"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

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.

1 comment:

Charles Springer said...

Gorgui is foul prone. He would have fouled out regardless of the strategy. Big learning curve but he's a smart kid who will figure things out and continue to get better.