mason.

For a complete recap of the game, here is a link to the story, photos and boxscore at ESPN.com. For another perspective, take a look at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch - - Soderberg is brutally honest in his assessments of the Bills' inability to close this one out.

Let's get back to Joe Chapman, who "handled the bulk of the duties at point guard in Diener's stead again and turned in one of the gutsier performances by an MU player in recent memory.

Playing with a 101-degree temperature and so sickened by the flu that he had to vomit into a trash can at courtside, Chapman shrugged off a number of earlier misses to hit two huge three-pointers late, the second of which came from deep on the left wing with 13.3 seconds left in the second overtime and with a defender in his face."

Amazing.......isn't it time that this team was able to shed the flu bug, once and for all?

Marquette visits St. Louis

In a titanic battle between C-USA's only Jesuit universities, MU hopes to begin salvaging its season today against the St. Louis Billikens. Today's game, win or lose, could be the turning point for Crean's squad this year. The status of Travis Diener's ankle is unknown - - should he be close to 100%, MU can win this game (but it won't be easy to watch, regardless). We'll know soon enough. Here's the Journal-Sentinel preview.

Friday, January 28, 2005

The RPI Gives Warriors Fighting Chance

Much has been made by MU's recent slide against some quality competition. It is important to remember the NCAA selection committee uses many criteria to select the 65 team field. One of those is the Ratings Percentage Index, or RPI. There are dozens of sites on the Internet that attempt to recreate the RPI so fans can track their team's progress. We are no different.

It is important to note that the RPI is not the end-all or the be-all. But it is a good historical indicator of what teams have been selected.

Today's CollegeRpi places Marquette with a RPI rating of 50 and a Schedule strength of 65. That rating is squarely in "BUBBLE TERRITORY".

Historical RPI ratings of teams left out or brought in

  • The lowest rated teams to get at-large bids: #74 New Mexico (1999) and #70 Air Force (2004).
  • The highest rated team ever left out: #33 Oklahoma (1994).
  • Most teams from one conference: 7 (Big 10 - 1994, 1999, 2001).
  • Fewest wins to get an at large berth: 16 (7 times, last by Georgia - 2001).
  • Most losses to get an at large berth: 14 (Georgia - 2001).
  • Worst record to get an at large berth: 16-14 .533 (Georgia - 2001)
  • Number of times a team with at least 20 wins has been left out: 118
  • ... among major-conference teams: 22
  • ... among the big six: 2 (Alabama - 2001, Syracuse - 2002. Note - Miss St had 20 total wins in 1999 and was left out, but one win was outside Division I)
  • Most wins left out: 25 (Butler - 2002)
  • Best record left out: 24-3 .889 (Utah St - 2004)
  • ... among major-conference teams: 20-7 .741 (Hawaii - 1997)
  • ... among the big six: 19-9 .679 (West Virginia - 1997)
  • Number of non-major conference teams to get an at large berth: 26
  • Number of non-major conference teams to get an at large berth without winning their conference regular season title: 1 (SW Missouri St - 1999)
  • Highest RPI ranking for a sub-.500 team: 46 (Arkansas - 2002)

    In 2004, #50 (Oklahoma) was left out of the NCAAs, but number 60 Washington was put in. Generally, if you are in the top 40 you are going to make it.

    Marquette's projected RPI right now is 37 with a 21-7 record prior to playing in the CUSA tournament.

  • The Sheriff is on patrol as Ulice continues to lead

    Marquette's Marcus Jackson is profiled in this morning's Peoria Journal-Star. Jackson, a senior power forward, is enjoying a fine senior season for the Golden Eagles. A junior college transfer, The Sheriff decided on MU after the University of Georgia fired Jim Harrick. He's clearly MU's most consistent rebounder and defender down low. After battling injuries through most of his junior season, Marcus' production on the floor this season has been a pleasant surprise.

    Proving there's more to life than hoops, Ulice Payne was selected as the newest member of the Board of Trustees at Northwestern Mutual Life today. Congrats to Ulice, a member of the 1977 National Championship team.

    Thursday, January 27, 2005

    MU news: Bo Ellis, Brandon Bell, Wesley Matthews

    • Here's a look at Bo Ellis' hoops life, courtesy of the Chicago Sports Review. Who knew Bo was in six different Halls of Fame?!
    • Good luck to Brandon Bell, the newest Detroit-Mercy Titan. Things didn't work out at MU, perhaps because of the injury to his Achilles that he mentions in this article. Nevertheless, Perry Watson runs a strong program and Bell should be a good fit with the Titans.
    • Wesley Matthews. I'll do anything to divert attention from last night's debacle in Louisville, and thankfully, Rob Schultz at The Capital Times delivered. Wesley Matthews, a talented senior guard from Madison, cast his lot with Marquette and will enroll in the fall.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2005

    Getting Familiar with the Woodshed

    Oy....Louisville took Tom Crean's guys out to the woodshed tonight and showed no mercy. Ville wins 99-52, the most lopsided defeat in MU history. Do you think Pitino was a bit peeved at MU's remarkable success against him?

    Nevertheless, Louisville hosted a wounded, hobbling team tonight and took full advantage of it. Travis Diener, the nation's best senior point guard, did not suit up tonight due to an ankle injury. Diener's absence was crippling for MU, particularly in the second half when Louisville outscored MU 56-22. There are no silver linings in an embarrassing loss like this, though Todd Townsend's play was encouraging.

    Now its time to look ahead. Marquette travels to St. Louis to take on the eyesore that is Billikens basketball. Soderberg's teams are brutal to watch, but are never out of games -- and play MU very tough. The SLU game might be the last chance that MU has to right the ship and develop momentum moving into the back half of conference play. A win on Saturday is key......realize that MU closes with four of its last five at home, so a strong finish is not out of the question. But the losing streak needs to stop at three games, and losing four of five is more than enough.

    Turning the season around begins with rebounding (and hopefully a healthy Travis Diener). In each of these last four losses MU has given up at least 15 offensive rebounds to the opposition. Coming into this stretch, MU was in the top ten nationally in rebounding margin, a statistic built at the expense of a moderate schedule made up almost exclusively of home games.

    Marquette takes on Louisville

    OK folks, its time to blog...tonight MU takes on Rick Pitino's surging Louisville Cardinals down in Freedom Hall. MU has taken three straight at Freedom Hall, and six of seven from the Cards since Pitino took the reigns from Denny Crum. Pat Forde has a nice take on this rivalry here.

    The deck is stacked against MU tonight, however. Travis Diener has not practiced in a few days with a bum ankle, and the flu held Steve Novak out of practice as well (that's his second bout with the flu this season). Add in the toll the flu bug took on Todd Townsend and Robert Jackson in last weekend's humbling defeat to Charlotte and you see why MU is a longshot to win this evening.

    All is not lost, however. Keep in mind some of the Marquette magic we've seen over the years down in Louisville. Here's one to jog your memory, Brian Wardle wins it.

    Tuesday, January 25, 2005

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