"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

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Video Interviews

Jonesing for some interviews of the team? TMJ4 has posted some great press-conference video interviews after the team got home from USF.

Each interview is 4-5 minutes long. Enjoy.

Props for the MU Women!

....by popular demand. Honest, I've been peppered with requests for an update on the nationally-ranked Marquette Women's basketball team for weeks now. In fact, one faithful reader who we will refer to as Smitty, offered to preview tonight's big tilt between MU and Rutgers at the RAC. Smitty, take it away.........

The Marquette women are searching for an impressive 20 wins tonight when the team plays Rutgers at the RAC.

It’s remarkable what sophomore guard Krystal Ellis and her teammates have been able to accomplish. Marquette is ranked 16/18th in the polls but still flies under the national radar with very little media attention. Terri Mitchell, much like Tom Crean, has quietly built and maintained a very strong and competitive basketball team during her year 10 years with an impressive 191-109 record, an average of over 19 wins per season - which includes eight trips to the postseason and six 20-win seasons.

Tonight and Saturday, Marquette gets an opportunity to see whether it can knock off some elite programs in Rutgers and particularly, when Marquette plays host to five-time national champion UCONN at The Al on Saturday.

Marquette hoops (men and women) have been fun to watch this year. And just think we’re only half way done with this season.

Providence game nearly sold out

According to the Marquette University athletic ticket office only single seats remain for this Saturday's game against the Providence Friars (and for that matter the Louisville and Pittsburgh games).

Sounds like the corners will be packed and a sellout is imminent!

Getting ready for Saturday: DWade in the spotlight

Saturday will be a big day at the Bradley Center. Sure, MU will look to even things up with the Providence Friars and collect their 20th win on the season......but the Golden Eagles should have some added incentive as well - DWade will be in the house.

We'll get to more of this later in the week, but on Saturday Dwyane Wade's jersey #3 will be retired. GoMarquette completed this write-up on Dwyane's big day.

All fans in attendance on Saturday will receive a limited edition Dwyane Wade figurine.

Monday, January 29, 2007

MU moves up to #14 and #15

The ESPN/USA Today and AP polls are both out and the voters peg MU as #14/#15.

As a reminder, we update rankings along with RPI-type of data on the blog every day -- just look to your right!

What's more, MU leads the Big East's official roundup -- read all about it here.

Homer call of the week: Vote for Steve True


.......hey, it'd only be fitting if Steve 'The Homer' True could be honored as the 'Dan Patrick Show Homer Call of the Week' for his play-by-play of the McNeal steal/buzzer beater on Sunday.....and don't forget that Jim McIlvaine was part of that memorable call as well!

Click here and vote for Homer -- the poll is on the right margin.

Get out and vote for The Homer.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Amazing...MU wins at the buzzer 70-68

The 15th ranked Marquette Golden Eagles had a classic trap game in front of them and damned if the club didn't do everything possible to fall into that trap....but they didn't. An incredible finish on a Jerel McNeal steal and shot to win the game at 70-68 means MU moves to 19-4 on the season and 6-2 in the Big East.

MU started the game very cold on 1-12 shooting missing layup after layup. Despite the horrific shooting, they were able to get to the line and maintained a small lead for much of the first half. As the shooting picked up from the field, MU moved out in front by 6 points at the half, 35-29.

In the second half, MU maintained their 6 point lead until about the 14:30 minute mark when the Bulls went on a 15-5 run. From there it was back and forth until the final seconds.

The lead changed hands 10 times in the final 13 minutes with no team able to grab more than a 4 point cushion. The 3:03 mark saw Tom Crean's club trailing 64-60 after a Gransberry layup and the small USF crowd (4300 announced) fully engorged. MU setup an opportunity for Dan Fitzgerald and he did not disappoint. Fitz hit a huge 3-pointer just like he did in overtime against Pitt last week. The shot cut the lead to 1. The Bulls answered with a dunk pushing the lead up by 3 and forcing a timeout by Crean with 1:09 left.

MU went for the tie on the ensuing possession on a 3 ball by Wesley Matthews but he missed. McNeal, playing with four fouls, grabbed the offensive rebound and was fouled by Gransberry. The foul knocked the Bulls big man out of the game and sent McNeal to the line for two free throws. He converted one of two...MU trailed by 68-66 with :58 remaining.

After a wild play where USF appeared to throw the ball away but it hit the referee before going out of bounds and was saved by the Bulls. A timeout was called by their coach to settle the Bulls down. Coming out of the timeout, the Bulls Mattis got open for a layup but MISSED and Fitzgerald was there for the rebound with :26 left. MU pushed the ball hard up the court and Dominic James made a circus layup with 4 defenders crashing down on him. Game tied 68-68 with :14 left. USF advanced the ball and called a timeout with 9.6 seconds remaining.

At this point Crean had to be hoping for overtime. USF had been killing us on in-bound plays in the second half for dunks and layups consistently. With Gransberry fouled out, MU would probably have the advantage if they could get it to OT, though McNeal and Fitzgerald were playing with 4 fouls. No need. MU put it away at the end.

USF inbounded the ball and after one pass Jerel McNeal jumped the passing lane with 3.8 seconds left and went down the court with the ball. About 4 feet out he put up a shot that left his hand before the buzzer went off. The ball banked, hit rim, settled and dropped through just after the final red light went on. MU wins 70-68...amazing.

"I just read it, just trusted my instincts, and I was able to come up with the ball and make a big play at the end," McNeal said.

Classic trap game avoided.

Dominic James led Marquette with 16 points. Coach Crean revealed in the post game press conference that James was sick in the second half and had to fight through it. MU finished with four players in double figures and David Cubillian also added 9. Despite MU shooting only 38% from the floor and 67% from the line, they escape with the win.

MU has the week off as they prepare to play Providence on February 3rd and the retirement of the Dwyane Wade jersey.

Watch and listen to the win with these links:
Great stuff here - this YouTube video covers the game's final minute.

MUScoop has the ESPN highlights of the MU win -- including terrific footage of the game's deciding play.

Video Highlights including the last play (you have to deal with the USF fight song)

Here's the radio play by play of McNeal's amazing steal and buzzer beater via YouTube. WOW.

Media recaps
Todd Rosiak recap at Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The St Petersburg Times on the Bulls' tough home loss.

The Tampa Tribune recap.

MarquetteHoops' recap on Scout.com


AP Recap

Saturday, January 27, 2007

MU to run with Bulls, USF

UPDATED: Wanna watch the game? See below.

On Sunday, 1pm CST, Marquette travels to Tampa to take on the USF Bulls at the Sun Dome. (p.s. The Sun Dome has it's own MySpace page, where you can check out who it's dating, and what kind of music it likes.)

The Bulls are having a rough year, and are currently 2-5 in the Big East, and at this point, have their sites set on not being one of the 4 BE teams that don't qualify for the BE Tournament in March. This may be difficult, as South Florida Blogger Brett McMurphy writes, the Bulls, according to Sagarin, won't win another game this year. That's a prediction no team wants. -- However, with MU's 5 game winning streak, the USF game presents the ultimate in "trap games" where a team flying high gets brought to earth by a team that shouldn't do so.

The Bulls have Melvin Buckley, 15.9ppg, 8th in the Big East, and McHugh Mattis, who with an 4.1 blocks per game, ranks 4th in the entire NCAA. -- Mattis recently had a 10 block game. -- Their five starters are responsible for a whopping 94% of their offense, so if you hear USF is reaching for the pines, it bodes well for the Warriors.

There is no television coverage of the game.

If WAUK has both hamsters powering their transmitter on Sunday, you can hear the game on 1510AM in select parts of the Milwaukee area. Otherwise, listen online. Also, if you have a moment, stop in to MUScoop's chat room during the game. With a radio-only game, there's usually a couple dozen MU fans chatting while listening.

UPDATE: Want to watch the USF/MU game? USF has a video stream you can purchase. $7.95 buys you 1 month of everything USF, including Sunday's game, it appears. I haven't seen the video quality, so can't exactly give it the Cracked Sidewalks Seal of Approval, but I've got eight bucks burning a hole in my pocket and will give it a whirl.

