"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, October 12, 2009

Midnight Madness will kick off 2nd best MU decade ever

Most of us are in a funk just four days from the first Midnight Madness of the 2010s decade. The short-term outlook as practices start appears gloomy with Junior Cadougan, Darius Johnson-Odom and Youssoupha Mbao no longer part of the equation for games against Xavier and other November foes.

However, in the long-term a decade has never looked so good since Cobb, Meminger, Brell, Thomas, Chones and Allie McGuire were on campus to start practice for the 1970s. While no program will ever again match the success of that decade, in which MU was clearly the 2nd best program in the country (more on that later), MU is in position to have one of the Top 20 programs in the country this decade.

The key starting point for looking at the long-term potential is seeing how many potential star player-seasons are currently on campus. In other words, if you have a 3-star or higher freshman, you have FOUR potential star seasons left out of him, a great sophomore has THREE potential star seasons left, a junior has TWO and a senior ONE.

Ten years ago at the start of the last decade, there were only 5 potential star seasons on campus – 2 more left for junior Brian Wardle and 3 more left for sophomore Cordell Henry as the team came off a 14-15 season. Those two did a great job, but they didn’t have much support beyond the solid rebounding of Oluoma Nnamaka. However, Dwyane Wade through the Three Amigos combined for enough star seasons that by the end of the decade the Sagarin Rankings placed Marquette as the 32nd greatest program of the 2000s out of well over 300 teams.

Consider how much more potential MU has heading into the new decade. In addition to anticipating one final great year from Lazar Hayward, the long-term prospects include two years of Jimmy Butler and Dwight Buycks, three years of Darius Johnson-Odom, and four years of Junior Cadougan, Youssoupha Mbao, Erik Williams and Jeronne Maymon. That’s the potential for 24 star player-years.

Will we get all 24 great player-years? Of course not. We don’t know which players will truly be stars and stay healthy, and at the other extreme if some will be so good they will leave early for the NBA. However, when we are looking at UP TO 24 seasons from guys who are either three- or four-star players or proven JUCO or MU stars, the sky is the limit not for this year, but for the decade as a whole in front of us.

And when you add in that these potential stars constitute a balanced roster, with three guards, four guys 6-6 or 6-7, and one seven-footer, it gets even more exciting. While it’s terrible to lose Junior for the year, if we get to watch him for four great years it won’t matter down the road that those seasons were 2010-11 to 2013-14.

I am confident when the Sagarin numbers are run again in 10 years, MU will be AT THE VERY LEAST one of the top 20 programs of the decade, so let’s start by getting excited at Midnight Madness, even though we know there will likely be some tough growing pains this season.

Can we dream this decade could be as good as the 1970s?
With such a great foundation, is it possible that MU could even return to the dominance of the 1970s? The simple answer to that is NO – because no future team will EVER be as dominant as MU was in the 1970s. There are too many teams and too much parity for any team – even the current group at UNC – to ever again match what MU did in the 1970s, so don’t even dream about it.

Sagarin’s aforementioned rankings place MU as the 3rd best team of the 1970s. In fact, MU was clearly better than UNC in the 1970s and only behind UCLA in the 1970s. Further, no program will ever again match what either UCLA OR MU did in the 1970s.

To set the record straight in the UNC vs. MU comparison in the 1970s, let’s look at both the regular season and the tournament records of each school:

First, let’s compare the overall body of work – all games played whether regular season or tournament. As I pointed out in the Ultimate Hoops Guide: Marquette University, our record in the 70s was the 3rd best record of any team in any decade:

1. UCLA 1970s 273-27 91.0%
2. Kentucky 1950s 224-33 87.2%
3. Marquette 1970s 251-41 86.0%
4. Kentucky 1940s 239-42 85.1%
5. Duke 2000s 261-53 83.1%

No offense to Kentucky’s current great program, but considering they were avoiding playing teams with black players in the 1950s, I think you can safely say that Marquette in the 1970s had the second greatest decade OF ALL TIME much less the 1970s. The Warriors just happened to do it the same year that UCLA was having the greatest decade of any team ever.

Second, we can look at how MU and UNC performed in the tournament. We start by pointing out the obvious fact that they met only once in the tournament, with Marquette winning the national title.

But as “BMA725” points out on muscoop, MU had better tournament results throughout the decade:

“MU has 1 National Championship, 1 National Runner Up, 1 Elite Eight, 3 Sweet Sixteens, 2 second round appearances, and 1 first round elimination. They also have the 1970 NIT Championship."

