"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, 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.


Gene Frenkle said...

Another huge benefactor of the fewer threes is that opponents are fast-breaking on MU as much anymore.

By waiting for a good kick-and-shoot option, the shots are falling more frequently. And it's better to miss a shot like that in the flow of the game rather than passing the ball around the three point line, hawking up a poor shot from the corner, and seeing a long rebound lead to a fast break.

Anonymous said...

If they can maintain this discipline, they will be in great shape.