"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

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Playing the hand you are dealt

Three games in three days at the Big East Tournament brings to light the strengths and weaknesses of any team fortunate enough to advance. For the Marquette Warriors life in the spotlight was productive, taking home a 2-1 record including a much-needed signature win against Villanova, an RPI top 20 opponent.

The St. John’s game showed once more that MU excels in tight games where the maturity of its three seniors enables the Warriors to maintain a puncher’s chance late, even when the team is not playing well. The grittiness Lazar Hayward displayed late in the game by making the team’s best defensive play of the season followed by clutch free throws was the latest example of Marquette's mettle. In a classic ‘survive and advance’ game, the Warriors did just that. Marquette can win ugly.

In the Villanova matchup, the best game Marquette played against a top Big East opponent this season, the Warriors again showed late-game toughness and displayed the value of the team’s extraordinary effort. The Wildcats simply could not break Marquette from its rhythm in the game’s final eleven minutes where Buzz’s crew reversed the ball on offense leading to improved shot selection while defending well enough to maintain the lead.

David Cubillan’s extraordinary defensive effort on Scottie Reynolds proved this team has shut down capability against an opponent’s best backcourt player. Marquette's defensive effectiveness didn't stop there - note the combined defensive effort on the Wildcats’ Reggie Redding, who struggled on 1-9 shooting thanks to blanket defense keyed by Jimmy Butler.

Another interesting note about the Villanova game was the now predictable result of a team playing two traditional post players against Marquette. While Antonio Pena was superb with 14 points, Mouphtaou Yarou played 15 ineffective minutes on Thursday. Playing both players at the same time arguably made Villanova’s offense less effective (MU won the turnover battle convincingly) and they struggled to defend Marquette’s quicker roster. Once again the Warriors dictated the style of play despite a thinner, smaller and less talented roster.

Georgetown was another story entirely. Greg Monroe was Godzilla last night, destroying every defense the Warriors threw at him. In every way Monroe was the difference and in particular his calm presence with the basketball was the key to Marquette’s misery.

For the first time all season the Warriors faced a team which thrived against their frenetic defense. With Monroe at the center of it all the Hoyas maintained great spacing on its offensive sets, easily manipulating Marquette's defense. With just nine turnovers on the night the Hoyas ran roughshod on MU, shooting 54% shooting from the field thanks to a patient offensive which yielded high-quality looks. While MU was madly scrambling to disrupt the Hoyas’ offensive flow the Warriors’ own offense hit the wall as John Pudner noted in his recap. Don’t expect Marquette to score like a Big Ten team in the NCAA Tournament; eight points over 20 possessions was a fatigue-induced anomaly.

Thankfully for Marquette there is no post player in the country like Greg Monroe (consider the results of the Villanova game) and the forgiving NCAA tournament schedule minimizes the need for a deep roster. Heading into the tournament Marquette is still a team opponents don’t want to see in their bracket. As Brendon Desrochers from Baseline Stats pointed out earlier this month the formula for Marquette’s success is unique,

“The amazing thing about this year’s Marquette defense is its ability to combine forcing turnovers with not fouling. Last year’s team didn’t send its opponents to the line but didn’t force that many turnovers, which is normal. There is a strong correlation between forcing turnovers and fouling, as the more aggressive defensive teams tend to do both.

This year, though, Marquette enters the final weekend of the conference season first in turnovers forced (21.7 percent of possessions) and first in fewest free-throws allowed (26.2 free throws per 100 field goal attempts)”

No Monroe. No more three games in three nights. No problem. On to Selection Sunday.

A few Big East Tournament notes:
  • The Marquette Office of Alumni Relations did a fantastic job with pre and post-game gatherings throughout the week. Many thanks to the University for it’s aggressive approach to alumni engagement.
  • According to StatSheet.com Marquette improved its NCAA profile dramatically in New York City. The Warriors RPI now stands at 49 with a projected SOS of 41.
  • The Warriors are 10-2 since February 1, including four road wins and two neutral site victories.
  • Lazar Hayward averaged 15 points per game in 10 career games in the Big East Tournament. Hayward scored in double figures in every game during that span.
  • David Cubillan scored in double figures in the first two games of the Big East Tournament, the third time this year he's accomplished that. MU won five of those six games.
  • At MSG Maurice Acker handed out 11 assists against just three turnovers. Acker did not turn the ball over in his final 69 minutes of action in the tournament, the entirety of the Villanova and Georgetown games. Acker's assist to turnover ratio now stands at 3.1/1 for the season.
  • For fans who didn’t make it to NYC -- hope that Syracuse and UConn lose early every year then book your trip to Manhtattan. The scalper action on the street was easy pickings for casual fans with two of the largest fan bases out of commission for most of the week (the afternoon quarterfinals being the lone exception).
  • MSG is woefully outdated in matters of convenience such as wider concourses and access to restrooms. However at tipoff there is no better place to see a game. The sight lines in the Garden are terrific for hoops, with few if any unobstructed views and a classic bowl that makes even a large crowd feel much more intimate.
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1 comment:

Smoove said...

Lots of thoughts, but will forego "hearing myself write," just long enough to say, I feel pretty damn good when those neutrals calling the game tag Marquette players as "perhaps the most relentless in college basketball." Witness one Maurice Acker, who just played on after that bone-jarring pick. Love 'ya, guys. (Alright, you too, Buzz.)