"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, February 29, 2008

Marquette Battles Georgetown on National TV

The schedule makers couldn't have done a better job of pitting Marquette against Georgetown this Saturday afternoon at the Bradley Center. The Hoyas, tied with Louisville for first place in the Big East, have won three in a row. Marquette, winners of five straight, are surging and looking to secure favorable seeding in both the Big East tournament and the NCAA tournament. This game is huge for Marquette, and Georgetown needs the win to stay in the running for the Big East championship.

Tipoff is scheduled for 1pm CST. The game will be broadcast on CBS. Here's hoping Clark Kellogg comments on Marquette's "spurtability" early and often during the broadcast. To win this game, MU must force turnovers and dictate a quicker pace to create (hopefully) easier opportunities against the stingy Hoya defense.

Saturday is also National Marquette Day. If you are unable to watch the game live, then get out there with alums in your city and watch it in a group setting. We Are Marquette!

Media Updates - tons of links!
CBS Sportsline video preview
Rivals.com with an outstanding preview
Washington Times on the Hoyas' quest for the top seed in the BET
Hoya Hoops with a numbers preview
Scout.com preview
Marquette.com preview and game notes
Hoya Saxa with a preview
College Hoops Net with a great preview
Seth Davis picks us to win
ESPN's Weekend Watch Highlights Dominic James
Rosiak's blog has a great preview with lots of strategy comments by Crean

Stats Breakdown
Here are the Top Five Numbers to Know about Georgetown. As always, information comes from Pomeroy's Scouting Report and Game Plan.

  • #7 - Rating for the Hoyas effective Field Goal (eFG%) offense
    • Georgetown is number seven amongst Division 1 programs for their effective Field Goal Percentage
    • This is due to hitting a high percentage (#5) overall of two-point field goals - almost 56%
  • #1 - top rating for effective Field Goal Defense
    • That's right. Georgetown is the number one team in the country at effective Field Goal defense - limiting opponents to 41.7%
    • Inside the arc, opponents get 40.1% field goal percentage, which is #3 in the country
    • Georgetown is also good at defending on the three point line (29.8%), which is #10 in the country
  • 320 - The national rank for Georgetown's pace
    • The Hoyas only average 62 possessions / game, which is one of the slowest paces in the country
    • Georgetown is a classic example of the value for tempo free (possession-based) stats
  • 13.7% - Block rate for Georgetown
    • This is good enough to be Top 10% in the country (#27 overall), or a block about once every seven shots
  • 20.2% - Turnover Rating that Georgetown averages on offense
    • TO Rate plays a large role in both Offensive and Defensive Efficiency for Georgetown
    • Signs of hope! Marquette wins the turnover battle consistently! and does a lot better when our opponents are worse than average (20%)
    • Georgetown only forces a 19.2% Turnover Rate for Defense, so expect Marquette to protect the ball fairly well
Basically, Georgetown is exceptional at two things... making and preventing two-point baskets. Even more troubling, there are a lot of the similarities between the areas of expertise for UConn, Louisville, and Georgetown. All three teams do well at effective Field Goal defense, two-point field goal defense, and blocking shots. This is a real concern for Marquette, and we expect that everyone should just prepare themselves to watch our half-court offense look very ugly.

However, there are some definite opportunities. Marquette has been outstanding at forcing turnovers lately, and our ball-pressure could really challenge Georgetown's guards. If we're able to rattle the Hoyas into more turnovers than they want and make this into a transition game, then the Bradley Center crowd will start rocking.

Bonus Stats Coverage

In addition, Georgetown has had some rough patches lately that suggest potential weakness. Certainly, the fact that they were beaten soundly by Louisville, and needed a controversial call in order to defeat Villanova, indicates to the casual observer that Georgetown may not be playing particularly well.

It is certainly true that Georgetown has not been playing as well recently as they represent for the entire season. Don't get too confident, however. The Hoyas appear to be getting back on track both offensively and defensively with trends that are headed in the desired directions (at least for Georgetown).

The good news is that Marquette has been playing great basketball as of late.

Marquette is streaking, and unlike the Hoyas, we are playing better right now that we have been for the entire season. Note that Marquette's efficiency for the year is completely comparable to Georgetown's. In front of a rabid home crowd and a national audience, it could be a very enjoyable Saturday afternoon.

*post is a joint contribution from NYWarrior and Henry Sugar

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wiki Top 10: Feb 2008

Oh, dear god, stop with the wiki top 10. No, I will not.

Good pages to check out:

Nick Williams in the Final Four: Watch it LIVE on the Web

MU signee Nick Williams will lead the defending state champion LeFlore Rattlers against Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa at 1:30pm CST on Thursday in the Alabama high school final four.

If you can't make the drive to Birmingham, do not despair - - - fans can watch the game live on the Web by clicking on this link. Judging by the action streaming this afternoon, the video quality should be tremendous. Additional real-time resources can be found here.

Here's a preview of today's game from Mike Herndon at the Birmingham paper.

The Rattlers roll into the state semifinals with a gaudy 30-2 record. LeFlore is ranked #1 in the state and #12 in the nation. Williams was the MVP of the South Regional Tournament, and his coach could not say enough about the young man:

"What can I say? Nick Williams," said LeFlore coach Otis Hughley, whose Rattlers improved to 30-2 and beat Baldwin County for the fourth time this season. "He's just one of those throwback, old-school fundamental ballplayers."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Official bias

Anybody up for a couple of lead pipe locks? Well, we have two for you, so ante up!

  1. First, take MU to win and cover when Pat Driscoll is officiating the game.
  2. Second, bet big on MU to lose outright if Reggie Greenwood is officiating the game.
Sarcasm aside (we don't condone, support or even have an interest in gambling of any kind), recent history reveals some interesting trends with this pair of officials.

