"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, November 28, 2011

How quick did Blue, MU score after steals? 11 points in 32 seconds after 7 steals

Marquette had an eFG% of 67% last night behind great three-point shooting from Jae Crowder (4-7 treys and 27 points), Darius-Johnson-Odom (4-6, 19)and Todd Mayo (2-2, 14 in just 15 minutes). But MU continues to explode when they steal the ball.

Blue led MU to seven steals – and MU turned all seven steals into points in a total of 32 seconds of action following the steals. That means that after an MU steal, the Warriors scored an average of 1.57 points per possession (to a still impressive 1.24 points per possession on all other trips), and scored at a pace of 0.344 points per second or 825 points per game. Here is a list of the seven steals, and how many seconds it took to either be fouled or score after each steal:

17:26 Blue0
15:37 DJO8
13:38 Mayo2
12:57 D. Wilson1
0:51 Blue3
16:59 Blue (2nd half)13, 16
14:56 Blue2
Ave seconds before score or foul4.1

On the next-to-last steal it took Jacksonville 13 seconds to foul, and then they fouled again 3 seconds later to result in a free throw hit. Here is the breakdown of points per possession.

After Steal1171.57
Other Possessions77621.24
All Possessions88691.28

Blue leads MU in rebounds, assists and steals

For a second straight game it was Vander Blue who finally secured victory against a pesky opponent. This one did not come down to the final minute like the Norfolk State game, but Jacksonville was within 28-31 with less than a minute to go in the half before Blue had a steal and assist to DJO, and was still hanging within 35-48 with 15 minutes to go in the game – and then Vander Blue took over.

With 14:56 to play, he came up with his fourth steal of the game – one for every six minutes on the court – and two seconds later laid it in at the other end for a 50-35 lead.

With 14:40 to play Blue ripped down one of his game high 9 rebounds, and worked it to DJO, who passed to Jae Crowder for a 3-pointer to make it 35-53.

With 13:53 Blue responded to a Jacksonville basket by getting the ball back down the court and kicking to DJO for a trey to make the score 37-56 on one of Blue’s team-high 7 assists.

In just over a minute, Blue had scored, assisted, rebounded, stolen the ball en route to leading the team in the latter three categories. MU was off to the races and an 88-56 win.

Can Marquette turn Wisconsin over and speed the game up Saturday?

Marquette may have to get some steals and breakaway baskets against Wisconsin, because the Badgers are the best team in the country at shooting percentage allowed (eFG% = 33.2%) and at defensive rebounding (81.9% of opponents misses rebounded by Badgers). They don’t let you make shots, and they don’t let you grab your miss. They are also one of the best 10 in the country at protecting the ball (turn it over on only 14.8% of trips).

So MU will need DJO, Jae and Todd Mayo to continue their fantastic scoring against a very tough defense, but they also need Vander Blue to help MU get a few steals and easy baskets in his return to Madison for the first time since turning down the Badgers for Marquette.

Marquette did once again allow an opponent to grab too many offensive rebounds last night (35.1%), which will bring back memories of last year’s second half against Wisconsin. However, I believe the bigger key to victory will be if Wisconsin can protect the ball and grind the game to below their average 59 trips down the court, or if MU can get it closer to their 70 trips per game average by disrupting the most disciplined attack out there.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Durley Committed to Marquette

A false report surfaced on Twitter and a few other websites today reporting that 2012 Marquette commit Aaron Durley was planning to head to a Junior College in 2012 instead of enrolling at Marquette. Mark Strotman over at Paint Touches was quick to investigate this report and get quotes from the Durley family, including Aaron himself, that disputed this report. Here are a few of the highlights:

“This article is far from true,” Durley said in an email. “From the horse’s mouth, I assure you that I will be at Marquette University in the fall.”

Durley’s mother informed the Marquette coaching staff after the original report was published, saying that neither she nor Aaron would do or say anything negative or hurtful toward Marquette.

“I have never waivered on Aaron’s decision to attend Marquette,” Dana [Durley] said. “He is fully committed.”

Good news for the Marquette faithful that the 6'11" center will be enrolling in 2012. Here's a link to Mark Strotman's full article: Paint Touches Refutes Durley Report

Thursday, November 24, 2011

RPI Forecast has MU finishing 3rd in the country

If you didn’t check Cracked Sidewalks yesterday, please first check out the great story on how Buzz, acting AD Mike Broeker, Jim McIlvaine, Jimmy Butler, Lazar Hayward and some of my colleagues here at Cracked Sidewalks teamed up to reach out to young Liam Kelly, who is thankfully free of cancer today.

That was a real Thanksgiving story, that makes us remember how trivial basketball is by comparison...

MU's tougher schedule results in projected RPI of 3
On December 31, 2009, I noted that scheduling seven or eight non-Top 200 teams every year was killing Marquette’s RPI, and could cost us a bid.

This season, Marquette is projected to play only two schools out of the top 200 (Mount Saint Mary’s, 280th and Winthrop, 263rd). MU is 53-1 against such teams since 2003, DePaul being the one loss.

SeasonRPIvs. non-top 200
2012 Projected3rd 2-0
201150th 7-0
201054th 7-1
200930th 8-0
200820th 7-0
200722nd 5-0
200591st 4-0

Cutting down on the number of teams played against Non-Top 200 teams has helped propel Marquette up to a projected RPI of 3, a spot normally reserved for a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Duke and Alabama also benefit by only projecting to play two non-top 200 opponents, while Missouri is the only team projected to crack the top 10 despite playing seven non-Top 200 teams:

Projected RPI top 10 (non-top 200 opponents in parenthesis)
1. Duke 2 (NC Greensboro, Boston College)
2. Alabama 2 (Al A&M, Detroit)
3. MARQUETTE 2 (Mount St. Mary's, Winthrop)
4. Ohio State 4 (Jackson St, VMI, TX Pan Am, SC Upstate)
5. Kentucky 5 (Marist, Radford, Chatt, Samford, AR Little Rock)
6. Syracuse 5 (Fordham, Manhattan, Albany, Colgate, E. Mich)
7. Missouri 7 (SE Miss St, Niagra, Bingh, NW St, Navy, Kenn, W&M,
8. Purdue 6 (N. Ill, High Point, Coppin St., W. Car, E. Mich, IUPU-FW,
9. Kansas 3 (Tows, UCLA, N. Dak)
10. North Carolina 6 (Miss Valley, Tenn St, Evansv, Nichol, Monm, BC)

These forecasts assume Jeff Sagarin’s projections, which have Marquette finishing 25-6. Even if that proves unrealistic, the better scheduling would enable Marquette to finish with an RPI of roughly 24 even with a 21-10 mark, and even if MU went just 19-12 this season they project to have an RPI of 42, higher than the last two years.