USF Media Guide

Game Notes from USF -- MU Game Notes

AP Preview (MU 6.5 point favorites.)

Friday, January 26, 2007

Happy Blogiversary to us

.....who knew!

We're still alive and kicking two years later here at Cracked Sidewalks. Many thanks to all of our readers and passers-by -- we appreciate your interest and feedback. We'll continue to do our best to be a viable contributor to the Marquette basketball community.

I want to also thank the contributors we've had on the blog, past and present, for making Cracked Sidewalks worthwhile - -

* Thread Killer
* muwarrior92
* Marquette 84
* mu_hilltopper
* marq_2000
* mutpm
* Warrior94

Thanks, fellas.

Finally, I'd like to thank the team at MUScoop for allowing us to cross-market our site within their community. Your support is much appreciated, thank you.

Marquette is #11 in CNNSI's power rankings

as ranked by Luke Winn. Check it out here.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Pirates walk the plank in Milwaukee

Home sweet home.

Marquette returned to the Bradley Center for just the third time this month and promptly blew out the visiting Seton Hall Pirates, 89-76. The Golden Eagles built a 20 point lead twice in the second half, but the feisty Pirates ripped off a 20 to 5 run tha cut the lead to just five with less than nine minutes to play. Still, Marquette weathered the storm and pulled away for the convincing victory.

Jerel McNeal led MU with 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. Wesley Matthews also had 22 points, while Ousmane Barro poured in 13 points, all in the second half. Dominic James had 11 points. Marquette outscored the Pirates 38-2 in fast break points tonight -- incredible. MU shot 58% from the floor, including 41% from deep.

You've gotta wonder why Seton Hall head coach Bobby Gonzalez insisted on applying full court pressure for most of the night -- MU shredded those sets routinely. In the post-game intervew on the Seton Hall radio network, Gonzalez said that Marquette has "a special perimeter" and that McNeal might be the best guard he's seen all year. Gonzalez noted that "We could not turn them over. Their guards are so good with the ball."

With the victory the Golden Eagles move to 18-4 on the season and 5-2 in the Big East. The Golden Eagles travel to Tampa to take on South Florida this Sunday at 1pm CST. The Bulls clobbered Rutgers tonight, 62-40.

Post game interviews recapped by MUScoop.

Game photos from MUScoop.

Here's the AP recap.

Here is the box score.

Here is Todd Rosiak's recap.

MarquetteHoops recap is here. Nice job by Andrew Sharos.

Tonight's game on XM Radio as well

The Marquette vs Seton Hall game can be heard nationally on XM Channel 200 if you are subscriber to their service.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Golden Eagles host Seton Hall

Marquette looks to extend its four-game Big East win streak on Wednesday night when they host the Seton Hall Pirates at the Bradley Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 7pm CST. The game will be broadcast on ESPN 360.

Marquette, the hottest team in the Big East, returns to Milwaukee for just its third home game this month. The Golden Eagles re-emerged on the national scene with a gutty overtime win over the Pittsburgh Panthers on Sunday. Just how well have the Golden Eagles been playing of late? Ask Michael Hunt of the Journal-Sentinel.

Despite the fine play of late, an emotional letdown after the Pitt game might be human nature -- but its also a recipe for MU's fourth home loss of the season. However, with the Big East's best 6th man back for the spring semester, count on MU to play a solid game at home.

Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews have re-established this team's identity of late -- and with fine play from Ousmane Barro, Dan Fitzgerald and David Cubillan, the Golden Eagles are much more than a three-man show these days. Still, MU relies on the Triple Threat to establish the pace and pressure needed to win. Just ask Pittsburgh, Louisville, West Virginia and UConn.

Seton Hall (11-7 overall, 3-3 in the Big East) is in the midst of the ultimate up and down season. Bobby Gonzalez' Pirates have alternated wins and losses in each of their last 12 games. Weird.

Seton Hall is led by 6'5" junior Brian Laing, who is enjoying perhaps the biggest breakout season of any player in the Big East. Laing is scoring 17 points and hauling in more than 6 boards per game this season. As a sophomore, Laing was good for just five points and four boards a night.

Laing is complemented by one of the Big East's best freshman, point guard Eugene Harvey. Harvey, a teammate of David Cubillan's at St. Benedict's Prep, is averaging 16 points per game this season. Harvey is a terrific penetrator and finisher -- he's converting on 47% of his field goal attempts.

Best preview of all? Check out the SHU Rivals site.

Here's the MUScoop info sheet for tonight's game.

Here is the GoMarquette.com preview.

The Newark Star-Ledger preview is here.

Here's Rosiak's preview -- focused on Dominic James.

Here's the MarquetteHoops preview by Eric Silver.

Big time love for MU

Seth Davis of CNNSI.com devotes the lead of his latest column to the vastly improved Marquette Golden Eagles. Davis was on the MU bandwagon earlier this season -- picking the good guys to make it to the Final Four. That sounded great -- until MU s@#t the bed and lost to NDSU at home. It took a while to get Seth back on board (he picked Pitt to win on Sunday), but Mr. Davis is safely back on board.

Lets just hope that Davis' goodwill doesn't precede another unexpected loss for MU. Time to beat up Seton Hall. Read it all right here.

Pat Forde needed an MU fix this week as well. The Golden Eagles lead his list of "Real Men" of the road in college hoops......MU is #16 in his lastest installments of Forde Minutes.

Marquette-Pittsburgh: the best new rivalry in the expanded Big East

.....so says this blogger.

Sure the expanded Big East is not yet two full seasons old, but the first three tilts between MU and Pitt have been memorable battles:

  1. Aaron Gray's 20 rebound effort in Pitt's late victory at the Pete last season following the Graves/James collision;
  2. Aaron Gray morphing into Erin Gray at the Bradley Center late last season to help seal a victory for MU;
  3. James making two free throws with 0.9 left in OT to lead MU to a win on the road this season. And don't forget about the Oakland Zoo's dislike for DJ's wink and posturing to the crowd after Sunday's game -- or Aaron Gray's elbow to David Cubillan's head that went unnoticed by the refs earlier in the afternoon;
  4. Oh, and how about MU's win over the Panthers in the Sweet 16 round of the 2003 NCAA tournament.
While these teams don't have a long history, each matchup has been intense, passionate, hard-fought and memorable. I challenge you to find another 'new' Big East pairing that's developed the fever pitch we're already accustomed to seeing with the Panthers and Golden Eagles.

Now, I might be in the minority here. The guys at PittBlather don't think its a rivalry just yet, and they make a good case for it.

Jeff Greer at the Pitt News calls it a rivalry.

Marquette fans feel the rivalry emerging too. Check out this thread on MUScoop. And hey, the Pitt fans think its a rivalry .... at least the ones on their message boards. How about this thread on Tom Crean? Here's my favorite post in the thread:
As a Cincinnati fan I have seen plenty of Crean. He is a good coach who gets the most out of his players and puts up a fight in every game even when he has less talent on the floor. He does come off to other team's fans as a sh!thead though. However I have always had the feeling that if other team's fans hate my coach, he is doing a good job.
The Oakland Zoo blog -- check this out!

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Big East's best new rivalry.

SI subcribers: Marquette's Regal Eagle

I am not an SI subscriber but for those who are, click here to read their feature on Dominic James -- 'evoking memories of Dwyane Wade'.

Here is the link.....non-subscribers can read the first few paragraphs.

Monday, January 22, 2007

DIRECTV signs four year exclusive deal with CBS for Mega March Madness

A little shameless plug and a resource for those of you out of market fans that plan on watching the NCAA tournament this year with a hopeful appearance by Marquette. DIRECTV and CBS announced a four year exclusive extension to the NCAA Mega March Madness package this afternoon.

“From its inception, exclusive sports programming has set DirecTV apart as the leading multichannel provider of the world’s most important and exciting
sporting events,” CEO Chase Carey said in a prepared statement. “The NCAA Men’s
Basketball Championship is one of those unique events that capture the attention
of sports fans throughout the country, and DirecTV will bring our customers
every upset, buzzer-beater and Cinderella story.”

