"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, October 30, 2008

Cracked Sidewalks Preseason Roundtable

Now that the start of the season is a little more than two weeks away, I asked my fellow contributors here at Cracked Sidewalks to consider four key questions about the 2008-2009 Marquette Warriors. We decided to mix it up in a roundtable format. Let's get to it.

#1 - What's the most compelling storyline for you in the upcoming season?

Kevin Buckley (aka mu hilltopper)
The major storyline is Buzz and the post-Crean era. Buzz will be compared to Tom Crean six umpteen times this season. How does Buzz's offense compare to Crean's .. does Buzz market himself and/or the team like Crean did .. does Buzz constantly yell out plays like Crean did .. How many Diet Pepsis/per game will he drink. Ad infinitum. -- The storyline prior to Crean leaving would have been how the Big Three will do during their final season at MU .. can they add to their one NCAA victory count.

Tim Blair (aka NY Warrior)
This season is all about Buzz Williams. Can he coach and manage a program through what promises to be one of the toughest BIG EAST conference seasons of this or any era? Since MU returns just about anybody who mattered from last year's 25-win team, all eyes will remain on the coach.

Steve Susina (aka Marquette 84)
There are two obvious ones: "Can Buzz Coach?" and "Final Hurrah for the 3 Amigos." Since there will be plenty of ink on each of these, here are five less compelling, but possibly intriguing storylines.

-- How much does Chris Otule develop over the course of the season?
-- How much playing time can Joe Fulce earn?
-- Does Pat Hazel break into the rotation?
-- Can Rutgers, Providence, Cincy or Seton Hall crack the top half of the league standings, and who do they displace (Syracuse? WVU?).
-- What does the impending retirement of Mike Tranghese mean for the future of the league?

Rob Lowe (aka Henry Sugar)
In my opinion, the most compelling storyline for me is if or how different the team will be from last year. We all know that the team has returned the Three Amigos, with their 1,000 points scored, plus Lazar. Big things can and should be expected from this team. However, to what extent have they kept pace with the rest of the Big East that is also returning talent and experience? I really don't see any reason that the team will be any different than last year, so I'm waiting to see if there is anything that shows if we have hope of playing on the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

#2 - What specifically are you interested in seeing in some of the early season games?

Kevin Buckley (aka mu hilltopper)
Several things. I'm curious if Jerel McNeal will continue to be as white hot as he was when last season ended. The pre-conference games are also the time to evaluate the new guys, plus the 2nd and 3rd guys off the bench in each position. What will Fulce, Butler, and Otule bring to the table .. and has Patrick Hazel improved?

Tim Blair (aka NY Warrior)
The new offense. After years of Tom Crean's control-freak tendencies from the sidelines, I'm anxious to see if Buzz Williams affords his guys more breathing room and allows the players to get into the flow of a game rather than constantly dictating from the bench. With smart, veteran and athletic guards, you'd figure that Marquette should be able to take full advantage of an opponent if the Warriors are allowed to play more instinctive basketball.

Steve Susina (aka Marquette 84)
I don't have any doubt that MU will have the talent to compete and win against most of the early season schedule. I expect that an experienced team will be able to execute from a technical perspective. Instead, I'll be looking more closely at intangibles like game prep and motivation.

First big test will be the Chicago Invitational--specifically to see if MU has the killer instinct to put away decent teams early. Both Northern Iowa and Dayton are the type of teams that are capable of pulling off a major upset (see last year's UD/Pitt game). They are also the types of teams that could lead MU to a sense of complacency. Playing well will require not just a solid game plan, but will be a test of how well Buzz can motivate the team against what is, at least on-paper, lesser competition.

Rob Lowe (aka Henry Sugar)
More than anything, I'm interested in what the offense looks like. There have been some early indications online and then from the scrimmage, but we expect that the offense will begin to look more solid (we hope) in the early season games. A close second will be the performance of Joe Fulce. Third is how efficient McNeal is and how many shots he takes.

#3 - What do you think is most important for the team to be successful this year?

Kevin Buckley (aka mu hilltopper)
Well, since about 80% of our minutes are returning this year, the players aren't a big variable in this year's success. Freeway could guide this team to 20 wins. It's all about Buzz, and the other assistants, and their ability to motivate and game-coach. If they can do that well, when it counts, this season could be a huge success.