Last year MU's critics were able to point out that the seven non-top 200 games meant MU was only 9-11 against Top 200 teams prior to the win at UConn. Based on our No. 11 seed, it looks like the seven games against non-Top 200 teams meant MU really did have to win at UConn and vs. West Virginia in the Big East tournament to make the tourney. This year the path looks much easier due to scheduling Top 200 teams like Jacksonville.

Jacksonville tries for 2nd straight upset at Florida today; visits MU Monday
Jacksonville projects to lose by 15 or 20 points to both Florida (today/Friday at 6 CST) and Marquette (Monday, 7 p.m. CST), which ranked No. 11 and No. 12 according to Ken Pomeroy coming into the game. However, Jacksonville did pull off a huge upset of #1 NIT seed Arizona State in 2010, then followed up by going into Florida to pull off the upset last year, and held within a respectable 12 points at #20 Florida State this year.

Historically, Jacksonville actually had more 1st round NBA selections (7-6) than Marquette, until Lazar and Jimmy were drafted. However, they are a long time from Artis Gilmore leading them to over 100 points a game and the 1970 national championship game against UCLA. When I calculated the Value Add of every returning player last year, 6-foot-1 Keith McDougald was Jacksonville’s top player at 1775th – behind every returning MU player.

They went 20-12 last year by scoring off steals and offensive rebounds, and this year is off to the same kind of start. Keith McDougald (4 steals, 43 points) and Russell and Glenn Powell (5/43 and 4/49 respectively) need to turn teams over to score at the other end. Meanwhile, Chris Davis (8 offensive rebounds and 27 points) and Delwan Graham (48/9) score by pounding the glass.

However, both last year and this they turned the ball over a lot, are very poor shooters, and foul a lot due to making up for a lack of height - all things that seem to play into Marquette’s hands.

Marquette needs to take care of business Monday in a final tune-up before heading out to Madison next Saturday to take on Wisconsin (3:30 p.m. CST), which plays the UNC Tar Heels as their warm-up for the in-state rivalry.

Both Sagarin and Pomeroy predict Wisconsin will be the toughest test of the year for Marquette, with Sagarin predicting a 2-point loss but Pomeroy predicting MU getting blow out by 10 points.

Happy Thanksgiving

This post is long overdue.  Today is a day where we take time to be grateful for the many blessings in our lives.  And while I do not typically engage in personal discussions, I hope you'll humor this post today.

On March 31st, 2010, some dear friends found out their two year old son had less than a 30% chance of survival.  Liam Kelly had been diagnosed with the rare condition of stage 4 Neuroblastoma.  If you have children, family, or a soul, you probably appreciate how devastating this diagnosis was for the Kelly family.

Liam has now gone through eighteen grueling months of treatment including six cycles of chemotherapy, major abdominal surgery, four stem cell harvests, two stem cell (bone marrow) transplants, weeks of radiation, and finally six months of an experimental antibody therapy.  In short, more pain and suffering than anyone should ever have to endure.  However, there is a happy ending here, because Liam has completed his treatment and was declared cancer free.

Liam's dad is a proud Marquette alum (and dedicated hoops fanatic).  When this first started to unfold, I reached out to Mike Broeker to see if there was anything that the athletic department did in situations like these.  Here are some of the things I am thankful for.

  • Broeker immediately contacted Buzz, who called Liam's dad the very next day and wanted to come visit in the hospital.  The hospital visit never worked out, but Liam's parents were particularly touched by Buzz's call.  I'm thankful that Buzz was so responsive and makes those types of calls.
  • Mike kept in touch with the Kelly family off and on during much of their treatment.  He would check in to see how things were going and sent a care package or two.  In addition, prior to a Benefit Dinner to raise money for Liam's ongoing care, Broeker was nice enough to get three signed MU basketballs (by JFB and Lazar) donated for the auction.  I'm thankful that Mike Broeker finds the time to follow up and help out an MU family.
  • Also prior to the auction, Tim helped reach out to Marquette legend (and the coolest radio announcer in the business) Jim McIlvaine.  Mac donated signed pictures, a rookie card, and other memorabilia, for which I am thankful.
  • Finally, I'm thankful for Cracked Sidewalks contributor muwarrior92, who donated a signed jersey from (Super Bowl winning) quarterback Eli Manning.
All of these things were done without any expectation of public notification or gratitude, but today they get thanks.  I'm thankful that the Marquette community supports its own in times of need. 

And most especially, I'm thankful that Liam is cancer free.

If you want to read more about Liam, you can see their story at the family's website.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.  We Are Marquette.

Monday, November 21, 2011

#16 Marquette wins for only the 3rd time when playing back-to-back; sneaks out 59-57 championship on Blue steal/assist with 1:13 to go

Four years ago 1st year coach Buzz Williams faced back-to-back games against two teams that were almost just as good - a Northern Iowa team that would end up ranked #81 and a Dayton team that would be ranked #78 at seasons end.

