"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, December 31, 2010

WVU (projected #15 RPI) morning tip-off; MU needs 10 wins to make NCAA

For those of you who are just turning your attention from football (where the Big East has added TCU and gone 3-1 in Bowls!), here is what Marquette has going into the 10 a.m. opener against West Virginia tomorrow. West Virginia projects to finish as the 15th ranked team in the RPI at the end of the year (www.rpiforecast.com), so a win would put MU on track for the NCAA tournament, while a loss would project them to fall just short.

The good: MU passes the eyeball test with great showings on TV vs. Duke at Vandy (two teams projected to finish in the Top 10 in the RPI at the end of the year) and MU is one of the most exciting teams in the nation (15th in the nation in scoring, 7th in shooting, 12th in assists).

However, the Big East will be brutal as by far the No. 1 conference in the country based on RPI, and MU enters conference play without a quality win and projected to finish 9-9 with 4 quality wins (top 50 RPI) and one bad loss (not in top 100) and the 66th best RPI in the country.

Which players get MU to 10 wins & an NCAA invite?

That won’t be quite enough for MU to make their 6th straight tourney, so MU will have to improve slightly, either going 10-8 in conference play to up their projected RPI to 54, OR going 9-9 but winning at least one game in the Big East tournament.

In looking at where the two extra steals, rebounds or made shots a game could come from, I took each players stats from only the five tough games this year, and projected what each player would average per minute on the floor. If Buzz basically settles on having four of MUs best five players on the court at all time, here is what you get with 32 minutes played by each:

Vander Blue 3-9 (1-3 on treys), 2-2 FT, 9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers, 2 steals
Jimmy Butler 5-11 (1-2 on treys) 3-5 FT, 14 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 1 steal
Dwight Buycks 4-8 (1-3 on treys) 0-1 FT, 9 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 turnovers, 2 steals
Jae Crowder 4-8 (1-3 treys) 2-2 FT, 11 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover, 3 steals, 1 block
Darius Johnson-Odom 5-13 (2-6 treys) 4-5 FT, 16 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers, 0 steals

Because of the lack of rebounding from the centers, it seems to me Crowder must be on the court most of the time, as his 7 rebounds per 32 minutes against the good teams is almost twice what anyone else will produce, and like Lazar Hayward last year, he has an incredible 3 steals a game in the big games. He also is the 10th best player in the country at not turning the ball over, according to www.kenpom.com.

With Blue and Buycks playing great defense and both average 4 rebounds and 2 steals per 32 minutes in the tough games, if Blue just starts to get a couple of more jumpers to fall (like the trey that rattled out against Vandy) it could be the difference. After a poor start shooting, DJO has averaged 3 of 5 in treys the last two games, and if he does that or even 3 of 6, MU starts winning these close games.

Centers hitting 70%+ of shots in big games but not rebounding

The good news is that Marquette finally has scoring from the five spot inside, as Davante Gardner and Chris Otule have hit more than 70% of their shots IN THE FIVE BIG GAMES. If you give them both 16 minutes, that gives you a very efficient 14 points a game from the center position in 32 minutes. Gardner’s the better offensive player, with great hands and gets to the line, while Otule is the better defensive player with two blocked shots a game. The biggest problem for MU is that in those same 32 minutes the two centers only combine for 5 rebounds a game – another reason Crowder needs to be on the court to help. Giving them both 16 minutes, their stats project to:

Gardner 3-4 (no treys) 2-3 FT, 8 points, 3 rebounds, 1 turnover, 1 steal
Otule 3-3 (no free throws) 6 points, 2 rebounds, 1 turnover, 2 blocks
Total from all 7 above: 27-56 (6-17 treys) 13-18 FT, 73 points, 29 rebounds, 11 turnovers, 9 steals

That leaves 8 minutes for the incredible depth provided by Junior Cadougan (7 assists vs. Duke) at point guard, or one of three 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-7 players with nice shooting touch. The Centenary game showed potential for both young four stars in Jamail Jones (3 for 4 on treys for 11 points in 11 minutes) and Erik Williams (7 points and 10 rebounds in 23 minutes). Senior Joe Fulce missed the first four big games with his two knee injuries, but if recovered may be the best rebounding option with about 2 rebounds every 8 minutes.

Victory projections for season

Since MU has averaged giving up 73 points in the five tough games, just settling on this line-up gets MU even in the big games even if there is NO IMPROVEMENT. Inexperienced teams like MU typically improve more than experienced teams. However, assuming there is no improvement either through settling on a line-up or any players improving, here is a summary of what a combination of www.rpiforecast.com, Sagarin and www.kenpom.com project.

While Marquette’s current RPI of 150 looks terrible, the fact is that if they went just 6-12 in conference play, the RPI would go to about 106th. Here is the anticipated RPI depending on conference record:

7-11: RPI 92
8-10: RPI 77
9-9: RPI 66
10-8: RPI 54
11-7: RPI 44
12-6: RPI 36

Quality wins

Based on www.rpiforecast.com, MU has just missed quality wins against teams projected to finish No. 3 (Duke), No. 7 (Vanderbilt on the road), No. 28 (Wisconsin) and No. 64 (Gonzaga) in the final RPI.

MU is projected to win two games against eventual RPI Top 25 teams (some combination of WVU, at Pitt, at Lville, UConn, Syracuse, at Nova, at Gtown, UConn), and get two or three more against other top 50 teams (ND, at ND, St. John’s, with Cincy projected to finish No. 52 before winning tonight).

So a 9-9 record with four or five wins against RPI top 50 puts MU right on the bubble, and 10-8 with four or five Top 50 wins puts them in the tourney.

Keep in mind these projections anticipate MU goes 5-1 against non-top 50 teams. Both DePaul and Providence are coming to the Bradley Center, so even assuming MU takes care of business in those two games, they really can only afford to lose one of four at Rutgers (Wednesday), and South Florida, or during a home-and-home to Seton Hall at the end of the year after Jeremy Hazell has returned.

All four of those games are possible losses, and because of Hazell sitting out most of the season, any loss in those four games will likely show up as a “bad loss” (all three teams will likely NOT be in the top 100 in the final RPI).

In summary, the great news is that the Big East is so good that MU has plenty of opportunities to ring up resume building wins and make the tourney with 10 wins.

The bad news is that the Big East is so good that 16 of the 18 games will be very tough and if MU slides even slightly, it could have its first losing season since joining the Big East.

Tomorrow is huge.

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