"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, January 31, 2011

Guest post: Marquette, pace and the rest of the schedule

The time has come to head back to math class and take a hard look at this year's Marquette basketball team and we're pleased to welcome the inimitable Dr. Blackheart back to Cracked Sidewalks for another guest post.

To a degree today's post builds on Dr. Blackheart's recent look at MU's defense. Yes, the good doctor's expertise is habit-forming. Thanks again, Doc.


From the bar stools of Old World Third Street and the Third Ward to the keyboards of the interwebs, every MU fan with a right index finger (to order the next round or to hunt ‘n peck for that second exclamation point) has anointed themselves the next “Coach in Waiting” based upon their theories about MU’s defense. According to Statsheet, our vaunted Warriors are #1 in Big East play in offensive efficiency (1.18 PPP). MU can “tickle the twine” like no other in a tough, tough conference with great, experienced coaches who know how to shut a team down. Conversely, our defensive efficiency of 1.09 PPP is second to last, tied with a few conference standing bottom feeders after DePaul.

This is not news to anyone who follows Buzz’s Dozen as the sale of Tagamet in Greater Milwaukee is up 75% with all these “so close but yet so far” games. The boys really stepped up against Syracuse and are learning how to finish off opponents. However, our defensive efficiency still was not great (1.08) against the Orange, especially in the 2nd half where SU shot a blistering 68.2%. The outcome was favorable this weekend, but the symptoms of the patient are still present.

As a fan, I have always been most interested in strategy of coaches more than other aspect of the game. The Big East is the #1 competitive conference in the land, but the ability and creativity of the coaches are legendary. On top of that, the schedule and pressure are grueling with quick turnarounds, packed houses and national TV audiences. Word of a team or player strength or weakness travels quickly in today’s digital world. Being curious, I dove a little deeper into the advance stats on the internet to see what an opposing coach might see about MU that maybe isn’t so apparent by perusing the box score.

Beyond the Averages

Taking a step back, we discussed previously how Buzz uses his defense—like Lovie Smith’s in football-- to limit an opponent’s offense by pressuring for turnovers at pinch points in order to feed the energy of MU’s offensive juggernaut. One way to statistically define energy is by looking at the number of possessions. Last season, with MU’s make-up, Buzz wanted to limit possessions. This season, he wants to increase that energy--which is more his stated natural philosophy. To delve deeper, I took a look at each of our games to see how this looks in numbers.

First, I segmented games from this season into above average possession games (>69 per game) and those at/below the average. Here is what I found:

  • MU is 7-2 in above average possession games.
  • MU is 7-6 in games at or below that average.
  • MU’s offensive efficiency in both segments of the games is almost exactly the same (1.16 vs. 1.17)
  • MU defensive efficiency in fast paced games is 0.89, while average to slower paced games the statistic is 1.10. Ah, the magic bean: “Slow MU down and you can break them down!”
More so, in faster paced games, MU’s opponents assist less and turn the rock over at a higher rate (0.90 assist to turnover ratio vs. 1.36), and their opponents’ offensive (28% vs. 36%) and defensive (58% vs. 68%) rebounding rates are lower. This is further “proof in numbers” of how offensive energy is so critical in Buzz’s defensive philosophy this season—and why coaches are trying to slow MU down, especially with adjustments after MU has jumped to leads.

Buzz has always stressed a highly efficient offensive philosophy, predicated on paint touches. What did this offensive-defensive difference look like last season when MU wanted a slower paced game to fight starter attrition—with this leading to a record number of close games? The answer: the same. While the game possession average was down (65), fast and slow/average paced games saw MU with similar levels of offensive efficiency, but MU’s defensive efficiency was much lower (better) in faster paced games at 96.0 vs. 104.2 in slower grinders.

So, the chess game between coaches will continue: Brey stressing his “Burn Offense”, Pitino with the switching zones and the three quarters trap, Boeheim with the 2-3 zone, Calhoun slowing down Walker and putting their younglings in a position to score by working the shot clock. Upcoming, Nova likes a faster paced game as does Providence, but the remainder of the teams on the schedule like to take the air out of ball or are even paced. Buzz will try to feed the offensive vortex from the get-go.

My advice: Try Tum’s if the Tagamet is sold out.

It's almost February, which means Bracketology preparations are beginning

Are they in? Are they out? Who are the last 4 in? Who are the last 4 out? What's their RPI? How about their SOS and their road wins? 68 teams....4 play in games? Soft bubble? S-Curve? Ah, February is just about in the air which means the last NFL game is about to be played and college basketball junkies take over for the next 8 weeks.

February is also the start of Bracketology Season, the time when math geeks, prognosticators, die hard fans and tv talking heads around the country predict who are "absolute locks", which teams have work to do and who is on the bubble.

For Marquette fans, we may just hear more of this talk then others in 2011 because we're certainly not a lock at this point but have a team, RPI, and schedule that will have the pundits talking about MU's chances.

So is MU in? Depends who you ask. Most will caveat their answers by saying "if the bids came out today". So let's take a look at the internets and see what folks are saying about our Warriors.

At the popular Bracket Matrix website, 50 bracket projections are used to aggregate a team's seed. In 43 of the 50, Marquette is considered a NCAA tournament team with an average seed of 10. The other 7 sites believe MU will be left out. The highest seed given to MU is an 8 with the lowest at 13 (also chosen as the last team in the field).

Then there are those sites the choose not to be part of the aggregation at Bracket Matrix. Dance Card is one such site that has a 96.5% accuracy in choosing teams in the tournament the last decade. If bids came out today, MU would be the 2nd team left out behind Cleveland State. Of course, bids aren't given out today which is the good news.

In the coming weeks and days, MU and many other teams will have a chance to impress the committee and improve their resume. The expansion to 68 teams will make things a tad bit more interesting to see what the committee does with those remaining three slots. Do they reward mid-majors or the blue blood conferences? Will the Big East get as many as 11 bids? Is defending national runner-up Butler on the outside looking in? Kansas State? Gonzaga? Baylor? UCLA? Will Memphis be passed over for the second straight year?

Should be a wild ride.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

3 RPI Top 25 wins = Top 10 NCAA seed

Note: A couple of times a season I send an email to a couple of hundred people either in the media or athletic departments. Below is the text of the one I sent last night. Nice to see that everyone this week had us as a 10-seed or higher, and Forecast RPI updated today by moving MU (now No. 7-seed) and Tennessee (now #6) the two teams that moved up. Scan down below this post for a few great pieces on the Syracuse win by others.

11 teams have 3 RPI Top 25 wins
All 11 project as 10-seeds or better in TSN, ESPN & Forecast RPI

In the three bracket projections that have come out this week, one thing is clear. If your team has beaten three RPI Top 25 teams, you are at least a 10-seed.

The following are the 11 teams who have beaten at least three teams in the RPI Top 25, the list of the teams they have beaten, and their projected seed based on the Sporting News and ESPN, which both were updated this week, and Forecast RPI, which is updated every day.

Connecticut - defeated Kentucky, Texas, Nova, Tennessee (Projected Seed: Sporting News #2, ESPN #2, Forecast RPI #1)

Marquette - defeated Notre Dame, West Virginia, Syracuse (Projected Seed: #10, #10, #8 - up to #7 today)

Michigan State - defeated Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin (Projected Seed: #6, #6, #8)

Minnesota - defeated UNC, WVU, Purdue (Projected Seed: #5, #6, #7)

Notre Dame - defeated Wisconsin, Georgetown, UConn, Syracuse (Projected Seed: #4, #4, #2)

Ohio State - defeated Florida, Minnesota, Purdue (Projected Seed: #1, #1, #1)

Pittsburgh - defeated Texas, UConn, Georgetown, Syracuse (Projected Seed: #1, #1, #1)

St. John's - defeated West Virginia, Georgetown, Notre Dame (Projected Seed: #9, #10, #9)

Tennessee - defeated Nova, Pitt, Vandy (Projected Seed: #8, #9, #7 - up to #6 seed today)

Texas - defeated UNC, Texas A&M, Kansas (Projected Seed: #3, #2, #2)

West Virginia - defeated Vandy, Georgetown, Purdue (Projected Seed: #5, #5, #3)

Since the Sporting News and ESPN brackets came out this week, all of the teams have won at least one more game except for Michigan State (lost to Michigan), Pitt (lost to Notre Dame, playing Rutgers as this is sent) and St. John's (lost to Georgetown).