On the first night, MU used their speed to improve to 5-0 with an unbelievable performance in a 73-43 win over Northern Iowa. The next night on not-so-fresh legs, MU was thrashed by Dayton 75-89. The trend of struggling when playing on consecutive nights and/or in the third day of a tournament has continued for the entire Buzz era, with an earily similar result of beating Norfolk State by 31 points a week ago, then barely suriviving for a 2-point win against the same team last night. In fact, in 9 such games during Buzz's tenure, MU's average score on "tired legs" has been a 65-71 loss. (see table at bottom of post for all such games)

The good news is that MU survived last night when Vander Blue came up with his 11th steal of the season with 1:13 to play, dribbled around his back to beat a defender, then fired a laser pass ahead to Jae Crowder for the final points of the game and Blue’s 20th assist of the season for the final score of a 59-57 win. MU survived a last second missed 3-pointer by Norfolk State to sneak away with the title.

It may be that MUs intensity that turns steals into baskets and rattles opponents just isn’t there when playing back-to-back nights. For the first 8 minutes MU continued their season pace of scoring well over 2 points a minute, but then they hit the wall and Norfolk State switched to a zone to only allow 42 points in 32 minutes and come within one final three-point attempt of stealing the Paradise Jam championship just a week after losing to MU by 31 points. The breakdown of MU’s points for the season prior to and after Norfolk went to the zone is below:

First 4 games + 1st 8 minutes3971682.4
Final 32 minutes vs. zone42321.3

The game reminded me of the bad games against Florida State, UWM and DePaul the last couple of years – a terrible struggle that came down to a final shot. In this case it was a 3-pointer by Norfolk State star center Kyle O’Quinn that rimmed off to give MU the two point win. The game showed some of the same weaknesses that has plagued MU:

1. trouble against a zone,
2. Vander Blue struggled to a scoreless 0 for 7 night as the Spartans sagged back for his drives,
3. Seemingly left Spartans wide open for 3-point attempts way too often,
4. some tightening up at the line and from the floor by the young stars as they experienced their first tight game, and
5. the poor performance when playing back-to-back games (see the complete list of MUs 3 wins in 9 games).

Marquette also lost the turnover battle 14-12 with some very sloppy play, and perhaps more importantly lost the foul battle 15-16. The fact that they couldn’t draw fouls against the zone was almost the difference, as DJO stepped to the line with 28 seconds left and a one-on-one, rather than two shots. When he missed the front end to leave the score 59-57 it gave the Spartans the shot at the game-winner.

However, Marquette finished the night with their first tournament trophy under Buzz, and with some valuable experience for the young players who had been able to play loose with big leads up until this point. The good news:

1. Chris Otule battled NBA prospect Kyle O’Quinn tough again, getting two quick fouls on him, rejecting 4 more shots, and staying almost even with him in rebounds (13-9) to allow only 10 points (one on a 35 foot three-pointer as the shot clock expired),
2. When no one else seemed to know how to attack the zone, Davante Gardner was the only answer for stretches, getting 7 points and 7 rebounds in 15 minutes,
3. Amidst the struggles, Marquette got the leadership it needed from the seniors (Crowder 14 points, 11 rebounds and smart play with 4 fouls while DJO 20 points on 6 of 7 free throws) and starting point guard (6 more assists for Junior and 4 of 7 from the floor to make them respect the shot and drive).

Marquette gets a week off before a warm-up against Jacksonville next Monday, followed by the December 3 shot down at Wisconsin against the No. 1 scoring defense in the nation. I’m sure Bo Ryan will take a lot of notes from last night on slowing MU down, and the Badgers will be coming off a trip to Chapel Hill to face UNC.

Norfolk State now joins Villanova, Cincinnati and Georgetown as our favorite teams, as each game each of these teams wins or loses will count TWICE in our RPI and Pomeroy rankings. Below are the results of games under Buzz Williams in which the team has either played in the third game of a tournament, or on back-to-back nights against D1 teams (didn’t count Chaminade).

Opponent on 2nd straight night/3rd game of tourneyResult
Florida StateL56-57
West VirginiaW67-61
Norfolk StateW59-57
Average ScoreL65-71

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Little Things in Life: Overseas Essentials

I consider myself very lucky to make a career out of doing what I love, playing basketball. Of course, there are always positives and negatives to every situation. Living overseas for 8-10 months a year makes you miss some things in America that aren't available here. A common conversation with my fellow American teammates is talking about what we miss from back home, usually centering around the foods we crave. Right now, nothing would make me happier than to devour a double chicken burrito with rice, black beans, salsa, sour cream, and extra cheese from Chipotle! PizzaHut is right down the block from my apartment, but a large pizza costs 3,000Yen (about $40!). Heck, I’d even settle for finding a restaurant that serves a regular American breakfast. This being my 4th season living overseas, I am very used to adapting to a new country, it’s lifestyle, and food. Eventually you get used to not being able to read ANYTHING, from road signs to food labels. You get used to using a public restroom and having to “pay-to-pee” in Europe, or banking on no paper towels to wash your hands in Japan. You also get used to watching only CNN on TV, because that’s the only channel in English. These are just a couple examples of everyday life overseas. I've got a list of essential items that I pack every year that make living away from America a bit more manageable. Most of mine center on technology and food/drink.

1. Slingbox
Slingbox may be one of the greatest inventions ever. It connects any cable box in the world to your laptop or iPad. Basically, I can control my home DirecTV in Minnesota from my laptop in Japan. This makes it easy to catch my favorite shows like SportsCenter, PTI, The Office, Entourage, etc. With the 15-hour time difference, it makes it a bit complicated, so you may have a remote battle with those back home trying to watch the same TV! It allows me to catch my little brother's basketball games who plays for the Air Force Academy, and of course our Marquette Golden Eagles! I'll just have to set my alarm in the morning the next day here to catch the live tip-off.
2. iPhone
The club here in Sendai gives us a nation-wide cell phone, but my iPhone comes in very handy. Paired with our portable Wi-Fi device here in Japan, we are always connected online, making our long road trips much more enjoyable. Basketball players these days can’t seem to go anywhere without access to their Facebook and Twitter, and I am no different (FOLLOW ME at DanielJohnFitz!). Also, I downloaded a translation App that works great at the supermarket. It translates all languages, and converts currency too. Do you know how much 4,000 yen is in dollars? “Wakaranai.”

