"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, February 28, 2011

Defense Showing Signs of Improvement

Here's your interesting news for the day. The math says that Marquette is the third best team in the conference. Yes, that same Marquette that currently stands at 18-11 (9-7) and in seventh place in the league, staring at a 10-seed in the NCAA tournament.

As a reminder, this is based on efficiency margin, which is the difference between a team's offense and defense. Great teams have offenses much higher than their defenses. 0.500 teams have offenses and defenses about the same. Losing teams have negative efficiency margins (defenses higher than their offenses). In truth, the math has been kinder this season than MU's opponents. Even two weeks ago, Marquette was the #4 team according to stats, largely on the strength of MU's top tier offense. If your offense is the #14 offense in the country, it's easier to have a good efficiency margin. However, as we have discussed incessantly, it's always been the defense that was dragging down Marquette. In fact, two weeks ago, MU's defense was the same as Providence's, and just barely better than Rutgers and USF. That's not the kind of company MU wants to keep.

However, the last two weeks have shown substantial improvement in the Marquette's defensive performance. As a result (and thanks to Villanova's current three-game slide), MU now stands at #3 in efficiency margin --- the team has held three straight opponents under 0.98 ppp (Seton Hall, UConn, and Providence). MU held Providence to 0.81 ppp, which was the Warriors' the 5th best defensive performance of the year. Looking at conference-only statistics, three of the best defensive performances of the year have been the last three games.

Seton Hall - MU's overall defense was about the same in each half. In the first half, MU allowed SHU to score 0.97 ppp. The Pirates shot an eFG% of 55%, but Marquette dominated the boards and only allowing an offensive rebounding percentage of 13%. In the second half, MU allowed 0.99 ppp by tightening up the defensive eFG% (47% for SHU). More on this in a minute.

UConn - This was a game of two halves. In the first half, when UConn was flummoxed by the MU zone, the opponent only scored 0.77 ppp. That's Prairie View A&M type defense. UConn only shot an eFG% of 34% and had a turnover rate of 23%. In the second half, UConn scored 1.15 ppp. Yuck. However, this was mostly based on them dominating the defensive boards (they grabbed 61% of all missed shots). And yet... UConn still only shot 48% on eFG% in the second half, and 39.6% for the game.

Providence - Marquette allowed 0.71 ppp in the first half and 0.88 ppp in the second half. In neither half did PC shoot better than 40% on eFG% (34% and 37%). This was a great performance.

That's five straight halves of high-quality eFG% defense. As we've been saying, defensive eFG% is by far the most important aspect of defense. It's no surprise that some of MU's best defensive improvement is following this area.

As a result, MU's defensive profile has leaped from the mid-80's ranking to #57. As Tim noted, we wonder if part of this improvement is due to the increased on-court performance of Chris Otule. We'll continue to watch. Regardless, if the defense continues to improve, Marquette may finally have a defense just good enough to have the on-court performance catch up to the math.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Explaining the Big East tiebreakers - what determines where MU finishes between 6th and 11th

Marquette enters the last two games of the season in 9th place, or should I say in 4th place of the potential mini-conference of six teams with seven losses. The Big East tie-breaking procedure can be confusing, so here is a table that explains the various tie-breakers that will settle if MU gets a bye in the Big East tournament or not.

Mini-conference teamMini winsMini lossesTop win tiebreakerRemain
GeorgetownMU VilCin UCon WVU2nd 3-Lville & 4-SJUat CIN
VillanovaCin MU WVUGtn Ucon3rd 3-Lvilleat ND at Pit
ConnecticutCin MU Vil GtnMU5th/6th Noneat WV vND
MarquetteUcon WVUGtn Ucon Vil4th 5-SyrvCIN atSH
CincinnatiGtnUcon Vil WVU1st 3-Lville & 4-SJUat MU vGTN
West VirginiaCin GtnMU Vil5th/6th NonevUCON vLOU

Barring Syracuse blowing their final game when they host DePaul, these are the six teams that will finish between 6th and 11th place and the order they are in (Gtown 7th, then Nova, UConn, MU, Cincy and WVU) based on the tie-breakers:

1st tiebreaker mini-conference record - when more than one Big East team is tied for a spot, you start by breaking out the tied teams into a "mini-conference" and only consider games within this conference. Currently, Georgetown is not really in the "mini-conference" because they are 10-7 while the other five teams are tied for 7th through 11th at 9-7. If the season ended today, the Georgetown games listed would not count and Nova and UConn would be 7th and 8th based on a 3-1 mini-conference record for the final two byes, MU at 2-2 in 9th, WVU at 1-2 in 10th and Cincy at 0-3 in 11th. However, if the Hoyas fell into the mini-conference that would add a loss to MU and drop us to 10th at 2-3.

So on this count we want teams who have beaten MU to fall out of the conference, so a key is for MU to have a better record than Nova in the last two - a real possibility with Nova travelling to Notre Dame and Pitt while MU hosts Cincy and goes to Seton Hall.

2nd tie-breaker head-to-head - If MU ties another team within the mini-conference, then head-to-head determines who is ahead. MU wins a secondary tie-breaker with WVU, but loses one to Georgetown or Nova. If it ended today, UConn would then get 7th place based on beating Nova, who would thus drop to 8th.

On this count you can see how huge the Cincinnati game is, because the winner of that game will have a game-lead and the tie-breaker with one left, so would have the edge even if the teams had the opposite result in their respective finales. Therefore, if MU loses to Cincy they would have almost no chance for a bye even with a win over Seton Hall (WVU would have to beat UConn, Nova lose at ND and Pitt, and UConn would have to beat WV & ND for MU to finish 8th and get a bye after a loss to Cincy).

3rd tie-breaker win over team highest in BE standings - Who beat the highest ranked team in the entire conference? If the first two tie-breakers can't settle the seed, then the comparison goes to which team beat the highest ranked team. However, there is a strange caveat that 2-game splits against a team don't count either way, which really screws MU since the win over Notre Dame is offset by the loss against ND, so MUs biggest win is over 5th place Syracuse.

That means Cincinnati and Georgetown beat everyone else if it gets to this point since they both beat 3rd place Louisville AND 4th place St. Johns, while Nova beats anyone else because of their win over Louisville, but MU would win this tiebreaker over UConn or WVU since MU beat Syracuse and neither UConn or WVU has a win against any of the top 5 teams.

Confused yet? Well, I believe I have it, but I must confess if you see a mistake in this please reply. If you want a more simple list of which games are most important in getting MU the highest in the standings.

Who to root for
1. MU over Cincy
2. MU over Seton Hall
3. Pitt over Nova
4. ND over Nova
5. Cincy over Gtown
6. WVU over UConn
7. WVU over Lville
8. ND over UConn
9 (bonus) DePaul over Syracuse

If #1, #2, (#3 or 4), #5, #6 and #7 happen, then MU is 6th. If DePaul somehow wins, there is a great chance MU finishes 5th place with two wins.

Finishing in the top three in the mini-conference for the first round bye is very important because MU is solidly in the tournament right now, and a bye insures no shocking loss to one of the bottom teams in the conference to potentially get bounced out.

Marquette Looks to Avoid Letdown at Home

With a signature conference road win in-hand, the Marquette Warriors now turn their attention to the final stages of the regular season. Marquette (17-11, 8-7) closes the season with three games in the next six days -- home games against Providence and Cincinnati, followed by a season-ending road trip to Seton Hall.

First up are the Providence Friars (14-14, 3-12) in a 3pm tipoff at the Bradley Center this afternoon. The game will be broadcast on the Big East Network.

Looking at the Pomeroy ratings, Marquette's season profile remains one of the most intriguing in the nation. Of the Warriors' 11 losses, the team's worst defeat was to #50 Pomeroy-ranked Gonzaga at neutral site. While 11 losses to teams in the Pomeroy top 50 is the epitome of frustration to many, it also points to the relative strength of this team, which has wins against four of the KenPom top 30.....

.....all of which makes today's game against the #79 Pomeroy ranked Friars key. Every team's profile on Selection Sunday is relative, and a loss to the Friars would constitute the worst defeat of the season for MU at a time when the Warriors can least afford it.

We don't expect that to happen today in what should be an absolute shootout. Providence and Marquette are the top two scoring offenses during Big East conference play and are two of the three worst scoring defenses in conference play.

For the Friars, Marshon Brooks sets the pace not only for PC but for the entire Big East at 27.4 points per game in league action. In the Friars' last outing, a one point loss to Notre Dame, Brooks torched the Irish with a Big East regular-season record 52 points. In the Domer loss Brooks became the first player to make 20 field goals against a Division I opponent since 1997.

While Brooks and his running mates can flat-out score, their offense is not as efficient as more elite offensive teams (like Marquette) due mainly to an inability to hit the three-pointer (#304 in the nation at 3-pt FG%). Still, Providence crashes the offensive glass effectively, creating more looks for its high octane offense.

Defensively the Friars are ineffective, prone to surrendering offensive rebounds and struggling to defend opponents inside the arc. Looking at the numbers it's no wonder the Friars arrive in Milwaukee on a five-game losing streak.