With a tip of the cap to Pardner over at MUScoop, there's one common denominator in each of Marquette's five road wins this season - - - Pat Driscoll is one of the officials. While some MU fans were upset with Driscoll calling the Nova game, we'll show you why his presence is grrrrrrreat for the Golden Eagles. Borrowing shamelessly from Pardner, here are the numbers for Driscoll:
  • This season Driscoll has officiated five MU games -- all road games -- and all wins. Again, that's every single road win for MU this season.
  • Since MU joined the Big East, the Golden Eagles are 9-1 in games Driscoll worked, and 11-2 overall. The only losses were at DePaul last year and the Winthrop game.
  • The kicker? Driscoll arrived late in the first half against Villanova. The result? MU turned a seven point deficit into a 10 point road win.
Here are the 2007-2008 box scores for Driscoll's MU games:

Not everything is lovey-dovey when Driscoll is the ref. After all, we did call the St. John's Free Throw Rate "garbage". There's no way that a team should get to the line over 90% of the time that they take a shot. Also, note that even in these games, Marquette lost on Free Throw Rate factor three out of the five times. Speaking frankly, we don't actually believe that Pat Driscoll is making any calls that influence the game in Marquette's favor. It's more likely just an interesting anomaly, but at least MU fans should lay off complaining when Driscoll works our next game.

Next up is official Reggie Greenwood. Marquette is a rotten 1-6 all-time in the Big East games he has officiated. This year, Marquette is 0-3 in the Big East games Greenwood has officiated. Here are some specifics:
  • Greenwood's crew whistled us on average 26.7 fouls per game vs. 15.3 for our opponents in his Big East games with MU this year.
  • MU averaged 13.6 FT's per game in these three losses vs. 33.3 for our opponents--a 19 FT gap per game!
  • The only Big East game MU won with him was the inaugural Big East opener against UConn. Hey, it only took Steve Novak turning in the greatest individual performance in Big East history to overcome Greenwood's influence that night.
  • Greenwood evens out somewhat in out-of-conference action where MU is 5-6 overall in his games. Of course, that also includes games against opponents like Sacramento State.
Doesn't Reggie Greenwood appreciate aggressive guard play? Anyway, here are the box scores from the three Big East losses in Greenwood's games:

Look at the comparison of the Free Throw Rates for those three games. Although it doesn't particularly stand out, at the time of the WVU game, this was the highest Free Throw Rate an opponent had achieved against Marquette. We also said at the time that this was not a gripe about refs, although new information makes us less sure. While we did get crushed by UConn, and fouled a lot late, that is a startling discrepancy between the two teams. Finally, after the Notre Dame game, we wondered if there was a legitimate gripe about Free Throws. After all, Marquette shot zero free throws in the last 15 minutes of the game, and our FTR was in the bottom 2.5% of all expected results.

Do we think that Reggie Greenwood is conspiring against Marquette? Hardly. However, the patterns suggest he calls the game a particular way that does not favor our defense. For whatever reason, the team has not adjusted to account for his tendencies this year.

Pat Driscoll, your table is ready at Mader's this Saturday evening with our compliments. Reggie Greenwood, the city of Milwaukee is closed on Saturday, please try another locale.

Pardner, thanks!

**this post reflects content from Pardner, NYWarrior and Henry Sugar

**updated to further clarify our position regarding this post

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Villanova Numbers Recap

It was really nice to see how well Marquette responded last night. Facing a hot Villanova team and a seven point halftime deficit, MU jumped right out of the gate in the second half and held on for the win.

Four Factors Review

In looking at the numbers, this is a game that was actually decided on the offensive end. It's somewhat surprising, especially given that the turnover rate by Villanova (31.2%) was probably a deciding factor. However, both teams posted above average offensive efficiencies, as well as above average effective Field Goal percentages (eFG%). Considering that both teams are in the bottom third of NCAA teams for Free Throw Rate, it's nice that the referees decided to let them play a little bit.

When we look at the turnover rates, Marquette had a significant advantage. As we've covered, Marquette does a better job of both protecting the ball and forcing turnovers, and this came into play last night. Villanova turned the ball over roughly one out of every three possessions. Finally, Marquette lost (decidedly) on the Offensive Rebounding factor for the first time in five games.

Offensive Rebounding Percentages

We continue to be concerned with the current trend of Offensive Rebounding Percentage for Marquette. This was a strength for Marquette during non-conference play, and suffered greatly during the first half of conference play. Marquette had started to perform better since the Cincinnati game and was well correlated with improved performance. However, the trends for offensive rebounding percentage are heading in the wrong direction.

Offensive and Defensive Rating Trends

On the other hand, the Offensive and Defensive Ratings for Marquette continue to get better. Clearly, the last two conference games will be the true test, but MU is improving at the end of February. It is so nice to write that...

Individual Player Ratings

We can see yet again what a good performance Dominic James had. James had an Offensive Rating (ORtg) better than team average, and a Defensive Rating (DRtg) better than team average. His net points added essentially counts for the entire margin of victory. Acker had a great game, which was statistically his best ever in a Marquette uniform. Lazar had another quietly effective and net positive game for the team.

McNeal had a marginal game overall, with an ORtg worse than team average and a DRtg worse than team average too. Despite a contribution of 17.2 points, his net impact was close to zero. In addition, McNeal's usage was at 26%, which is much higher than his season usage of 19.5%. Players get less efficient the higher their usage, so hopefully McNeal will be able to rein it in a bit for the next game and be more productive. Let's not be too harsh, however, because he has been a superstud during our five game winning streak.

After mostly mediocre performances through much of conference play, the net points trends for James and McNeal are heading up, up, up. A streaking Marquette team = streaking performances by James and McNeal. Hopefully, team and individual performances will continue on this same path this Saturday against Georgetown. There's a lot of time between now and then, so stay tuned for more information here at Cracked Sidewalks.


Finally, for more detailed stats breakdown of the game last night, we recommend checking out Villanova By The Numbers. There's a very thorough review of all the stats from last night, and it's well worth checking out.

James leads MU past Nova

Dominic James' scintillating 25-point performance led MU to an 85-75 win at Villanova, the Golden Eagles' fourth road win in Big East action. James keyed a 53-point offensive outburst in the second half as MU overcame a seven point halftime deficit, forcing 23 'Nova turnovers in the process. James had 4 assists and a season high 6 steals.

Lazar hit for 15 with 9 rebounds, McNeal for 14 points. Mo Acker was the surprise firecracker off the bench, scoring 12 points in 13 minutes.

