"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, February 21, 2010

Cincy preview - playoff like pressure with both teams squarely on the bubble

Marquette at Cincinnati (1 p.m. today on MSG, MASN) could well prove to ultimately have been a playoff game that sends one team to the NCAA and the other to the NIT.

The four teams squarely on the ESPN bubble are Marquette (2nd to last invited), St. Mary’s (last invited), Mississippi State (1st team NOT invited) and Cincinnati (2nd team NOT invited). There isn’t a bigger game in the country this weekend (which Lunardi basically just said), because while playing for a higher seed is nice, playing for a bid is much bigger.

A win would be MUs third straight road win, building confidence of their chances in the next two road games at a very improved St. John’s and a tough Seton Hall. A loss would really put MU almost into a do-or-die mode the rest of the way, dropping MU behind Cincy into 8th in the standings and on the verge of losing a bye in the Big East tournament.

Deonta Vaughn (#5, 6-1, 190) distributes the ball to four players between 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-9, and all five of them hit more than 50% of their two-pointers and pound the offensive glass. The two tallest players, 6-8 Steve Toyloy (#42) and 6-9 Yancy Gates (#34) are among the national leaders in offensive rebounds, so once Cincinnati puts up a two-point shot they should score a very high percentage of the time either on that shot or a follow-up shot. Expect to yell, “recruit a big man” every time we get dunked on. Cincy could choose to put 6-foot Cashmire Wright (#1) and 6-3 Doion Dixon (#3) on the floor more with Vaughn to try to match MUs three guards help with the defensive match-up problems teams have with stopping MUs five 3-point shooters.

However, Marquette’s opportunity to overcome another potential dunk-a-thon will be to do the three things they’ve done all year; 1) not compound the problem by fouling the guy while he is dunking on you, 2) turn Cincy over a lot BEFORE they work it in for a point blank shot, and 3) trade their two-point dunk for a three-pointer at the other end.

It’s amazing that this formula has worked so well that MU is still one of only six teams yet to lose by double digits this year. It is pretty select company with only Murray State of the Ohio Valley Conference, Dayton of the A-10 and just three other High Major teams in Baylor, and two projected No. 1 seeds in Purdue and Kansas.

The good news is that Cincinnati turns the ball over a lot, so MU has a chance to have a huge advantage in turnovers, and they don’t draw fouls, which is very crucial since MU cannot afford to have Lazar Hayward or Jimmy Butler in foul trouble.

The bad news is that Cincy defends the 3-pointer well (32.5% of threes allowed), which is a big concern after Pitt held MU to 5 of 19 on treys, knocking MU down to 41.6% for the year and from 1st to 4th in the country (though still 1st among Major Conferences).

I was concerned that perhaps a strong three-point defense was a tough match-up for MU since Pitt was the toughest against the trey in the Big East. However, in looking further, the only tougher 3-point defense MU has faced was Xavier, which is actually the 3rd toughest in the country at 27.5% allowed. As easily as MU handled Xavier, ranked 19th in the RPI today, it appears it was either just an offnight or a particularly good scheme by Jamie Dixon that stopped MU from their normal 3-ball sharpshooting. In fact, Syracuse, UWM, UConn and South Florida are all tougher than Cincy at denying the trey.

While Cincy has shown scary potential in beating Vandy (No. 11 RPI) and Maryland (No. 35) before a two-point loss to Gonzaga, they have not blown anyone away on their home court in Big East play. Pitt and Syracuse are the only two to go into Cincy and win, so this would be a huge quality win for MU, but UConn (2 points), ND (2 points), Providence (4 points) and USF (8 points) have all kept it close in Cincy.

The pressure built with “losing serve” with the home loss to Pitt. A win at Cincinnati today would give MU some cushion in making the tourney. A loss would not eliminate MU, but it would certainly tighten the pressure heading into two more tough road games before MU returns to the Bradley Center against Louisville.

MU controls it's destiny, and some good things happened this week to cushion the blow of the Pitt loss. UConn is back in the Top 50 of the RPI, adding a quality road win to Marquette's resume, Xavier is now in the Top 20 RPI after thrashing a team competiting with MU (Florida) on the road. That makes MU 2-6 against the RPI Top 20, a very impressive asterick to the 3-7 overall against the Top 50 RPI. It didn't hurt to have NC State destroy No. 25 Wake Forest by 14, having already beaten Duke by the same margin, to help make DePaul the only really bad loss (though remember they did at least beat a ranked Northern Iowa team).

It’s not do-or-die yet, but we are almost in playoff mode right now.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

wheeeew...it was torture watching this game on ESPN GameCast.

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