Looking at the Good Guys, one notable area of improvement for Marquette in the last several weeks is on defense, specifically eFG% which -- as faithful readers know -- is the most significant factor in championship-level defense. Marquette's last four opponents were held to an eFG% of less than 51%, punctuated by UConn's abysmal eFG of 39.6% which marked MU's best performance in this category during Big East play.

In the past four games Marquette opponents have managed an eFG% of 47.2, a substantial improvement on the team's year-long average eFG% of 50.1, the 213th 'best' in the nation. By contrast an eFG% of 47.2 would be about the 90th best performance in the nation. This defensive trend is MU's best multi-game effort of the season by far (not counting a December string against mostly non-conference patsies), and directly coincides with the improved play of center Chris Otule.

In the last four games Otule is averaging nearly eight rebounds, 1.75 blocks, and seven points. He's altered or contested dozens of other shots. Also, his minutes are also up, way up. The 6'10" sophomore has played no fewer than 20 minutes in each of the last four games, staying on the court for a season-high 30 minutes at UConn. His 103 minutes played in the past four games are the most of any four-game stretch this season, amazing progress for a player who commanded 20 minutes in just three of Marquette's previous 11 Big East games before this stretch.

With new-found baseline strength the Warriors are now equipped to beat teams in new ways. And with the Big East's highest scoring offense poised to hit the court on Sunday, the timing could not be better.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Very few teams have better road resume than MU this year - record for all 73 BCS schools

I was thrilled to see Marquette get credit for grabbing the signature road over #19 UConn that was apparently necessary to make the NCAA, but I do hope other teams are held to the same standard since the top RPI team beaten by Duke is #89 Miami, by Arizona is #89 Washington State, by Texas A&M is #77 Oklahoma State and by UCLA is #121 Oregon.

Despite the charge that MU’s resume weakness was that they could not win on the road, the win over UConn makes MU one of the better road teams in the country based on any criteria.

1. MU now has a better road record than tournament bound teams like Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan State, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, West Virginia and WISCONSIN.

2. Looking at the 73 “BCS” teams, MU would be the 14th best road team in the country if they had pulled off the 1-point losses at Vanderbilt and Louisville. Even with those two losses and the most difficult road schedule in the country, MU is above average – tied with the 30th best road record - among 73 BCS teams.

3. Of these 29 teams with a better road record than MU, only nine have won on the road against a team higher in the RPI than #19 UConn. More than half (16 of 29) have yet to beat a Top 40 RPI team on the road, with 12 of 29 failing to beat a team ranked higher than #60. I believe its safe to say MU would have one of the top road records in the country except for the ridiculous road schedule.

4. After the UConn game, MU is even better on the road than at home based on Sagarin, which overall now ranks MU as one of the top 30 teams in the country. I can’t go through the math on all the teams for their road games, but MU is probably close to one of the Top 20 road teams in the country based on Sagarin.

5. As mentioned earlier, MU is now one of only a couple of dozen teams with a road win against an RPI Top 25 team and have not lost any road Top 25 games by double digits. The rest of the DI wins 9% of those games and loses by double digits 67% of the time. With the UConn win, MU has now won 14% of them and loses 0% by double digits.

Bottom line, there is an under appreciation for how tough road wins are. Here are the road records for all 73 BCS schools, with the top RPI road win for the 29 teams with a better road record than MU:

1 Florida 7-1 0.875 #21 Xav
1 Kansas 7-1 0.875 #60 Neb
3 Pittsburgh 6-1 0.857 #11 Gtown
4 Ohio State 8-2 0.800 #8 Flo
5 Duke 6-2 0.750 #80 Miami
5 Texas 6-2 0.750 #1 Kans
7 Texas A&M 5-2 0.714 #77 Okl St
8 Arizona 7-3 0.700 #89 Wash St
8 Georgia 7-3 0.700 #41 Tenn
8 Villanova 7-3 0.700 #13 Syr
11 North Carolina 6-3 0.667 #64 BC
12 Georgetown 7-4 0.636 #13 Syr
13 Syracuse 5-3 0.625 #25 Nova
14 Cincinnati 6-4 0.600 #11 Gtown
14 Purdue 6-4 0.600 at #56 Ill
16 Florida State 7-5 0.583 #80 Mia
17 Alabama 4-4 0.500 #41 Tenn
17 Connecticut 4-4 0.500 #7 Tex
17 Maryland 4-4 0.500 #76 Penn St
17 Tennessee 4-4 0.500 #20 Vandy
17 UCLA 4-4 0.500 #121 Oregon
17 Vanderbilt 4-4 0.500 #42 Georgia
23 Washington 5-6 0.455 #39 UCLA
24 California 4-5 0.444 #97 USC
24 Kansas State 4-5 0.444 #60 Neb
24 Louisville 4-5 0.444 #13 Syr
24 Michigan 4-5 0.444 #63 Mich St
24 Virginia Tech 4-5 0.444 #72 Mary
29 Notre Dame 3-4 0.429 #6 Pitt
30 Marquette 4-6 0.400 #19 UConn
30 Miami (FL) 4-6 0.400
30 Mississippi 4-6 0.400
30 Northwestern 4-6 0.400
30 Seton Hall 4-6 0.400
30 St. John's 4-6 0.400
30 Washington State 4-6 0.400
37 Oregon 3-5 0.375
37 Wisconsin 3-5 0.375
39 USC 4-7 0.364
40 Clemson 3-6 0.333
40 Illinois 3-6 0.333
40 Minnesota 3-6 0.333
40 Virginia 3-6 0.333
40 West Virginia 3-6 0.333
45 LSU 3-7 0.300
45 Michigan State 3-7 0.300
45 South Carolina 3-7 0.300
48 Baylor 2-5 0.286
48 Mississippi State 2-5 0.286
48 Missouri 2-5 0.286
51 Colorado 3-8 0.273
52 Boston College 2-6 0.250
53 Iowa 2-7 0.222
53 Kentucky 2-7 0.222
53 Stanford 2-7 0.222
53 Texas Tech 2-7 0.222
57 Iowa State 2-8 0.200
57 Penn State 2-8 0.200
57 Rutgers 2-8 0.200
60 Arizona State 2-9 0.182
61 Nebraska 1-5 0.167
62 Arkansas 1-6 0.143
63 Auburn 1-7 0.125
64 DePaul 1-7 0.125
65 NC State 1-8 0.111
65 Oklahoma State 1-8 0.111
67 Oklahoma 1-9 0.100
68 Oregon State 1-10 0.091
69 Georgia Tech 0-9 0.000
69 Indiana 0-9 0.000
69 Providence 0-8 0.000
69 South Florida 0-11 0.000
69 Wake Forest 0-8 0.000

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Forecast RPI - MU 36th best resume for 47 spots

I got excited for a minute when I saw Forecast RPI had MU as a 7-seed today. Then I realize they actually have us as the 36th best resume - so the last 9-seed - but because of scheduling we would be moved up to a 7-seed under their scenario.

Based on Forecast RPI, if Marquette finishes .500 in Big East play about 12 teams would have to pass them to miss the tournament.

Figuring out how many spots are really available can be confusing so let me count down:

69 spots available, last 4 get play-in
This year the NCAA is adding four spots, with the last four teams select at-large facing a play-in game in Dayton, OH. MU could well end up there.

19 automatic qualifiers leave spots for 50 best teams
A total of 19 conferences (AE, ASun, BSky, BSth, BW, Horz, Ivy, MAAC, MAC, MEAC, MVC, NEC, OVC, Pat, SB, SC, Slnd, Sum and SWAC) do not have any team that would break the Top 50, so only the winners of each of these conferences will go to the NCAA, leaving room for the 50 best teams in the country.

2 spoilers likely to leave spots for 48 best teams
That leaves 12 conferences where a spoiler could take away another spot – so if all 12 of these conferences had spoilers win, then only the 38 best teams would be selected. However this won’t happen.

The Big East is the least likely conference to produce a “spoiler.” With Marquette being the 11th Big East team in the tournament according to Forecast, that means Seton Hall or one of the teams below them would have to win the conference tournament, and there is only a 0.4% chance of that happening.

A spoiler is much more likely to come from Conference USA, where Memphis, UAB and Central Florida would be selected at-large right now. However, there is only a 36% chance that one of those teams wins the conference tournament because UTEP (32% chance of winning tourney) as well as DJ Newbill and Southern Mississippi (17%) project to finish tied for first place, and other spoilers also have a shot a the conference title. That means that there is a 64% chance that a fourth team comes out of CUSA by virtue of a conference tournament title. Here are the chances of a new spoiler emerging from each conference to take away one of the 50 spots.

CUSA 64%, WCC 54%, A10 47%, WAC 25%, CAA 21%, P10 7%, ACC 7%, MWC 4%, B10 2%, SEC 2%, B12 2% and BE 0.4% = 2 likely spoilers, but actually 2.35, so let's assume 3 spoilers win to be safe.

At 36th, MU would have 11-team cushion
That leaves a 12-team cushion between MU and elimination. A CAA team will move ahead of MU one way or the other because even if no spoiler wins the CAA, either ODU or George Mason from the list above will pass MU by winning the tournament – we just need to make sure they don’t BOTH pass.