With the win MU improved to 21-6 overall and 11-5 in the Big East. Marquette has now won five straight and next hosts Georgetown on Saturday.

More to come later, but here are some media recaps......a great win for MU.

Media Updates

Monday, February 25, 2008

Big Monday, bigger opportunity

Marquette visits the Villanova Wildcats on Monday night, the Golden Eagles' second appearance on the Big East's weekly ESPN showcase. The Golden Eagles (20-6, 10-5), winners of four straight, will have to notch another conference road win to keep pace with the upper echelon of the Big East in hopes of sneaking in for a first round bye in the Big East tournament.

Tipoff is scheduled for 6pm CST on ESPN.

Like Marquette, Villanova (17-9, 7-7) is one of the hottest teams in the Big East as the winners of three in a row and four of their last five. On Saturday, the Wildcats upset UConn 67-65 behind 18 points from Scottie Reynolds and Corey Stokes. Villanova is paced by Reynolds, the 2006-2007 Big East freshman of the year, at better than 16 points per game. Freshman Corey Fisher and senior Dante Cunningham each clock in with 10 points per game.

Here are the Top Five Numbers to Know about Villanova. As always, information comes from Pomeroy's Scouting Report and Game Plan.

  • 72% - Pomeroy forecasts a 72% chance of Marquette victory
    • Be very cautious about this one... and just remember that we were predicted as favorites to beat UConn and Louisville (both times)
  • 63 - Villanova's ranking for Defensive Efficiency according to Pomeroy
    • Contrast that with Marquette's rank of 9
  • 89.7 - Villanova's Defensive Efficiency averaged over the last five games
    • This means that opponents are scoring less than 0.90 points / possession
    • The defense has really picked up for the Cats in their recent surge
    • Skeptical? It also includes wins against WVU, UConn, and the near-win against Georgetown (who was held to 0.87 points / possession)
  • 19.4% - The Turnover Rate for Villanova's offense
    • This TO Rate is slightly better than average, and if Marquette is able to force them above 20% turnover rate, then we should be okay
  • 330 - Villanova's national rank at Free Throw Rate defense
    • And we thought Marquette (rank of 266) did a poor job of this
    • Let's all hope that the refs let the team play a little bit, or we're all in for a long night
Honestly, we really struggled with the numeric preview for Villanova. It's not like they have an overwhelming set of information that helps predict when they do well. In addition, the Pomeroy Scouting report doesn't really point to any significant strength. Finally, their team has been fairly inconsistent at both offensive and defensive efficiency, which is a good indicator of such a young team. If Marquette manages to play as they have been playing, which is through turnovers and pushing the pace, then we should be okay. That will lead to easy baskets and opportunities to get to the line.

Media Links

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Rutgers Numbers Recap

Just a quick recap of the numbers for Rutgers, as there is only a short turnaround for tomorrow's big matchup with Villanova. We'll keep it at a team level this evening... no individual recaps tonight. (Although it should be no surprise that McNeal was the statistical stud of the game for the third game in the row)

Four Factors Review

Yup - when you win by 30 you tend to dominate all aspects of the game. Just as the St. John's Free Throw Rate of 93% was garbage, I have to say that the FTR for Rutgers is also garbage. At least the referees were somewhat consistent in this one, because it's not like Marquette shot a whole lot of free throws either. Marquette's defense was in full effect, pushing Rutgers to 31.3% turnover rate... or a turnover one out of every three trips down the court.

Continuing to Trend in the Right Directions

The team continues to trend in the right direction. Now, certainly the stellar offensive and defensive performances against Rutgers helped boost these trend lines, but remember that the lines above also reflect a moving 5-game average. Clearly, the next three games will be a better reflection of how the team is trending, but for now we are hitting on all cylinders.

Current Adjusted Offensive and Defensive Ratings are 113.8 and 88.6, respectively. Those numbers suggest a team that goes 17-1 in conference... which is a nice way of looking at how well the team is playing over the last five games.

And Doing it With Consistency

As we had previously discussed, one of the big concerns for Marquette was their inconsistency. Well, MU continues to play at a high level and do it at a consistent rate. It is not as if MU is winning with high risk strategies, which should be very good news for MU fans.

But it's not all Seashells and Balloons

Unfortunately, there is one negative trend appearing for Marquette. There was a long stretch where Marquette's Offensive Rebounding Percentage (OR%) was improving and our opponents' OR% was declining. For right now, those trends are both heading in the wrong direction. We'll continue to monitor and see how things end up. It's hard to grab a lot of offensive rebounds when you shoot 56% from the floor.

Check back tomorrow morning for the Cracked Sidewalks preview of the Villanova game.

Let's Get Negative!

If you've been reading the comments by Cracked Sidewalks readers over the past few weeks, you'll have noticed a repetitive anonymous jag-off who continues to be upset we neglected to link to Michael Hunt's column a few weeks back entitled "MU may be losing its way," claiming we're "homers" for not publishing anything negative.

So here is the link in all its glory. Please, for the love of god, read it, comment on it, tell your neighbors, family, friends and enemies about Hunt's article.

Perhaps Mr. Anonymous jag-off forgot to read some of our own Cracked Sidewalks negativity? Maybe he missed our "Why Cottingham" post? Or "Crean should just SIT DOWN." "A sickly performance by MU." "MU Road Woes Continue." "A Big Zero." "What's wrong with Ooze?" or "We are what we are" to name a few.

Enough CrackedSidewalks stuff. Let's hit some 3rd parties to really put this guy into ecstasy. Here's a guy who thinks MU will be playing in the NIT. Here's some Pitt fans who don't like DJ. Or a guy who says Crean's teams fizzle, or here's where PRN compares coach Crean to Cuba's Castro!

Oh, boy. It feels so good to link to stories that cast Marquette in a negative light. I feel so cleansed. So balanced.

Hooray. Another Anonymous jag-off will continue to read Cracked Sidewalks. The season is saved!

UPDATE: Good news/bad news: Our Anonymous jag-off continues to read! Bad news: Dang. Still not pleased:

Wow you must have cringed when you saw the article from Michael Hunt in this morning's paper b/c you knew you had to either address it or post the link?! You know most people that put comments on this site remain anonymous. All those jag offs huh? You guys really are a bunch of douchebags. Why don't you you go jerk off in your MU rally towel that they beat Rutgers. Then you, Gene Frenkle, and Henry Sugar can all have a big circle jerk you f'n nerds.