UNC has 1 National Runner Up, 1 Final Four, 1 Sweet Sixteen, and 3 first round eliminations. They didn't even make the NCAA Tournament in 4 of those years, and while they won the 1971 NIT, they also had two first round NIT eliminations.

"How any one could view them objectively and think UNC was more successful that decade, I don't know.”

That argument is solid enough in itself, and the only attempt to counter it was a post that UNC finished 2nd in the ACC in 1971, 1973, and 1974 in years when they were in the Top 15 and only one team per conference went to the tournament. First, when you get eliminated from the first round of the NIT two years, it’s hard to argue you should have been in the NCAA tourney. As for UNC being ranked in the Top 15, MU would not have been invited to the tournament either those three years if they were just in the Top 15. The fact is that MU was in the TOP 4 all three of those years that UNC was in the TOP 15, and in fact MU was ranked in the TOP 8 at the end of every season from 1970 to 1978, and even finished No. 10 in 1979.

The independents did not have an advantage in tournament selection. They had a decided disadvantage because they didn’t get the 1st round byes that UNC and other conference champs could get for winning their conference.

If the current seeding were in effect in those years and based on AP rankings, in 1971 MU would have been a No. 1 seed and Ohio State a No. 3 seed, but instead OSU got a bye while MU had to play a game, then edged out MU 60-59. When UNC didn’t make it in 1973, the No. 1 vs. No. 2 seed matchup between Indiana and MU occurred in the Sweet 16 and MU lost. In 1974 when UNC didn’t make the cut, MU went all the way to the title game against NC State. Worst yet was 1976, when MU was the No. 2 team in the country, and the bracket made the Warriors play the No. 1 team in the country in the Elite 8 rather than in the title game as would have happened this year. That Indiana team is the last team to ever go undefeated.

So not only did MU have substantially better tournament results than UNC, but they would have likely had much better results if the brackets were based on seeding like they are today, or if MU were in a conference and thus earning byes and easier match-ups every year.

Case closed. MU was a better regular season and a better tournament team than UNC in the 1970s, and played at a level of dominance that was only topped by UCLA that decade, and will never be matched again.

However, MU will be back among the best in the 2010s.

So the end message is this. If we don't judge the next 10 years against the 1970s, and don't get too impatient if we fall to the lower part of the Big East for one season as the freshman learn to play together, we may all really enjoy the 2010s.


Championships Matter said...

One other factor to consider in comparing this era to the 1970s is the caliber of competition facing Marquette. In the 1970s, we were a major independent and, as such, we had a couple of tough teams on the schedule a year. It was nothing like the Big East today.

In the 1970s, the scheduling formula was Wisconsin and one other Big 10 team before Christmas, usually a game with Louisville and then one game with Notre Dame. The rest of the schedule was, as Al called them, "cupcakes." We played a lot of teams whose talent today would be considered "mid-major."

Contrast that to our schedule today, which is loaded almost every week. The parity in College Basketball and likelihood of 10 to 12 quality Big East teams on the schedule makes the current schedule tough every week. There's no breather, like there was in the 1970s.

I'm encouraged by the future here. The recruits are of the highest caliber and Buzz seems to have an "Al-style" rapport. If they can play to the level of their press clippings, we will win more than our share in the coming decade.

Unknown said...

Even as a huge MU fan, I'm sick of hearing about the 70's.

Beaver said...

Why is Mbao not playing in November?

Championships Matter said...

You know what DC, you are right. I was there in the 1970s and am part of a Marquette family that followed MU basketball since 1965. I think it is time to move on.

We dwell too much on the 1970s. The best team we had in the decade happened 32 years ago and while we have not won an NCAA Championship since, we have had several wonderful teams and the promise for the years ahead is outstanding.

Honor AL, of course. But lets honor D Wade, the Amigos and Lazar. Let's hope the pundits are wrong and we're a tournament team. Let's watch Junior when he comes back along with Joe Fulce and the wonderful incoming class.

Teams that spend too much time focusing on what was probably are scared of what "is." I'm definitely NOT scared of what we have and what we will be as a basketball team and am looking forward to the NEXT NCAA championship. My friends and classmates won the last one years ago, but all of us from that era are old men and women and it's time for our children to carry on what our classes did.

Unknown said...

Agreed, we will never dominate like we did for a whole decade in the 1970s, but the 2003 Final Four team averaged the same 12-point margin of victory that year as the 70s team averaged. We won't dominate year-after-year, but we now have the talent and program to stay close enough that any year could be a very special year.