The RPI Top 25 was pulled at 2 p.m. today from Real-time RPI.

A few of the top teams have simply not had a chance to play many RPI Top 25 teams. For example, ranked teams Duke, BYU, Purdue, San Diego State, St. Mary's and Utah State have not beaten an RPI top 25 yet, with Utah State yet to beat a Top 100 team.

By tomorrow, Georgetown could leap frog several teams to claim four Top 25 RPI victories to become the 12th team on this list. The Hoyas win over Villanova is their only RPI Top 25 win right now, but three of their victims (Missouri, St. John's and ODU) are the #26, #27 and #28, so could easily all slide into the Top 25 this weekend.


I've gone through my share of Bradley Center losses and let me tell you: Winning is so much better than losing.

Staring down a three-game losing streak and a sub-.500 Big East record, the Marquette Warriors were tougher down the stretch than the Syracuse Orange, taking home a resounding, surprising, exhilarating monkey-off-their-back 76-70 victory on National Marquette Day.

The sold out Bradley Center crowd watched Jae Crowder lead MU with 25 points and seven boards .. but it was the pair of Jimmy Butler three-pointers in the games's final five minutes and a key Chris Otule block in the games closing moments that secured the clutch victory.

With Marquette clinging a 60-59 advantage with just about four minutes to play, Butler nailed a CLUTCH three-pointer as the shot clock expired to push the MU lead 63-59 with 4:05 remaining.

At the 2:29 mark, Syracuse tied it up and the clear thought going through Warrior Nation was .. "here we go again."

Not. So. Fast.

JFB and DJO connected on back-to-back 3 pointers to push the MU lead to 72-66. With MU holding a 73-68 lead in the game's final 40 seconds Otule delivered a clean block on a Scoop Jardine layup to preserve the lead. All told the Warriors were ferocious down the stretch, delivering a 10-4 run in the game's final two minutes to secure the 76-70 win. As DJO dribbled out the final seconds, the Bradley Center was rocking a well earned victory on National Marquette Day.

Marquette shot an impressive 52% from the floor this afternoon and made a laudable 24-33 from the free throw line while the Orange attempted just 14 freebies connecting on just eight.

While Crowder led with 25, Jimmy F. Butler finished with 19 points and Darius Johnson-Odom added 17 on just seven shot attempts (7-7 from the free throw line). Dwight Buycks turned in a solid floor game with six points, eight assists and five boards.

With the victory MU improves to 14-8 overall and 5-4 in the Big East.

Clutch. Seriously clutch.
MUTV Sports delivers a recap

Lost and Found......timeouts

On an administrative note, we're happy to announce that the coaching staff found the universal hand gesture symbolizing a timeout and used it today. In face, not only used them but used them wisely but judiciously. Well done.

Late in the first half, with MU up 11 points, Syracuse hit two shots to cut it to 6 and Buzz called a T.O. It stopped the Orange's momentum and MU was soon up 11 to close the half.

Opening of the second half, MU comes out sluggish while Syracuse hits two baskets to open the half and cut the lead to seven. Buzz wastes to time to call a T.O. to get his guys on the same page. Well done.

I would have liked to have seen one around the 10 minute mark when Syracuse has just run off 6 points in 30 seconds compounded with a Vander Blue turnover in the middle of a 3+ minute scoring drought, but it worked out. Let's hope we don't hide those timeouts again, they are a valuable tool. They don't always work but often can settle the boys down and slow down the momentum of the other team.

Marquette blows another double digit second half lead and...erh...wait...they hold on to win

It looked like another collapse. It smelled like another collapse. The fans at the Bradley Center could feel it, urging their team on as Syracuse tied the game three times despite trailing by double digits to MU in the second half. You can't blame the fans, the players or anyone else for feeling this way. MU has blown second half leads at an alarming pace the last few years.....but something different happened today....they didn't lose it. They fought back, they played physical defense, and they willed this one to the finish line.

The loss marked the 4th straight for Syracuse who will likely drop out of the top 25 (or close to it), but MU doesn't care as this was nearly a must win for the Warriors. The victory marks the first win over Syracuse since MU joined the Big East and the first over the Orange(men) since 1983 when Rick Majerus was roaming the sidelines for Marquette.

MU snaps a 2 game losing streak and more importantly found a way to win a game in which they again gave up a double digit lead in the second half.

Up next for Marquette is a trip to Philadelphia and Villanova, a team that has lost 2 games in a row and three of their last four.

Game balls go to Jimmy Butler for nailing two huge three pointers and Jae Crowder for his toughness and clutch shots of his own.

MU attempts to be 10th team with 3 wins over RPI Top 25

Another day in the Big East, another top 10 opponent. So far Syracuse has mastered Marquette ever since MU entered the Big East, and we hope MU isn't discouraged in this stretch of killer games. Syracuse certainly has the talent to be the first team to beat MU by double digits in regular season play either this year or next, but we hope not.

Marquette should take heart in being one of only 17 teams to have already defeated more than one RPI Top 25 team (West Virginia and Notre Dame), and a win today would make Marquette one of only 10 teams in the country to have defeated three RPI Top 25. The only others with three wins are:

Michigan State, Minnesota, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, St. John's, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

Pretty select group, and a very nice one to be in that group.

And despite Rob's dismissal of the fact due to the Big East tournament loss, here is the list of all the teams that have not been defeated by double digits in the regular season either last year or this year:


I sort of believe if you've accomplished something that none of the other 344 teams have accomplished it's a good thing ...

A lot of close losses to great teams combined with a few wins over Top 25 teams is a nice formula for an NCAA bid. The commentators on the ACC broadcast between NC State and UNC just predicted the Big East gets 10 or 11 bids.

MU can take a big step today. A loss would mean probably having to win 6 of the last 9 - which admittedly would be tough with the schedule ahead.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Derailed MU looks to get back on track

The Orange come to town on Saturday in gut-check moment for the Marquette Warriors.

After a fine start to Big East play the Warriors (13-8) have stumbled to a 4-4 league record, losing three of their last four outings while blowing second half leads in each, two of them commanding advantages. Frustration from close losses and the team's inability to improve in core aspects of the game has fanbase as restless as it has been in years.

Of course, MU fans have seen this movie before. One year ago Marquette was struggling at 3-5 in Big East play, just up from its nadir of 2-5. The Warriors lost those five conference games by a combined 10 points, two by just a point including an embarrassing loss at DePaul. The season turned around with a solid home win against Rutgers followed by a last-second victory over UConn on the road. Momentum built as Marquette surged in the second half of Big East play, winning 9 of their final 11 regular season conference games.

It's time to move beyond this tombstone as a program*.

Rob gripes that technically Marquette had one double-digit loss last year (vs GU in the BET), but then the picture wouldn't be as funny.

Can the 2010-2011 team follow the same path to success? To do so the Warriors will have to beat the 10th ranked Syracuse Orange (18-3, 5-3) for the first time as a member of the Big EAST, on National Marquette Day. The Orange have their own issues, losing three games in a row, including a shocking 22-point loss at home to the Seton Hall Pirates on Tuesday. The tough stretch has fans wondering if it is time to hit the panic button for the Orange.

Great. Not only is our record atrociously bad on National Marquette Day (at least it seems like it is, though MU is roughly .500 in these games per MU) but Syracuse just seems to have our number. And they have a three game losing streak and will be dying for a win.

There's been enough negativity concerning the program this week. Let's talk about why this year Marquette is going to beat up on all the bad vibes, the National Marquette Day record, and Syracuse.