For the record, I'm not in Wisconsin this week, and haven't seen it. Be a doll and post a link?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Marquette blitzes Rutgers to win fourth straight

Marquette opened the second half with a 20-6 run and never looked back, burying the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 78 - 48 in Milwaukee this afternoon. With the win, the Golden Eagles moved to 20-6 on the season and 10-5 in Big East play. Marquette has won at least 10 conference games in each of its first three seasons in the Big East.

Jerel McNeal was electric all afternoon, scoring efficiently and defending with the vigor MU fans crave. McNeal finished with 16 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and five steals.

The Golden Eagles' offense was terrific, with crisp passing and off-the-ball movement creating open looks throughout the game. Marquette shot an impressive 56% from the floor, and had a remarkable 21 assists on 32 made baskets. Dominic James, hampered by a sprained ankle sustained late in the first half, finished with 13 points and six assists. Wesley Matthews dropped in 12 and Lazar Hayward had 13.

The Golden Eagles inspired second half play was keyed by trademark defensive pressure. The Scarlet Knights struggled to score, needing more than 12 minutes of action to score in double-digits in the second stanza.

Marquette led at the half 35 - 29 despite a poor defensive effort that allowed Rutgers to shoot an uncharacteristic 52% from the field. McNeal led MU with eight points and five assists at the break.

Next up for Marquette is a Big Monday matchup in Philadelphia against the Villanova Wildcats, who defeated UConn today 67-65. Tipoff is scheduled for 6pm on ESPN.

By the way, can somebody at ESPN mute Dickey Simpkins' microphone? He's atrocious. Is he the best that the WWLS can offer?

Media Recaps
AP Recap / Box / Play by Play
Rosiak Wrap

Surging Marquette looks for fourth straight win

The Marquette Golden Eagles, winners of three straight, will look to extend their win streak when the struggling Rutgers Scarlet Knights visit the Bradley Center this afternoon. After playing uninspired basketball for nearly a month, Marquette (19-6, 9-5) recaptured its early-season intensity and rhythm late in the loss at Notre Dame and promptly pounded their next three opponents, two of them on the road.

The Golden Eagles appear to be peaking at the right time, and much of the credit for the recent run goes to improved play of Dominic James. In the last four games, James has a gaudy A/TO ratio of seven to one. 7 to 1! Perhaps not so coincidentally, James has also seen a spike in minutes played, logging at least 31 minutes in each of the last four games - his longest stretch of consecutive 30+ minute games this season. For MU the equation is simple once more -- good things happen when James is healthy and taking charge on the floor.

With James playing well and Jerel McNeal turning in back-to-back solid performances, Marquette is a confident bunch. Contrast this with Rutgers, who come to town riding six-game losing streak. The Scarlet Knights played Notre Dame tough last week before falling 73-68 at the RAC. The Scarlet Knights are led by 6'9" JR Inman at 12ppg, though the bulk of the scoring from this group comes from the backcourt. Guards Corey Chandler, Anthony Farmer and Mike Coburn combine to average thirty points per game.

Regardless, points are tough to come by for RU. The Scarlet Knights are last in the Big East in field goal percentage (39%) and make just 65% of their free throw attempts. Still, shooting percentages aren't the only numbers that kept Fred Hill awake all night. Rutgers' Big East worst turnover margin and assist totals don't add up to success against a team with a veteran backcourt, particularly when Marquette is one of the best in league at both steals per game and turnover margin.

Marquette stands to be a hellish matchup for the Scarlet Knights.

With a 13-1 home record this season, MU has every reason to be confident on Saturday. Still, there are plenty of concerns for coach Tom Crean:

  • Lazar Hayward: The sophomore has struggled in the last two outings, hampered by foul trouble and a lack of touches on offense. With Trevor Mbakwe in the mix and commanding more playing time, will there be a net loss of effectiveness in Hayward's offensive game?
  • Ousmane Barro: The big fella remains an enigma. Barro followed up his 14 point, 12 rebound effort against Pitt with a 6 point, three rebound, five foul effort against St. John's. The Golden Eagles are 18-2 when Barro scores 10 points or more. With odds like that, Barro needs to deliver. Thankfully, it looks like the Great Dwight Burke Experiment is largely over, so Ooze should have a chance to contribute more down the stretch.
  • Maurice Acker: The little fella has played himself out of the rotation, logging an average of just four minutes per game in MU's last four outings. Acker's disappearance only increases the pressure on David Cubillan to deliver quality minutes at the point. While Cubillan remains a legitimate three-point threat, his east-west tendencies when directing the offense run counter to MU's up and down strengths. Still, it's clear that Acker's minutes are flowing more to James than Cubillan -- and Crean is content to increase James' workload.
With a win, Marquette would earn its 20th victory of the season for the fifth time in the Tom Crean era. Tipoff is scheduled for 1pm CST. The game will be broadcast on ESPN Full Court, channel 696 on Directv, as well as SNY.

Media Updates/Links

Friday, February 22, 2008

Turnovers and Marquette

(The following post digs further into some Basketball Stats. You've been warned)

As observant readers have surely noticed in the the numbers recaps, there is one area where Marquette almost always comes out a winner. Even in games where we lose, Marquette wins the Turnover Rate (TO Rate) battle. Turnover Rate, of course, is the number of turnovers / possessions. An average TO Rate is 20%, or a turnover every one in five possessions. The sole exceptions in conference play have been a push against Cincinnati and a loss in the first Seton Hall game, which was still close. Regardless, MU has come out on top in twelve of fourteen contests during the Big East.