MultiChannel News Story

The package will be $69 and includes HD games as well as Mix Channel that allows you to watch 4 games at one time and utilize an interactive bracket to follow all of the action of your picks.

For complete details go here to www.directv.com/mmm

Dominic James: Big East player of the week

For the second consecutive week, Dominic James has been named the Big East conference player of the week.

Congrats, Dominic!

CNNSI's Cory McCartney took note of DJ's fine play this week -- and penned a Quick Hit on Milwaukee's Honor Guards.

The Golden Eagles' trio of sophomore guards is a pick-your-poison combination of brains (Wesley Matthews), brawn (Jerel McNeal) and a playmaker (James) -- a mix that forms one of the most talented backcourts in the country.

"We all bring something new to the table," James said. "You can put your best defender on one of us, but then you got other guards that can practically do the same thing. It's hard to find three defenders that can matchup with all of us when we're on the court."

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Thread Killer speaks: Stunned?

Should Pitt feel stunned after losing to MU today? ESPN's headline for the recap of the MU vs. Pitt game is "Marquette blows big lead but stuns No.6 Pitt in OT."

Is stunned really an accurate description? Headlines like that reek of hyperbole and I don't believe Pitt thought that a victory against MU was a given. Pitt has been a strong team all year and has climbed to a top 10 ranking. MU has finally started to play some of its best basketball of the year again -- after a poor start to conference play -- and has regained the form that propelled them to a top 10 ranking in the early season. However, a quick check of each team's record against the top 25 is revealing. Pitt was a paltry 0-2 against the top 25 and one might argue that they have not lived up to their lofty ranking. MU was 3-1 against the best preceding today' s game.

Should Pitt really feel stunned?

Maybe surprised, disappointed, or let down are better descriptions after a loss. Pitt will rebound from this game and they won't let it paralyze them as the headline suggests.

MU escaped with a victory today on Pitt's home court, but they really had the game in check throughout. Given how we dominated for most of the game, I would have been stunned had we lost. MU's guards and Ousmane Barro were the main story of the game with Fitzgerald pouring in a strong supporting role. Pitt's Gray collected 16 points and 9 rebounds, but he was essentially not a factor and spent key stretches of the game on the bench. Pitt's guards are good, but today our guards were better.

Exhausted. Relieved. Relaxed. Those words describe how I feel after today's game.

If MU lays an egg against Seton Hall and loses, I will be disappointed. I won't be stunned.

[rant off]

Thread Killer

btw, check out the day-after assessment over at PittBlather.

Brilliant coaching by Tom Crean carries the day

Marquette's overtime road victory at Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon was a testament to smart coaching and terrific execution by the players on the floor.

Coming into the game conventional wisdom was that Aaron Gray would create the toughest matchup for Marquette -- far tougher than any matchup that MU would throw at the Panthers.

That's where the conventional wisdom failed. With five full days to prepare for the game, Tom Crean's game plan made sure of that -- and the preparation put his players in a position to steal a road win.

Despite scoring eight of the Panthers' first ten points, Gray's effectiveness dwindled with each passing minute. Throughout the afternoon, the Golden Eagles dictated the flow of the game and ultimately forced Panthers' coach Jamie Dixon to bench the pre-season player of the year late in the second half in favor of a smaller, quicker lineup.

As effective as Gray was early on the offensive end, he was exposed as a gigantic defensive liability for most of the game. Taking advantage of Ousmane Barro's footspeed, Marquette ran a high screen at the top of the key during most offensive sets. Pitt rarely defended it well. With MU's guards and big men holding a decided quickness advantage, Pitt was unable to smother the ball and control tempo -- opening up higher percentage shots for the Golden Eagles.

Marquette's offensive game plan paid off. The Golden Eagles shot 44% from the field today and 40% from 3-point range. The Panthers had been holding opponents to just 40% shooting from the field and 31% from deep.

As I said in the headline -- brilliant coaching by Tom Crean. Rather than running his offense away from the hulking Gray, the Golden Eagles took it to the Panthers' best player and Gray was not up to the challenge. Then Jamie Dixon blinked.

Marquette imposed its will on the Panthers today in many respects. From the opening tip the Golden Eagles' quickness, acceleration and hustle forced Pitt out of its rhythm. The normally sure-handed Panthers turned the ball over 17 times against 17 assists -- a far cry from their NCAA leading A/TO ratio of 1.66. Pitt was averaging only 11 turnovers per game prior to today's loss.

Meanwhile, Marquette's defense held Pitt to just 42% shooting from the floor and an abominable 28% from deep. The Panthers came into the game averaging nearly 50% from the floor for the season and 40% from 3-point territory.

This is not the first time that Marquette's speed and quickness has turned an opponents' height advantage into a disadvantage. In the Golden Eagles' inaugural Big East opener last season, Steve Novak turned in the greatest individual performance in conference history with 41 points and 17 rebounds. That night, quickness and effective ball movement on offense negated the substantial height advantage from UConn (read: Boone, Adrien, Armstrong and Gay) as the Golden Eagles ran away with the victory.

Marquette beats #6 Pitt 77-74 in Overtime

Great game and a great effort by Tom Crean's club today. In front of a national audience on CBS, Marquette went into Pitt and defeated the #6 ranked team 77-74 to give the Panthers their first Big East loss and move MU in a tie for second place. Pitt has one of the best home court advantages in the country so this win is even more spectacular when you consider they had only lost 5 Big East games there ever.

MU was paced by Dominic James' 23 points including 14 in the first half. After trailing 10-9 in the opening session, MU controlled the remainder of the half and led 32-27 at the break. The second half was much the same as MU led by as many as 11 points. Pitt fought back to cut the lead to one at 50-49 before MU pulled away again. With about 4:03 remaining in the game, Dan Fitgerald hit a three pointer from the corner that seemed to put the game away 60-51. Not so fast my friend. MU would not score a FG the remainder of the way as the Panthers chipped away.

With 12 seconds left, Wes Matthews made two free throws to put MU up 64-61. Pitt brought the ball down and Jerel McNeal fouled before Pitt could take a three pointer. McNeal fouled out on the play. Pitt made the first free throw but missed the second. In a clear over the back non-call, Pitt volleyballed the ball away and managed to get it to the top of the key where Ramon was fouled in an attempt to tie the game. The non-call was incredible and Tom Crean was clearly upset. Ramon calmly made both free throws to tie the game. MU inbounded the ball to James who took it solo to the Pitt 3 point line and missed off the back of the iron. OVERTIME and all the momentum on Pitt's side.

Pitt opened OT by taking the lead 65-64 on a Gray free throw...Pitt's first lead since they led 10-9. The Panthers expanded their lead to three points only to have MU answer back on a three by Dan Fitzgerald at 67-67. The teams were tied at 69 until Ramon hit a three pointer with 2:51 remaining in the OT.

It then became the MU free throw shooting stars. That's right, MU who came into the game shooting 296th in the NCAA in free throws managed to hit 15 straight free throws, most of them in the closing seconds and in OT. Wes Matthews was fouled twice going to the hoop and made 4 straight to give MU a 73-72 lead with 1:51 left. Levon Kendall returned the favor by hitting two at 1:35 to put Pitt back on top. After a DJ missed three pointer, MU's defense would come up big. With under :25 to play, Marquette stole the ball and called timeout with :12 remaining.

Crean diagramed a play for MU that ultimately led to DJ getting the ball and going in amongst the trees on the left elbow. This time the refs didn't swallow their whistles. They called a foul with 0.9 seconds left and MU trailing by one. DJ goes to the line and nails both to put the Golden Eagles up by 1 point.

Without a timeout, Pitt attempts a full court pass which is intercepted by Matthews and fouled immediately. Wes nails both and MU grabs their 4th straight Big East win and third straight on the road. MU moves to 17-4 on the season and 4-2 in Big East play.

Todd Rosiak's story from the MJS

AP Story

Box Score

Post game interviews recapped here on MUScoop.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on MU's victory.

The Pittsburgh Union-Tribune recaps the game.