Looking at the numbers, Syracuse is a good, not great, defensive team and is a very good offensive team. The wild card, of course, is the vaunted Syracuse zone which could give MU fits. Syracuse is also dominant on the baseline, leading the nation in blocks and MU will have no match for Rick Jackson. While Boeheim's zone plays to the size of his baseline, the Orange are effective at defending the three-point shot. Expect a high scoring game... a shootout between two desperate teams. We believe that MU, who shoots and plays much better at home than on the road, simply has too much firepower in front of a packed house.

Tipoff is scheduled for 2pm Marquette Standard Time. The game will be broadcast on ESPNU with announcers Mark Jones and Fran Fraschilla. Go watch at a viewing party near you. Also, this weekend is Sneakers and Suits weekend for Coaches vs Cancer, so look forward to Buzz rocking some gear. (not sure why this is special - I wear sneakers with my suits ALWAYS)


Thursday, January 27, 2011

MU one of only 8 yet to lose by double digits after SDS falls

Tonight San Diego State became the 337th team to lose by double digits, leaving only #1 Ohio State, #2 Pitt, #3 Duke, #7 BYU, #15 Wisconsin, #22 Vanderbilt and unranked Belmont and Marquette as the only seven teams yet to lose by double digits this year. (see note at end)

What is truly amazing is that TV commentators noted last week that MU was one of only five teams to go through the regular season without a double digit loss, so the possibility that MU could do it two years in a row in which they were not ranked would defy all odds.

Buzz’s teams don’t get blown out despite already playing #2 Pitt, #3 Duke, #5 UConn, #15 Wisconsin, #19 Louisville, #22 Vandy and just outside the Top 25 West Virginia.
In determining whether or not a team would be competitive in the NCAA field, that makes MU very attractive if they come down to the bubble. How few teams can match MU’s competitiveness, when:

1. 19 of 25 ranked teams and all but one other unranked team besides MU have been beaten by double digits this season,
2. In #25 Utah State’s only game against a Big East team they lost by 17 points to Georgetown,
3. In #24 St. Mary’s only game against a common MU foe, they lost to Vanderbilt by 19.

This ability to play even the best few teams in the country to a single digit result is one of the reasons Forecast RPI predicts MU as a 9-seed even after the UConn loss, Pomeroy pegs MU as the 29th best team in the country and Sagarin has them just a few spots lower.

Is MU unlucky, or do they choke?
Which still leaves us with the fact that as good as MU is, they are only 13-8 and so probably need to go 6-4 to finish the regular season with a bid.

A 6-4 mark down the stretch is exactly what Pomeroy and Sagarin predict based on how well MU has played so far, leaving a 10-8, 19-12 mark that Forecast RPI would say results in a 9-seed, but which would probably be a couple of seeds lower.

However, critics who believe MU simply chokes away close games are skeptical that the team will win 6 of the final 10, believing they are too prone to “choking.”
When a team loses so many close games to excellent opponents, it always leads to an argument between those who say the team “chokes” and those who say the team is “unlucky.”

For critics, MU is tensing up when they have a lead and/or in the closing seconds, and if they keep doing that they will probably lose several more close games on the road to the NIT.

However, www.kenpom.com statistically measures “luck” by determining how many more wins a team would have if the ball had just bounced their way a couple of times. Pomeroy simply says that MU has been the 3rd unluckiest team this year, which is why he and Sagarin both peg MU to win six of their last 10 with just average luck.

When MU started 11-8 last year with a bunch of close losses, Pomeroy actually calculated that MU was the unluckiest team in the country and – like this year – was a couple of bounces away from having several more wins by then. Critics laughed off the “unluckiest” rating, but the fact that MU went on to get a No. 6-seed for a 22-11 record indicate Pomeroy may have been onto something.

Just make the tournament
The fact is that in basketball it’s all about making the tournament. I went through the football season as an Auburn season ticket holder, and if any of our six close games had gone the other way, we would have been playing in a much smaller bowl.
Thankfully, college basketball allows for close losses if you play in the Big East. Like pro football, where we all know the Packers barely snuck into the playoffs but are now in the Superbowl, the key is just to get into the tournament.

MU is good enough to hang with any team in the country any night out there, so it’s time to rally around the team to try to win 6 of these last 10 and get a bid.
Hopefully, we can then upset somebody in the tourney, and if nothing else it will be great experience for the chance we have at a truly special run next year.

Note: I went through all results for every team in a BCS Conference (73), ranked and/or in Pomeroy's top 70, so basically the best 100 teams in the country. If someone finds someone in a small conference that somehow didn't play any big teams and has no double digit losses, please comment and I will add them.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

MUTV UConn Recap

Using a timeout

Remember when Mike Deane would burn 1, 2 or even 3 timeouts in the first 10 minutes of the game to absolutely lay the lumber into Richard Shaw, Chris Crawford or someone else that obviously was not executing the game plan? Those were crazy days and I don't think anyone is harking back to them, but for crying out loud...USE A TIMEOUT when it's right.

Why is it that everyone in the arena can sense a timeout is warranted but our coach? Now, move 65 feet down the sideline and Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun gets it. At the 18:43 mark of the second half, he calls a timeout sensing a MU run. At the 12:35 mark, he calls another timeout when MU ties the game.

It's always one bucket too late. In the first half, MU is 19-14, the crowd is into it, but we let them go on an 11-2 run before finally calling a timeout trailing 21-25. Why are we waiting so long?

In the second half, after MU built up a 56-51 lead, a 9-4 UCONN run forced a timeout with the game tied 60-60. OK, we can live with that one. Then UCONN goes on another 6-0 run before we call the next timeout. We then manage to go another 3 minutes scoring a total of 3 points while UCONN extends their lead even greater before the next timeout.

Isn't a timeout used to stop the other team's momentum and to reorganize one's own team?

Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat.

Been there, done that and that and that and that again. Albert Einstein once defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."

Marquette with a lead in the second half finds way to squander it away and lose again. We have this one down pat it seems. It's not the first time this year, hell it's not the first time in the last 4 days. Once again Marquette finds a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Up 60 to 55 in the second half, MU allows a 13-0 run to #5 UCONN killing any hopes Marquette had of a victory tonight against the Huskies. If this sounds familiar, it is. MU led by 11 at Notre Dame on Saturday and let that game get away. Only 7 days earlier MU led by 18 points against Louisville with barely five minutes to play and had one of the biggest collapses in NCAA history. Three blown games in 10 days...that's impressive. Of course earlier in the year MU also blown a late lead against Vanderbilt and nearly blew a game against a dreadful UW-Milwaukee team. This doesn't even get into last year's NCAA game against Washington in which MU collapsed after a double digit lead in the second half.

Why is this happening? For starters, our defense is brutal. The easy baskets we allow teams to "earn" is amazing. We seem to value this concept of shooting more free throws than our opponents take, but that has made us into a defensive team that fears fouling. Fears physicality on the defensive side of the ball. That's strange, because offensively our guys are tough as nails, they take it to the hoop, they get hit, they bang, they're warriors. Flip to the defensive side of the ball, and you would think they were playing flag football instead of tackle.

Ok, enough of the defensive lapses, what about offense. Marquette scored at the 11:25 mark on a Jimmy Butler layup and foul. Butler made the free throw for the old fashioned 3 point play. MU had the Big Mo, we were leading by 5 points and the crowd was rocking. So what happens? Marquette notches it's next field goal over 9 minutes later at the 1:50 mark on a DJO layup. Incidentally, that was DJO's first bucket in 15 minutes. In our 9 minute drought, MU managed to miss 7 shots, several free throws and turned the ball over 4 times (three of them by our point guards).

Some will argue it is because we aren't deep. Wait a minute, don't we have more top 100 players on our team than anytime in decades? We have plenty of depth, we just don't want to play these kids or have no confidence in them. Either that, or the kids were overrated and we made bad recruiting mistakes. It has to be something because there are plenty of warm bodies on the bench that have lots of pretty stars next to their names according to the recruiting services.

But should any of this really surprise anyone? Harken back to what the University of New Orleans fans said about Buzz several years ago. Two points stick out like a sore thumb.