Ken Pomeroy of Basketball Prospectus has just released an outstanding article that talks about Tennessee. We highly recommend looking at that article before continuing with the rest of this post, but if you're just interested in the highlights, here they are:

  • Tennessee's defense is highly dependent on forcing turnovers
  • They're one at the best teams in the country at this thanks to their press
  • However, turnovers are more under the control of the opponent's offense than they are the result of TN's defense (this is the key point)
  • In conference play, opponents aren't turning the ball over as much
  • When opponents manage to keep the turnover rate below 20% (average), then Tennessee's defense really suffers
  • Therefore, when Tennessee faces higher quality opponents that are able to protect the ball, then Bruce Pearl's squad is in trouble
A lot of this is somewhat intuitive. After all, a press is a Risky Strategy, and subject to volatility. However, since Marquette manages to win the turnover battle frequently, and uses their "defense to jumpstart offense", is our squad also as susceptible as Tennessee?

Marquette is good at both aspects of turnovers

Marquette is a team that is reluctant to turn the ball over. While we are certainly nowhere near a team like Texas, who is #1 in the country at protecting the ball, we turn the ball over 2.7% less than our opponents usually force. In other words, an opponent that usually forces 20% turnovers (1 in 5 possessions), will only force 17.3% TO Rate against Marquette. These numbers are consistent for the entire season as well as just conference play.

In addition, we are a good team at forcing our opponent into turnovers. On average, we force our opponents into 4% higher turnover rate then their average. In other words, an opponent that usually commits 20% TO Rate will end up with a turnover rate of 24% against Marquette. Our difference here is also consistent for the entire season as well as conference play. Our opponent's turnover rate is correlated with our defensive efficiency, which is just a fancy way of saying that more turnovers = better defense. This sounds intuitive, but not all teams have a correlation with TO Rate (like Notre Dame - scroll down).

What happens if an opponent manages to protect the ball against Marquette?

Above are the five conference opponents that have done an above average job of protecting the ball against Marquette. Yes, Marquette lost four of those games! In the five games listed above, our opponents are averaging 1.14 points / possession. During conference play, when our team forces an opponent into above average turnovers (>20%), our opponents are averaging 0.91 points / possession.

In conclusion, the bad news is that when Marquette doesn't force turnovers, our defense does suffer just like TN. However, unlike Tennessee, our defense is not as risky as a press and our turnover defense has been consistent from non-conference to conference play. Marquette still does a decent job defending on at the three point line (#23 in the country) and from inside the arc (#61) in the country. This is a different view than TN, who ranks 280th in the nation at 2-point defense.

The ultimate concern for Marquette would obviously be matching up with an NCAA opponent that protects the ball very well. We would still be at risk like Tennessee (let's hope we don't draw Texas), but not as vulnerable as Tennessee.

Starting tomorrow, Rutgers only protects the ball at a rate of 21.2% (below average). More on this later in our Rutgers preview.

St. John's Numbers Recap

Due to the Steve Cottingham announcement and subsequent Cracked Sidewalks commentary, we're slightly delayed in producing the Numbers Recap for St. Johns.

Four Factors Review

In looking at the Four Factors, we actually found it somewhat surprising that St. John's ended up with a higher effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) than Marquette. We're sure that it didn't help MU to finish with only one FG over the last ten minutes. Marquette, as they do almost every single game, won the battle of turnover rates. Sloppy play managed to force Marquette into a higher percentage than average (18.3%), but we were still below an average rate of 20%. In addition, the strong recent play on the offensive boards continued. This was one of Marquette's non-conference strengths, but we faltered during early conference play. However, MU has won this factor in five of our last six games, and our numbers continue to improve.

Finally, for St. John's to get a Free Throw Rate (FTR) of 93% is utter garbage. Marquette is one of the worst teams in the country at allowing opponents to get to the line (ranking of 285), but that percentage is only at 42.6%. 93% is a number that is nearly twice the average rate of one of the lowest in the country, and it's not like Marquette was fouling excessively at the end in order to catch up. Marquette's offensive FTR was also almost double our average figure of 26.2%. Maybe the refs should have swallowed those whistles a bit and "let them play".

Individual Player Review

We're going to take a look at the Individual Player Review by addressing some recent comments in Rosiak's Blog. We've kind of been waiting for an opportunity to demonstrate that traditional stats may fall short, and his blog recap of St. John's is a nice chance.

Credit where it's due - Rosiak does a nice job giving credit to Mbakwe (1.4 net points - starting his streak of never again having a negative net contribution), McNeal (7.8 net points - mostly on the defensive end), and James (5.4 net points - higher than average Offensive Rating). We'll look at James and McNeal a bit more below.

When traditional stats are misleading - However, Rosiak also says "-- Wesley Matthews attempted just four shots. He hasn't gotten into double figures since Jan. 26 against DePaul." While this is technically true, it's also somewhat misleading. Matthews was a net positive contributor to the game with the highest Offensive Rating on the team. Since the DePaul game, despite being held below double figures, Matthews has had a net-positive contribution in every game except one. This means that Wesley is finding lots of other ways to make a positive impact on the game without scoring.

In addition, Rosiak gives credit to Cubillan and Fitzgerald, even stating that "Dan Fitzgerald was highly productive in 19 minutes, finishing with five points, one rebound, one steal and one charge taken." Granted... charges taken don't show up in the box score, but his overall impact on the game (-0.4) was essentially zero and not highly productive. Furthermore, Cubillan had the worst net contribution of the team (-1.7).

In general, we are big fans of Rosiak and we think he does a great job, but several of his comments were a clear indication of how traditional stats can be misleading.

A Two For One?

After we posted our Review of the Top Four, several blog comments referred to how similar the net contribution paths looked for James and McNeal. Indeed, tracking from Providence to Cincy shows an almost identical trendline. In addition, now that James appears to be back on track, the net contributions from McNeal have started to pick up again. There's nothing definitive that proves the two are explicitly correlated, but the joint trends certainly do suggest that McNeal's production is boosted when James plays better.

This is just one more reason for optimism heading down the stretch... now that James is healthy, we appear to be getting more from Jerel again too.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Why Cottingham?

Why Cottingham? Some will say why not. Some will say it's about time. Others will say why. Why? Count me as part of the last group.

Look, I have nothing personal against Cottingham. I worked with him a smidge while in the athletic department in the late 1990's. He's a very charming fellow, nice guy, solid lawyer. Overall, a solid guy, solid employee at MU (yes, he is a UW-Madison graduate leading the MU Athletic Department...makes you a bit squeemish doesn't it), smart fellow, understands the MU mission, has a strong legal background to navigate today's more complex collegiate athletic landscape, etc, etc. In today's college athletics world, that legal acumen will serve him well, especially with the potentially rough and tumble scenarios that could present themselves down the road with any potential Big East re-alignments.