3. iPad

This is a new addition to my "must-have" list, but it was the best gift my wife has ever given me! I no longer have to bring a case full of DVDs, CDs, books, or even a laptop on all these long bus trips. The iPad is a one-stop shop for all my entertainment needs. As you can see, I am certainly on Team Apple! RIP Steve Jobs.

4. Skype

Skype allows me to make voice and video calls over the internet. I can call or chat with anyone who has Skype on their computer for free, or for a very small fee, I can call any landline or mobile phone in the world. It is the best way to stay connected while away from friends and family. I have it on all my devices, iPhone, iPad, and laptop. Paired with my portable Wi-Fi, I can reach anyone back home anytime. Of course, you have to coordinate a good time to call, as Japan's 15 hour time difference makes it challenging. The video function is especially awesome, check it out if you haven't already as it is even useful in the states.

5. Camera

So far, I've been to a dozen countries and have seen a lot in my 4 years playing professionally. That's a lot of memories that I want to remember, and of course people back home want to see how my wife and I are living. Fortunately for me, my wife is a talented professional photographer, so she takes all the pictures. Check out her picture blog at DominikaIrminaPhotography.com.

6. Hot Sauce

Every new country brings new adventures with their foreign cuisine. So far, Japanese dining has been the biggest change for me compared to any other place I've lived. I'm not a seafood fan, so I'm at a serious disadvantage here. Check out this basic Japanese kids’ box lunch.
I love all hot sauce, but my go-to brand is Frank's Red Hot. It goes on everything from eggs to pasta, to whatever the heck that stuff is above! Some different foods I've had this year in Japan include seaweed wrapped rice balls with raw salmon inside, curry rice and beef, baby octopus, and a Sendai staple, grilled cow tongue! Frank's Red Hot makes all these taste better(or at least, edible)!
7. Gatorade powder

I love Gatorade, I drink it all the time. It's not nearly as popular as it is in America, and sometimes nonexistent. If the country does have it, they have one flavor sold in a tiny bottle. It will also be expensive. I haven't seen any Gatorade sold here in Japan, so I stocked up on Gatorade powder before I left home. Living overseas, you find that they won't have your basics from home, just something that's close to it. Japan has a sports drink that is close to it, called Pocari Sweat (not the best connotation, right?). It's similar to Gatorade, just not quite the same.

8. Deodorant
Before coming to Japan, I was told to bring deodorant. Apparently, they don't use it here as much as we do in the states. Our sticks are bigger and much stronger. I never would have thought I needed to bring a year’s supply of SpeedStick, but every country is different. So, do your homework before you head abroad, no one likes to guard the smelly guy!

I love my job and it has made my life a lot of fun and an exciting adventure! But there really is no place like home. The place where you can get breakfast at 3am, a Hot ‘N Ready Pizza for $5, watch Monday Night Football, on monday night!, identify what you’re eating before you eat it (I've had mystery meat plenty of times), read and fully comprehend street signs, and buy a liter of Riptide Rush Gatorade at a gas station with the change in your car’s ash tray! God Bless the good 'ole US of A!
GO Marquette!
-Daniel Fitzgerald '08

MU goes over 90 points for 4th straight game - this time against 5th best scoring defense in country

Something had to give with Marquette scoring 95.0 a game (2nd scoring offense in country) and Mississippi giving up 45.3 points per game (5th scoring defense in country).

Top DefensesPts AllTop OffensesPts Scored
St. Louis39.5Marquette95.0
St. Marys41.0Iowa93.0
Norfolk St (since MU)50.6 

The answer came fast - as Marquette shredded Mississippi's defense for more than their 45.3 average IN THE FIRST 17 1/2 MINUTES OF THE GAME. How did MU do that without letting one of the best shotblocking teams in the country block a single shot during those 17 1/2 minutes?

Look at Junior Cadougan's 6 assists - as he has helped MU become the top assist team in the country - and look at Vander Blue's 4 steals. MU came into the game with an incredible 59 points off of 36 steals, and scored 12 quick fast break points off of rebounds en route to a 40-12 lead. Mississippi never threatened after that, with the game ending 96-66. MU is now scoring 1.52 points per trip after they steal the ball, compared to an already excellent 1.21 points per trip on all other trips (1.0 is the national average).

StealsPointsAve.Other Poss.PointsAve.

Marquette now faces a Norfolk State team that they already scored 99 points against this season, for the Paradise Jam championship tonight at 7:30 p.m. CST. Except for that game, Norfolk State would have the 10th best scoring defense in the country due to shutting down both TCU and the favorite to win the CAA conference over VCU, ODU and George Mason.

So while Jae Crowder's seven for seven start shooting en route to 25 points, and DJOs 20 led the scoring again, Marquette is blowing teams out by transition from defense to offense.

However, Marquette also showed they can use their passing in half court games with the re-emergence of Davante Gardner, who scored 15 POINTS in 14 MINUTES, including 9 for 9 from the line. Gardner was not as key in the first three games because MU was running up and down the court - but he was still 8 of 10 from the floor in those three games, so MU has a key option if someone can slow them into a half court game.

As you can see from the table below, 29 of the 44 times Marquette has stolen the ball this year they have either scored on a dunk or lay-up, or been fouled almost immediately or at the rim. A few other times they settled for open treys.

Steal byPointsOpponentAt the rim?
Blue2Mountfouled immediately
Wilson, J0Mount 
Blue2Mountfoul 8 seconds later
Wilson, D2Mountfouled immediately (intentional)
Cadougan2Mountfouled in 9 seconds
Jones3MountMayo and 1
Wilson, J2Mountlayup
Jones, J0Norfolk 
Wilson, J2Norfolkfoul 7 seconds later
Otule2Norfolkfoul 4 seconds later
Crowder1Winthropfouled 4 seconds later
DJO0Winthropfouled 1 second later
Wilson, J2Winthroplayup
Blue1Mississippifoul 3 seconds later
Otule2Mississippifoul 3 seconds later
Blue1Mississippifoul 3 seconds later
Total1.52Ave per steal17 dunks/layups, 12 quick fouls

Mox Articulus Syndrome

As I've cruised the Internet superhighway the past week or so, I've been amazed at some of the things I've learned about this Marquette team. I've seen Vander Blue compared to Butch Lee and Earl Tatum. I've heard that Todd Mayo should average 25-28 minutes per game and will be the lock-down defender we need to replace Jimmy Butler. Another highlight is that despite our "low" media and coaches poll rankings, kenpom.com has Marquette as the 10th best team in the country. I've even seen one article listing Marquette as the favorite to win both the Big East regular season and tournament titles.