  • He has a short rotation
  • His defenses stink

Sound familiar? Quotes like this from Jimmy Butler raise an eyebrow as well. "We were so concerned on offense that we were ready to get the ball back and try to score on that end," Butler said. "We weren't even worried about guarding them on the defensive end of the floor." We missed the context in which that answer was given and will provide an update if we can find it.

MU still has a chance to turn things around. Their RPI is in the zip code of an at large berth, they have plenty of top teams still to play to get back in it and the with 68 NCAA bids and seemingly ho-hum teams scattering the landscape nationwide, the opportunity is there. Will MU be tough enough to take it? Another opportunity presents itself against Syracuse later this week. A team MU has never beaten since joining the Big East. A team that is on a 3 game losing streak and looked beyond pathetic tonight against Seton Hall. Dare we say a MUST WIN for MU? Yes, it's a MUST WIN for MU at this point.

Three years into the Buzz Williams regime many didn't expect a potential NIT year this season, especially coming off 5 straight NCAA appearances and several stellar recruiting classes. In year three of the Tom Crean era MU went to the NCAA tournament after two misses. We may be seeing the reverse of that in year 3 with Buzz. We're not ready to throw in the towel yet, but the time to get things in gear is right now without a moment to waste. There is no more room for errors. There are no more games that can be blown at this point. Marquette needs to start winning and winning now.

On a positive note, Jimmy Butler's 21 points put him over 1,000 for his career. He is the 42nd player to accomplish that feat at Marquette.

Author's Note: I changed the headline on my own. I received a number of thumbs up for this article on Facebook and here as well, but also some folks that were upset over at MU Scoop and here. For them, I've changed it. For the players I've changed it. For the good guys at CS I've changed it. It's a great blog and as one of the founding members I'm not going to want to sully it for them with a title that turned off some people.

Never have I or anyone here at CS questioned players efforts or desire to win. They bust their rear and I'm sure they are hurting after this loss as they have with other losses. What is troubling is how MU continues to lose big leads, especially in the second half and our coaching staff has no answer. Losing to #5 UCONN is not troubling if it was a one off, losing the way we do is what remains troubling. You know every coach of every team we play is telling their players, DON'T GIVE UP, this team has a tendency to fold. Very similar to remarks made by Phil Jackson last year to the Lakers huddle about the Celtics. You're never out of it when playing MU because we just can't close games out. The coaching staff will have to answer those questions.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

MU hosts UConn

I know we've been dark here on Cracked Sidewalks for the last several days, thanks for bearing with us as we manage through busy times at the office and with work-related travel. Strangely enough -- via a quirk of unrelated developments -- four of us will be at the UConn game tonight on our blog's 6th birthday. (!!!) Thanks so much for your readership and for making our slice of the interwebs a part of your Marquette basketball experience.

Back to hoops.

So MU (13-7, 4-3) went into South Bend over the weekend and delivered another exquisite second half collapse --- offensively, defensively and Ed Hightowery*. Hey Ed, MU does not need help blowing second half leads, it is something of a signature move. Jimmy Butler summed things up pretty nicely when he said, "We've got to stop relying on our offense so much and guard on the defensive end, and I think everything will start to turn around if we do those things."


Tonight it is time to get it right with fifth-ranked UConn (16-2, 4-2) in town. With a win the Warriors would move to a comfortable 5-3 in league play but a loss would leave MU at 4-4 with back to back tilts against Syracuse and Villanova to follow. NIT, hello.

Food for thought. MU could not contain Ben Hansbrough off the dribble last weekend. Tonight the Warriors will have to contend with the nation's second-leading scorer, Kemba Walker (25ppg), who's signature move is the dribble drive. Gulp.

Time to sack up, MU. Ken Pomeroy thinks the Warriors have what it takes, predicting a 75-72 win for the good guys.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

MU Offense: Only team in Top 50 of all 4 Factors

As Marquette enters a brutal stretch of Big East play, the defense will have to focus on different strengths for different opponents.

Notre Dame will try to improve to 17-0 in game at home or neutral courts by continuing to protect the ball well and getting to the line – but their weakness is they get very few offensive rebounds. UConn can kill you on the offensive glass, but they are poor at shooting and getting to the line. Georgetown is a great shooting team that doesn’t protect the ball well, while Cincy protects the ball well but doesn’t get to the line.

It seems every team has some offensive weakness – except one.

Marquette is the only team in the country that is in the Top 50 in all Four Offensive Factors(www.kenpom.com). In fact, only six teams are even in the Top 100 in all four offensive categories:

Shooting (32nd best of 345 teams) – Dwight Buycks (61.7% eFG) and Jae Crowder (60.1%) have combined to hit 59% of their 2-pointers and 43% of their 3-pointers to lead a team that is 7th in the country in shooting at just under 50%. Once you calculate Effective Field Goal Percentage (credit 1.5 shots made for every 3-pointer made), MU slips slightly to rank as the 32nd best shooting team in the country at 53.9% eFG. With DJO heating up, watch out. Part of the great shooting percentage is the result of great passes to set up easy shots – and most of the credit there goes to Buycks and Junior Cadougan, who are among the best passers in the country (more than 25% of MU baskets are off assists from them when they are on the floor).

Protecting the ball (31st best) – Because Darius Johnson-Odom handles the ball so often the perception is that he turns it over a lot. Not true statistically as only 13.8 of his contributions are turnovers, a very good mark for a guard. Crowder is the 9th best player in the country at protecting the ball (7.8% turnovers), and overall MU is the 31st best team at protecting the ball with just 17.6% of their trips resulting in turnovers.

Offensive Rebounding (36th best) – Crowder grabs more than 11% of MU misses to lead a team that gets 37.2% of its misses – the 36th best figure in the US. While MU struggled several times on the defensive glass, the offensive rebounding has been strong.

Getting to the line (50th best) – No one wins the free throw exchange like Marquette. MU averages a 9 point advantage from the line each game – hitting 18 of 26 free throws to an opponent’s 9 of 15 on an average night. Jimmy Butler, Vander Blue and DJO are among the national leaders at getting to the line. Once again MU has made more free throws (339) than they have allowed opponents to attempt (288).

While MU has had much more trouble on defense – great at stealing the ball and not allowing free throws but mediocre at defensive rebounding and defending shots – if they continue to defend the way they have the last three games they have a chance to survive this murderous 4-game stretch and set up nicely for a tournament run.

The only other five offenses in the country that are in the top 100 in each of the four categories, with their weakest ranking in any of the Four Factors in parenthesis, are; Colorado (65th getting to line), New Mexico (99th protecting the ball), Texas (96th shooting), Villanova (100th shooting) and West Virginia (91st shooting).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Video recaps of MU's win over DePaul

Brad Galli and the team from MUTV Sports are back from break and offer this recap of last night's Marquette victory over the Big East's equivalent to the slump buster.

Here is the full Buzz Williams post-game press conference video via GoMarquette.com.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Marquette takes out frustrations on DePaul


After a soul-crushing defeat is there any greater gift than seeing DePaul next up on the schedule? No sir, there is nothing better.

DePaul basketball ... it's how Big East teams get back on track!

Marquette beat DePaul senseless tonight, racing to a 94- 64 victory highlighted by forced turnovers, alley-oops and domination on the backboards. The Warriors used a convincing 16-2 run to build a commanding 46-29 halftime lead and never looked back. Out of the gate in the second half MU extended the lead to 73-41 with 10:25 to play ending any hope for a Blue Demons comeback.

The Fearsome Foursome led the way for the Warriors. Jae Crowder finished with 18 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 blocks. Jimmy Butler and DJO finished with 20 points each, while Dwight Buycks added a dozen. Vander Blue played his best game in Big East action finishing with twelve points and two assists while displaying the confidence MU fans noted in his play earlier this season.

