"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, February 27, 2011

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.

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