"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, November 15, 2010

On the Beat: Q/A with Todd Rosiak

The Marquette Warriors are off to a solid 2-0 start to the season after topping Bucknell at home yesterday. The meat of the non-conference schedule hits in the next eight days and to get us ready we're pleased to welcome Todd Rosiak, MU's beat reporter from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, for a Q/A. Todd has been covering Marquette hoops for nine seasons and knows more about the program than just about anybody. For those of you who are Twitter-inclined be sure to follow Todd there. Todd, thanks for your time and expertise .... here we go ---

Several national pundits have high expectations for MU despite a roster with little Division I experience, are those expectations justified?

Based on what Williams has been able to do in each of his first two seasons at MU, I don't see any reasons NOT to expect another strong season (and subsequent NCAA tournament berth). Buzz finally has a roster comprised strictly of players he's recruited (with Fulce and Otule players he recruited as an assistant to Crean), and although he still lacks the true big-bodied, low-post presence that everyone's been clamoring for (editors note - response from Todd came in before the Bucknell game), he's got talented depth at pretty much every other spot. Inexperience will be something of a concern, but some of that youth -- most notably Vander Blue -- has played in pressure situations before, which should help in making the transition to the Big East. Save for some major injury problems, and a manageable Big East schedule, I think this roster is more than talented enough from top to bottom to get MU into the NCAAs for the sixth straight season.

Coach Buzz Williams successfully adapted his system to account for the talent on-hand in his first two seasons at MU. Do you expect more of the same this year, or was last year's style of play what MU fans should expect going forward?
I think Williams' ability to adapt to the talent he has is one of his strongest suits as a coach. The job he did last year, getting that short and short-handed squad into the NCAAs, was nothing short of remarkable. Achieving that meant slowing the pace down as much as possible to limit possessions in order to keep opposing teams' bigs from having field days. The lack of depth also played a role in that. Since MU still doesn't have that impact big in the middle, and will often be playing undersized lineups, I would expect Williams to employ a similar style offensively -- although not to the degree he did last year. He'll pick and choose his spots to open things up a bit. Being longer and deeper will also help MU pressure the ball more defensively on the perimeter, which will help.

The depth on this year's team looks to be better than in previous seasons under Buzz Williams. Which players do you see in the primary rotation, and related, do you expect to see the freshmen contribute consistent minutes?
This team is the deepest in my nine years covering MU, and that includes the Final Four squad. Now, obviously I'm not suggesting it's as talented -- you had a once-in-a-generation-type player in Wade and two other eventual NBA players, as well as two very good bigs in Jackson and Merritt, back then. But that team also went just eight deep, for the most part. I'm just saying this year, from front to back, Buzz has a group of 12 scholarship players that should be able to impact a game in a particular way on a given night if the situation calls for it. To me, aside from the depth it's the versatility of this group that makes it good. Almost everyone on the roster can play more than one position and do different things, and that clearly has been what Buzz has targeting in recruiting since taking over. Assuming everyone stays healthy, it's probably going to be weird for Buzz to be able to look down the bench and see a whole contingent of guys he can throw out onto the court and be able to expect good things out of.

Which player do you expect to deliver an upside surprise this season & why ?
Among the returnees, I think DJO is primed for a huge season. He looks bigger and stronger, and ready to make an immediate impact. My biggest beef with him last year, which I wrote numerous times, was I thought he was far too hesitant offensively on certain nights. For a guy as talented as he is, that cannot happen this season. If I were coach I'd tell him, 'If you DON'T shoot the ball when you're in position to score, you're sitting.' Maybe Buzz does; I don't know. But he's got to limit that shot fake of his and just let it fly.

I know you asked for surprises, but I think DJO still fits in this category -- I don't believe we've really even seen him scratch the surface of how good he can be. As far as newcomers, I really like what Reggie Smith brings to the table. He'll have his ups and downs, like most freshmen, but if he can deliver the kind of energy he did in his 14 minutes against St. John's in the exhibition in 14 minutes against, say, Wisconsin or Villanova, he could wind up being the real dark-horse signing from last year's class.

Marquette will have players from California, Texas, Canada, Alaska, North Carolina and parts unknown on next year's roster. Do you think Buzz Williams' wide recruiting footprint is a strength for MU, or a representation of perceived shortcomings about the program relative to its Midwestern neighbors and Big East brethren?
Every coach has his recruiting comfort zone. Crean's, for the most part, was in the Midwest. Buzz's is obviously Texas. His assistants, meanwhile, do a good job on both coasts. I think the roster speaks to all of that. As long as you can land big-time players, people really don't care where they're from. In time you'd postulate Buzz would like to start mining the Chicago scene a little more, and assuming Reggie Smith makes a contribution and enjoys his time at MU, you would think that will certainly be possible down the road. With MU battling Wisconsin for the limited in-state talent each year, I think you'll continue to see Buzz win some and lose some. But overall, aside from those who continue to question his ability to recruit an impact big, I don't think anyone can really quibble with the amount of versatile talent Buzz has been able to put together in three years.

Published reports indicate that both TCU and UCF were contacted about joining the Big East as football members only, something both institutions are resisting. Is the Big East is setting up a scenario where it will attempt to justify adding schools like this in order to remain a viable BCS league at the cost of dropping a few basketball-only schools? Do you think MU is at-risk of being tossed from the Big East?
Football steers the ship everywhere, obviously, and even though the product the Big East has put out in recent years has not been strong, it's still the best and easiest way for the league and the schools to make money. I would expect the league to have to re-tool or re-align itself at some point if/when it adds more schools. Where MU fits into that picture remains to be seen. Obviously, the lack of a football team doesn't help it, but I don't think it necessarily dooms the school to being booted from the league, either. While MU hasn't made a deep run in the NCAA tournament since joining, you could argue it's been the strongest of the five schools added from C-USA based on its five straight 10-win seasons. There's something to be said for that. MU's decision makers also enjoy a STRONG relationship from what I can gather with the Big East brass. Believe me, that doesn't hurt.

Thanks again, Todd!

We hope you enjoyed the feature with Todd today. In the coming weeks he'll offer a Q/A over at the Anonymous Eagle -- so keep an eye out for that.

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