Here's the one thing we don't know, and it's big. How is he at picking a coach? How is he at understanding that part of the job...the student-athlete and coaching relationship? Is that a learned skill that he can hone? Or do you just have it? Makes you wonder when 30 minutes ago someone like Kelvin Sampson was fired (according to Fox Sports) at Indiana. Hmmmm. As dominoes fall, will Cottingham be able to pick the right "next guy" if that decision came about?

Bill Cords, who I had the pleasure of working with for many years, didn't have Cottingham's legal background or some of those other business skills that are so badly needed in today's environment. I never felt he was comfortable at the fund raising aspect required today, either. But the one attribute that he had as a given was the coaching factor. Cords was a football coach for many years, he understood the recruiting process, the teaching process, the scheduling process, etc. That was a tremendous asset for him when it came to hiring coaches and dealing with them.

So, like many things in life, there are trade-offs. We now have an AD well positioned in some areas of the business, but there is that glaring unknown. For that reason I ask why. Why? Cottingham has been the interim AD for over a year...why now make him the AD? Was it based on his efforts over the last 14 months? Certainly plausible and perhaps likely. Or was it the inability to attract any other good candidates? On one hand, I'm thrilled we actually have an AD permanently in place, on the other hand it really makes one scratch their head that an outside placement firm couldn't find anyone else (nobody leaked anyway) with some serious AD experience as a candidate. Perhaps Cottingham just beat them all out. I don't know and doubt any of us will ever know what the "process" was in selecting the AD, but it always fascinates me when firms or schools have this much time and spend money on outside firms only to settle on an inside candidate. Sometimes it works out to be a terrific hire. Sometimes it's simply about settling. I hope it's not the latter.

One additional comment....how does this effect Crean? One could argue Crean has been a defacto AD for a few years now....certainly the CEO of the only product line in the athletic department that is profitable. That is to say, his voice is loud and is heard. Does this hire, especially with 14 months working with Crean, mean that it has Crean's blessing? Does this hire mean Crean is likely to remain at MU for many years to come as he continues to orchestrate from a top his perch? The implication by some, certainly, will be that Crean remains essentially in control of his domain while Cottingham runs "the rest of the department". Again, all just guesses and innuendo at this point.

I would argue that on one hand, the hiring of Cottingham may solidify Crean's tenure at MU even longer. It keeps everything status quo. In some athletic departments there is a strong AD organization, much like a strong Mayoral government system in some cities. While other departments or cities use a committee approach without a strong singular head. In this case, Crean remains the most important person in the MU athletic department and I don't see Cottingham as someone that equals that power. Sure, if NCAA transgressions were to occur on Crean's watch then that's a different story where Cottingham suddenly becomes the guy. But from my perch 2000 miles away, Crean is CEO of hoops with Cottingham as AD over the other sports and passive oversight over basketball. Not a bad setup if you have an ethical coach who runs a tight ship (which I believe we do), but it does allow for more freedom then some folks are comfortable with. I could be dead wrong on my interpretation, but that's my guess....Crean still remains essentially the guy.

On the other hand, some might argue that this is an AD that will function like other ADs across the country who will do their best to help their coaches and programs, but ultimately has the final word on everything...including hoops. I don't see that, but who knows.

Let's hope after a 14 month process they got it right....despite having him there all this time right under their nose...despite the fact he's a UW-Madison badger....despite the fact he's never been in an athletic department role other then the last 14 months....let's hope. Nothing in the previous 14 months screams he shouldn't have the job...then again we haven't gone through one of those pinnacle moments either.

Good luck. Fingers crossed. We want nothing but success for you and the department.

Steve Cottingham: New Marquette AD

Steve Cottingham, come on down. You're the final contestant on Who Wants to be Marquette's Athletic Director.

Fourteen months after Bill Cords retired, Cottingham is dropping "acting" from "Acting Athletic Director."

Read more detail from Rosiak's Blog.

Steve Cottingham Wiki entry

MU signees continue fine seasons

MU's most balanced recruiting class in years continues to deliver memorable seasons at their respective programs this winter. Of note:

Ray Floriani recaps the MU win over St Johns

Ray Floriani, the noted high school and college basketball reporter from New Jersey, covered last night's Marquette win in the Garden for Cracked Sidewalks. Earlier this morning, Ray filed this report:

The press room coffee is exceptionally strong. Kind of like Starbucks. Stronger the better but I’m not sure what kind of omen that gives on tonight’s contest.

20:00 -15:46 – On the game’s first possession Anthony Mason Jr.’s first shot is rejected by Jerel McNeal who goes coast to coast for a layup. Undaunted, Mason Jr. makes a few nice penetrations. Both clubs start in man to man.

9-6 Marquette

15:46-11:31 – A fan hollers ‘put (Larry) Wright in the game’. Justin Burrell of St.John’s shouts back to the stands, ‘he’s f___ing hurt.” Not a good sign concentration wise when you get distracted by fan comments. Dominic James finishes a pretty layup and avoids contact in the process.

13-6 Marquette

11:31-6:32 – Despite a lead, Marquette appears flat. They are beaten on a rebound off a St.John’s missed free throw. On another occasion a missed three by the Red Storm is dropped out of bounds by a Marquette rebounder who was all alone. St.John’s is zoning on defense. Red Storm went about 7 minutes without a field goal but is still hanging around.

20-14 Marquette

6:32-3:55- Dan Fitzgerald and McNeal bury threes, time out St.John’s. James finishes another penetration layup. The lead is double digits and the boos are audible.

30-16 Marquette

3:55-0:00- Ousmane Barro scores on a beautiful pick and roll after the media timeout. Marquette is still ahead by a dozen with 90 seconds left. They are in command but objectively you can’t say this is a vintage performance.

Half 36-24 Marquette

Attendance is listed just over 6,000. Factored in are ticket purchasers who are ‘no shows’ because it looks like roughly 4,000 and change. A fair amount of Marquette fans are on hand.