Marquette travels to Pittsburgh

The nationally-ranked Pittsburgh Panthers host the Marquette Golden Eagles on Sunday afternoon at The Pete. CBS will broadcast today's game nationally beginning at 2pm CST.

Marquette rolls into town looking for its fourth-stratight victory despite being in the midst of arguably it toughest stretch of the season. The Golden Eagles, 16-4 overall and 3-2 in the Big East, have won three straight after starting the conference season with consecutive losses. Sunday's game is MU's third road game its last four outings. Pittsburgh enters the contest with a record of 17-2 overall and 5-0 in the Big East.

Here's the AP preview.

Here is the GoMarquette preview.

Todd Rosiak previews the game.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Tom Crean to appear weekly on Fox Sports Radio

On my way to the beach this morning I was listening to Fox Sports Radio on XM channel 142 with John Fricke and former NFL player Ray Buchanon. It was approximately 10:15am PST when Fricke said Tom Crean was coming on the show and sure enough Coach Crean spoke about the Big East, Marquette, his brother-in-law at Stanford and a few other items. Fricke indicated his father-in-law played for Marquette under Tex Winter which was news to Coach Crean and to me.

At the conclusion of the interview Fricke indicated Crean would be on the show now weekly. I have to assume it will be every Saturday morning between 10:00am and 11:00am PST but I am not 100% on that.

Fricke opened up the show in this manner. "We are joined by the head coach of Marqette...it's hard for me still to say this...Golden Eagles".

Tom Crean had a chuckle with that.

Fox Sports Radio can also be found in Milwaukee 1250AM WSSP.

Former MU assistant paying big dividends for Pitt

I had the opportunity to work with Mike Rice for several years when he was an assistant at Marquette under former coach Mike Deane. Rice was a terrific guy, fun to talk to and really knew his basketball. He played at Fordham and his father had been the Duquense coach for many years (then the Portland Trailblazers color analyst where I believe he still resides today). He was the one guy on the staff that matched my golfing abilities at the time (I suspect now he has become even better while my game is in the tank).

I lost track of Rice's whereabouts a few years ago until I noticed he surfaced at St. Joe's. Now he's in his first season at Pitt and just landed one of the top players in the country from St. Anthony's in New Jersey.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review does a nice write-up on "Rice Cakes" in today's edition.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Evaluating MU in Big East play

With MU now standing at 16-4 overall and 3-2 in Big East conference play, let's take a look at what we've learned about this team through the first part of the conference season:

Its all about the Triple Threat.
This team is definitely built around the instinctive play of McNeal, Matthews and James. Losing McNeal for the PC game and the prolonged absence of both Matthews and McNeal from practice during the first week of the New Year threw the timing, intensity and execution of this team off-kilter. With the Triple Threat healthy and practicing as a unit, the team re-established its identity.

Offensive rhythm has returned.
After beating Duke and Texas Tech in back to back games to win the CBE Classic, MU's offense went into a protracted funk. In the ten games that followed those wins, MU failed to string together consecutive three games of 70 points of more. Keep in mind this was against stalwarts like NDSU, UMBC and Morgan State. Offensively, the road game at UConn marked the turning point for MU. Beginning with that game, MU has scored at least 70 points in three consecutive outings -- a sure sign of progress given the level of competition.

The Trey is Kryptonite for Marquette. Or is it?
Marquette is not a great three-point shooting team but a funny thing happened on the way to a 3-2 start in league play. Marquette learned how to shoot, sort of. During MU's 10-game offensive funk, the Golden Eagles' offense routinely broke down resulting in busted sets that created an unhealthy reliance on the three-pointer. For a team that hits only 32% of its attempts from deep, the missed treys created a stagnant offense. The start of conference play was no better. In their first two conference games, MU shot a miserable 18% from three --- making only 8 of 44 attempts. 44 attempts from deep in two games where MU failed to score 60 points!

Once again, enter the road game at Storrs. In MU's three consecutive Big East wins, the team is shooting 41% from behind the arc -- and is attempting less than 15 three-pointers per game, a far cry from the 22 attempts the team averaged during their 0-2 start in league play. Anybody who's watched MU this season knows that the Golden Eagles shoot the trey better when the attempts come within the flow of the offense, usually on drives and kick-outs to an open shooter, or on a secondary fast break. That's finally happening. Other than Dominic James' remarkable five minute stretch in the second half against Louisville, MU's offense now creates more open jumpers than at any point during the season.

Defense wins.
In league play, MU is holding opponents to just 40% shooting from the field, and a stingy 27% shooting from 3-point territory. These figures are all the more impressive given Providence's efficiency from the floor in the conference opener -- the Friars shot 50% from the floor and 41% from deep. Since the PC game, MU's defense has been stifling.

Aggressiveness pays.
Marquette leads the Big East in offensive rebounds per game. Let me say that again.......Marquette leads the Big East in offensive rebounds per game. Ousmane Barro is second in the league in ORB per game in conference games. Honest.

Still, MU's aggressiveness is keyed by defensive pressure in the backcourt where MU is 5th in the nation in steal percentage. The team is even better in conference play where James (2.80 per game) and McNeal (2.50 per game) lead the Big East in steals.

This team has moxie.
With their collective back against the wall after an 0-2 start which included a collapse at home to Syracuse, Marquette responded with its best basketball of the season. In winning three consecutive games -- two of which game on the road in sold out arenas -- its apparent that this team has the moxie and toughness many expected to see. Currently in the midst of a January that includes just three home games against five conference road tilts, the Golden Eagles are well-positioned to take advantage of a more favorable schedule to finish the season.

..........All reasons for optimism, I say.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Don't Forget: RPI and expert rankings updated daily

....just a friendly reminder that we update Marquette's RPI and rankings from college basketball's top statistical minds every day here on Cracked Sidewalks. The listings are updated on the right nav bar.

Winter Reading: 'Basketball Warfare' now available

Big East fans take note!

Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal, one of the premier Big East basketball beat writers and friend of this blog, has published his first book Basketball Warfare. The book details the 25-year history of the nation's premier basketball conference, and goes in-depth to analyze the expanded Big East by chronicling the inaugural 16-team season in 2005-2006.

Here's a quick overview of what to expect:

Basketball Warfare tells the story of how the league morphed from a basketball powerhouse in the 1980's into a 16-team Super Conference today. You'll also follow the first season in the new Big East and see stars like Rudy Gay, Gerry McNamara and Randy Foye following in the footsteps of Patrick Ewing, Carmelo Anthony and Emeka Okafor. The Big East sent a record eight teams to the NCAA Tournament in 2005-06 and more than lived up to its billing as the best basketball conference in the country. Basketball Warfare captures the exploits of the star players, Hall of Fame coaches and the drama and intensity of college basketball at the highest level.
I'm know many of you enjoy reading Kevin's fine work over at the ProJo -- and its a good bet that this book will delight fans of the Big East.

You can order the book by visiting his web site, BigEastBook.com The Web is the primary sales channel for this volume. The book will be available to ship next week.

Count me in as one of the first to purchase this one!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

90th anniversary weekend was a huge success

Hopefully this is not too late....but a brief recap of the past weekend's festivities at MU is in order. Last weekend Marquette welcomed back former players, coaches and managers for an all-class reunion commemorating 90 years of Marquette basketball. As always, the university put on a command performance for its alums. On Friday night MU held a reception at the Union with Jack Harbaugh as the energetic host. Coach Crean and Coach Raymonds each spoke, and the evening was highlighted by a fantastic video montage chock-full of 90 years worth of basketball footage and images.

I was fortunate enough to serve as a manager with the Marquette hoops program during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Thankfully, many of the players and former managers I spent countless hours with back then returned to campus last weekend -- catching up with them was a blast and the halftime ceremony was memorable (mu_hilltopper did a great job capturing that video!).

Anyway, many thanks to Tom Crean, Jack Harbaugh, Zach Goines, Sarah Claus and the entire MU team that was involved in making last weekend's reunion so successful.

BTW, it was nice to meet you Murff!

Welcome back, Marquette Tribune

Marquette Tribune sports editor Paul Day and his team of reporters returned from hiatus this week. Day jumps right back into hoops and offers a look at the state of the team --- check it out.

