"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

Monday, February 02, 2009

"Short" Marquette climbs to No. 6 in CBS Poll

'It's starting to look like Marquette will never lose again, ever.' - CBS Sportline

With football culminating with the Steelers championship yesterday, the next big championship will be the NCAA basketball championship April 6 in Detroit. It is possible that the tallest team in the NCAA, No. 1 ranked UConn, will take the title. But ironically, the 295th tallest team is now ranked #6 by CBS Sports and will probably be right around that spot when the AP and ESPN polls come out later today. (Average heights can be found at http://kenpom.com/height.php?y=2009&s=HgtEffRank under "Eff Height").

In moving Marquette up to its No. 6 ranking Sunday, CBS Sportsline included one simple sentence, "It's starting to look like Marquette will never lose again. Ever."

Marquette, which averages only 6-foot-3 ½ inches, is tied for 1st place in the toughest conference in America at 8-0. Bobby Knight just identified MU as the team he likes, and said MU has the best guard play in the country. Are they now a true national contender? There are three questions that should be asked of any potential contender:
  1. NBA TALENT. Are there at least three NBA-caliber players on the team?
  2. EXPERIENCE. Is the team experienced enough, particularly at guard, to handle NCAA tournament pressure without turning the ball over?
  3. TOUGH OPPONENTS. Does the team build up its stats against mediocre teams, or does it rise to the occasion against the kind of competition it will face in the NCAA tourney?
  4. HEIGHT. In the case of Marquette, will big opponents exploit them?
Many doubted my prediction in the Ultimate Hoops Guide - Marquette University (www.collegeprowler.com/basketball) this summer that Marquette would win 26-30 games. At 19-2 with only two early losses while adjusting to a new coach, they seem right on pace for that and more. To answer the key questions:

1. NBA TALENT. MU is one of only 10 teams with three likely future NBA players according to the latest mock draft. (see http://www.nbadraft.net/2009mock_draft, http://www.nbadraft.net/2010mock_draft)
  • The NBA mock drafts for the next two years include Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews and Lazar Hayward. In addition, when Hayward passed the 1,000 point mark against Georgetown Saturday, it made Marquette one of only two teams (along with UNC) to have four 1,000 point scorers.
  • McNeal already has been named the top defensive player in the Big East and the best "slasher" (able to get past defenders to the basket) in the country. All he has done this year is added to that by becoming the best 3-point shooter in the Big East at 52% accuracy en route to 23.9 points per game through eight Big East games. I may be the first to say it, but Jerel McNeal should be the next in a long-line of All-Americans this season.
  • With both Wesley Matthews (6-foot-5 son of 9-year NBA player by same name) and Lazar Hayward combining to average 38% on three-pointers, 55% on field goals and 82% from the line, MU has the unstoppable scoring trio a team needs to compete for the title.

2. EXPERIENCE. MU has the third most experienced team in a "BCS" conference (2.46 years per player), and the best trio of guards in the country are all seniors (McNeal, Matthews and James) who can keep the ball from any opponent while stealing them blind. The most important stat to determine if a team can handle NCAA pressure is the assist to turnover ratio, and on this front, only Pitt's Levance Fields (3.6 to 1) has a better ratio in the Big East than James (2.9 to 1). However, James is way ahead of even Fields in the last seven games with an incredible 5.7-1 ratio on an amazing 40 assists to only 7 turnovers.