Possessions : MU 34 St.John’s 37

Offensive Eff. MU 106 St.John’s 65

Second Half:

20:00-15:33 – On the first possession McNeal scores on a penetration. St.John’s comes down and turns the ball over. Mason jr. continues to fire away. McNeill has all 4 Marquette field goals the first four minutes, two penetrations and a trey.

45-27 Marquette

15:33-11:36Marquette defense looks better. They are forcing turnovers , igniting the break and are working on all cylinders. Trevor Mbakwe looks good posting up and attacking the glass.

53-31 Marquette

11:36-7:54- Dele Coker of St.John’s misses from close inside. The next possession the freshman center scores from about the same area. ‘Progress’ says a press row neighbor.

59-44 Marquette

7:54-3:38- Paris Horne of St.John’s buries a three and cuts the deficit to 12. A shot clock violation by Marquette stirs the St.John’s faithful. Red Storm make a run , not coincidentally, with Mason and Burrell on the bench. Missed shots close in and unconverted free throws are still killing St.John’s. During the run, Marquette continues to show patience in half court offensive execution.

65-50 Marquette

3:38-0:00- Marquette is not in a full delay but they are eating more clock on each possession. St.John’s is within 10 with 1:41 remaining. Still, they mount no serious threat those final hundred seconds.

Final : Marquette 73 St.John’s 64

Poss : Marquette 69 St.John’s 73

Off. Eff. Marquette 106 St.John’s 88

McNeal led the way with 20 points while James added 19. Mason jr. paced St.John’s with 20.

Notes from the post-game press conferences

  • En route to the interviews I meet a writer from Marquette.com and some fans seated behind the Marquette bench. I then discuss my officiating and having worked several St.Anthony’s games with MU signee Tyshawn Taylor. Group was really interested and loved hearing some St.Anthony’s and Bob Hurley anecdotes. Also reminded them that St.Anthony’s is on ESPN tonight.
  • Saw legendary Lou Carnesecca en route to interviews. The former St. John’s coach is very gracious and always cordial. Deep down, the situation with the St.John’s program must be devastating him.
  • St.John’s coach Norm Roberts was generally pleased with his club’s effort. Roberts noted that St.John’s defended well for most of a possession then Marquette would make a play. “They are a veteran team,” Roberts said of Marquette. ‘They have juniors with experience. We have freshman who we are asking to play like juniors.” Roberts notes that St.John’s was 23 of 40 from the line. Those 17 missed free throws were obviously huge. “We’re teaching our kids how to win,” Roberts said. “Marquette knows how to win but our kids WILL learn.”
  • Tom Crean credited St.John’s toughness and refusal to quit. He credited Roberts and feels with a young group they will see better days. The Marquette mentor was happy with James and the play of David Cubillan off the bench. He didn’t like “zero offensive boards from the four and five positions.”
  • Crean went on to praise McNeal whom he calls one of the best defenders in the Big East. “No one spends more time at the Al McGuire Center working on his game,” Crean said. “That’s a credit to his (McNeal) work ethic and our assistant coaches.
  • Basically it all came down to a reminder. “Every night you have to polay the full forty minutes in this conference,” Crean said. “(Team) Records mean absolutely nothing in this league.”
  • On the way out I met assistant coach Tim Buckley. Spoke with Buckley a few minutes and found him very knowledgeable and personable. A class act.
  • Exiting MSG the thought occurs that Marquette will be back in only three weeks for the Big East Tournament. Still, there is some important basketball to be played.
Ray, thanks very much!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Golden Eagles throttle St. Johns

Marquette extended its Big East win streak to three games with a convincing 73-64 win over the hapless St. John's Red Storm in Madison Square Garden tonight. With the win MU improves to 19-6 on the season and 9-5 in the Big East.

Jerel McNeal led the charge with 20 points and keyed a defense that forced 23 Red Storm turnovers including 16 in the first half. Dominic James added 19 points and turned in a terrific floor game as well (including 9-9 from the charity stripe). Trevor Mbakwe also turned in a noteworthy performance, grabbing seven rebounds and scoring five points while demonstrating an impressive nose for the ball on the offensive glass.

MU led by as many as 23 points in the second half before the Johnnies launched a spirited 14-2 run to cut the lead to 61-50 with 6:31 remaining. From that point the game was an ugly grinder though MU settled down enough to earn its third Big East conference road win of the year.

Next up for Marquette is a home game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Saturday afternoon.

AP Recap / Box / Play by Play

Media Recaps

MU/SJU Preview @ MSG

#24 Marquette takes on St. John's Redmen at Madison Square Guarden on Wednesday night, 6pm on ESPN2. Marquette will try to extend its 2 game winning streak against the Johnnies, who are 4-9 in Big East Play.

SJU is one game out of the 12th spot in the Big East Tournament and has lost 7 of their last 10. SJU has played RPI Top 50 teams eight times and have lost each and every time.

SJU's Anthony Mason, Jr. returns for his 2nd game after a long stretch on IR with an ankle issue.

I'm not going to mince words: Marquette should win this game handily. MU has an edge on everything. Points/game, FG%, FT%, Defense, Rebounding, Turnovers and Bench quality. But it is a road game, which has given MU the willies.

On top of that, SJU will probably be "looking past" #24 Marquette and gearing up to play @ #5 Duke on Saturday, 2/23. Now that's a gutsy OOC schedule. Can you imagine, 18 Big East games, with Duke in the middle?

