"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Friday, February 18, 2011

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.

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