I attribute this to Mox Articulus Syndrome, which roughly translates from Latin as "Early Season Syndrome". Doctors recognize MAS (or ESS) as a condition that afflicts not only Marquette fans, but a heavy majority of sports fans. The same condition convinced Wisconsin fans that their football team was a national championship contender, had Detroit Lion fans believing they were going to win the Super Bowl, led Pittsburgh Pirate fans to believe their team could make the playoffs, and last year assured Michigan State fans that their team was the best basketball team in the country.

It can be a lot of fun to watch these early-season games and try to project what will happen the rest of the way. But before we get to carried away, let's look at some of the other things early-season games would have had us believing the past few years.

2010-11 Season

The Hype

  • Four games in, Dwight Buycks was ready to be an elite PG. He was averaging 12.3 ppg, 4.8 apg, and was a 63.6% three-point shooter.
  • In non-conference play, Vander Blue proved he was ready for this level. 9.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.9 apg, and 1.8 spg in 26.4 mpg. Fully worthy of his 5-star rating and a possible NBA draft early-entrant.
  • Ten games in, DJO was looking overrated. If you discount his 29-point outburst against UW-Milwaukee, he was averaging 11.8 ppg and shooting 18.4% from three.

The Reality

  • Buycks was a serviceable starter, but no star. For the season, he averaged 8.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg, and 41.1% from three. He also saw his minutes diminish: Buycks averaged 23.2 mpg over the last 9 games after averaging 29.8 mpg in his first 27 games.
  • Big East play was a reality check for Blue. Over Marquette's final 20 games, he averaged 1.8 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 0.7 apg, and 0.4 spg in 13.3 mpg. He only reached double-digit scoring once and was held without a single point in 11 of his last 20 games.
  • DJO was playing possum. By the time the season was over, he was Marquette's leading scorer at 15.8 ppg, and hit 39.3% from long range after those initial 10 games.

2009-10 Season

The Hype

  • This one was simple: we weren't very good. Our 9-3 non-conference record didn't look that impressive when the signature win over #15 Michigan fell to 6-5 before Big Ten play began. We followed that up by starting 2-5 in Big East play, including a loss to lowly DePaul.

The Reality

  • Marquette won 9 of their next 10 and went into the NCAAs as a 6-seed. Sadly, their penchant for losing leads came back to bite them as Washington overcame a 15-point second-half deficit.

2008-09 Season

The Hype

  • 14 games in, Dominic James was too erratic; 2.2 turnovers per game and frequent foul trouble -- 5 times he's had 4 fouls.
  • 5 games in, Patrick Hazel is a solid 6th man, averaging 5.4 ppg and 4.2 rpg in 17.6 mpg.
  • 7 games in, David Cubillan is clearly James' backup, averaging 4.7 ppg and 1.9 apg in 18.3 mpg.

The Reality

  • James calmed down. He only averaged 1.5 tpg the rest of the year and only once reached 4 fouls -- in a game he played all 40 minutes.
  • Jimmy Butler was the 6th man. Starting in December, Butler averaged 5.9 ppg and 4.2 rpg in 20.5 mpg. Hazel only once eclipsed 20 minutes and had 14 DNPs.
  • When James went down, it was Maurice Acker who filled in. Acker played 30.4 mpg from the UConn game onward.

I may not be a doctor, but I'm sure Dr. Blackheart would agree that Mount St. Mary's, Norfolk State, and Winthrop are a far cry from Villanova, Georgetown, and Syracuse. It's easy to catch Mox Articulus Syndrome, but the best part is that it seems to work itself out of the system within 2-3 months. And if any of us don't find ourselves cured by mid-February, well, that means this team really is as good as we're hoping. Even still, it's far safer to guard your optimism. After all, these results are nothing more than eating cupcakes in November.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Unstoppable MU offense vs. Mississippi’s immovable defense Sunday at 7:30 p.m.?

In my preseason picks I had MU cruising on offense to an easy 3-0 start, before a combination of being in the Virgin Islands and facing their first tough defense from Drake or Mississippi dropped them to 3-1. Obviously tomorrow I will be hoping I was wrong in the preseason.

Vander Blue’s explosion Friday night to hit his first 9 shots, including two treys, en route to a 95-73 win caps an incredible opening three games during which MU scored an average of 17 points per game MORE than predicted for an average 95-60 win on 76 trips per game down the court:

1st 3 gamesMUOpponentsTrips

However, heading into Sunday’s clash, Mississippi’s defense has also been even better than expected, with the top shot-blocking duo in the country leading by far the best defense MU will have faced:

Defense FacedRank
Mount St. Mary’s223rd
Norfolk State246th
Mississippi (Sunday)27th

MUs 99-point performance against Norfolk State did look even more impressive when Norfolk State shut out Drexel for more than six minutes Friday night en route to a huge upset that pits them against TCU in the other semifinal that will determine MUs opponent Monday night at 7:30 CST, should the Warriors win Sunday night.

But when you match up MU’s incredible offensive punch against Mississippi’s defense, you see this will be a real test position-by-position.