3. TOUGH COMPETITION. The critics say MU hasn't played the other top three top teams in the Big East - UConn, Louisville and Pittsburgh. The truth is MU is a much better team against the good teams, because their four fantastic players rest an average of 12 minutes more against weaker non-conference foes than they face in conference play.
  • MU has by far the best scoring offense in the Big East at 81.6 points per game. But what is really amazing is that MU scores MORE points when playing the toughest defenses in the country. MU has played four of the top seven defenses in scoring average in the Big East (West Virginia, Villanova, Cincinnati and Georgetown) and averaged 83.0 points per game.
  • Everyone agrees this year that the top 12 teams in the Big East are by far the best of any conference. MU has played six of those top 12 teams (Nova, WVU, ND, Prov, Cincy and Gtown) and has won those six games by an average of 82-67. So MU has been an average of 15 points per game better than the better teams in the toughest conference in the US.
  • The comment on Saturday's "Midnight Madness" on ESPN that MU has the best offense in the country may have hit some by surprise, but the statement is true. The key to measuring offense is how many points a team gets per trip down the court. The national average is almost exactly 1 point per trip (see http://kenpom.com/stats.php?s=8). Marquette scores 1.17 points per trip, behind only UNC 1.22, Pitt, UCLA, Oklahoma and UConn. However, against the six tough Big East opponents mentioned above, Marquette actually averages 1.22. In other words, MU scores as well against GREAT teams as UNC does against AVERAGE teams.

4. HEIGHT. As for how MU matches up against taller teams, MU has already played 5 of the 10 tallest teams in the six "BCS" Conferences, and is 5-0 with wins over Georgetown, Notre Dame, NC State, DePaul and Rutgers.
Of course, Marquette won't really never lose again, ever, as CBS Sportsline wrote. In fact, the Pomeroy predictions indicated that Marquette's remaining 10 games are so brutal that MU could finish 25-6 (http://kenpom.com/team.php?y=2009&team=Marquette). However, MU has dramatically exceeded the margin of victories predicted by this service in all the big games in the current win streak, so the potential to hit the 26+ wins I predicted is certainly possible during the regular season, and if not then in the ensuing Big East and NCAA tournament.

The AP and ESPN polls won't come out for a few more hours, but looking at #3 UNC and #6 Marquette in the CBS Sportsline poll immediately brought back memories of similar standings in the final AP poll of 1977, when Marquette finished #7 and UNC #5 before MU went on to win the title from the Tar Heels. MU hasn't been #6 since Dwyane Wade took them to the Final Four in 2003. Hopefully this will be another great chapter in Marquette basketball history.

John Pudner, Journalism ’88, was Editorial Editor and then News Editor for the Marquette Tribune. He was named top sports news writer in Virginia in 1991 while working for the Charlottesville Observer and wrote a weekly column on his rankings of baseball pitchers for the New York Post before leaving journalism for a career in politics and government affairs.

John's book Ultimate Hoops Guide: Marquette University can be ordered here: (www.collegeprowler.com/basketball)


Unknown said...

um. wow.

Maxamegalon2000 said...

Link to the CBS Sports poll: http://www.cbssports.com/collegebasketball/polls/top25

Anonymous said...

Well done! And thanks for bringing the focus back on basketball.

Fun times, for sure. Let's be sure to enjoy watching the could-be 1, 2, 3, 4 all-time scorers in MU history on the floor at the same time. And let's keep in perspective just how impressive that is: They're all on the floor together all the time!! This is a special group, but the hardest times are ahead.

Anonymous said...

FYI: MU is ESPN's "Team of the Week"

Unknown said...

Oy, Kevin/John -- MU faux pas #1: "Dwayne Wade"!!! ;)

JR said...

Any word on DaShonte Riley?

JohnPudner said...

MEA CULPA! Matt - Thank you and the inverted "ya" in Dwyane Wade was all me (John) unfortunately. I hit my email list with these columns too, and somehow woke up in a cold sweat realizing I had misspelled the first name of the greatest player in MU history, and ran to my computer to catch the group email going out but forgot to correct it with Kevin for the column. MEA CULPA, MEA MAXIMA CULPA from me! I guess this is particularly inexcusable since his bobble head only sits by my computer.

Unknown said...

Please delete the links to the mock draft. It seems like a ridiculous draft when actually scrutinized. Lazar as a SG in the NBA??? Not meant to be a knock on his ball handling skills but Lazar is a SF/PF. This mock draft obviously fails to actually observe his game beyond his listed 6'6" height. Furthermore, that draft link doesn't even show our other players who are most likely draft picks, Tyler Hansborough, Thabeet, and has Kentucky's stud Jodie Meeks as a middle/late 2nd round pick. From here, it looks like a poor excuse for a mock draft.