Therefore, if MU finishes 9-9 and with the 36th best resume, and there are three spoilers to make a total of 22 automatic bids that would not otherwise be selected, that means MU has an 11-team cushion behind them and elimination and would need to be passed by 12 teams to be eliminated. But we know one CAA team will pass us, whether ODU, GMU or a spoiler, so that means 11 others would have to pass to knock us out. The list above are teams most likely to pass MU – if 12 of them do, MU would be out.

Here are the teams trying to knock MU out and games they have against teams in Pomeroy’s top 50, or if none in the top 50, their toughest remaining opponent.

Marquette BE at #26 UConn thur, vs. #27 Cincy Mar 2
1. Old Dominion CAA at #98 JMU Wed
2. Utah St. WAC at #119 NM St. March 2
3. Memphis CUSA at #72 UTEP Sat
4. George Mason CAA vs. #200 Northeastern Thur
5. Virginia Tech ACC vs. #1 Duke Sat, at #36 Clem Mar 5
6. Michigan St. B10 at #39 Minn today, vs. #5 Purd Sat
7. UAB CUSA at #64 Southern Miss Mar 2
8. Alabama SEC at #31 Flor Mar 1
9. Central Florida CUSA vs. #64Southern Miss Sat.
10. Maryland ACC at vs. #40 Flo St Wed, at #12 UNC Sat
11. UCLA P10 vs. #15 Ariz Sta, at #10 Wsh Mar 3
ELIMINATION LINE assuming 3 spoilers win tourney
12. Georgia SEC at #31 Flo Thur, at #33 Bama Mar 5
13. Florida State ACC at #23 MD Wed, vs. #12 UNC Mar 2

While Forecast RPI has MU as, in essence, the last #9 seed, others have us as a #10, 11, 12 or even a few have us out of the tournament.

MU has to look in the rear view mirror for teams that might jump them with a big win.

The game at UConn Thursday is probably the last chance MU has to win a game that will leave them looking ahead at who they might pass for a better seed. If that doesn’t happen, MU will need to take care of business and we have to do a little scoreboard watching, like it or not.

However, if MU makes the tournament it is possible the logjam of MU teams might forces them up to a higher seed.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bracket Matrix and tournament projections update 2-21-11

Last week MU was in 59 of 65 brackets as part of the Bracket Matrix , with an average seed of 10. This week, MU is in 57 brackets and our average seed has slipped to 11.

For those that follow the Dance Card website (not part of the Bracket Matrix listing above)....Marquette is now OUT OF THE NCAA Tournament. Last week we were the last team in. This week we are 2nd team out.

Needless to say, MU has some work to do. A projected RPI of 70 is daunting. A projected final record of 9-9 in conference is bubble city. Huge opportunity this week at UCONN.

Maryland's 2003 and 2004 teams examples of why Palm's "Top 200 record" criteria is flawed

Like many Maryland teams throughout the years, Marquette has played one of the toughest schedules in the country, but warmed up with a bunch of non-top 200 teams.

In 2003 and 2004, Maryland went only 14-9 and 12-11 against Top 200 teams, respectively, and away from home vs. the Pomeroy Top 25 barely missed going 0-11 due to two one-point wins to finish 2-9. However, in 2004 the Terrapins played in by far the best conference in the country AND scheduled Wisconsin (#5 Pomeroy), Gonzaga (#15), Florida (#24) and West Virginia.

The 2004 Maryland squad had the most similar schedule and results to the current Marquette squad of any team since Pomeroy starting his page in 2003. Even if MU wins three of four to close the season, they would be a virtually identical 12-12 against Top 200 teams and they have lost their first six road games against Top 25 teams. However, like the Terrapins, MU played in by far the best conference in the country AND scheduled Duke (#2), Wisconsin (#6), Vanderbilt (#25) and Gonzaga (#49).

And because of the weak Top 200 record and road losses to good teams, Jerry Palm has MU out of the tournament. The good news is he is in the minority, as Forecast RPI gives MU a 9-seed based on the Dance Card criteria that has been within one seed 85% of the time. Most analysts like Mike Miller at NBC Sports (see his quote from Cracked Sidewalks) have MU somewhere in between the two, around a 10- or 11-seed.

RPI Forecast
Beyond The Arc @ NBC Sports
CBS Sports

Jerry Palm has done more for sports analysis than anyone, but I believe these two criteria (can’t beat good teams on the road and Top 200 record) would be dangerous criteria.

1. MU is one of the best teams away from home even if they have lost close road games vs. the Top 25. Based on Sagarin ratings, MU is one of the best 35 teams in the country away from the Bradley Center (86.2 rating) and one of the best 35 teams in the country at the Bradley Center (85.9 rating). MU is 3-6 on the road only because of six single-digit road losses to RPI top 25 teams. This season teams have lost by double digits in 67% of all trips to RPI top 25 teams and won only 9% of the time, so if you are going to start disqualifying teams like Marquette for single digit losses at Top 25 teams then no one is going to schedule the out-of-conference games that the NCAA and fans want.

2. MU’s record vs. the Top 200. Yeah but … if MU finishes 12-12 vs. the Top 200 that would make them 3-11 vs. the Top 25 (one of only 10 teams with three such wins) and 9-1 against 26th to 200th. I believe Jerry Palm is introducing a dangerous criteria, because basically he is disqualifying MU and MSU for playing seven and five (respectively) of their creampuff games against non-top 200 teams instead of teams rated, say, 175th. MU averaged winning those games 91-62 and MSU by 83-57, so to follow that logic, if MU had beaten six teams ranked 150th to 200th by 20 points instead of beating teams below 200th by 30 points, they’d be easily in the tournament with a 19-11 mark vs. the Top 200.

I believe you must keep the focus on how tough the big games are, not whether you schedule Arkansas State (just inside the Top 200) instead of Mississippi Valley State (just outside the Top 200).

Oh, and how tournament worthy did those two Maryland teams prove to be after their brutal schedules that started by warming up with non-Top 200 teams and going 2-9 vs. good road teams and barely .500 vs. Top 200 teams?

In 2003, Maryland (14-9 vs. Top 200) beat an NC Wilmington team with a much better 13-6 mark vs. the Top 200, then a Xavier squad with a much better 20-5 mark to make the Sweet 16, before losing by two points vs. Michigan State to just miss the Elite 8.

In 2004, Maryland (12-11 vs. Top 200) stunned Wake Forest, NC State and Duke to take the ACC tournament and then beat a UTEP team with a much better 18-7 mark vs. the Top 200 before losing by two points to defending national champion Syracuse to just miss consecutive Sweet 16s despite an overall regular season record of 26-20 vs. the Top 200.

Maryland’s victims played tougher creampuffs (top 200), but Maryland played much tougher big games.

Not suggesting Marquette is ready to compete for the Big East title (2.79% chance of winning according to Forecast RPI), but if you throw everyone’ creampuffs out and focus on the brutal rest of the schedule, I believe MU like those Maryland teams is a solid NCAA pick.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Marquette Basketball Weekly

Brad Galli and Todd Warner venture to Washington, D.C. with the Warriors to explore the monuments and memorials in the Nation's capital. Todd visits with Marquette history maker Jimmy Butler and Brad finds out which Warrior would make the best politician. Len Elmore of ESPN stops by to chat MU hoops and Brad checks in with team chaplain Fr. William Kelly.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Marquette’s big 3 outrebound entire Seton Hall team; grading 12 teams chasing MU for NCAA

MUs dominant inside performance resulted in a 73-64 win vs. Seton Hall, which gets a "B" grade as a win that is not a resume-builder (A), but gets a team closer to an NCAA bid. Here is how the 12 teams right behind MU graded today, with a "D" for teams that hurt themselves and fell further behind MU and an "F" being a game that could kill off a bubble contender.

Marquette – Grade "B" – 73-64 win vs. Seton Hall
1. Minnesota – No Game (team just behind MU in Forecast RPI)
2. UCLA – No Game
3. Michigan State – B – big 61-57 win at home against Illinois in a toss-up game
4. Baylor - F – lost an embarrassing 69-78 game at home vs. Texas Tech, who they were favored to beat by 13
5. Xavier – D – a very underwhelming 79-72 win at home against Fordham, favored by 22
6. Georgia – A – won by 6 at Tennessee, where they were 6 point underdogs
7. UNLV - B – went into Colorado State and won 68-61, despite only being a 2-point favorite
8. Washington State – D – were upset 69-71 at Arizona State, after being a 4-point favorite
9. Oklahoma State -D – missed a golden opportunity with a 66-67 loss at home to Texas A&M, the exact result predicted by Forecast RPI, but a golden opportunity missed
10. Nebraska – A – stunned Texas 70-67 after being 6-point underdog
11. Colorado State – F – lost what could prove to be a play-in game at home to UNLV 68-61
12. Boston College = B – despite losing 46-48 at UNC, certainly passed the eyeball test after being a 12-point underdog (based on Sagarin all 12 teams including BC would have to pass MU to knock MU out, BUT tourney upsets could lower that number)

MUs dominant bigs one step closer to NCAA
As usual, Marquette’s dominant centers pushed around a weaker team as starter Chris Otule and reserves Davante Gardner and Jae Crowder combined for 23 rebounds in 63 minutes. Seton Hall’s entire team grabbed 21 rebounds in 400 minutes. Otule also went 5-5 from the floor, while Gardner and Crowder combined for 9-12 from the line to overcome terrible first half free throws.