Marquette's defense was stifling once again, dominating the Blue Demons throughout. The win marked the third straight game where the Warriors held the opposition to a points per possession (ppp) of 0.92 or less. Last night MU held DePaul to an ineffective 0.88 ppp while running its offense at a remarkable clip of 1.35 ppp. Marquette's efficiency on offense remains impressive, and the defensive numbers are trending positively. Don't look now, but MU has been the fourth best team during conference play (and that was before last night).

With the win Marquette moves to 13-6 overall and 4-2 in the Big East. After disposing of the league's dregs, the Warriors now embark on a stretch of four games against top 20 teams (two in the top 10) in the next two weeks. First up the Warriors head to South Bend to take on the Irish on Saturday. Following the Domer game, MU faces UConn and Syracuse at home before traveling to Villanova on Feburary 2.

Links galore

Monday, January 17, 2011

Warriors Look to Bounce Back

Thank goodness there is a relatively quick turnaround from Saturday. At least now we can move on with new Marquette action instead of rehashing dear God why did the team melt down again? Frankly, today's game offers a great opportunity to get healthy.

Last year's games against DePaul were UGLY. Our first game against DPU was high comedy. Stop me if you've heard this before. The Demons broke an 0-24 slide in the Big East by rallying late and Marquette didn't get stops. The second game was a little bit better, but neither team shot particularly well and there was a lot of time at the charity stripe.

DePaul (6-11, 0-5) comes into the game having lost their first five games in conference play this year. Rosiak plays on the theme from last year and says Marquette looks to escape the Demons. Plus, DePaul has one of the Big East's best freshmen in Cleveland Melvin.

Shenanigans. DePaul isn't good and Marquette is going to roll. Here's why.

Let's give them credit. The Demons are good in two areas. First, they do a decent job at turnover margin (#67 of protecting the ball, #24 at forcing turnovers). Second, DPU guards against three pointers really well (#18 overall). In particular, the perimeter defense and forcing turnovers are very strong.

However, where DePaul is bad... they are really bad. Check these out.

  • They can't shoot (#338 from behind the arc)
  • Their inside game doesn't compensate for bad shooting (#260 at eFG%)
  • They don't rebound (#253 offensively and #309 defensively)
  • They are #329 in the country at interior defense
DePaul just isn't going to be able to keep up with Marquette. Maybe if MU is sloppy with the ball, the game will be tighter than people like, but eventually Marquette is going to pull away solidly.

In particular, here's what we're looking for:
  • Except for Rutgers, Marquette has been much stronger with the ball since mid-December. Will MU stay strong against a DPU team that focuses on turnover margin?
  • After getting their lunch money stolen by Pitt, MU has responded defensively by holding ND and UL (two top 25 offenses) to 0.90 and 0.92 ppp. Let's see if Marquette can play defense against a team that is #178 offensively.
  • Last but not least, how will the fans react during the game? Let's face it... the Meltdown was hard to take. How will the home crowd react?
Game time is 8 pm Milwaukee time. Marquette bounces back strong.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Except for that, Mrs. Lincoln, the Lville game was a great play

Obviously the gut-wrenching ordeal of blowing an 18-point lead makes it hard to look at anything else Saturday. Further down, I want to note how hard it is to believe that one of fewer than a half dozen teams to NEVER lose a game by double digits the last two regular seasons nonetheless has blown three huge leads during that span.

However, the ceiling on MUs potential this year is unbelievably high, as for 75 minutes against two ranked teams this week they showed they have overcome every early season weakness:

1. BOXING OUT. After being unable to box out in early games against Gonzaga and Wisconsin, MU once against kept a ranked opponent off the offensive glass, allowing the Cardinals to grab only 8 of 35 misses (23%, well below a typical 33%).

2. SHUTTING DOWN AN ATHLETIC BIG. As for whether or not MU had any way to keep an athletic big man from killing them, my preview request to get Gorgui Deng to foul out was executed to perfection as he managed only 12 minutes of Chris Otule mixing it up with him and the rest of the team driving at him.

3. DEFENDING THE TREY. As for MUs inability to defend the trey as shown as recently as the Pitt game, even with Preston Knowles hitting a few crazy ones down the stretch, MU allowed only 7 of 21 from beyond the arc just a few days after holding the potent Notre Dame shooters to 3 of 16. It appears MU really can play defense beyond the arc.

4. PLAYING THE POINT. As for not having a point guard, Junior Cadougan put in a second straight strong game including hitting 7 of 8 free throws. Dwight Buycks has been awesome this year, and I love the explosion and harassing defense of having him and Darius Johnson-Odom on the court at the same time. However, when we have that we really are playing with two shooting guards who will score a lot but also turn it over. In situations where we need a more traditional point guard setting up the offense and cutting down on turnovers, Cadougan is a nice option though not a big scoring threat. For those who want to complain about the turnovers against Louisville’s press Saturday, note that MU did once again win the turnover battle by forcing 16.

As for the complaints about Buycks going to the hoop at the end – it’s inconsistent to complain that MU got too passive the last five minutes and that Buycks got too aggressive at the end. Have to disagree with Buzz on this one - he wasn’t going to dribble out 16 seconds. I wish he could have ditched the pass to Joe Fulce for the slam, but that was a wide body underneath and he took a shot at hitting one of his driving lay-ups he’d make all year or getting fouled, and neither happened. If he had pulled it out and instead been fouled with 8 or 10 seconds left Lville would have still had the same chance to score and win. It’s MUs passivity in the last 5 minutes, not Buycks’ aggressiveness in the last 16 seconds, that cost us the game.

Finishing the game

Marquette, a team that never loses by double digits in a 40-minute game, nonetheless showed they could lose by more than double digits over the course of several minutes at the end of a game.

Last year huge leads slipped away against Florida State and Washington. Saturday it was Louisville erasing an 18-point Marquette lead with a 24-5 run to close out the game and win 71-70.

What makes these three collapses so hard to accept is that last year MU was one of only 5 teams in the country to not get beat by double figures even once in a regular season game. This year they are repeating the rare feat. In fact, while www.kenpom.com says MU is the 33rd best team in the country, 18 of the 32 teams in front of them already have lost by double digits.

Last year MU certainly had no depth and was worn down by bigger opponents, but this year MU has a bench and is exactly average height statistically. Hopefully today will teach a valuable lesson that MU cannot change what they are doing once they build the big lead. If nobody can beat them by double digits playing their normal game, then no one should be able to make up 15 or 20 points in several minutes of playing their normal game. Stay aggressive.

Resume problem with the loss

After six straight games of doing four points or better than expected by all the computer models, I am confident MU will get to Selection Sunday with the Strength of Schedule, RPI, quality wins and eyeball test to go to the tourney.

However, the one potential piece of the resume that could keep them out so far is the lack of a huge road win (Top 25 RPI) through two of six chances (at Vandy and Lville). Even though both of those 1-point losses are very impressive on paper, the fact is there is a good chance they need to actually win at least one huge road game at Notre Dame (Jan. 22), Nova (Feb. 2), Gtown (Feb. 13) or UConn (Feb. 24).

Every time one slips away, the pressure grows to win the next one. No need to panic with those four games left, but if the Irish get revenge, the pressure really will start to grown at Nova and beyond.

As for DePaul on Tuesday, MU has had at least one "bad loss" every years since Wade except for 2008. While MU will be favored against DePaul as well as at USF, home against Providence and in two games against Seton Hall, statistically there is a much better than 50-50 chance that MU loses at least one of those five games. However, the Blue Demons are the easiest of the five, so MU needs to take care of business Tuesday and finish the game strong before heading out to South Bend for their first of four remaining chances for a huge road win.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

We've seen this before....Epic choke job by MU today.

We've seen this before....an Epic choke job by MU today. No other way to say it. An 18 point lead with barely 5:30 to go is squandered as Marquette goes into a stall offense and forgets how to play defense. MU loses on a layup with 4 seconds to go as #17 Louisville escapes 71-70 at home.

The biggest choke job since perhaps...oh....some 300 days ago when MU had a 15 point lead on Washington in the NCAA tournament and lost 80-78.