Here are the Top Five Numbers to Know about St. John's. As always, information comes from Pomeroy's Scouting Report and Game Plan.
  • 91% - Pomeroy predicts a 91% chance of Marquette victory
    • Remember that these predictions are more accurate (for some reason) on home games
    • We were also 60-70% favorites to defeat Louisville and UConn
  • 51 - SJU's rank for Defensive Efficiency
    • This is the highest ranking for St. John's at any of the Pomeroy metrics
    • However, before getting too cocky, St. John's is also improving at their defense over the last few games
  • 228 - St. John's rank for pace
    • SJU is another one of those teams that plays at an extremely slow pace, averaging 65.7 possessions / game
    • The Johnnies haven't been above 63 possessions in a game in their last six games
    • Slowing the pace down has helped St. John's go 3-3
  • 22.3% - The turnover rate that SJU averages on offense
    • 20% is considered average, so this turnover rate is fairly poor at a ranking of 231 out of 341 Division 1 schools
    • In the games that SJU wins, they keep their TO Rate under 20%
    • Marquette is forcing opponents into a TO Rate of 23%, and almost every opponent we face ends up with more turnovers than their average
  • 21.9% - The turnover rate that SJU averages on defense
    • In other words, SJU also forces their opponents into a lot of turnovers
    • Unfortunately for the Johnnies, Marquette is #28 in the country at protecting the ball
    • We haven't had a worse than average (20%) game at protecting the ball since January 8th... that's ten games!
Thanks to a slow pace and an improving defense, St. John's has managed to go 3-3 in their last six games. However, two of the most statistically significant factors for SJU are their ability to protect the ball and force turnovers. In each of these areas, Marquette has a definite advantage. Expect to see our team disrupt the Johnnies' offense and push a faster pace that SJU would like.

And since we're on Mbakwe .. here's a little interview for you:

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Things to Consider Down the Stretch

Want a reason to believe that this Marquette team could be different than the last two years? According to Pomeroy, Marquette has the #15 offense and the #11 defense in the country. This is in spite of our team troubles in the early part of conference play. Here's a quick view at the 2007 and 2006 Pomeroy statistics.

Interestingly enough, our performance in the past two NCAA tournament games has been an exaggerated microcosm of the team's rankings. The 2006 MU defense was the weak point, and that team was torched by Alabama. The 2007 weak area was the offense, and... well, let's just not discuss the woeful ineptitude of the MSU game. Frankly, looking at the Pomeroy Rankings, it's not really a surprise that Marquette ended up seeded where they were in the tournament.

This team is better than the last two years on both ends of the court, and they are playing better overall as well. It's okay to believe that this team is good.

On the other hand...

Marquette is also only 3-6 against Top 50 RPI teams this year. As Hilltopper says, despite all the stats it really only matters how well you do on the court against the top teams. Regardless of home/away, good teams need to beat other good teams. There are at least two more potential games for Marquette against Top 50 teams (Georgetown and Syracuse), so perhaps MU will get that record closer to 0.500. However, it's far more likely that we split, which would leave Marquette with a record of 4-7 against Top 50 RPI teams going into the Big EAST Tournament. A few wins in the tournament may also help MU beef up this portion of the record but we'll mostly likely end up sub-0.500 for the season.

Performing well in the NCAAs is about defeating the top teams, and so far this year, Marquette has not done well. It's also okay to be nervous about how well Marquette will do in the NCAA tournament. If 2008 ends up as also an exaggerated microcosm in the tournament, then one need only think of how poorly we looked against Louisville...



Rosiak's blog has had several nice entries the last few days. Lots of good links from Rosiak. The most recent entry includes coverage of how Jay Bilas lists Jerel McNeal as one of his six defensive candidates, as well as bracketology updates. Frankly, Cracked Sidewalks just doesn't see the same McNeal defensive brilliance. His Defensive Rebounding Percentage, his Block Rate, his Steal Rate, and his overall Defensive Rating are worse than last year.

The Journal-Sentinel has their Weekly Marquette Report (sorry, but I'm not calling it Golden Eagles). They look at who is Hot (Barro) and who is Not (Burke).

updated: Information regarding Top 50 teams based on brewcity's blog comments

Sunday, February 17, 2008

In case you weren't at the BC: FF 5 year ceremony

This video was shot at the MU / Pitt game half-time ceremony.

8 minutes total .. first 2 minutes is the montage video .. at the 2 minute mark is the player intros .. 4 minute mark is Tom Crean .. 6 minute mark is DWade .. 7 minute is Travis' speech.

The beginning video grab is a bit shaky, as people were bumping me around. Sorry.

Pittsburgh Numbers Recap

In our Preview, some of the key areas to watch for were Pitt's Offensive Efficiency and their Offensive Rebounding Percentage.

Looking at the Four Factors, we can see how good of a performance it was by Marquette.

Marquette won every single area of the Four Factors. Pittsburgh was the #8 team in the country at offensive rebounding percentage, and we managed to win the battle of Offensive Rebounding and to hold them well below their average. Don't look now, but Marquette has triumphed in this area in four of the last five contests. In addition, Pitt was the #14 team in the country at Offensive Efficiency with a rating of 115.7. For Marquette to hold them to an efficiency of 83.5 shows how well MU did at defense.

The Offensive and Defensive Ratings for our team continue to move in the right directions. As one can see, there was a terrible trend for both areas, which reached a nadir at the UConn game. The team plateaued until the Cincinnati game, and now things are moving properly. Right now, the team is getting better at the end of the season, which is a refreshing change. In addition, despite all of our troubles, we are still rated as the #15 Offense and the #12 Defense in the country by Pomeroy. That's pretty darn good, folks.

Final Season Projections

  • Pomeroy still projects a final conference record of 12-6, meaning one loss in our last five conference games.
  • Our conference statistics project a final record of 11.8 - 6.2, meaning one to two (but closer to one) losses in our final games
  • Based on how we've been playing the last five games, we project to a final record of 13-5, meaning we run the table.
Last time we did the projections, the view was for the team to lose anywhere from 0-3 games. Based on how the team continues to improve, our current forecast is consistently only 0-1 more losses.

Individual Player Ratings

Fresh off of a week in which Cracked Sidewalks said that Jerel McNeal was not a winning player during conference play, McNeal ended up as the statistical stud of the game. Barro, of course, was second on the list, with other noteworthy contributions by Cubillan, Matthews, and James. Interestingly enough, Lazar Hayward ended up with a negative net contribution, as Sam Young seemed to win the head-to-head battle and the perceived lead for "Most Improved Conference Player". Finally, although I was reasonably sure that Mbakwe ended up with 38 points, 19 rebounds, and 8 blocked shots in his eight minutes of play, the box score didn't seem to reflect that information. Poor Trevor starts off his college career with a negative net game. May this be his last!

All the numbers are starting to point in the right direction. Let's hope that the momentum continues and we win big against St. Johns on Wednesday.