Like most foes who find themselves too small to content with MUs big men, Seton Hall’s only chance was to go for steals and throw up 3-pointers, especially star Jeremy Hazell who hit 4 of 12 to break the all-time Big East record of 189 threes. Two Pirates frontline players fouled out in a feeble attempt against the giant MU Warriors.

1970s squad?
What was this, a 1970s game? I thought our problem was no bigs.

But tonight Buzz seemed intent on getting the ball inside to Otule early and often, even starting the better passer Junior Cadougan to insist on working the ball in time and time again. When Otule got in foul trouble after a blistering start, the inside dominance continued and MU one a very nice 73-64 win to help their NCAA bid.

MU gets "B" to improve NCAA chances vs. 12 teams chasing them
If I had to grade MU and the 12 teams that are chasing them for the NCAA bid, I’d give MU a “B” for a better than expected performance. Forecast RPI favored MU by 9 based on Sagarin’s ratings, but as I noted, Seton Hall has actually been at least 5 points better than their average since Jeremy Hazell returned, so really a 4-point win would have been closer to expectation – and MU took care of business.

In grading the 12 teams chasing MU, Baylor and Colorado had crushing performance that will drop them well behind MU. MU also put some distance between themselves and Xavier, Washington State and Oklahoma State, who fell below Forecast’s RPI expection. (Grade D for each).

However, Georgia and Nebraska were the huge winners today, so both likely caught MU today with Grade-A performances. Michigan State, UNLV and Boston College all kept pace with MU with similar B-Grade performances.

However, the MU win is significant not because it was an upset, but because of what it says about the rest of the season. First, since Hazell returned Seton Hall has been exactly as good as Cincy, so tonight’s performance gives strong hope that MU shook off the 3-game slide and can protect home court against Cincy. Also, teams average doing 8-points better on their home court then when they play teams on the road, so the 9-point win could translate to a 1-point win at Seton Hall to close the season, and MU could finish 10-8.

Which is not to say MU doesn’t have a chance in all the rest of their games – as UConn’s recent slide has them as only a 5-point favorite when MU travels there.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Marquette Takes on Seton Hall in Must Win Game

Finally, Seton Hall has returned to Milwaukee. Wait, I'm mixing basketball up with the WWE.

Regardless, that's the lead in Rosiak's blog preview of the game. Go read it, because it's a terrific reminder of exactly how screwed up Seton Hall has been the last few seasons. At 11-15 (5-9), Seton Hall isn't exactly burning up the league, but at least there's far less drama with the program.

New coach Kevin Willard does have Seton Hall doing one thing particularly well. The Pirates are the #12 defense in D1. This is mostly on the strength of their three point defense (#23 overall), but their interior defense isn't bad either. Offensively, much like Marquette, SHU does a pretty good job of protecting the ball. However, in all other offensive categories, the Pirates are awful, and it all adds up to the #170 offense.

This is the final Saturday home game of the year, at 8 pm on a Saturday night. The home crowd, which is almost a sellout, should be properly juiced and ready to go. Marquette absolutely has to win to keep their NCAA chances alive.

The AD has their preview, plus here is the Media Availability of Crowder, Butler, and Buzz.

Finally, don't forget that tonight is Father Wild tribute night. All fans in attendance will receive a Father Wild bobblehead.

Marquette Basketball Friday Digest

Marquette's NCAA Tournament chances are very nearly on life support after back-to-back losses to Georgetown and St. John's this week. The Warriors now stand at 15-11 overall and 6-7 in the BIG EAST. MU has lost five of its last seven conference games and will look to get back on track on Saturday night when Seton Hall comes to town.

Here is a look at the week that was for Marquette hoops:

Speaking of Marquette's point guard heritage ....

Problems At The Point

For the first time in nearly two decades, Marquette basketball has a point guard problem.

This is hard to believe for a program that, since 1992, has consecutively relied on the able skills and high basketball IQs of Tony Miller, Aaron Hutchins, Cordell Henry, Travis Diener, Dominic James and (gasp!) Maurice Acker. Nevertheless, Marquette's run of excellence at the point is over and no relief is in sight.

While this year's team has a variety of issues, the lack of a 'Traditional Marquette Point Guard' has cost the Warriors a chance at a handful of victories. This year MU surely leads the nation in last-second shots not taken, and the team's struggles to maintain large leads (and late leads) often boils down to poor decision-making and a lack of the appropriate skills for the moment.

The problems are not limited to only the very close games. In the second half against Georgetown the offense endured a turnover rate of 24%, meaning MU coughed the ball up once every four times down the court. The pattern continued against St. Johns where poor decision-making and turnovers doomed the Warriors. All told, Marquette point guards combined for eight turnovers against the Johnnies and MU had a turnover rate of 25% for the game and 31% in the second half alone. Opponents have figured out MU and the team is struggling to adjust in the season's final stages.

Dwight Buycks, forced to play out of position as this team's de-facto point guard, was strong out of the gate but his effectiveness has waned noticeably in recent weeks. Still, Buycks' selflessness and his willingness to learn a new position nearly allowed MU to bridge from the "Golden Era of Marquette Point Guards" while not being one himself. Unfortunately, this may be a bridge to nowhere.

Junior Cadougan, supported by incoming freshman Derrick Wilson, figures to be the starting point guard on next year's team. Still, the sophomore shows few signs of being the solid 30-35 mpg team leader the program needs. Cadougan is an 'east to west' player who currently struggles to defend, struggles to challenge defenders off the bounce, and is no threat to score. While he is improving -- his A/TO ratio is very good -- the Toronto native is role player at a position where the program needs so much more.

Looking ahead, next season the Warriors will be loaded, returning two of the Big East's 10 best players in Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. Jamil Wilson figures to be one of the league's top newcomers and a full year of maturity for what will be a more veteran roster will pay dividends.

Perhaps Cadougan will channel Maurice Acker -- oft-maligned by yours truly heading into his senior season -- and step up his level of play to unexpectedly. One can hope.

While it could be a reach, Buzz Williams could consider shifting Vander Blue to the point. Blue is not a classic '2' and seems to be more of an 'Alpha Dog' - a guard who plays better with the ball in his hands, breaking down defenders off the dribble. While this might be the kind of player Blue develops into, it would be a tall order to assume a lead role like this as a sophomore on a team that needs a savvy distributor who can shoot. His development at this position might depend on how Buzz uses the final two available scholarships for next season.

What about the bigs? Game by game (year by year?), Marquette fans lament the program's lack of skilled big men. However as Pudner pointed out and Rosiak noted earlier this week, Marquette in good shape on the baseline. Chris Otule continues to make great strides and freshman Davante Gardner also shows great promise. Few big men dominate offensively or defensively so a core of serviceable big men is a more realistic and attainable strategy for most high-major programs.

Who knew the strength of the program would shift to the front court in just a matter of months.

Without a natural point guard who has the basketball intellect to make good decisions consistently, the ability to set up his teammates, and the skill to score, the team is at a disadvantage. Buzz Williams has two open scholarships and must find a way to improve at the point or risk running a rudderless but talented bunch out onto the court next season.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

How loud would you have booed MU losses to Auburn (237th ranked), Hampton (211th), Miami-Ohio (196th) and Yale (166th)?

Sometimes when I read the skepticism about MU making the tournament, I feel like critics may as well be yelling, “there is no way MU is fast enough to outrun the elimination bear!” We don’t have to be faster than a bear, just the the other teams trying to outrun the elimination bear.

Let’s look at the next 16 teams behind MU according to Forecast RPI that would have to pass a 9-9 MU team to make MU fall to the back of the pack and be eliminated.

According to Pomeroy, MUs worst loss is to 50th-ranked Gonzaga and its best road win is against 76th ranked Rutgers, compared to:

1. Cincinnati – won at 36th St. John’s, also worst loss to 36th St. John’s at home
2. Minnesota - won at 55th Michigan, lost to 112th Virginia
3. Florida State – won at 67th Miami, lost to 237th Auburn
4. Virginia Tech – won at 20th Maryland, lost to 112th Virginia
5. Michigan State –won at 83rd Northwestern, lost to 83rd Iowa
6. Georgia – won at 73rd Mississippi, lost to 47th Tennessee
7. UCLA – won at 80th Oregon, lost to 99th VCU/95th Montana
8. Baylor – won at 41st Texas A&M, lost to 130th Oklahoma
9. Xavier – won at 38th Duquesne, lost to 196th Miami-Ohio
10. Temple – won at 105th Dayton, lost to 69th California
11. Oklahoma State – won at 181st LaSalle, lost to 136th Texas Tech
12. UNLV – won at 124th Air Force, lost to 135th UC Santa Barbara
13. Washington State – won at 79th Stanford, lost to 80th Oregon
14. Nebraska – won at 130th Oklahoma, lost to 155th Davidson
15. Colorado State – won at 29th UNLV, lost to 211th Hampton
16. Boston College – won at 20th Maryland, lost to 166th Yale

So MU is ahead of all 16 of these teams at 10-8 according to Forecast RPI. If we go 9-9, Cincinnati and Georgia certainly pass us, but you would really stick all of the other 14 ahead of us?