Will Graves reports on the Ville win from two nights ago here.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

MU gets props from Rosiak and Forde

--Todd Rosiak is finally back with the latest installment of Jump Shots, a terrific feature when it runs.

-- Former Louisville Courier-Journal columnist and current ESPN.com writer Pat Forde spends a good amount of time on MU in his latest installment of 'Forde Minutes':

The Golden Eagles looked great in an 8-0 start on the season, then were stunned at home by North Dakota State, lost a hard-fought game to Wisconsin and dropped their first two in Big East play. Since then they've won three straight impressively: at Connecticut, by 18 over West Virginia and by nine at Louisville Monday night.
Check out the entire column right here -- and keep reading for Pat's interview with Dominic James.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Golden Eagles thump the Cardinals

The home team was roadkill tonight.

The Marquette Golden Eagles raced to a 74-65 victory tonight over the Louisville Cardinals in Freedom Hall. The ballyhooed troika of James, Matthews and McNeal scored 39 of the team's 41 second-half points as MU earned its second consecutive conference road win. With the victory, Marquette improved to 16-4 overall and 3-2 in the Big East.

The Golden Eagles ended the first half with a 33-30 lead and emerged from the locker room to build up a 15-point advantage. Louisville's pressure defense quickly whittled the lead back down to seven and then to five points later in the half, but the Triple Threat dropped the hammer from that point on.

Marquette's second half surge was keyed by Dominic James, who scored 16 of his team-high 18 points after the break. The sophomore All-American hit three key 3-point baskets midway through the second half as the Cardinals rallied from the 15 point deficit. With the Golden Eagles nursing a precarious 51-46 lead at the 11-minute mark, James nailed the first of his three key 'threes'. The shot ignited a 13-4 run that pushed the MU lead back to 14 points with roughly eight minutes to play. James accounted for 11 of MU's 13 points during that stretch.

Wesley Matthews scored 17 points and pulled down five rebounds, while Jerel McNeal had 15 points and 7 assists.

The Golden Eagles' offense, anemic earlier this month, was spectacular tonight. Marquette shot an impressive 50% from the field and 82% from the free throw line (14-17). Rather than settling for forced jump shots and lazy three-pointers, MU was crisp with the ball all evening racking up 13 assists while turning the ball over just 13 times. Marquette's guards were routinely able to find the seam in the Louisville zone defense and then make the extra pass to an open shooter.

Ousmane Barro was the biggest beneficary of the effective offensive sets in the first half as he came up with a dozen points thanks to a number of fine looks from his backcourt mates. Barro finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds, his second double-double in the last three games -- each on the road. With Barro leading the way, MU out-rebounded the Cardinals 32-28.

Big East Hoops analyzes MU's victory here.

Here is the AP recap.

Here is the box score.

MUScoop has the game notes here.

MUScoop has a recap of the post game interviews here.

Scout.com's recap is here.

The Louisville Courier-Journal chimes in here.

Todd Rosiak on the now surging Golden Eagles.

Free Throws: The Mavs have found a solution.

Its no secret that MU has struggled at the line this season.

One team in the NBA has apparently found a fix for poor FT shooting. According to today's New York Times, the Dallas Mavericks have found a solution by hiring a full time Free Throw coach.

Once the NBA's worst free throw shooting team, they now employ investment banker Gary Boren to film the team shooting free throws, and work on mechanics and delivery.

Boren, 67, has been with the Mavericks as an assistant since 1999 while working in banking. He is an adviser to The Equity Group, which is based in Dallas. Since he joined the Mavericks, they have finished in the top six in the league each season in free-throw shooting, including four first-place finishes. This season, Boren has them at 80.7 percent, the fourth time his team has been higher than 80 percent at the line.

While it might be a bit rash to suggest that a dedicated free throw coach might help MU, you can't argue with success. Working with Boren, Shawn Bradley improved from a FT average of between 60 and 70% to a personal best 92.2% in 2001-02. That type of shooting is like, well, money in the bank.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Big Monday: MU travels to Louisville

The Marquette Golden Eagles look to extend their modest, but oh so encouraging, two game win streak on Monday night when they travel to Louisville. Marquette (15-4, 2-2) must contend with a resurgent Louisville club that is looking to build off of back-to-back wins -- the first time the Cards have accomplished that in Big East play.

Louisville blasted Providence over the weekend, and has shown great improvement since moving to a near four-guard lineup recently. The Cardinals are now 12-5 overall and 2-1 in the Big East.

Monday's game can be seen on ESPN at 6pm CST -- part of the network's Big Monday lineup.

Here is the Marquette Hoops preview.

Here's the AP on how 'small ball' turned the season around for the Cardinals.

The Courier-Journal on how Slick Rick is mimicking MU's guard-oriented approach.

Todd Rosiak chronicles Dwight Burke's progress in today's preview.

Half-Time Celebration Video

For those of you who didn't make it to the BC yesterday, here's a video of the half-time celebration. One of the Cracked Sidewalks team shows up around 1:08. Can you guess which one?

Good to see Murffius and Skyhook, posters on some Marquette message boards also in the lineups.

Also to note, sadly, many of the Al McGuire era were not there, notably George Thompson, which would indicate he's still unhappy with having his number usurped for the first month of the season.

I hope one day, Tom Crean and the Marquette Athletic Department find the magic mea culpa that brings GT back to the family. George Thompson Bobble Head Day. George Thompson Number Re-retirement Day. George Thompsonpalooza! Maybe have Lazar wash and wax GT's car every week for a few months? Something!

Here's the half-time video:

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Who are these guys?

Is it opposite day?

A few minutes before the game, my wife pointed to the jumbotron and noticed the Warriors huddling in the tunnel, and commented that it must be on tape-delay, since they were already on the floor warming up. Wrong. MU came out of the tunnel a few seconds later. We'd been fooled by WVU's practice warmups, which are blue, gold, and white, nearly identical to ours. -- My glasses were fogged up. And the sun was in my eyes. Yeah.

The rest of the game, uniforms aside, was equally confusing, as each team seemed to play, well, opposite of how they have. As I wrote yesterday, WVU is 2nd in the country in scoring defense, and 2nd in 3 pointers made, and played a tough 1-3-1 zone. Honestly, I'd figured this game for a loss with those kind of stats, since the MU had already lost 3 at the Bradley Center fortress.

Fortunately for the MU faithful, I was 100% wrong. Through some Freaky Friday magic, the teams completely exchanged habits. MU was unstoppable behind the arc with 58%. (I'll wait a moment while those of you who didn't watch the game, finish rubbing your eyes. Yes, 58%.) WVU shot 22%. Twenty two. -- MU scored 81 points versus the 2nd best scoring defense in the country. And WVU played zone for most of the game. (Yes, rub your eyes again. MU put up 81 on a zone defense.)

Ooze, Wes, and Jerel all had superlative games, slashing to the basket, breaking down the zone like child's play. DJ got off the schneide going 8 for 17 with 21 points and 5 steals. The Cube went 5 for 5 and had 14 points. To use a phrase from yesteryear, he was money.

Everyone, back on the wagon, it's leaving for Louisville on Monday. The seats are still warm.

Here are some shots I took from my seat.

Marquette crushes #21 West Virginia

Marquette crushed #21 West Virginia this morning 81 to 63. It was Tom Crean's club's second victory this week over a ranked team. The victory brings MU to 15-4 on the season and 2-2 in the Big East. What a difference 4 days makes. The players and coaches have certainly rebounded from a tough 0-2 conference start and avoided a potential 0-4 start by defeating two ranked teams in 2 days. MU plays at Louisville on Monday night so there is no room to be satisfied just yet.

MU built on their great rebounding display against UCONN and added something to the mix...GREAT SHOOTING. MU shot over 50% from the floor including 57% from beyond the arc. MU methodically broke down the difficult 1-3-1 zone the Mountaineers are famous for. The Golden Eagles had been criticized for their inability to defeat a zone but certainly proved worthy today with their attacking performance and timely 3 point shooting.

