"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

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Let's Dance: Marquette takes on Kentucky in tourney opener

When Marquette and Kentucky renew acquaintances on Thursday in Anaheim, the Golden Eagles will look to earn their first NCAA tournament win since the magical run to the 2003 Final Four - - a run that included a memorable win over the then top-seeded Wildcats.

Five years later, the roles are reversed and the pressure is squarely on the Golden Eagles. Despite making its third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, the Marquette fanbase is desperate for a win in March, and as a healthy, higher-seeded team, expectations are understandably high in Warrior Nation.

Against a thin Kentucky squad that goes only six or seven deep, look for the Golden Eagles to commit to a faster pace -- and to drive and dish more than usual. As we saw last week in New York, MU will push the ball off of both makes and misses -- secondary fast break baskets are a vital part of the arsenal -- to create a decidedly up-tempo game that minimizes halfcourt sets.

Of course, we also saw the Ghost of Offensive Despair in the Big East Tournament when MU endured a 13 minute stretch without a made field goal against Pitt .......a bitter reminder of MU's abominable offensive effort against Michigan State in last season's NCAA tournament.

Absent effective shooters, Marquette has struggled against teams that lock down the paint -- much like the Wildcats have done this season. Since January when facing teams that defend the interior exceptionally well -- Louisville, UConn and Georgetown -- Marquette went a combined 0-5 and shot roughly 31% in those games. Realize that UK has a similar defensive profile, but the Wildcats turn the ball over more than just about anybody you'd expect to see in the NCAA tournament. Therein lies a key to the game.

We've already run detailed numbers previews for Kentucky and Marquette -- and now it is finally time for our favorite time of year, Basketball Christmas season. Moreover, Hilltopper says MU won't lose on his birthday. Ah, it really is the most wonderful time of the year (if MU wins on Thursday). Anyway, here is the boiled down version for the game. As always, information comes from Pomeroy's Scouting Report and Game Plan.

Top Five Numbers to Know about Marquette v. Kentucky

  • 80% - Pomeroy predicts an 80% chance of Marquette victory
  • 291 - Kentucky's rank at protecting the ball
    • Kentucky turns the ball over on almost one out of every four possessions
    • Marquette is #48 in the country at forcing turnovers
  • 25 - Kentucky's rank at getting to the Free Throw line
    • They get to the line 30% of the time that they take a shot
    • Marquette is #264 in the country at preventing our opponents from shooting free throws
  • 63.9 - Average number of possessions for Kentucky
    • This is one of the slowest paces in the country (#281)
    • Tempo will play a huge role in the game
  • 6 - The rank of Marquette's defense according to Pomeroy
    • This is anchored by our tough perimeter defense at getting steals (#5 in the nation) and preventing three-pointers (#3 in the nation)
    • Be confident that we have an elite defense
Tipoff is scheduled for 1:30pm CDT on CBS.

This post is a joint contribution by Henry Sugar and NYWarrior


Gene Frenkle said...

Wow. Over 50% of the respondents thing MU will lose to KY in round one? Holy pessimists batman.

Stanford I can see. But KY? Match-ups totally favor our style. I think we'll win something like 75-65.

Anonymous said...

did you notice how many people responded, though? Gene, I think we've been invaded!!

Rob Lowe said...

Guys, that result is clearly the influence of KY blogs. NYWarrior has done a good job of publicizing Cracked Sidewalks with the KY community through some cross-collaboration. For instance, he invited a KY guest to write up a review of their team, and he did a writeup and radio appearance for a sports radio site (Matt Jones).

Some of their message boards were actively encouraging people to vote in our poll. Good show by their fan base...

Anonymous said...

I am nervous. My biggest fear is the game will be called too closely and MU is going to have a hard time adjusting and therefore getting into foul trouble.

Anonymous said...

The voting had been consistently 75% of folks betting MU would win up until the point that the vote count went crazy. I'm sure that was when we were publicized over there.

Anonymous said...

So, before the poll was biased in our favor and then becamed biased in UK favor. Guess it just goes to show it all depends on who you talk to. It will all be decided on the court, so who cares. It looks like we match up well with Kentucky so it will comes down to coaching.

Anonymous said...

I think that the point is that prior to the UK invasion, the poll was a pretty good read of what MU fans thought would happen (which is an interesting read).

I doubt a single UK fan came on this site and picked MU to win, so it then becomes a traffic measure (not a measure of people's honest oppinion on the game).

Not that I care - kudos to UK fans for making their voice heard, I'm sure we would have done the same.

This should be an intersting game with a few streaks on the line - MU wins and UKs 16 year round 1 streak ends. If UK wins, the post Wade (and post Jackson) tourney drought continues...