BEST ROAD WIN. The most common argument made for why a 9-9 MU team would NOT make the tournament is “no quality road wins.” However, if you look at Pomeroy ratings, MUs win at 76th ranked Rutgers is better than the best road wins of half the teams that would have to pass MU. Nebraska beat 130th ranked Oklahoma by 1 point on the road tonight to get their first road win of the season, and Michigan State is 1-8 on the road against DI foes. MUs overall road performance is better than most bubble teams.

“We can’t win on the road,” sounds good in a vacuum, until you look at the teams that would have to pass MU.

With its worst loss to 50th-ranked Gonzaga, Marquette wins the “no bad losses.” Even assuming we lose at 62nd ranked Seton Hall to close the season at 9-9, all but two of the teams that need to catch us will have worse losses. In fact, 10 of 16 teams that would have to pass a 9-9 Marquette team to kick them out of the tournament have bad losses to teams outside the Top 100.

If some MU fans want to boo the players for losing by 12 to a St. John’s team that won at WVU by 10, by 18 over Notre Dame, by 15 over Duke, and by 17 over UConn, I would suggest those fans are very, very spoiled. It ranks with our loss to 50th ranked Gonzaga as our worse loss of the year.

BOOS, REALLY? How loud would your boos be if MU had lost to 237th ranked Auburn, 211th ranked Hampton, 196th Miami-Ohio, or 166th ranked Yale? And you are going to put all 10 teams on this list with losses to teams outside the Top 100 to ahead of a 9-9 MU team to make us the “last team out?”

Admittedly a few of the 16 teams that would need to pass MU could come due to surprise winners of any combination of the ACC, B10, B12, BE, CUSA, MWC, P10, SEC, WCC, but even if three of those nine tournaments bring new surprise teams into the tourney, you need to pick out 13 of the 16 teams listed above to bump MU.

Certainly 3-2 is not a lock after the recent slump, but do it and we get in as long as we don’t get upset in the opening round of the Big East Tournament. Will I sleep easy on that? No, I will be nervous and won’t be surprised if we are in one of the new play-in games in Dayton under that scenario – but I will feel good and believe 4-1 is a no brainer for a solid seed.

Let’s start by taking care of business when Seton Hall comes Saturday.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

MUTV Sports recaps the home loss to St Johns

An unhappy, but excellent recap.

Losing by double digits is worse; Otule's defensive dominance only bright spot

The best shot blocker in the Big East, Chris Otule, once again rejected more than 10% of all 2-point shots while he was on the court to hold St. John’s to 47.8% on two-pointers.

That’s the end of the good news. A loss is not a loss.

From the Vanderbilt to Villanova games, win or lose, MU was one of the most consistently good teams in the country, playing like a Top 20 team (Sagarin score of 88 or higher) in nine of 10 big games. The 3-game skid since then culminated last night with MU playing like 247th place Elon.

88+ Sagarin score – 9 of 10 games thru Nova
81 Sagarin score vs. USF
84 Sagarin score vs. Georgetown
67 Sagarin score vs. St. John’s

A score of 67 for the 12-point home loss to St. John’s means MU was as good as the 247th best team in the country, Elon, last night, or equal to Auburn and Wake Forest, by far the worst teams in any BCS conference.

MUs first double digit loss (only Ohio State, Pitt, BYU, Belmont and, uggghhhh, Wisconsin still don’t have one as St. John’s also knocked out Duke and Arkansas knocked out Vandy since my first post) hurts because this is the first game in two years in which MU just failed the eyeball test – not looking like a tournament team to evaluators who watched the game or simply saw the score.

If this turns out to be a 3-game dip and MU returns to its “top 20-level play,” we still make the tournament, but if we continue to play at the “skid” level of the last three games we don’t. The fact is MU probably gets one of the four needed wins even if it plays at the “skid-level” against Providence and probably falls short even if it plays at its “top 20-level” at UConn, so that leaves MU needing to win 3 of 4 games for a bid:

Win 3 of 4 to make tourney

Seton Hall twice. As noted in an earlier post, since Hazell’s return Seton Hall has played at a Sagarin level of 84, and they continued that since my column with a win at Rutgers and narrow loss vs. Nova. At the “skid-level” MU probably loses both games to Seton Hall starting Saturday at home and goes to the NIT, but a return to the “Top-20” level play for both matchups and MU sweeps Seton Hall and needs just one other win.

Cincinnati. This is by far the biggest game remaining. The Bearcats, St. John’s and MU were considered to be fighting for the 9th, 10th and 11th Big East bids and with St. John’s going into the other two gyms to win, they are in. Cincy at MU will determine if MU would be the 10th bid or the 11th bid, and the former is much more likely. Cincy has played at an 84-level, the same level as Seton Hall since Hazell’s return, so again if MU rebounds to the Top-20 level they handle Cincy in the Bradley Center. At the skid level, probably not.

1st Round Big East. An opening round game in the Big East might entail a rematch with South Florida, a game that MU might pull out again even playing at the “skid” level, but would certainly win easily at the “Top 20” level.

Otule’s defensive dominance

All year it appeared MUs only weaknesses were giving up offensive rebounds and the related fact of yielding a very high two-point field goal percentage.
Chris Otule has singled-handedly fixed those problems.

I noted that Otule had become the top shotblocker in the Big East, basically rejecting one in every 10 shots while he is on the court. And let me add that they have been great blocks that give MU possession by batting the ball down on the court or into the backboard - not the swat into the 10th row that many players do to give the opposing team the ball back with no harm done.

Despite MU being on its heels on many SJU possessions due to an incredible 13 steals, Otule’s presence underneath made the half court defense so good that overall SJU hit the exact national average, 47.8%, of their two-pointers.

Otule also grabbed 8 rebounds to enable MU to win the rebounding battle and limit SJU to a below average 30.5% offensive rebounding.

I didn’t have time to break down the stats with Otule on the court, which are undoubtedly even better, but the fact is Otule has single-handedly taken care of MUs only two weaknesses.

Obviously Otule is an offensive liability due to weaknesses catching passes and passing back out of the post. Let Davante Gardner play offense and Otule play defense and MU has a dominant center. Even not being able to do that, MU is getting its best production at the center spot since Robert Jackson’s glorious one year.

While that has been solved for the moment, Georgetown and SJU have exploited the other potential weakness that was always there – the fact that MU really plays two shooting guards without a true point guard. MU was number one in the Big East in turnover margin prior to the Georgetown game, but was only even with a Georgetown team that had to that point been terrible, and then lost last night due to the 18-9 margin in favor of SJU and the fact that 13 of those turnovers were actual steals.

Give Lavin credit, he had three players foul out by playing aggressively enough to get the turnovers, but it was worth it for him.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Crucial test failed. MU at season crossroads

Marquette had a golden opportunity tonight to win a key game at home against a quality St. John's club and take a step closer to a NCAA tournament bid. In the process, they would be on their way to possibly another double digit win season in the Big East, a record they have never missed since joining the conference. It would require passing a crucial test against a club that has been iffy on the road this year in the Red Storm. The Warriors failed this test on Al's night and now faces a critical crossroads in their season.

MU found themselves in a similar situation as other games, a solid lead in the second half (7 points) only to watch it whither away in a matter of moments. This time, however, MU couldn't claw back and almost seemed to accept their fate.

It all started to unwind just after the 16:50 mark with MU up 45 to 38. In the next five minutes the Johnnies go on a 15-5 run with no MU timeouts called (there were two tv timeouts in that period). That followed with another run of 7-2 before Buzz called a T.O and the Golden Eagles trailing 60-52 with 9:21 to play. The game was effectively over right there. The Storm pushed the lead to 13 points before MU was able to claw back to within 8 briefly. By the time the game ended, MU had dropped an 80-68 decision and a significant blow to their NCAA tournament hopes.

Another dismal defensive performance as MU gave up 80 points on their home court. A whopping 18 turnovers were committed, the highest in the Buzz Williams era we believe. What's worse, the offensive juggernaut that was the mainstay of MU seems to have disappeared. The third straight game of scoring less than 70 points as MU shot an anemic 22% from beyond the arc and less than 44% overall. The Warriors free throw shooting was about the only thing keeping them in the game.

Box Score

Buzz Williams and MU now face a critical crossroads to their season. They are 6-7 in the Big East and 15-11 overall. Their RPI after the loss now sits at 66, below such teams as Michigan, Penn State, Marshall, Dayton and a slew of other teams considered outside of the NCAA tournament discussion. Was tonight the fatal blow for their chances or do they gather themselves and turn it around? They will be favored to win 3 of their final 5 which would leave them with a 9-9 record. It is not inconceivable to see them go 4-1 with a win at Seton Hall, but it's equally not inconceivable to think the team might have given up. I don't think Buzz will let them do that, but the body language in this game was difficult to watch. A few boo birds came out amongst some of the crowd, either as a result of frustration or what might have been perceived as a lack of urgency in such a crucial game.

With a NCAA field of 68 teams, largest in NCAA history and a team that has been largely viewed as "safely in" the field the last month, the latest turn is not good news. A lot of pride and a season can be salvaged over the next five games, beginning with a must win against a tough Seton Hall team at the Bradley Center this weekend. It's do or die time, a loss to the Hall at home would be the final blow. Time to regroup because there is time for nothing else.