PositionMU offenseMississippi Defense
PGMU leads nation in assists behind Junior’s 20; D. Wilson’s 1 turnover in 48 minutes NINE! Steals Friday between Nelson (6) and Aniefiok (3)
SGDJO 20 ppg, 4 apg; Mayo 23 pts in last 33 minutes on 5 of 8 treysEx-MU recruit Nick Williams their one guard with size (6-4, 225) to rebound without fouling
SFVander 17 of 25 shooting (68%) but may need J. Jones & Anderson height vs. Miss6-7 Holloway averaged 7.4 rebounds as soph before sitting out last year
PFCrowder leads in rebounds (22), steals (8) & 2nd in scoring; J. Wilson may be keyAt 6-9, Henry a matchup problem and one of top shot-blockers and rebounders (14 Reb. Friday)
COtule 9 ppg, 5 rpg; Gardner 8 of 10 from floorCox may start, but 6-8 Buckner 2nd best shot blocker in country behind James of Flo St.

Is MU so confident and on a roll that they can overcome Mississippi’s defense to set up a Monday night championship game against upset winners Norfolk State or TCU, or will Mississippi be able to frustrate MU and grind out the win?
Among players returning to a major conference, the following are the top shot-blockers based on the percentage of opponents’ two-points shots they block:

1Bernard JamesFlorida St.6-f-1013.46
2Reginald BucknerMississippi6-f-813.07
3Ty WalkerWake Forest7-f-012.71
4John HensonNorth Carolina6-f-1011.56
5Festus EzeliVanderbilt6-f-1110.59
6Daniel MillerGeorgia Tech6-f-119.78
7Terrence JenningsLouisville6-f-99
8Chris OtuleMarquette6-f-118.87
9Ralph SampsonMinnesota6-f-118.57
10JaMychal GreenAlabama6-f-88.24

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Wilsons, Jones & Mayo part of best statistical performance of past decade

In their first appearances as Marquette players, Todd Mayo, Derrick Wilson and Jamil Wilson were part of the most impressive team statistical performance in the past decade, a performance followed up by MU performing like a Top 10 team vs. Norfolk State.

Todd Mayo provided the instant offense on Monday night with two 3-point bombs, 2 assists and 4-4 free throw shooting IN ONLY 15 MINUTES in the 99-68 win over Norfolk. But it is Marquette’s defense that is now ranked 15th in the country by Pomeroy due in large part to both Wilsons and Jamail Jones (who played only 111 minutes last year) all grabbing multiple steals in the first two games to add to the amazing 16 steals from the trio of Blue, DJO and Crowder.

Marquette is creating impressive margins of victory by ending opponents' possessions on steals one in five trips down the court (7th best in the country), then turning those steals into points at the other end with an impressive fast break. MU's biggest margin of victory in more than 300 games during the past 10 years had been a 48-point margin over Division II Lewis University in the Three Amigos freshman season, and the 31-point margin Monday night over Norfolk State and NBA prospect Kyle O’Quinn (who Chris Otule held to 4 points) was the 20th biggest victory margin.

Statistically Marquette will only be about a 6-point favorite in the 2nd and 3rd games of the upcoming tournament (vs. Mississippi/Drake and then Drexel/TCU/Virginia), and there will be bad games as well as good with all the new players. However, a team that can play even some games at the level of the first two outings has the potential to beat anyone in the country.

Better statistical win than OSU/Maui or No. 1 Kentucky

To clarify, beating Mount St. Mary’s is not an “important” win.

The most important win of the era was MU’s only win in history over a No. 1 ranked team. This featured Dwyane Wade’s dunk-and-one on Kentucky center Marquis Estill en route to an 83-69 win and a return to the Final Four. Under the “Game Score” I presented last year to simplify the way Sagarin and Pomeroy calculate ratings, MU received a 108 for that game – the 6th best performance of the past 10 years.

The Game Score is based on three factors; margin of victory (“Mar” on table below), strength of opponent (“Opp”) and where the game was played (“Ven” for venue).

A Game Score of 100 or more indicates the team probably would have beaten anyone in the country, even on the road, that night. (The 25 times MU has done that in 298 games vs. D1 teams are on the table below) If MU averaged a 104 Game Score all year like they have through two games, then they would be a unanimous No. 1 in all polls – but of course they won’t.

If MU averaged a “92” like against Norfolk State Monday night, then they would finish in the Top 10. (this was the 75th best performance of the decade)

A Game Score of 70 or lower means that the team probably would have lost to any Top 200 team, even playing at home, that night. (the 20 times MU has done that are also included on the table).

Until this weekend the best statistical game Marquette had played in the decade was the 91-61 victory over Oklahoma State at the Maui Invitational, which Cracked Sidewalks summed up as, “In short: Wow. This was a 40 minute highlight reel.”

This does not mean that Marquette is really as good as they played against Mount St. Mary’s, or even necessarily a Top 10 team like they played Monday.

Brad Stevens summed it up best when he told his Butler players two years ago that 5 times a year you play much better than you are, 5 times a year you play worse than you are, and it’s the other 20 games that determine your season. These could end up being two games in which MU played over their heads.

MU wasn’t as good as it played in beating Notre Dame by 22 last year in one of its best 10 performances of the decade, or as bad as it was in losing by 25 to Louisville last year in one of its worst 10 performances of the decade, but each game gathers a little more evidence as to how good the team really is, and the first two are setting the bar very high.

Anticipating potential skeptics responses

1. Margins against Cupcakes aren’t a true indication of ability. In fact, both Pomeroy and Sagarin have shown over time that beating the 200th best team in the country by 30 is about as good a predictor as beating the No. 1 team in the country by 5 points. Keep in mind it is your average Game Score over 10 or more games that starts to make your overall evaluation accurate.

2. Mount St. Mary’s had players hurt and had to play a 7-man rotation. True, and Notre Dame had a starter out when we drubbed them last year. What people don’t realize is that losing one of your best players for a game usually cost a team only about 5 points in your final margin. Even though your best player may score 18 points, etc., when he is out the 2nd, 3rd and 4th best players all have more opportunities to score, rebound, etc., and without going into pages of math, you lose about 5 points – which is huge. However, I have to contradict one comment from a good colleague that perhaps the Mount St. Mary’s margin would have been 25 to 30 points instead of 54 if they were at full strength – mathematically I can only say “no way.” You might lose 10 points in margin with a few players out and playing with seven, but even with that Friday night’s performance would have been one of the best 10 in the past decade AND if you made adjustments for that you would also adjust UP games like Norfolk State when the opponent was at full strength.