Dominic James led all scorers with 21 points. David Cubillan threw in 14 points on 4-4 bombs. Matthews and McNeal also scored in double digits.

Todd Rosiak's recap

Michael Hunt Commentary on Tom Crean and MU

AP Article


Charleston Gazette Recap

Richmond Palladium Item recap

Appleton Post Crescent - MU Headed in Right Direction

Friday, January 12, 2007

MU: An average schedule.

The message boards are still buzzing about MU's strenght of schedule--therefore a little analysis is in order.

The thread points out that MU's schdule is 176th out of 336 Division 1 teams. That puts us pretty darn close to the midpoint in terms of schedule strenght.

In the Big East, the average rank is 165. Again, pretty close to average. In fact, 8 teams have stronger SOS, 7 teams weaker SOS. Pretty close to average.

Lest you think that our schedule is weak top to bottom, lets separate all top 100 opponents.

Based on current rankings we've played more top 100 games than all but 3 teams--Pitt, DePaul and Louisville. Pitt has 7 total top 100 games, we're tied with DePaul and Louisville for 2nd place with 6 each.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Despite all the discussion about MU's weak schedule, at least at the top end MU has loaded up on the top 100 foes.



Top 100 Record



































St. Johns











The most glaring comparison is between #175 MU and #40 Villanova.

MU's top 100 opponents include:

#87 Idaho State
#25 Texas Tech
#13 Duke
#84 Delaware St.
#12 Wisconsin
#100 Oakland

Villanova, by comparison, has just 3 top 100 opponents:

#41 Xavier
#86 Oklahoma
#27 Drexel

So how does Villanova get a top 40 rank while MU is merely average?

Simply because the weaker teams on Villanova's schedule are stronger than the weaker teams on MU's schedule. Just three of Villanova's opponents were bottom half foes, while MU has 6 ranked worse than 170.

So, does MU have a weak schedule? Well, MU does have more bottom half teams than most in the conference. But they also have more top 100 teams.

That averages out to be. . .well . . . average!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

MU takes on the Mountaineers

Our regular crack team of pre- and post-game bloggers are busy this weekend, so I'll do my best in their absence.

On Saturday, Marquette takes on the West Virginia Mountaineers (12-2) at 11am CST at the Bradley Center. The Mountaineers are 3-1 in the Big East and are coming off their only conference loss @Notre Dame.

WVU joined the Top 25 two weeks ago with wins over UConn and Villanova. Personally, whenever I want to know how tough a team is, I take a peek at their schedule, and generally throw out the Slippery Rock and Maryland Eastern Shore type victories, in which case, WVU has a 2-2 record vs. Top 100 (RPI) teams, Villanova (W), UConn (W) Arkansas (L), Notre Dame (L).

After an Elite 8 and a Sweet 16 in the last couple seasons, the Mountaineers had 83% of their offensive production graduate last year. In the Big East Basketball Report's Weekly Power Poll, WVU began the year at #14, with most predicting a tough year for the Mountaineers. Times have changed, and WVU is now #2 in that very same poll.

WVU is currently 2nd in the NCAA for scoring defense, 2nd in 3-pointers made/game, 7th in fewest turnovers/game, and 8th in steals, and on average, force 20 turnovers per game. They've hit 10 or more 3-pointers in eleven games this year.

HOWEVER, West Virginia was featured in Sports Illustrated this week, and no amount of 3 pointers can overcome the SI curse, right?

Marquette is coming off a big win on the road at UConn, and look to even their Big East record at 2-2. Last year, Marquette lost to the Mountaineers 104-85, with Dominic James going off for 28 points, but WVU had an unreal 20 three-pointers. The MU/WVU series is tied at two apiece, with each winning their games on their home court.

Marquette will be celebrating their 90th Basketball Season at half-time, with a ceremony honoring a large number of basketball team alumni.

Tickets are still available, and the first 10,000 fans will receive the 2nd set of the basketball trading cards. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN with announcers Dave O'Brien and Rick Majerus.

Marquette is a 1.5 favorite.

Marquette Game Notes -- WVU Game Notes

AP Preview -- Eric Silver's Excellent Preview

Here's a nice article on Lazar from the Buffalo News.

CSTV's Game Tracker

If you can't make it to the Bradley Center, fire up this video at 11:00, it'll feel like you're there!

Watch the MU/UConn game again, now

......at least until ESPN removes it from their Full Court free archive -- which you can find here.

Scroll down for the games on 1/10. Enjoy, and thanks to MUScoop for the tip!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Marquette Wins at UConn


What a difference a game makes.

The Marquette Golden Eagles flew into Storrs tonight and beat the UConn Huskies 73-69. The win ended UConn's 31 game home court winning streak. With the win, Marquette became the first team in Big East history to win its inaugural game at Gampel Pavillion. MU improved to 14-4 on the season and 1-2 in Big East play with the win.

MU was led by the strong play of Ousmane Barro, who turned in his third double-double of the season with a 17 point, 13 rebound effort. Jerel McNeal led MU with 19 points, while Dominic James had 17 points. Wesley Matthews had 10 points to go along with eight rebounds. Freshman Doug Wiggins paced UConn with 19 points.

With UConn struggling in the first half, MU took a four-point lead into the break. The key sequence in the game came with 10 minutes remaining and the scored tied at46. Then MU dialed up the defense and defensive rebounding -- and UConn missed its next 13 shots from the field as the Golden Eagles laid down a 16-2 run to extend their lead to 62-48.

Marquette was tougher, more aggressive and more determined than the Huskies tonight. MU held the Huskies to just 32% shooting in the game, and out-rebounded the much bigger Husky squad 44-38.

Here is the AP recap.

Here is the box score.

Here is Rosiak's recap.

Here are the Hartford Courant's post-game notes.

Here's the Courant's game recap.

Here are the GoMarquette.com game notes.

Meanwhile, according to The Day the Golden Knights beat UConn last night :-)

MU Wins

Well, a few people saw this road win coming........hehehe.

Bravo MU!

Premium Subscriber
Posts: 583
(1/9/07 9:58:40 am)
Reply | Edit New Post Re: I'm more concerned about Adrien

MU has a great shot tomorrow IMHO....our guards give MU a potential advantage in the backcourt, and while Adrien is a load down low -- their posts are not prolific scorers. revenge or not, getting away from home might be a good thing for this team right now. Jerel and Wes have been practicing, which will help with continuity.

MU wins

and......Someone else picked MU as well :-)

Author Comment
Registered Member
Posts: 406
(1/10/07 2:04:36 pm)
New Post Re: Make your UConn predictions here
1. Total Game Points: 123
2. MU points: 64
3. UConn points:59
4. Turnovers forced by MU: 14
5. TO's forced by UConn: 16
6. MU total made 3's: 5
7. MU total newcomer points#: 15
8. MU total (non-team) rebounds: 31
9. MU top scorer and how many: McNeal 18
10. MU top assist man and how many: James 3
11. MU top rebounder and how many: Ooze 7
12. UConn top scorer and how many: Adrien 17
13. MU top 3-point shooter and how many: James 1
14. MU steals leader and how many: McNeal 2
15. Combined James, McNeal and Matthews points: 41

# Newcomers include Lazar Hayward, David Cubillan, Trend Blackledge and the new walk-on, Craig Kuphall.

Bonus (worth 2, must be exact):

1. Which sophomore troika will score more combined points, Adrien/Price/Johnson from UConn or James/McNeal/Matthews from Marquette? MU

2. How many combined points will the leading troika have?

MU travels to UConn

........ Captain Obvious here to let you know that tonight's game at UConn in Storrs is a big one for MU --- and for the Huskies, who will look to avenge last year's shocker in Milwaukee.

Here is the MUScoop information page for tonight's game.

Here is Rosiak's preview.

Here is the CSTV preview -- UConn is tough at home.

The Hartford Courant focuses on Wesley Matthews, who's father is a Bridgeport native.

Here's the AP preview via GoMarquette.com.

Eric Silver offers up MarquetteHoops' game preview.