Know your opponent: St. John's

Real Chili. Miss Katie's Diner. Marquette Gyros.

Yes indeed the Marquette Warriors are back in town, hosting St. John's and looking for some home cooking after a three-game road swing that saddled the program with two tough losses. The Warriors enter the game at 15-10 overall and 6-6 BIG EAST. Despite the rough road trip, Marquette remains on the right side of the bubble thanks to a strong strength of schedule. And with only one RPI top 25 team remaining on the regular season schedule, it's time for the Warriors to push for an NCAA bid.

The Johnnies are also enjoying life in the neighborhood of the bubble and are coming off of a clutch win at Cincinnati on Sunday. The win capped a breakthrough week for the Redmen, who blew out UConn at MSG thanks to Dwight Hardy's career-high 33 points. Hardy was named the BIG EAST player of the week for his efforts. St. John's stands at 15-9 overall and 7-5 in the BIG EAST.

Now it's time to learn more about the Johnnies and we're pleased to welcome the inimitable Pico Dulce from Rumble in the Garden for a Q/A about his resurgent Red Storm. By the way, if you'd like to see our assessment of MU -- please click here for our contribution to his site.

Pico, take it away -------------------

When SJU has been good this year, the Johnnies have been very good (Duke, UConn) but when the team has been bad, well (Fordham, Bonnies, Cuse at MSG). What makes the Johnnies so volatile?
The Red Storm (I'm okay using that name, though I'll use Johnnies as well) have some stylistic issues. The way they press and recover, along with how they run their matchup zone (with an eye towards trapping) makes for some exciting results... and some volatile ones as well. So a team that sets its feet and starts hitting threes - especially without turning over the ball - can really run up the score. The way the Johnnies play D, they don't actually get a lot of non-turnover stops compared to many other teams.

In the case of Cuse and the Big East losses, those are games where the Johnnies just lost control of the pace, tried to make plays that weren't there, or got into foul trouble. The team isn't deep, and their margin for error is thin. So when they start making mistakes, they can balloon into something ugly.

I think that's part of what grated UCLA fans' gears about Lavin - the team isn't predictable like a many other coaches' teams. When things are going great, they can smoke opponents like an old John Woo movie. And when they fall apart, the team looks wholly incompetent.

Which player has benefited most from Steve Lavin's system?
Justin Brownlee. Dwight Hardy was always a shooter, and simply gets more time on the court (and has improved his game as well), but Brownlee has become a much better decision-maker. The ball often goes through him on a possession, and Lavin takes advantage of his versatility. Brownlee can catch-and-shoot, can snake in the lane for layup, can hit a short jumper, can shoot from outside, and even has a little hook/ post-up move in his arsenal.

Last year Brownlee seemed to have two moves - the dunk in transition (which he still has), and the Bad Idea Early Offense Jumpshot. It happens from time to time, but much less than it used to.

Defensively St. John's remains a work in progress, struggling to stop opponents from shooting well but turning them over at a high rate. Can you comment on Lavin's defensive philosophy?
Aw, nerds! I did that above. More detail: Lavin likes the matchup zone, likes different kinds of pressure. Wants constant pressing from his teams. He'll look to institute traps to force non-ballhandlers to make decisions, and he has a solid pickoff man in D.J. Kennedy. I think Lavin would like to also have a lockdown FG defense team in his mind, but the style he institutes doesn't show that focus; Lavin's philosophies center on the turnover ratio - smart passing on one end, and constant pressure on the other end.

What is the one thing you'll look for early in the game to indicate if the Johnnies will surge or struggle against MU?

Not one thing. The Johnnies - much like last year, actually - can compete for long stretches, until their offensive weaknesses catch up to them. Then the other team goes on a run, the Johnnies start pressing and making mistakes; that's often the team's undoing.

But if St. John's can force turnovers early and draw some fouls inside - let's say, if the Johnnies can get into the bonus by the 10 minute mark in the first half, I'll think the Red Storm are working their game the way they would like it to be worked.

As you know Monday is Al McGuire Night at the Bradley Center. As a St. John's fan happily living in the Midwest what are your impressions of what he meant to St. John's (or New York) basketball?
uh... I didn't know it was Al McGuire night! To be honest - and to be a bad basketball historian - I just know he was one of St. John's greats and he was awesome at getting that NYC talent to leave NY in a time when Wisconsin was like a different country.

Steve Lavin has changed the vibe on campus for Johnnies hoops. Is the team meeting expectations so far this season -- and where do you expect this team to land up in March?
This team is exceeding expectations, slightly. I thought they would eke out some wins and grind out a 9-9 or 8-10 conference record. I didn't think they would blast Duke, I never would have thought they would have won at West Virginia. They're in some ways fun to watch, and in other ways frustrating. Which is a lot of what I expected. I expected a better offense, honestly, and a better FG defense; taking on multiple 15+ point losses is tough to watch and colors peoples' perceptions of a team (and the coach).

Before last week, I might have said that I expect them to be in the First Four in the NCAA Tournament - assuming they take care of DePaul, Seton Hall, South Florida, and another team. Now? I almost have expectations. I think Lavin has always been fantastic at getting a team to perform loose and effectively during the NCAA Tournament, and the Red Storm are showing that when they get to run. If they don't face a strong interior presence and/or really tall/ long team on the wings, they might actually make the Sweet Sixteen - probably better than what half of the Big East will do, honestly. And it's not because I think they're particularly talented; more because they profile like a mid-major Sweet Sixteen team when they're at their best. Dwight Hardy is the one man show - the Harold Arceneaux, if you will - with a good set of players around him.

Bonus: Admit it ... after moving to Chicago you actually prefer the Midwest to New York. What is your favorite Midwestern comfort food?
I never denied that I prefer the Midwest for living. If I had a LOT more money? I might want to live in NY or Long Island, which I am growing to appreciate. But I like the people, the pace, the space and the ability to actually own things and save money despite paying school loans until I die. It's pretty cool. And biking from place to place. I'm even getting used to driving (though my recent trip to LA helped move the needle on that, strangely).

Comfort food... nothing particularly Midwestern. I like Midwestern beers - the Two Brothers' beers are on point - I like the cheese (and Mars Cheese Castle). I love the burger options. The readily available and good Mexican food. I like how Chicago is quite a foodie city - I wouldn't be so up on things, but my wife is really into food and food policy and food creativity.

Pico, many thanks!

And yes, tonight is Al's Night at the Bradley Center, an annual highlight for the Warriors faithful.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bracket Matrix & Dance Card Projections Update

The Bracket Matrix now has 65 contributing brackets to determine the aggregate 68 team field (last week they had 60). Marquette is in NCAA tournament in 59 of the 65 mock brackets, with an average seed of 10. The 7 seeds, or potential MU opponents, are listed as Tennessee (J. Maymon anyone), Illinois, Xavier and Washington (MU's opponent last year in the NCAA tournament).

A deeper analysis into the Bracket Matrix shows the following distribution of seeds for MU:

7 seed - 3 brackets
8 seed - 4 brackets
9 seed - 16 brackets
10 seed - 19 brackets
11 seed - 13 brackets
12 seed - 4 brackets (final 4 teams in the dance?)
13 seed - 0 brackets
Left Out - 6 brackets

The consensus of the matrix has MU as the 11th and final Big East team in the NCAA tournament. However, Cincinnati is sliding back and is now a consensus 9 seed with a difficult schedule ahead.

For those that follow the Dance Card website (not part of the Bracket Matrix listing above)....Marquette is the LAST TEAM INTO THE DANCE.

Tuesday night's game is huge.

Coaching Carousel Redux

We're pleased to welcome Dr. Blackheart back to the blog for an historical overview of the coaching carousel. Originally, this was scheduled for last week, but then "stuff" got in the way. Regardless, the content in this post is well worth revisiting after yet another road loss.

Back in 2008, right after Tom Crean left Marquette for the “Quadruple I”, the Bleacher Report published an article on fast risers in the college coaching profession. Among the names listed at the time were Anthony Grant of VCU, Brad Brownell of Wright St., Sean Miller of Xavier, Tony Bennett of Washington St. and Keno Davis of Drake (who had just been named National Coach of the Year). All were rumored to have been potential candidates for the vacant Marquette job. Absent from the list was one Brent “Buzz” Williams, a virtual unknown even to ardent MU followers.

Fast forward to February 2011, and each of these names have assumed the head coaching throne at a new, top BCS-level job: Grant to Bama, Brownell to Clemson, Miller to Arizona, Bennett to UVA and Davis to Providence. Also on the list with MU connections besides Crean were former assistant Darrin Horn (who had just taken the South Carolina spot at the time of this article) and Kevin O’Neill, former head coach, who has now assumed the USC lead. And, of course, Buzz has moved down the hall to the corner office in “The Al”.