3. Pomeroy and Sagarin don't mean anything at the beginning of the season. While it is true the ratings of MU and their opponents' will become more accurate the more games are played, the starting point has become more and more accurate as preseason numbers are factored in based on what percent of last year's stats return to create a new rating. Marquette's average "Game Score" of 104 would make it the No. 1 team in the country by far if that's all that was used, but every team is given a starting point (21st for Marquette) that is the heavier weight until enough games have been played - but still Marquette has moved into the Top 10 in both Pomeroy and on Sagarin's predictor because their first two performances have been so much better than would be expected of a 21st-ranked team.

4. Stats like this are a bunch of bull. Don’t have an answer for that one – you can have just as much fun watching this team harass opponents whether or not you care about number-crunching.

Here is the table of the best and the worst games from the past decade – with the Norfolk State game thrown in as the 75th best performance.

RnkOpponentDateSeasonMarOppVenGame Score
1Mount St. Mary'sFri Nov 1120125466-4116
2Oklahoma St.Tue Nov 20200830820112
3DetroitTue Nov 1420074273-4111
4St. John'sWed Mar 11200929764109
5Northern IowaFri Nov 28200930790109
6KentuckySat Mar 29200314940108
7West VirginiaSat Jan 1020092290-4108
8CincinnatiSun Jan 420093478-4108
9Notre DameMon Jan 1020112289-4107
10Notre DameSat Jan 1220082685-4107
11Seton HallTue Feb 12200825774106
12ProvidenceThu Jan 320082980-4105
13South FloridaSat Jan 1120033376-4105
14Coppin St.Fri Dec 2120084762-4105
15ProvidenceSun Jan 1720103078-4104
16Wisconsin MilwaukeeFri Nov 3020083573-4104
17LouisvilleMon Jan 1520079894102
18ConnecticutTue Jan 320061591-4102
19ConnecticutThu Feb 2420117904101
20LouisvilleTue Mar 220102184-4101
21East CarolinaWed Jan 2920033273-4101
22WisconsinSat Dec 820085914100
23PittsburghFri Feb 1520081886-4100
24PresbyterianSun Dec 2820093965-4100
25DukeTue Nov 21200711890100
75Norfolk St.Mon Nov 1420123165-492
279ProvidenceThu Jan 42007-1580469
280WinthropSat Nov 192006-780-469
281Notre DameMon Dec 22003-2185468
282SyracuseSun Jan 72007-1284-468
283St. John'sTue Feb 152011-1284-468
284CanisiusMon Dec 152004369-468
285CharlotteSat Jan 222005-1081-467
286North Dakota St.Sat Dec 22007-475-467
287GeorgetownFri Mar 122010-2389066
288DaytonSat Nov 292009-1480066
289Sacred HeartMon Dec 292004564-465
290Texas ChristianTue Feb 32004-674-464
291LouisvilleThu Mar 102011-2589064
292MemphisSat Feb 142004-1885-463
293Western MichiganMon Mar 142005-1480-462
294KansasSat Apr 52003-3395062
295St. LouisSat Mar 52005-1274-458
296UABWed Feb 22005-2381-454
297LouisvilleWed Jan 262005-4791448
298Southern MississippiFri Jan 162004-2271-247

Saturday, November 12, 2011

MU rises to No. 1 in steals and 11th best team in country with dominant "40 Minutes of Hell"

Friday Marquette played BY FAR its best season opener since joining the Big East, stealing the ball on 26.5 percent of all trips down the court and forcing a turnover on 43.3% of all trips, both the top mark of any team in the country.

People are tempted to lump all wins over cupcakes together, but this was anything but.

Since joining the Big East, the average Pomeroy ranking of MU’s opening season opponent has been 273rd, and Marquette has averaged winning by only 18 points. Mount St. Mary’s was an above-average opening day opponent (257th even after the drubbing), and Marquette won by 54 points, 91-37.

YearOpening opponentRankMargin
2005Western Carolina28811
2009Houston Baptist32431
2011Prairie View A&M33829
2012Mount St. Mary's25754

Marquette’s performance was so impressive that MU improved from 21st to 11th in Pomeroy in just one game – but it’s the suffocating defense that truly indicates the potential of this team.

11-man rotation makes "40 Minutes of Hell" possible

MU is so deep that it’s hard to see how they let up with a big lead. Who is their weakest player? Derrick Wilson? Are you sure? The guy Buzz called the best freshman defender he has ever had who looks like he has the same toughness and football mentality of another MU great to turn down football scholarships, Tony Miller? Then maybe it’s Todd Mayo. Really? Looks like he has all the confidence of his his brother O.J. Mayo who is now playing in the pros. Jamail Jones, who didn’t play much last year? He is still consider a potential NBA draft pick who put in 10 points Friday. Go through everyone on the roster.

So while Vander Blue and Jae Crowder, two of the top steals guy in the country, both came up with another four steals each Friday, the real story is that Marquette has NINE players who can pick you clean while being backed up by the best returning shot-blocker in the Big East in Chris Otule.

As a result, for the second time in two years, Marquette threw a defense on the court Friday that looked like Nolan Richardson’s "40 Minutes of Hell" that led Arkansas to the national title in 1994.

The first time was from November 26-29, 2009, when Marquette absolutely blitzed Xavier, Michigan and Florida State by cutting off every passing lane with a suffocating defense for two upsets and then a 17-point lead before running out of gas.

I saw in that series the potential for what Buzz might be able to do with pressure defense. However, the chance to maintain that level of pressure in 2009-2010 ended when Jeronne Maymon left the team two weeks later MU was left with a 7-man rotation – including Joe Fulce playing through injiury. MU was also 324th in the country in blocking shots, meaning a broken press would probably result in an easy basket at the rim.

In 2009-10, MU still stole the ball 12.1% of opponents trip down the court that season, the 32nd best total in the country, despite having to dial it back with only two players coming in off the bench, and Fulce for only 10 or 12 minutes.