Tipoff is scheduled for 6pm CST and the game is ESPN Full Court.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Yellow Chair Sports has a great blog and interesting take on MU

Take a look at their blog on sports saturation, it's well done. Yellow Chair Sports

They also have an interesting view on MU's recent play....Not So Fast My Friend Pay them a visit if you get a chance.

Submit your question to Jim McIlvaine

....cool feature here on the National Basketball Retired Players Association web site.

Click here to ask MU alum Jim McIlvaine a question anytime this month.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Recruit Report: Damian Saunders in action

Damian Saunders' Notre Dame Prep squad blew out South Kent Prep 101-86 in the 2007 Westchester Elite Winter Hardwood Classic at Pace University in Pleasantville, New York on Sunday. Head coach Bill Barton's squad is just loaded -- it was great to see so much talent on the court.

Damian Saunders (#32 for Notre Dame Prep) will help Marquette, intially as a defender and rebounder. He's not a scorer and projects to be a role player IMHO.

Saunders is a wiry yet strong athlete who runs well and works hard on the floor. Unfortunately yesterday he was slowed by foul trouble and injury. After collecting two fouls late in the first half, Saunders ended the game with four points (all from the charity stripe) and a handful of rebounds. He twisted his ankle midway through the second half and did not return. As you can see from the photo above, prior to the inury he demonstrated solid hops.

Saunders has the potential to be a beast on defense. For ND Prep, Saunders guards the inbounder and triggers his team's full court press. By my count he had five deflections, two steals and a blocked shot -- he's very active defensively and to a lesser degree on the offensive glass.

Saunders is an impressive athlete and a legit 6'7" if not more -- he's essentially the same height as teammate Michael Beasley (listed as 6'9"in some reports). The picture we have here of him guarding 6'9" Washington signee Matthew Bryan-Amaning (in white) is a good barometer of Damian's height.

Saunders has narrow shoulders and looks to be more of a 3/4 combo forward. I am just not sure he'll match up well as a one-on-one defender on the box. However he did effectively cover a variety of players yesterday, including the larger Bryan-Amaning, 6'10" Ayodele Coker (headed to St. Johns), and perimeter foes like Manual Cass, a 6'7" rifleman who is headed to UTEP.

Back to ND Prep. Saunders' squad is positively loaded -- he does not even start!

ND Prep is led by 6'8" Kansas State signee Michael Beasley, one of the best seniors in the country. Beasley and Saunders are joined on the team by 6'11" SU signee Sean Williams (was not in action yesterday), and a 6'5" jumping jack from NYC, Jamine Peterson. Several other players on the roster will end up on major college rosters in the coming years as well.

Beasley is a silky smooth lefty who's game looks effortless. He's the team leader on the floor -- barking out offensive sets and defensive assignments throughout. Beasley threw in the 30 points against South Kent, taking home MVP honors..

After the game ND Prep assistant coach Mike McMahon picked us out of the crowd (myself, my kids and another MU alum we met there were decked out in our full MU regalia) and stopped by for a chat.

McMahon, a former MU basketball team manager during his undergrad days, was quick to point out that we didn't see Damian Saunders at his best. McMahon said he's been a guaranteed double-double performer this season.

When asked why Saunders didn't start, McMahon indicated that this was standard for the team. Head coach Bill Barton believes that refs can be a bit quick with the whistle early in games, so he likes to bring Damian in after the game settles into a rhythm.

McMahon is a big believer in Saunders, thinks he's 'very good' and will help the MU program quickly.

Many thanks to Coach McMahon for his time yesterday afternoon -- and congratulations on the impressive win over a talented South Kent Prep squad.

Saunders is one of four players who comprise MU's freshmen class of 2007. He'll join guard Scott Christopherson, PF Trevor Mbakwe and PF Patrick Hazel on campus later this year.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The view from Row Z

Being it was the first time in a while I had a Sunday night off that featured something to do, I thought I'd make the drive up from Kenosha to the BC for this game. I was lucky enough to find a lower-level seat and I watched the disappointing proceedings. Some thoughts:

1. For a team that has been touted as guard-oriented and quick, the lack of movement on offense is STAGGERING. Now some of that may be on Crean for the offensive system he has in place, but the lack of simple movements...things like hard cuts, holding the picks and for tonight (and what will likely be repeated throughout Big East play), just an outright refusal to drive and kick from the top to the middle was troublesome.

You could have counted on one hand the number of times James tried to split the defense going from the top of the key. You probably could have also counted on one hand the number of times he penetrated, period. There were some plays that worked... i.e., the penetration along the baseline when there was a filler in the middle and also, the parallel drop pass to the alley (McNeal got it to Barro once, as did Matthews).

For all the talk Crean has made of "reversing the ball", there also has to be sharp-angle, 45-degree passes that get a defense to lean or become off-balance. Passing it along the perimeter without those sharp cuts (example... DJ is at the top of the key, DC is on the wing... if Wes jab cuts in, then pops out, then that mid-range jumper is open on that pass from DC) to a player who comes along the baseline off a screen against a 2-3 zone defense is not as effective. If you're going to play the perimeter game, you must create space to squeeze the shot off.

2. This relates to James exclusively. Out of the 3-pointers everyone else attempted while it was a contested game, I would say almost all of them were within a sneaker's length of the 3-point arc. McNeal may have fired a deep one off... but James apparently his figured out where the NBA 3-point line is on the MU hardwood and is hellbent on showing his range. That is why he's 1-for-15 from beyond the arc in his last two games. I thought his form was fine, he's just too deep.

3. I liked the fact Crean started Lazar tonight with the upstate N.Y. thing, and he gave good minutes. While he's not a post-up "4", he's a gamer and a scrapper. He'll get his confidence back with his outside shot soon enough, but at least he likes to get his nose in there on the offensive glass. I think that starter's spot is going to be his permanently by the end of the month.

3a. Fitzgerald seemed a half-step slow and indecisive. Just shoot and miss, get it out of your system. Shooters shoot, and they keep shooting until they get hot again.

4. I realize the "Three Amigos" are the best offensive option on seemingly every play. But their inability to even keep the defense honest with a low-post entry pass is one of the reasons that leads to contested 3-point shots and in turn, lower 3-point percentages. I'm not saying do it on every possession, but you have to at least make the effort to look inside.

I think there were maybe five 45-degree entry passes into the low post on the block the entire game. Barro had a nice sweeping hook shot on one of them early in the second half, why not go back to him again? Just getting Burke and Lott touches could do wonders for the spacing for the three guards.

5. I thought Barro held his own defensively tonight against Watkins and Roberts. He held his ground fairly well more often than not and didn't seem to be caught out of defensive position due to poor footwork.

6. While I will fight to the death for Tony Miller's "10" to be raised to the rafters, I couldn't ask for a better person to be wearing it than David Cubillan. I love his defense, it's so textbook and pure when it comes to slides. His outside shooting is better than average for a freshmen, and he's starting to figure out driving to the basket. I didn't mind the charge he took because he was attacking the basket.

7. I think the free throw woes have been well-documented. I concur the three misses up 39-37 were damaging to the psyche. McNeal's 0-for-2 didn't help either. My only suggestion would be old-school. Everybody on the team gets 10 attempts... you must make 8. Anything below that, everyone runs gassers.

8. I think some of Matthews' cool, calm and collected style has rubbed off on McNeal. I think he made maybe three bad decisions, max on offense and the pull-up jumpers were nice to watch. And Matthews is just a treat to watch, almost like a smaller version of Luke Walton.

While 0-2 is far from ideal, and the upcoming schedule is not promising, I think this team can turn it around, but it has to start with all "Three Amigos" having one good game together, because right now, it's the only way they're going to be able to win.

No way to sugarcoat it...this team is awful...at least right now

Marquette falls to Syracuse tonight in another performance that makes you wonder how these guys can win any games in the conference this year. Ultimately they will and perhaps enough to even make the NCAA Tournament, but right now they are awful. The final score, Syracuse 70 and Marquette 58. This is not your dad's Syracuse squad either. This is a Syracuse squad that just lost to Drexel...at HOME!

Every loose ball, and I mean EVERY loose ball went to Syracuse. The hustle was terrible. The o'le defense to give up layups and offensive rebounds to the Orange time and time again.