Recently, blogger Dan Hanner of the Yet Another Basketball Blog (YABB) revisited the coaching hires over the past three years to evaluate which of these head coaches have made a difference. Hanner used Pomeroy efficiency statistics to rate these new coaches versus their predecessors. The surprising results:

  • Besides John Calipari and Mike Montgomery, no other 2-3 year head coach has improved the lot of their new teams more so than “The Buzzer”. Considering that the other two have NBA experience and past high NCAA success, Buzz has been able to move the needle in the right direction for MU—past the “Three Amigos+Zar” era and now with his own recruits—and Crean had left him with a much higher bar to beat than either Coach Cal or Montgomery inherited.
  • Yet, the shadow of doubt and his predecessor still seems to hang over the one not on the 2008 list. Quoting Hanner: “Is Buzz Williams a better coach than Tom Crean? His teams have had better efficiency margins than Crean’s did. And this data includes Crean’s team with Dwayne Wade. Until Williams gets to a Final Four, I think the answer is no. But I will say this: Buzz Williams' teams almost never get blown out. (editor's note - the next Cracked Sidewalks t-shirt will have the "no double-digit losses" banner on the back)
  • Three first year Big East Coaches made the “Positive Impact” list including former MU assistant Mike Rice—along with Steve Lavin of SJU and Kevin Willard of Seton Hall. Each of these also was left with seasoned upperclassmen. The question will be if any of these three will be “one hit wonders”, a tag that Buzz is starting to put behind him?
  • On the “Negative Impact” list are eleven names with 2-3 years on the job at their current gig, including four of the rising stars mentioned with MU in 2008, and MU coaching alumni Crean, O’Neill and Horn. Brownell, in his first year at Clemson after taking over for Oliver Purnell, is near break even. Grant seems to have Bama on the right path with defense, as the Crimson Tide is 8-2 and contending in the weaker SEC West.
So, is MU a much better job than the pundits and the so-called “hot coaches” are willing to admit or recognize? Is Buzz still underestimated, even by the MU faithful? Is the grass always greener at these high visibility jobs? On a day like today, when the fan base questions how good a coach Buzz actually is, the remainder of the season awaits to help answer these questions.

Excellent post, Dr. Blackheart. Thank you very much!

MUTV Sports recaps tough loss at Georgetown

Another stellar post-game report from the crew at MUTV Sports.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Marquette remains one of only 321 teams without a road win vs. RPI top 25

Several MU cynics agreed with the appraisal of former basketball great Len Elmore toward the end of today’s loss to Georgetown that MUs inability to knock off a quality opponent on the road could hurt their chances Selection Sunday.

The problem with that logic is that all of MUs road losses have been to teams in the RPI Top 25, and if you eliminate every team that has yet to win at an RPI Top 25 this year, then you are only left with a 24 team tournament. Here are the only teams to accomplish what MU failed to do today:

3 wins at RPI top 25 – Pitt
2 wins at RPI top 25 – Florida, Syracuse, Gtown
1 win at RPI top 25 – No. 1 Ohio State and 19 other teams
0 wins at RPI top 25 – Marquette and 320 other teams

Marquette is 3-0 on the road when not playing a top 25 team, so the “we just can’t win on the road” argument doesn’t work. Here is what has happened this year when a team has gone into the gym of an RPI Top 25 team, like MU did at Georgetown today:

67% - lose by double digits
24% - lose by single digits
9% - win

Yes, my colleagues tease me with the “no double digit losses” banner hanging from the rafters in the background of the Bradley Center on this page, but I wouldn’t be bragging about keeping it close if we were playing in Conference USA.

The “must win” games are not the games at Georgetown or UConn. Those are the games that propel you to a high seed if you become the 25th team in the country to pull one off this year.

The “must win” games are the road games and when the tough teams come into the Bradley Center – so our fans can’t jump on the “only win at home” argument.

Must Wins: Gtown loss doesn't hurt - SJU loss would
MU was an 8-seed before the Georgetown game and will be and 8 or 9 seed after the loss. MU will still be one of the Top 30 teams in the country in Sagarin and Pomeroy.

MU needs to beat a St. John’s team that just won at Cincy. A win in that game would make MU one of only eight teams with four or more wins against the RPI top 25 on any court. A loss in this game or any home game or at Seton Hall at the end of the year are the games that can drop MU from a middle seed to the bubble.

The five assists today are a concern. The +0 on turnovers against a team that usually loses that battle is a concern. The games played by Davante Gardner (12 points), Chris Otule (9 rebounds) and Vander Blue (4 rebounds, solid defense and handling the ball with no turnovers) are good signs.

The stars didn’t have great games, and as I wrote before the game, MU basically had to play it’s second best game of the year to win today. Tuesday, the pressure is on.

Does MU need Blue and Otule to turn up pressure?

Final thoughts before tip-off at Georgetown on MUs chances to pull the big upset …

If we are going to press today and/or the rest of the season, the Big East's best shot-blocker (Otule) and MUs top steals defender (Blue) may have to play more minutes.

With MUs success pressing Nova and USF, many hope that MU will press hard at Georgetown today to speed the game up. In looking at www.kenpom.com in conference games only, there are two unbelievable mismatches on the court today.

Georgetown hits 54.9% of their 2-pointers in Big East play, while MU is next to last in defending 2-point shots (53.7%) because we are next-to-late in blocking shots (only 7.6% of opponents shots).

Marquette is the best at forcing turnovers and Georgetown is next to worst (S. Florida) at protecting the ball – both over 20% of trips in Big East play, so MU could easily force turnovers in 25% of trips.

So, if you throw in a press to increase turnovers EVEN MORE but allow EVEN MORE easily looks at shots near the basket, I suppose MU could force 20 turnovers and pull the upset, or allow 65% shooting from the floor and lose by double digits.

Otule and Blue key?

I realize many may be envisioning a line-up of DJO, Butler, Crowder, Buycks and either Junior or Fulce harassing the Hoyas, but I actually think the press may require more minutes out of Chris Otule and Vander Blue.

The moment a press is broken, the players look at the hoop and it’s nice to have a 6-11 shot blocker waiting there to make them pull it out. And here is a news flash that shocked me when I pulled up the numbers. While MU has been one of the worst shot blocking teams in the country for years, that is no longer the case when Chris Otule is on the court, because OTULE IS THE BEST SHOT-BLOCKER IN THE BIG EAST.

While Otule has only played 36.5% of our minutes, when he is on the court, he blocks 9.7% of opponents shots, the best total in the Big East:

Best blocked shot percentage in BE
1. Chris Otule Marquette 6-11 260 So 9.70%
2. Terrence Jennings Louisville 6-9 220 Jr 9.55
3. Julian Vaughn Georgetown 6-9 247 Sr 9.12
4. Baye Moussa Keita Syracuse 6-10 220 Fr 8.87
5. John Flowers West Virginia 6-7 215 Sr 8.70
6. Dane Miller Rutgers 6-7 215 So 8.29
7. Rick Jackson Syracuse 6-9 240 Sr 7.72
8. Bilal Dixon Providence 6-8 228 So 7.49
9. Alex Oriakhi Connecticut 6-9 240 So 7.40
10. Gary McGhee Pittsburgh 6-10 250 Sr 7.21

MU can go after steals much more aggressively when Otule has their back. Could we have a Jim McIlvaine emerging here?

Obviously the biggest key to pressing is steals and turnovers, so it seems to me we also need our best ball hawk on the court, and that is Vander Blue, who is one of only 14 players in the Big East who personally steals the ball on 3% or more of opponent’s possessions.

MUs best at steals
14. Blue 3.0%
19. Crowder 2.9
37. Buycks 2.2
40. Butler 2.2
49. Cadougan 2.1
80. DJO 1.3

Obviously it’s nice to have two front line players that are so good at stealing the ball, as Crowder ranks 5th in the Big East and Butler 10th in the Big East among front line players in steals.

But with Blue on the court, MU probably becomes the top team in the conference at forcing turnovers, and when he sits down MU drops to just above average.

I don’t know if Blue will be on the court today or not, but if MU is going to take on the extra fatigue and fouls to press and change the dynamics the rest of the year, these two emerging defensive stars are going to have to be part of an 8-man rotation.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Jumpin Jesuit Showdown

In search of its first signature road win of the season, the road-weary Warriors will lace'em up against the Georgetown Hoyas on Sunday afternoon.

Marquette (15-9, 6-5 BIG EAST) is 1-1 on the current road swing, losing late at Villanova and stealing a win against USF earlier this week. With just seven conference games remaining, Marquette has little margin for error in its pursuit of another NCAA tournament bid. However, stealing a win at #11 Georgetown (19-5, 8-4 BIG EAST) will be a tall order. Since opening the BIG EAST schedule at 1-4, the Hoyas are on a hot streak. Georgetown has won seven consecutive games, four of which have come away from home. The signature win during this run was a 64-56 win at Syracuse on Wednesday, as the Hoyas used a 15-3 run down the stretch to pull away for the victory.

Georgetown is led by Naismith Award finalist Austin Freeman, who averages
18.5 points per game and connects on 53% of his field goals overall (45% from three-point territory). Guard Chris Wright averages a dozen points per game to go with five assists, while backcourt running mate Jason Clark is good for a dozen per game as well. For the first time in ages, Georgetown isn't led by a premier big man, and yet they continue to be very good.

How do they do it? According to their Pomeroy stats, Georgetown is great offensively. However, they are only good in one area offensively (eFG%), but even that has them as the #3 team at effective field goal percentage. The Hoyas are #2 inside the arc and #34 at shooting from three. Match that up against Marquette's crappy eFG% defense, and you have a recipe for Georgetown to score early and score often.