Obviously in big games MU will want DJO and Jae on the court more than 24 minutes a game, so you can't keep 11 players on the court 16-24 minutes each in those games. However, with 11 players this talented, Buzz has the option of running the hockey lines and going for steals as much as he wants in the right match-ups.

It's only one game, but this year could be good. Now let's see how Marquette does Monday against a dominant big man like Norfolk State's Kyle O'Quinn.

MU draws first blood . . . wins a laugher over Mt. St. Marys.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Buzz made it 4 for 4 in season openers, taking a laugher from the vastly undermanned and short-handed Mountaineers from Mount St. Mary's, 91 - 37.

The final was 91-37, and its hard to see where MU was ever seriously tested in this game--perhaps the biggest test was patience on the offense, as it seemed as if the victory margin could have easily been doubled if Buzz really wanted to turn up the offense.

To give MSM come credit, it would have made a great drinking game to hear how often "shorthanded," "only 7 scholarship players dressed," or some other variation was mentioned. Still, this was an opponent ranked 267 in the Pomeroy rankings last year--even at full strength they wouldn't have been much of a match. They're used to 50 point losses (as witnessed by their 62 point drubbing by Virginia Tech last year).

All five MU starters scored in the double digits, as did Jamail Jones off the bench. The newcomers all received extended time (excluding Juan Anderson, who was suspended for three games for accepting a free Brewers ticket). Scoring (as expected) was led by DJO's 16 points, Junior Cadougan dished out 10 assists, and Jae Crowder led rebounding with 6.

While it was tough to gauge how good the Warriors actually are with this level of opposition, there were some highlights:
  • The team hasn't lost a bit of quickness from last year.
  • As advertised, Davante Gardner has slimmed down and was just as effective inside on the offensive end
  • Jones looks to be a solid contributor and part of the rotation.
  • Cadougan was much better at running the offense
  • We run the break exceptionally well.
And a few things to work on:
  • 3 point shooting was an abysmal 4 for 19.
  • Mount St. Mary's won far too many offensive rebounds and garnered too many 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th chances.
  • The half-court defense still extended too far, resulting in a couple of early open 3 point attempts. MSM missed, but they shouldn't have had the open look.
  • Jamil Wilson was on the floor less than any player other than Derrick Wilson.
  • Nobody has filled in the Frozena role on last year's team, creating confusion among fans as to who to yell "shoot" at whenever they touch the ball.
On to the next opponent, Norfolk State on Monday.


And related:

Friday, November 11, 2011

One More Set of Predictions . . .

Having missed the official call for predictions (shows what changing jobs and Internet providers will do for you!), I still wanted to take the opportunity to put my thoughts on the board on the even of the first game of the 2011-12 season.

I've traditionally been one of the more optimistic prognosticators, with a 12-6 conference prediction for last season (compared to the eventual 9-9 conference record), 14-4 for 2008 (compared to 11-7 in James' injury season), 13-5 for 2009 (close to our final 12-6 record), and probably the only person on the planet who thought we would do well in 2010. when we actually turned in a respectable 11-7 league mark.

This year, I find myself closer to the Cracked Sidewalks average.

I found this probably the most difficult season in the last six or eight years to judge. We have a ton of potential--probably more than any year since the Final Four. But a lot of that potential hasn't been realized yet.

If even one or two of the question marks on this year's team are answered in Marquette's favor, we stand a great chance of a top-4 finish. If all of them go our way, we may well challenge for a league title.

As I see it, the questions are:

  • Can Jamil Wilson and Vander Blue elevate their level of play above their frosh performances (at MU and Oregon respectively) and achieve the expectations created by their top-50 RSCI HS rankings?
  • Can Junior Cadougan improve his effectiveness as the primary ball-handler and build upon Dwight Buycks' surprisingly strong performance in the role in 2011?
  • Can Davante Gardner improve his defense enough so that we see his tremendous offensive skills on the court more often?
  • Can DJO continue his strong performance once he becomes the primary target of opposing defenses, as opposed to the secondary stop after Jimmy Butler?
  • Can Chris Otule avoid the injuries that hampered his first two seasons?

As I said, two or three of those go our way, It's going to be a great season. All of them? There is no ceiling on this team.

OpponentLocationRobTimKevinJohnJamesAlan Dr Steve
Mount St. Mary'sHWWWWWWWW
Norfolk StateHWWWWWWWW
Paradise Jam Game 3NWLWWWWWW
Northern ColoradoHWWWWWWWW
South FloridaHWWWWWWWW
West VirginiaAWLLLLWWW
Conference Wins12.31314101112141212
Conference Losses5.854876466

Comments on the Non-Conference slate:

  • Our first test will come in the final of the Paradise Jam. Assuming Virginia is our opponent, the Cavaliers were a top-20 3 point shooting team last year, and MU was a poor 3 point defender.
  • I believe the short turnaround will hurt us at LSU. MU is clearly the more talented team, but a Saturday home game followed by a Monday game in Baton Rouge will be a difficult short turnaround. Not only does LSU have two more days of rest, they won't be traveling.
  • We'll make up for the LSU game by taking a win over top-10 Vanderbilt.


  • Bottom Third: DePaul, Seton Hall, Rutgers, Providence, and South Florida: We'll take all five of these games.
  • Middle Third: GU, VU, WVU, ND and St. Johns: First, MU should take all home games here--that means wins over GU, VU, and St. Johns. ND and WVU on the road will be challenging but we will be the better team on paper--those games represent the best opportunity for a quality league road victory. I think we split in our crossover games against Georgetown and Villanova.
  • Top Third: UL, UConn, Pitt, Syracuse & Cincinnati: It will take a significant effort win on the road against any of these teams, and even the home games will be difficult. I think we lose some of our home court advantage against UL due to the timing of the game and we'll wind up with a loss. Pitt has less experience than last year--if Buzz avoids the distraction of making this a "grudge match" due to Pitt's departure from the Big East, we should win. Cincy has an experienced team and returns some good talent--we play them twice and I think we'll split.

Overall that makes for a 22-9/12-6 record. Enjoy the Ride!