The shooting...there is nothing nice to say about it. Awful. The free throw shooting...dismal. Case in point...at one point in the second half MU was up two and Dominic James was fouled taking a three pointer. A chance for MU to go up 5 and the crowd behind you. James not only missed all three foul shots, he wasn't close. In fact the only two shots James made all night were layups. Everything else was brick city.

Even when Marquette did something good they followed it up with something horrific. Case in point...Barro at the free throw line makes his first (and the team's FIRST in the second half) and before he can take the second one we have a lane violation. Now mind you, this wasn't just your garden variety lane violation. We committed it AS THE BALL WAS HANDED TO OOZE. He hadn't even taken a practice dribble or done anything close to attempt a shot.

Oh, and coming up next....at UCONN followed by home against West Virginia and then at Pitt. I figured we would be 2-4 to start the season, but 0-5 is looking extremely likely right now as this team cannot shoot, turns the ball over at the most critical times, does not rebound well and in general does not play smart.

Thank God it's only the second game of the conference season. Then again, if they don't get it together quickly they will be buried for the season.

No way to sugarcoat it. This team is awful right now. Hopefully they turn it around but it may take divine intervention at this point.

BTW, check out MUScoop's game photos here.

Orange Squeezes Marquette

Syracuse used a decisive 15-3 run in the last four minutes to top the Marquette Golden Eagles 70-58 tonight at the Bradley Center. Marquette falls to 0-2 in the Big East -- with a road game at UConn next up.

Not good.

After David Cubillan's clutch 3-pointer tied the game at 55 with 4:04 minutes remaining, the MU offense sputtered while the Orange made a few clutch shots and capitalized at the free throw line.

Marquette shot just 39% from the field tonight.

The Golden Eagles were led by Jerel McNeal's 16 points. Wesley Matthews chipped in with 14. Dominic James continued to struggle mightily from the field, coming up with only six points on 3-12 shooting and was 0 for 7 from three-point territory. James is just 1-15 from deep in MU's last two outings.

As a team, MU shot just 4-21 from deep tonight, a frighteningly typical 19%. Worse - MU made only six of 16 from the charity stripe with the abyss being James' sombrero after being fouled behind the arc with MU leading 39-37. Three. straight. misses. The team seemed to lose its edge right about then. A devastating sequence -- one that drew a few boo birds at the Bradley Center.

For a team built around guards, percentages like that will make for a long, long season.

Here is the box score.

Here is the AP recap.

Post-game interview recaps from the guys at MUScoop.

Check out some great game photos at MUScoop.

Here's Todd Rosiak on MU's disintegration down the stretch.

The Chicago Trib on how SU's zone baffled the good guys.

Here's the SU Athletics recap.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Know your opponent: Syracuse

Is Sunday night's home tilt against the mighty Syracuse Orange a 'must win' for the Marquette Golden Eagles? With a UConn road game to follow and only three home games for the entire month of January -- it just might be.

The Orange roll into town with a record of 11-4, and 0-1 in the Big East after losing at home to Pittsburgh last week. Jim Boeheim's bunch is led by Demetris Nichlols. The 6'8" senior stepped up his game and is pouring in 19 points and grabbing better than five boards per game while leading the team in minutes played. Sophomore Eric Devendorf averages 12ppg, while super freshman Paul Harris is good for 11 ppg and 7 rebounds.

Though not deep, the Cuse is a balanced squad with six players averaging nine points per game. Defensively, the Orange will play their patented zone. The Cuse is holding opponents to less than 40% shooting on the season, including just 31% from downtown and 41% inside the arc.

OK, now its time for an expert fan's perspective on the Syracuse Orange. I want to thank rrlbees of the SyracuseFan.com community on the Scout network for joining us today and offering his perspectives on the Orange.

rrlbees is one of the moderators for SyracuseFan.com -- so let's take a look at his perspectives on the 2006-2007 Syracuse Orange:

Paul Harris was a prep school teammate of current MU freshman Lazar Hayward. How has he adapted to the Cuse system?
Harris has been good but has had some difficulty in transistioning to the college game in general, not necessarily the SU system. At 6'3 - 6'4 he isn't able to get inside at will and dominate like he did in high school. His game is that of a PF in a 2g's body. He is averaging 11 and 7 so he has contributed as well as expected for a frosh. Some SU fans were hoping for another Carmelo Anthony, but unfortunately there aren't many Melo's. Harris has provided a lift defensively. He is an intense defensive player which is something SU hasn't had in awhile. The area that is his biggest weakness is shooting the ball. Eventually he will get there because he has become a solid free throw shooter and you can see his jump shot just has a hitch in it that will eventually get worked out.

Does this team miss Gerry McNamara more or less than you thought they would. How so?
SU misses Mcnamara A LOT. Besides his clutch shooting, what they miss the most is his leadership and his ability to run the team. Many folks never thought of Gerry as a pure PG because he shot so much. But many games he would rack up 7-9 assists and he always knew where every player was supposed to be offensively. This year's team struggles some with the half court offense and that is because they are still trying to get used to life without Gerry. This is particularly true in end game situations. Maybe Boeheim was onto something when he said last year SU wouldn't have won 10 effing games without Gerry.

Which player has shown the greatest improvement year over year?
The two kids who have improved the most over the past couple years are small forward Demetris Nichols and center Darryl Watkins. Nichols has gone from 4ppg to 11ppg to 13ppg to averaging 19ppg his senior season. He was strictly a perimiter shooter but now has greatly improved his ability to take his man off the dribble and go to the basket. Watkins showed flashes of greatness toward the end of last season. He started out well this year then suffered an injury which slowed his progress. Watkins is now back and playing very well. He is a good defensive player and his offense is coming along. Against Pitt he shut down the preseason player of the year, Aaron Gray.

The Cuse rarely leaves the comforts of home in the pre-season...in your view, does that prepare the squad adequately for the Big East?
It's a matter of perspective. Coach Boeheim likes to play at home because he feels it helps get SU's younger players ready. But there is the side that thinks playing great teams on the road builds a certain toughness and makes them focus more. I'm not sure which is more effective but as a fan, I like playing good teams on the road. Part of the "never leaving the dome" is countered with the fact that SU plays in a lot of preseason tournies which are on neutral courts and often against quality teams. SU lost to Pitt the other night in the Big East opener, but if you look back SU always gets out of the gate quickly in Big East play, so I'm not sure Boeheim's strategy is necessarily wrong. I believe SU had won 7 straight Big East openers prior to the Pitt game.

What are the biggest areas of concern for this team right now?
The biggest area of concern with this team is no doubt their health, especially inside. Before the season started, backup center Arinze Onuaka injured his knee and was lost for the season. Then Watkins was hurt but has since come back. Starting power forward Terrence Roberts bruised his knee and missed a few games before returning versus Pitt. However, in the Pitt game he got hurt again and missed half of the game. The day before, Matt Gorman, who backed up both Watkins and Roberts, twisted his ankle and missed the Pitt game. He is qustionable for the Marquette game. What these injuries have done is cause SU to play small quite a bit and also having to play Nichols inside at the 4 spot a lot instead of on the wing. The injuries have basically made consistency in the inside game shaky at best.

The most pleasant surprises?
The most pleasant surprise is probably Andy Rautins. He has gotten more time than expected because of injuries and illnesses. He is a 2G who has a great outside shot (although it doesn't fall as much as we'd like in games). He is gaining more and more confidence in his shot with each passing game. But he is a very heady player who just has solid basketball instincts. He has also improved his defense quite a bit. He is the son of former SU star and NBA player Leo Rautins.

Eric Devendorf was one of the best freshman in the league last year. How has his game evolved.
Eric started off playing well, but then went into a "funk" due to some personal issues including a friend of his back home being shot. For a stretch of games he played poorly and lost his starting position to rautins. He is just now coming around and getting back to where he was last season. While he still is not back in the starting lineup, he has had back to back 17 point games.


Tipoff is scheduled for 7pm CST on Sunday night. The game is part of the ESPN Full Court package. Directv subscribers can view the game on channel 785.