We've seen this before. Poor decision making, a stall offense, an ole defense, all with a commanding lead and refusing to continue to finish the game the way you played to build the lead.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Keep Crowder on the court, get Dieng off to claim road win over Top 25 Louisville

Marquette is one of the best teams in the country at getting to the hoop and scoring (5th in the country in field goal percentage) or drawing fouls, while Louisville freshman Gorgui Dieng leads one of the best teams at denying drives with blocked shots.

But with Dieng reportedly having been frustrated when being outplayed by Chris Otule while considering MU last year and playing only half of the past two games due to 7 fouls in 40 minutes, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jimmy Butler (averaging 9 of 12 from line last two games) could get him in foul trouble and leave Louisville very vulnerable. While Louisville is favored by everyone except Yahoo Sports Saturday at 10 a.m CT, if Dieng is on the bench with fouls and Jae Crowder is on the court, MU can pull out the win in the first of five remaining chances for a road win against an RPI top 25 team.

For all the bad defense against the No. 1 offense in the country last Saturday (Pitt), the fact is that MU only got blistered during the last 8 minutes of the first half with Jae Crowder sitting on the bench after being whistled for a 2nd foul when going for a blocked shot. MU won the other 32 minutes of the game 68-65.

I believe Buzz needs to leave Crowder on the floor even if he plays aggressively and gets two fouls in the 2nd half.

The fact is that MU has done much better than the projections during the past five games in a row with Darius Johnson-Odom, Jimmy Butler, Dwight Buycks and Crowder all averaging between 15 and 20 points a game on great shooting and combining for 20 rebounds, 12 assists, and all getting a steal a game. Leave Crowder on the court and continuing to get 70 points a game between those four means MU can certainly pull the upset of Louisville with some defense from Vander Blue, continued good point play by Junior Cadougan and a decent battle from Chris Otule underneath against Dieng.

The fact is that if MU can win just one of their remaining 5 road games against an RPI top 25 team then they should finish with a resume that includes at least a Top 60 RPI, 10-8 conference record and five wins over Top 50 teams.

  • Saturday, Jan. 15, 10 a.m. at Louisville (projected 22 final RPI)
  • Saturday Jan. 22, at Notre Dame (24)
  • Wednesday, Feb. 2 at Villanova (11)
  • Sunday, Feb. 13 at Georgetown (14)
  • Thursday, Feb. 24 at UConn (17)
Miss this opportunity and the pressure really grows to win in South Bend against a Notre Dame team hot for revenge and then tougher and tougher games in February. Lose all five of those games and MU likely drops about 10 spots to an RPI of 70 with no big road wins and a 9-9 mark that doesn’t include any big road wins. Pretty shaky resume.

The three predictors I monitor (Real-time RPI, Sagarin and Pomeroy) now all project MU to finish 11-7 in the Big East, which Forecast RPI says should translate into a 7-seed and final RPI of 48.

Beat Louisville or any of the other four tough teams on the road and MU goes to at least 60th with the RPI, and do that and go 11-7 and the RPI should finish at 48, go 12-6 and MU improves to a final RPI of 40 and a great seed.

However, the three differ on how MU will do in five remaining road games against teams projected to finish in the Top 25 of the RPI – and it still seems MU needs at least one win in those games starting at Louisville Saturday. Real-time RPI projects MU will lose all five of these tough road games by double digits (note that MUs only double digit loss in the last two years was vs. Georgetown in their 3rd straight Big East tourney game in three nights) while both Pomeroy and Sagarin predict one or two MU upsets in the five games:

Should be at least 6-3 in other remaining games
The fact is all of the predictions assume MU will have at least one bad loss (non-top 100 RPI) and at least one home loss against a Top 50 RPI team.

Assume 1 bad loss. Beginning with Wade’s senior season, MU has had at least one bad loss every season except 2008: East Carolina, Southern Miss, St. Louis, Nebraska, North Dakota State, South Florida and DePaul (not to mention additional 0-4 against future Big East member TCU the last two years in Conference USA). As unlikely as a home loss to DePaul would be, the odds are there will be at least one bad night against Seton Hall (home and home), Providence, or at S. Florida. So pencil in 4-1 in those game.

Assume 2 or 3 more quality home wins. The predictors also all give MU 2 or 3 more home quality wins over Top 50 teams (Syracuse, UConn, St. John’s, Cincinnati), so let’s be a little pessimistic and assume 2-2 on those games, getting us to 9-4 in conference plus the results in the final 5 road games against RPI Top 25 teams.

So being a little pessimistic on the winnable games (home and/or not in Top 100), that would mean if MU doesn’t pull at least one upset in the five tough road games the resume would be 9-9 in conference with at least four quality wins over top 50 teams but none of them on the road and an RPI out of the top 60 – probably not quite enough without a win in the Big East Tourney. However a win at Louisville or one of the other four road games against Top 25 teams makes it at least 10-8 with a big road win as one of FIVE wins over Top 50 RPI teams. Pretty solid footing to not only go to the dance but get a good seed.

In the current five-game hot streak, below are the average performances throwing out Buycks’ injury limiting him to 11 minutes at Rutgers:
  • Darius Johnson-Odom 19.4 ppg, 7 of 14 shooting, 3 of 6 treys, 3 of 5 line, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 turnovers, 1 steal
  • Jimmy Butler 14.6, 4-8 FG, 0-1, 6-7, 6 reb, 3 ast, 1 TO, 1 steal
  • Jae Crowder 16.0, 6-11, 2-5, 1-2, 8 reb, 2 ast, 1 TO, 1 steal
  • Dwight Buycks 15.5, 6-9, 3-4, 2-2, 4 reb, 3 ast, 2 TO, 1 steal
Add Vander Blue’s defense, Chris Otule’s improved play, Junior Cadougan’s improving play at the point, and continuing the hot streak for one more game and getting Dieng in foul trouble gives MU a chance to notch their first high quality win over a Top 25 team, and first on the road and an NCAA bid looks very likely even at mid-January.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Jamal Ferguson commits to MU

Buzz Williams secured his first commitment from the class of 2012 today when 6'5" wing Jamal Ferguson (Norfolk, VA, Maury HS) verbally committed to the Warriors.

Ferguson is currently ranked as the #62 recruit in the 2012 class by ESPN and builds on a strength of the MU program under Williams -- he's a 'switchable' with the ability to play a number of positions on the floor. Juan Anderson, a 6'6" 2011 signee for MU, cited Buzz' philosophy with 'switchables' in his interview with Rosiak from last fall.

As a sophomore last season Ferguson averaged 16 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds per game. He was named to the second-team All-Tidewater Team after the season (current MU big man Davante Gardner made the first team).

Todd Rosiak broke the news first on Twitter today and followed up by indicating that MU beat out Georgetown for Ferguson's services. Impressive.

Morning Grinds: News & Notes for Marquette Basketball

The Warriors are off until Saturday when they travel to Louisville for a morning tip-off against Slick Rick's Cardinals. Louisville fell to Villanova last night in Philadelphia, 88-74. We'll get to that game later in the week. In the meantime here are updates of interest on a host of former Marquette players.

Marquette graduate Jerel McNeal is playing well in the NBA D-League this season. McNeal is averaging 17 points (45% shooting), four assits and nearly four rebounds per game for Rio Grande Valley. McNeal matched his season high with 27 points last night leading Rio Grande Valley to a 124-106 win over the Erie Bayhawks.

Dominic James is excelling in Bulgaria as Lukoil Academic continues to lead the league with a 13-1 record. James leads the team in scoring at nearly 15 points per game and is in the top 10 in the league in both steals (1.7/game) and assists (3.9). Lukoil lost its first game of the season last night, falling 86-79 to Lisboa e Benfica in the EuroChallenge. James led the team with 25 points.

Travis Diener is lacing'em up for Dinamo Basket Sassari in Italian Lega Basket Serie A. The team is struggling at 5-9, 14th place in the league. Diener is averaging 11.6 points on 45% shooting (29% from deep) and 3.7 assists per outing, which is 7th-best in the league.