Tim Blair (aka NY Warrior)
I hear chatter about the need for MU's bigs to produce, and some lament how MU lost four players 6'7" and taller from last season. But let's face it, the bigs MU lost were either hurt (Mbakwe), confused (Barro), ineffective (Fitzgerald), or a non-factor in 32 of 35 games (Blackledge). It's simple, for the fourth year in a row Dominic James is the most important player on the team. I know Jerel McNeal was sublime in March (was he ever!), but Dominic James is the conductor of this orchestra.

Steve Susina (aka Marquette 84)
Avoiding injuries.

Yeah, there are a couple of teams that could pose matchup problems with our front-line, and we may lose one or two games against a team with a UConn-like frontcourt. However, our backcourt will create problems for just about everyone else--unless we lose McNeal or James for an extended period of time.

Frankly, its about time for a little good luck in the injury department. With injuries to Diener, Kinsella, Matthews, McNeal, and Mbakwe over the past few years, it's time for MU's luck to change for the better.

Rob Lowe (aka Henry Sugar)
Dominic James! I know the conventional wisdom is the performance of our big men, how well McNeal plays, or even the contributions from our newcomers. However, I looked at some of the numbers from last year, and when DJ is "net positive" the team almost always wins. When he's "net negative" then the team almost always loses. I want to see how many shots he's creating for his team-mates and how efficient he is shooting the ball.

#4 - To what extent have you changed your mind about Buzz?

Kevin Buckley (aka mu hilltopper)
I think we've all been surprised and impressed with his ability to get quality kids to commit to MU. It takes a special kind of guy to get the recruits he has, with the admittedly small amount of fame, exposure, and head coaching experience he possesses, especially when compared to the last coach.

Tim Blair (aka NY Warrior)
Not much. To date, Buzz Williams has done what he needed to do, maybe more. Williams was positioned as a premier recruiter, and so far he's been even better than advertised. In addition, Buzz was smartly rolled out to the MU community and the media, generally making a positive first impression.

Still, the hard part is just beginning. Williams inherits a team that won 25 games last year, returns four starters and has one of the nation's best backcourts. Yet national and conference expectations are muted due to the depth of the BIG EAST, MU's roster limitations, and the presumption of taking a step back due to coaching turnover. Until I see how Buzz Williams responds to adversity, how his team responds to adversity, how he manages this team through the BIG EAST, and whether or not he can successfully navigate the pitfalls that are sure to emerge in the next six, pressurized months -- well, the jury will remain out.

Steve Susina (aka Marquette 84)
I haven't--I was on the bandwagon early on. While I would have liked to see Sean Miller, Buzz is a much better 2nd choice compared to some of the mid-major names that were bandied about.

Rob Lowe (aka Henry Sugar)
I'll admit to being a vociferous opponent of the Buzz hiring. However, I was willing to give him a shot if he proved himself. So far, Buzz has definitely proved himself. He certainly has the recruiting chops we were sold on, he put together what is on paper a very solid staff, and he represents the university well. I'm excited that we'll finally get a chance to see how well he can coach to address the last, very big question.


Thanks to my fellow Cracked Sidewalks contributors for their opinions. The first exhibition game is just nine days away.


Unknown said...

Just wanted to tell you guys that I enjoyed this "roundtable" feature...and I suggest you do it more often. I think it's about as honest a breakdown as I've read.

I, too, admit to being a stringent opponent of the Buzz hiring, but I'll say this...he's done a good job so far and he seems to be a far better person than his predecessor.

But good job, guys!!

Rob Lowe said...

Thank you very much for the feedback. I think that we enjoyed doing it too (although I don't want to speak for everyone).

We'll definitely try to fit one or two more in throughout the season. Probably before conference play and maybe some point mid-conf or before post-season play.

Championships Matter said...

Wow! Richard was complimentary. Glad to see it.

You guys called it well this year. If Tom Crean was a bit more estute in his recruiting and had managed a big man, I think we'd be a legitimate threat for a national title. We seem to forget that when Brother D-Wade was here, we also had Robert Jackson to crash the boards and to keep other teams honest.

No Jackson -- no final four.We seem to have forgotten that in the way Tommy Traitor recruited in the ensuing years.

To Buzz's credit, he's recruiting a balanced team that one hopes will be more effective in the Big East than the finness teams Tommy Traitor recruited.

The difference is much the same difference Marquette had in the 1970s when street ball (aka Al's teams) met much of our finess ball competition (aka the SEC and others at the time). We can try to be cute and shoot or we can mix it up and pound our way to victory.

Gene Frenkle said...

Solid work guys. Would love to see you all have another breakdown after the first couple exhibition games and right before the B.East.