Defensively, GU is not as strong and again they are only good in one area. Of course it's the most important area (eFG% again). In particular, the Hoyas are good at preventing opponents from scoring inside the arc. They can give up shots from outside the arc. Finally, GU plays a slow-down tempo (#238 overall), which can be kryptonite for MU's defense. Add it all up and you have quite a few strengths for Georgetown going against Marquette weaknesses. Oh... they're at home.

But let me tell you something. Georgetown hates this matchup. They HATE it. First, the Hoyas are fairly inconsistent defensively. They can give up 1.14 ppp to Providence and hold Syracuse to 0.96. While GU is going to get points, Marquette is probably going to get points too. Second, while Georgetown is good at eFG% on both sides of the ball, they are either not good or downright bad everywhere else. The Hoyas are sloppy with the ball, never force turnovers, and they're mediocre at defensive rebounding. Marquette has a very good chance to match GU at eFG% and take advantage of turnover margin and offensive rebounding. Finally, just note that Hoya Prospectus recently placed Georgetown as the 9th best team in the league. MU was #3. I'm not saying Georgetown is a pretender... well, maybe I am.

Does any of this mean Marquette is going to win? No, but like always, MU has more than a puncher's chance. If only they would press more to increase the pace of the game. We're not ones to to be homers on game predictions, but we think the Warriors finally lock down that elusive quality road win.

Tipoff for the game is scheduled for 12pm Marquette Standard Time. The game will be broadcast on ESPN and called by Mike Patrick and Len Elmore. Bah.

Finally, according to the Official MU Game Notes the game is part of the Jesuit Basketball Spotlight. "The Jesuit Basketball Spotlight project is a nationwide effort to identify basketball games between Jesuit schools and, through those games, bring greater positive awareness to Jesuit education and mission. This project was developed by the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) in response to member institutions wanting to spread the word of Jesuit higher education through the more than 90 basketball games in which Jesuit institutions play each other." Go Jesuits!

*joint post by Tim and Rob

Marquette Basketball Friday Digest

After another week in the BIG EAST the Marquette Warriors stand at 15-9 overall and 6-5 in the conference. With just seven regular season games remaining MU remains on the right side of most of the 'bubble talk' and can take a big step forward this weekend with Sunday's game at Georgetown. More on that tomorrow.

Let's look back on the week that was:

Finally, Brad Galli completed a terrific video on the role of the Marquette team chaplain, Fr. William Kelly. Enjoy and Ring out Ahoya!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

South Florida - Pace and the Press

To recap, a week ago we covered a guest post from Blackheart about how teams could break down MU's defense by slowing down the pace. In the first half, which ended with Marquette being down 31-24, any idea how effectively USF was able to slow down the pace?

Holy crap! If extrapolated, the first half was played at a pace of 48 possessions. Do you know how slow that is? (tangent, I went to look up the slowest pace in D1 and it's actually Wisconsin. That made me laugh. Because. Big. Ten. basketball. is. so. boring. and. Wisconsin. is. the. worst.) So the slowest-paced team in the nation averages 58 possessions per game, and even their slowest game was 50 possessions. The first half was at an even slower pace than that. cripes.

As predicted by Blackheart, Marquette's defense was terrible at such a slow pace. USF (mind you, a team that averages 1.01 ppp, scored 1.29 ppp in the first half, and had an eFG% of 79%!) Also, as John Pudner highlighted, USF was all over the offensive boards. The only good news for MU was that USF was sloppy with the ball.

Now, obviously Marquette rallied from 16 down to win, but instead of posting the 2H stats, I want to build more on the period during which Marquette was pressing. From Rosiak's blog post after the game, he mentioned that the press started around 14:18 left and MU down by sixteen. We ran the numbers from that point on until Crowder hit the final three of the game (1:36 left)

Yet again the press proved to be effective both offensively and defensively. During this almost thirteen minute stretch, MU held USF to 0.55 ppp and 30% eFG%. If the pace for this period is extrapolated to 40 minutes, it results in a tempo of 68 possessions. That's right around average.

Also, note that the press was actually less effective than the 1H defense at forcing turnovers. In addition, Marquette still was able to take remarkably good care of the ball, only coughing up a turnover once. In other words, the conventional wisdom about the press, where it causes more turnovers on both sides of the ball, was not accurate. The primary benefit for Marquette was to succeed in playing better defense and increasing the tempo.

Yet again we ask "Should Marquette Press More?". Here's your running tally for two games of featuring the press.

Solid numbers all across the board. Just about the only area that is worse is our opponents' Free Throw Rate. Good thing that's practically insignificant to defense. We also continue to believe that it's not a sustained defense, but definitely a strong counter (think first half, Buzz) to an opponent attempting to slow down the pace. To the question of if Marquette should press more... yet again the answer comes back "Yes".

Responses to Sagarin questions; Consistent MU has played like a Top 20 team 11 of 17 games

There were three excellent questions in response to my post “Seton Hall’s improvement with Hazell really pushes MU projected finish to 9-9.” I summarized the questions below, and in researching the answers, reached a basic conclusion:

MU plays like a Top 20 team two out of every three times they go on the court for a big game. One in three times, they battle through a subpar performance but have played hard enough to sneak out half of those games (Bucknell, UWM and South Florida).

If this trend continues in MUs last four home games they could play like a Top 20 team and have easy wins in any three of the four games, BUT will likely find themselves in a battle in at least one of those four games during which they may need to pull out an ugly win a la Bucknell, UWM or South Florida.

Only once in 17 games (Notre Dame win) has MU played well enough to win AT UConn or Georgetown, so unless they can take it to another level for one of those games, MU needs to sweep the four home games or face a potential season-ending bracket buster at Seton Hall to get the 10th win and punch their ticket to the NCAA.

But to address the three questions I received on MU Scoop – paraphrasing:

A. Don’t the Sagarin “Game Rankings” vary a lot from game-to-game anyway?

No. MU has put out virtually the same great effort in 10 of 17 games this year against Top 150 teams. Basically, an 88 or higher means you are a Top 20 team, and in 10 of 17 games, MUs rating has been between an 88 and a 91. Assuming MU’s opponents play above or below their average on a given night, the fact that MU is staying within a 3-point margin at this high level is unbelievably consistent.

The blowout of Notre Dame was one of the best games played by any team this season, resulting in a game rating of 107, meaning Sagarin says MU would have beaten No. 1 Ohio State by 13 points on a neutral court that night.

That leaves six subpar performances; Bucknell 84, USF 81, Wisconsin 81, Gonzaga 80, UWM 79 and by far the worst performance of a 75 against UConn (though UConn just looked hot and flawless to me that night).

B. “You say that Seton Hall’s rating has improved by 7 points since Hazell arrived, but for comparison what is Marquette’s rating over the past 8 games?”

Compared to the first 9 games against top 150 teams, Marquette has improved 2 points in the last 8 games. MU averaged an 86 through their first 9 games against Top 150 teams, and has averaged an 88 through the last 8 – so nothing close to Seton Hall’s 7-point improvement, but still improving. MU averaged an 87 against the seven creampuffs. If the Notre Dame win had been 10 days earlier though, then MUs average would have been the same in the first 9, second 8 and vs. the creampuffs.

C. How do you calculate these game ratings?

Note that due to rounding and perhaps some other nuisances of Sagarin’s overall system, this simple game-by-game calculation gives MU an overall average one point higher than the 86 Sagarin calculates through today. Also note that if you calculate once and then do it again a week later, the game rating might fluctuate slightly due to games played by other teams. However, the only game score that fluctuated by more than one point since my first column was Notre Dame, whose overall rating had jumped 3 points, thus increasing MUs game rating for the blowout win from 104 to 107.

1. Pull up the current Sagarin ratings here:


2. Find your opponent and go to the number on the far right.

The predictor number is in blue. For last night’s game, you find South Florida as the 126th ranked team in the country and with a 75.72, which I always round, so a 76.

3. Adjust 4 points for home court.

Adjust that number based on where the game was played. Sagarin calculates home advantage is 3.91 so far this year, but I always round to 4. So if MU had been at home last night you would subtract 4 (-4), on a neutral site make no adjustment, but because it was at South Florida you add 4 to Marquette’s game score (76+4=80) to get to 80.

4. Final margin.

Finally your most important number is the actual difference in the final score. MU won by 1 point, so you add one to make the total equation 76+4+1 and MU’s game rating is an 81.

Game Rating vs. S. Florida = 81

Feel free to use decimals to be more precise, but if you are sneaking this in between work projects or before going to bed like me, going with rounded numbers speeds things up incredibly and may save your marriage and job.

I choose to leave non-top 150 teams out because at that point you are judging a team based on whether or not the blow someone out by 20 points or 40 points – which is silly since obviously coaches use those games to try out subs, etc. Overall, the creampuff game ratings average out to virtually the same performances as MUs other games, but I really don’t care that our 30-point win over DePaul is technically our second best performance of the season, or that our 29-point win over Centenary is technically our 2nd worst performance of the year. When it comes to evaluating the games that matter, MU either plays like a Top 20 team (two-thirds of the time), or guts their way through a bad night to get back into single digits and take their best shot (one-third of the time). They quit 0% of the time from what I can see.