Meanwhile Wesley Matthews continues to impress in his debut season with the Portland Trailblazers. ESPN recently named Wesley as the league's most improved player through the season's first trimester.

Oh, that Wade guy is living in another stratosphere, leading the Heat to a gaudy 30-10 record. That guy can ball.

Reggie Smith, who decided to leave MU during winter break, has enrolled at UNLV. Surely this means that MU will go to the Final Four next season. Odartey Blankson must be proud.

Finally, for all of you Danny Pudi fans out there, the Marquette grad appeared on George Lopez' show last night and his passion for Marquette hoops was apparent.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Defense Issue: a guest column

We're pleased to welcome another guest post from Dr. Blackheart. You may recall that Dr. Blackheart contributed two guest posts in September and one in December. His first post looked at offensive efficiency and turnovers. The second one predicted low three percent percentages and guessed at the starting lineup. The December post looked at the early season trends for Marquette hoops.

Today the Good Doctor opines on Marquette's defense. Now, realize that while MU's defense raises questions the offense remains sublime. Consider the latest from John Gasayway of Basketball Prospectus. John notes that Marquette runs the most efficient offense in the Big East play (1.24 ppp) despite playing a brutal early stretch in conference action. As we've said all along, MU's offensive prowess is remarkable and it appears to be sustainable in the nation's best league.

Let's look further into Gasaway's analysis -- yup, MU also deploys the one of the least efficient defenses in the Big East (1.13ppp). But again, considering the early competition and MU's recent effort against Notre Dame, it appears the Warriors might be in position to improve its offense-to-defense efficiency margin as it moves through conference play. This would be a good thing. And the best way to do that of course is by improving the defense since MU already has a top 10 offense, nationally.

With that I'll turn things over to Dr. Blackheart for a look at Marquette's defense. MUScoop enthusiasts will recognize today's guest column -- it was originally posted on the Scoop earlier this week.


I will chime in here on my interpretation of what Buzz likes to do on D. I think of it this way: He is like the Lovie Smith of Hoops--a Tampa Two analogy. Zone the receivers in boxes/areas, play for turnovers, pressure the passer, constrict the running game, double team the ball once received looking for a turnover. Defense is an efficiency play to feed the offense with turnovers. It is not a stop defense, in my opinion.

First and foremost, Buzz pressures the point guard from three-quarter court. He wants to use up 10 seconds of the shot clock getting the ball up to delay opponents' offensive flow, and he wants the ball out of the playmaker's hands as soon as the PG passes mid-court.

Second, Buzz wants shooters to receive the ball on the wing as they typically cannot create for themselves and are trappable. When MU traps that leaves the cross-court wing open as the help-side defender slides toward the middle to stop a drive if the wing reverses it back to the PG. Where MU gets burned is with a quick ball reversal to the open wing for an open look, but hopefully rushed. MU has been slow to rotate in these instances.

Third, we typically back the post but the help-side defender stays closer to the post to try to deny or double in the paint. MU's bigs are space eaters as their goal is simply to protect the paint. In the Revealed video, you saw Buzz reaming Junior Cadougan on being slow to the rotation down low to set blocking positioning just out of the paint to constrict a wing driver. In the Vandy game, the Commodores flashed the post at the end and the guards and Jae went to double the ball, leaving Otule to defend two players in the paint on what became the decisive basket. MU is still not good at any of this as a team--it seems like it is a communication thing which will come. I thought they were very good against Notre Dame, however.

Switches: MU will fight over a pick but will not generally switch. When you see Otule out on the perimeter with the picker, his goal is to stop the penetration of the dribbler and retreat. MU gets beat often on switches on backpicks--aka how the Princeton offense is so successful with their back door cuts (dribbler drives to the pick, defense doubles and picker slides to the hoop unguarded).

The reason Buzz wants switchables, which Texas A&M had during his time there, is they are athletic and strong with disruptive wingspans (hard to throw over). Buzz needs good footspeed (recovery on rotations) as well in our wing defenders. While Buzz has has wingspan today on the roster, the talent to come -- Wilson and Anderson -- are more prototypical in this regard.

Buzz's defense seems to me a bit scattered at times in terms of what he wants to scheme--perimeter, interior, in-bounding, match-up, slow rotations. And then he throws in a 3-2 zone to limit the perimeter, but we get burned inside.

The ND game I thought was a great scheme--they knew that to stop ND, you stopped their only playmaker, Ben Hansbrough. Buzz wanted to make the frosh Atkins beat him on the road, and with Carleton Scott out, MU could control/limit the paint.

But Buzz makes the big money and I am a keyboard PG, so what do I know. The team is really starting to come together but we do have a long ways to go on Team D.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Warriors take the fight out of the Irish

What a difference a few days can make.

After turning in the worst defensive performance of the Buzz Williams era just two days earlier, Marquette re-emerged as a Big East contender last night. With new-found defensive toughness and a wicked-good offense the Marquette Warriors dominated 10th ranked Notre Dame on Monday night winning 79-57.

The Warriors put four players in double figures led by a career-high 21 points from Dwight Buycks, who was a perfect 5-5 from 3-point range. Jae Crowder finished with 18, Jimmy Butler added 15, and Darius Johnson-Odom chipped in with 13. The Fearsome Foursome keyed a dominant offensive performance for MU which hit on 53% of its shots overall and nearly 71% from deep (12-17). The efficiency geeks are still panting over MU's breathtaking eFG% of 65% (78% in the 2H!).

All of that offense is fine but the real difference last night was defense. MU played with an edge defensively and it showed. MU held the sweet-shooting Irish to a paltry eFG% of 42%. Notre Dame came in with a national top 15 offense -- averaging over 1.15 points per possession (ppp) -- and the Warriors held them to 0.90 ppp, the Irish's third worst offensive performance of the season. This was easily MU's finest defensive performance against a quality opponent this year.

Struggling from the field from the opening tip, Mike Brey's club could not free up leading scorers Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis. The duo, which combines to average more than 32 points per game, finished with a total of 19 points on just 17 attempts from the field. Marquette's defensive scheme forced the Irish to rely on third, fourth or even fifth options offensively and ND was not equipped to keep pace.

The moral of the story is that Marquette can play defense after all. Let's see them do it consistently.

Let's pile on. The loss was Notre Dame's most lopsided defeat in nearly three years -- and that loss also came at the hands of the Warriors. Marquette buried the Irish 92-66 on January 12, 2008.

With the win MU moves to 12-5 on the season and 3-1 in Big East play. Next up for Marquette is a trip to Louisville on Saturday.

Box Score
AP recap
Rosiak blogs a recap
Roiak's recap from the paper
Tom Noie of the South Bend Tribune recaps the Irish clunker
ESPN has a video post-game extra

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Let's Beat the Irish

How can you tell someone went to Notre Dame?
They'll tell you

It's funny because it's true.

Enter the Irish. Mike Brey is getting well-deserved kudos for his coaching job so far this season, with ND racing out to a surprising 14-2 record. Seniors Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis set the pace for the Irish, each averaging 16 points per game and shooting better than 40% from long-range. Abromaitis also grabs more than seven boards per game and remains one of the Big East's toughest match-ups. Scott Martin and Tyrone Nash each add ten points per outing. The Irish have a lot of firepower, but MU catches a huge break with the expected absence of Carleton Scott, an athletic forward averaging 12 per game, due to injury.

After a rough game against Pitt (more on that in a second), Rosiak has a pretty good blog entry up about how Marquette prepares to face a new-look Notre Dame. Usually, we love Rosiak's stuff, but our analysis of the team contradicts his lead.
Aside from the undefeated Syracuse Orange, there probably isn’t a team in the Big East Conference playing better right now than the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

In addition to their usual ability to put the ball in the basket, the Irish are also showing an attitude and fight on the defensive end of the floor – traits that began to show themselves down the stretch last season as Notre Dame got itself into the NCAA tournament despite playing a large chunk of time without injured star Luke Harangody.

