"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

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Final Hours for the Seniors? 3-star test still predicts a win today

It is surreal here nearing the end of my first visit ever to Idaho. It will be a high stress moment when me and the children make our way to the hotel lobby to join the MU cheerleaders, pep band and other fans to cheer the team on as they get on the bus. Two years ago I was in line for a high five from every player – and we didn’t score for 9 ½ minutes against Michigan State – so I’ve made a point of standing behind the high five line prior to the games again Kentucky, Stanford and Utah State, and save my bad shooting touch for the YMCA.

Marquette is a 4-point underdog against Missouri, with ESPN Accuscore calculating a 78-72 loss and Pomeroy predicting a 78-74 loss.

I’m not going to lie, I’m scared to death of this being the end and fully prepared for a very long and depressing flight home – BUT that is only because the stakes are so high, not because I don’t believe we will win the game.

3-star theory still predicts a Marquette win

I wrote in my tournament preview blog that Al McGuire’s old, “it takes 3 ½ stars to win a championship” theory pointed to an Elite 8 run for Marquette, even with DJ out. To recap, MU has three potential NBA players on the court (shorthand “stars”) while Utah had none and Missouri had two (6-foot-9 power forward Leo Lyons and 6-foot-8 shooting forward DeMarre Carroll).

I watched them intently against Cornell, and they are a very good duo that will get some easy baskets against our inside defense as we try to match up. However, like MU, neither of their stars are a point guard OR a center, and neither are bigger than Dwight Burke. They are trying to make a run with these two “in-between” stars, while Marquette has three. And historically, teams with 3 future NBA draftees are well over twice as likely to make a Final Four run as teams with 2.

In an email to a couple of thousand people prior to the tourney tipoff, I ranked all the teams in the tournament based on the number of NBA prospects and how high they are projected to be drafted – noting what an accurate predictor this had been of NCAA tourney wins this decade. Marquette was the 17th best team in the tournament with Jerel (26th highest projected draft from any NCAA team), Wes and Lazar. Missouri ranked 16 spots lower at 33rd with Lyons (49th projection) and Carroll.

With Marquette ranking 16 spots ahead of Missouri in potential NBA players on the floor, how likely are they to win? This year the team that ranked higher by this measure has gone 31-9. Only three teams have won in this tournament despite being ranked more than a dozen spots behind their opponent - Siena over Ohio State, Dayton over West Virginia and Cleveland State over Wake Forest. Other than that, the team with more NBA talent has won every game except a few in which the two teams were within a few spots of each other in NBA talent.

What about cases in which one team has a higher seed (Missouri) while the other team (Marquette) ranks higher in NBA stars? Marquette will be the fourth lower seed to rank at least eight spots better than their opponent in NBA talent. The good news is the first three all won – USC over Boston College, Texas A&M over BYU and Arizona over Utah.

Oh, and did I forget? President Obama picked Marquette tomorrow and he was 8 for 8 in his Saturday picks. And there's no way we can be eliminated two years in a row on my birthday! Seriously though, despite my optimism I know it won't be easy.

Three other players that cause problems today

Obviously Lyons and Carroll are not the only players trying to end the careers of Wes, Jerel and Dwight tomorrow. They didn’t win the Big 12 championship without a lot of ways to beat you.

Matt Lawrence looks like he has a great 3-point shot, and we don’t get around the high screen well to cut it off. JT Tiller and Zaire Taylor are great passers, giving Missouri a chance to get the ball in for easy baskets against our small inside. But they are passing to two guys who are about the same height as Dwight Burke, not the Lopez twins.

If these guys prove to be too much tomorrow, we can reflect on the seniors great careers and play the “what-if” game over Novak’s missed 3-pointer at the end of the Alabama game to end the Three Amigos freshman year, Jerel’s injury (sophomore year), Lopez’s lucky shot (junior year) and Dominic’s injury (senior year). But until and unless that happens, I’m anticipating a much happier (Sweet 16) final chapter to the seniors careers.

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