"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

Friday, November 26, 2010

Giving thanks for being in the best conference - 15 potential quality wins

I’m thankful for MU being a part of the best basketball conference in the country because MU has 15 more chances at quality wins.

The Big 10-ACC challenge was to feature No. 1 Duke vs. No. 2 Michigan State, until unranked UConn beat Michigan State.

The fact is, while the challenge is supposed to pit No. 1 vs. No. 1 through No. 11 vs. No. 11 in the Big 10 and ACC, if you use the rankings at www.kenpom.com to run the same hypothetical matchup between all conferences on neutral courts, the Big East is clearly the winner against either conference or any other so far this year.

Through today, the Big East goes undefeated under this hypothetical format against 29 other conferences including the Pac 10 and SEC. The Big East goes 10-1 against the ACC (only Pitt rated lower than Duke), and 9-2 against the Big 12, leaving the Big 10 and the Big East as the top two conferences.

The Big East and Big 10 are very even through the top 6 teams, hypothetically splitting the six going by the ratings. However, the Big East would be huge favorites when pitting the No. 7 through No. 11 teams from both conferences against their counterpart: (26th Lville>47th PSU, 37th Marquette>65th NW, 45th ND>71st Indiana, 51st SH>86th Michigan and 56th St. John’s>103rd Iowa).

MU has 15 more shots at quality wins

While this could change, the reason the Big East’s spot as the top conference so far is important is that the stiff competition means MU has 15 more games against quality opponents.

Go 7-8 in those games and MU is easily in the tournament with a good seed, even if MU were upset someplace like at UWM or USF to finish 21-10. Go 5-10 in those games an MU could still make it – so the opportunity is there in the Big East.

MUs potential - strong in 7 of 8 categories

The inexperienced MU team has certainly shown the potential to get a lot of quality wins, even if the Big East does continue to be the top conference (not to mention opportunities against Wisconsin and at Vanderbilt).

MU is very good at 7 of the 8 things that determine the winner in 90%+ of games (the Four Factors on offense and defense).

On offense MU shoots well, gets to the foul line, protects the ball and grabs offensive rebounds much better than most teams. I am sure critics will point to poor 3-point shooting and inconsistent foul shooting, but these weaknesses are more than overcome by MUs ability to get to the line and hit 2-pointers:

• MU is shooting 66.1% from the line compared to the national average of 67.6%. While that may cost MU about 1 point every four games, the fact that they drive to the hoop gets MU as many free throws and field goal attempts - worth several extra points EVERY game.
• While MU is terrible at 3-point shooting (28.4%), they are the best they’ve ever been at 54.4% on two-point shots (only once since Wade left have they shot 50% on 2-pointers). Simple solution, MU takes a 2-point shot 77.1% of the time meaning overall they are a very good shooting team overall.

On defense, MU is strong on forcing turnovers, keeping opponents off the line, and defensive rebounding (despite the abysmal 2nd half against Gonzaga). That leaves only one weakness – opponents’ shooting.

MU is giving up a terrible 39.2% on three-pointers, and unlike on offense, they can’t choose how often opponents take the 3-pointer. Opponents choose to take a 3-pointer 33% of the time.

Unlike the senior-dominated 2008-09 team that was about as good as they were going to get at the beginning of the season, an inexperienced team like this one typically only gets better as the year goes on and players play together.

Davante Gardner will only get in better shape to improve his defense to go along with his offense, Dwight Buycks and Junior Cadougan will only get more comfortable running the point, Jae Crowder and Vander Blue will only get more dominant as they get used to playing with everyone else on the court.

Marquette needs to figure out how to make adjustments to lower opponents’ field goal percentage. However, a team this good at everything else already and with so much potential to get better will have a great chance for a lot of quality wins this year in the Big East.

In the preseason predictions I picked MU to lose to Duke and Gonzaga but finish 23-8. The bad news is 23 wins is going to be pretty tough due to the Big East being much better than expected, but the good news is it is not going to take nearly that many wins to make the tournament with a team that could well be peaking on their way to Georgetown, the University of Arizona, Denver, the University of South Florida, Cleveland State University, UNCC, Chicago or the University of Tulsa for the opening round in mid-March.

After watching this team courtside for two days in Kansas City, I believe we may get a tourney win or two even before the arrival of top 100 players Jamail Jones and Juan Anderson and freshman turning into sophomores next year.

Big East vs. Top 50

For the record, the seven Big East teams ahead of MU at www.kenpom.com are 8-1 against top 50 teams:
Pitt (4th) – beat 5th Texas 68-66
Nova (6th) – beat 42nd UCLA 82-70
Georgetown (9th) – beat 44th ODU 62-59 (away) and 38th NC State 82-67
Syracuse (13th) – no top 50 opponents
West Virginia (23rd) – beat 27th Vandy 74-71, lost to 31st Minn 74-70
UConn (26th) – beat 8th Mich St 70-67, beat 14th Kent 84-67
Louisville (29th) – beat 36th Butler 88-73 (home)
Marquette (37th) – lost 1st Duke 82-77, lost to 43rd Gonzaga 66-63

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