We agree that the Irish are playing surprisingly well. Already this year the Irish have taken out Georgia, Cal, UW-Madison and Gonzaga. Plus, Notre Dame already stands at 3-1 in conference having defeated Georgetown, UConn and St. John's. Frankly, ND's only losses thus far are to a pair of Pomeroy top 10 teams on the road (Kentucky, Syracuse).

The reason to call out Rosiak is because, frankly, I'm having a hard time understanding how Notre Dame is beating teams consistently based on "attitude and fight" on the defensive side of the ball. Sure, their offense is the #10 offense in the country, but just like most years, their defense lags considerably. Better said, maybe, is that their defense is pretty inconsistent. For example, Notre Dame held UW-Madison to 0.90 ppp (points per possession) but then allowed Gonzaga to score 1.21 ppp. Where Notre Dame has been strong defensively is defensive rebounding (#8) in the country, as well as defensive free throw rate (FTR) (I'd give you their rank, but defensive FTR is practically insignificant). What hasn't been true is that defense is winning games for ND.

Luckily for Marquette, ND is only slightly better than average at defensive eFG%. That's good news, because if we know one thing, it's that Marquette can run an offense and get a good effective field goal percentage. Even the top-five Pitt Panthers failed to slow down MU's offensive juggernaut, and that aptitude will keep MU in every game this year.

Here's the bad news. The only games that ND lost? Kentucky held the Irish to 0.90 ppp and Syracuse held them to 0.93 ppp. Marquette couldn't even hold Mississippi Valley State under 0.90 points per possession.

Now, I'm going to rant for a few minutes about the Pitt game and Marquette's defense. You know what? Marquette's defense sucks. Whatever Buzz is doing defensively is. not. working. As we covered on twitter, the defensive performance against Pitt was the worst defensive performance in the last fifteen years. FIFTEEN YEARS! Maybe longer, but we don't know because the stats don't go back that far. That's pathetic.

But it's not as though the game against Pitt was just a scenario of them getting lucky. No. We will not accept that Pitt was "just hot". Not when teams are consistently burning Marquette. (UW - 1.19 ppp, Vandy - 1.12, WVU - 1.14, Rutgers - 1.06, Pitt - 1.41) There are systemic issues with the defensive philosophy. Of course, nobody knows what the defensive philosophy is besides "don't foul".

It's time to fix defense, Buzz. You recruit talent. Your offense is awesome. Marquette competes hard in every game. The games are almost always close. Marquette has a very good chance of beating almost any opponent based solely on offense, and that's great. But seriously, whatever you are doing defensively is not working. /end rant

Back to Notre Dame. Here's the clincher. This game is almost certainly going to be a close one dominated by offense. Considering the Warriors are at home and will have an athletic advantage against the Irish, perhaps MU will be able to contest shots and defend better than usual. The absence of Scott surely works to MU's advantage.

It's time for the home team to bring that home-court advantage. And if there's one thing we know, it's that MU is comfortable in close games.

Will there be stops at the end to bring home the win?

At the mid-season point, how did we do on predictions

Here we are 16 games into the 2010-2011 season with 16 guaranteed games left to play. So how are we doing at Cracked Sidewalks on our predictions from way back in November? Remarkably well, thank you very much.

We stand currently with an 11-5 record which was darn close to the consensus average from the 8 member team of CS. The average at Cracked Sidewalks was 11.625 wins and 4.25 losses at this point.

Only Tim K. correctly picked an 11-5 record at this point while six of us were slightly optimistic at 12-4. No one, however, predicted all 16 games correctly. The Wisconsin game was the most consistent bugaboo that threw the team off. Tim B., John, Jamie, BMA and Steve all missed just one game thus far.

The team originally picked 11 conference wins back in November with a low of 9 (Kevin) and a high of 13 (BMA / John).

Friday, January 07, 2011

A Slow Down Shootout at The Zoo

Two games into the Big East season Buzz Williams (11-4, 2-0) has the good ship Warrior sailing into Pittsburgh with a 2-0 record. Rosiak calls this the beginning of a torturous stretch, including six ranked opponents in their next eight games. On the other hand GoMarquette.com says it wraps up a two-game stretch. Regardless of how you look at the schedule Saturday will provide a true marker of where Marquette stands as a team.

Heading into the game the odds are not in MU's favor. Ken Pomeroy gives Pitt an 87% chance of victory (80-68). Pitt is bigger, more experienced, better offensively, and better defensively. They molest collies, knock down the elderly, and digest the tears of children. They're really good.

After this game, which Marquette will probably lose, the dominant story out there will be about how Pitt dominated the glass to win against Marquette. And it's true... Pitt is AWESOME on the glass but we're here to tell you the key is really effective field goal percentage (eFG%). And since Marquette's defense has been poor all year, we're looking for ways the Warriors can sneak out of the Zoo with a win.

We're looking for the Slow Down Shootout. This game is probably going to feature a shorter rotation, and thanks to Pitt's style, it'll have fewer possessions. That's good for Marquette because fewer possessions will increase our odds of winning. Because both teams have better offenses than defenses, we're rooting for a game with both teams having quality offensive efficiency. Again, it ain't like MU's winning this games with their defense. Luckily MU's offense is pretty darn good.

Pittsburgh enters the game at 14-1 overall, 2-0 in the Big East. Last time out the Panthers topped the Friars in Providence 83-79. Pitt is led by the three-headed monster of Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker and Gilbert Brown. Gibbs leads the team at 16ppg (45% from deep), Wanamaker averages 13 points to go with 5 boards and 5 assists while the 6'5" Brown adds 11 points and four boards. Pitt is very deep with nine players averaging at least 13 minutes per game. Big man Gary McGhee leads the team on the glass at more than seven rebounds per game.

MU's best bet to counter the deeper, more physical Panthers is another big game from Darius Johnson-Odom. Since his stinker against Wisconsin DJO is shooting a red-hot 55% from the field (36-66) highlighted by a scintillating 52% (15-29) from downtown.

With Johnson-Odom regaining his form, the forward combination of Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler have more freedom of action on the offensive end, and we've seen what Crowder in particular has done with that of late. Butler has scored in double-figures in 14 of MU's 15 games this year and has found his stride of late as well, going to the free throw line 17 times in the Warriors' first two Big East games. Meanwhile Crowder is unquestionably the newcomer of the year in the Big East to this point and his offensive efficiency is among of the nation's best. Yessir, MU's offense is very good.

Now let's look at the keys to the game:

Key #1 - Marquette HAS to win the eFG% battle. HAS to. If they don't win this battle, abandon hope. Two things here. First, our two point offense is our strength. Their two point defense is their strength. Which will prevail? Second, which DJO will we see? The hot one from the last five games? Better hope so, because one of Pitt's two weaknesses (more on this in a second) is their three point defense. Marquette has a real chance to keep pace offensively. Want to know how Tennessee beat Pitt? They shot the @#$% out of the ball!

Key #2 - Don't get worked on the boards. Yes, eFG% is the key. But if Pitt dominates offensive rebounding percentage, we're done. Remember Pitt is #1 nationally on the offensive glass and #33 on the defensive glass. Marquette won eFG% against UW@Madison and Vanderbilt, but it wasn't enough.

Key #3 - Protect the ball! (a turnover rate of 26% against Rutgers? blech) Pitt's other defensive weakness, although by design, is that Pitt hardly ever forces turnovers. Giving up turnovers to a team that hardly ever forces them invites disaster, especially on the road in a place like the Zoo. Pitt already has a great homecourt advantage, so why get the crowd crazy by being careless with the ball?

By now we know that Marquette's defense will not stifle an efficient opponent's offensive game plan. Still Marquette does have a chance of matching the Panthers in an offensive shootout. In short, Marquette needs to blister the effective field goal percentage and win the turnover margin by enough to compensate for Pitt's undeniable rebounding advantage. Then pray that the team hits their free throws.

Pitt is going to get their points. Can Marquette keep pace? It says here to never count out Marquette.

Tipoff is scheduled for 1pm Marquette Standard Time.