"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

Saturday, December 10, 2011

With 2 of the top 18 players in the country according to SI, do the numbers say Gardner and J. Wilson can get MU through until Otule returns?

If you’ve read Sports Illustrated the last few days, it’s easy to see why Marquette is ranked somewhere between 1st and 11th in virtually every computer rating and poll this season heading into tonight’s game with Green Bay.

According to Luke Winn, Marquette has two of the top 18 players in the country so far this season in Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder, as well as a freshman in Todd Mayo who is scoring as many points a minute as his brother O.J. Mayo did as a freshman. Add to that Seth Davis citing Vander Blue as one of the top breakout sophomores, and it’s clear MU has tons of firepower.

Will Marquette stay in the Top 10 without Anderson, Otule?
However, when 7-foot-1 Alec Brown of Green Bay steps on the court tonight it will be a quick reminder that 6-foot-7 Jamil Wilson and 6-foot-8 Davante Gardner are now MU’s two tallest players until 6-foot-11 Chris Otule returns from an ACL injury that has MU fans holding their breath. With Juan Anderson now scheduled to miss 3-4 weeks with a shoulder injury, we can only hope Otule ends up with a similar timeline in order to come back for the Georgetown game.

For several years MU was so thin that any injury was almost insurmountable. The situation is much better now with a team that still has nine top flight D1 players ready to go and is luckily favored by double digits in Pomeroy in every game until a tough trip to Georgetown January 4, by which point it is even possible MU could be as good as 14-0.

In evaluating if MU can withstand the very unfortunately injuries, we can turn again to Pomeroy, who has now released his unsurpassed player calculations. Marquette had finally reached almost the average height in D1 basketball at 6-foot-4.5 inches before having to spread the 6-foot-11 Otule’s minutes between 6-foot-8 Davante Gardner and 6-foot-7 Jamil Wilson, and here are the rest of the comparisons:

OtuleGardnerJ. WilsonRanked MU players
ORtg92.2124.4102.2DJO 18th, Crowder 11th*
eFG%606046.4Crowder 57th, DJO 164th
Off Reb.11.414.47.2Otule 246th, Gardner 73rd*
Fouls Drawn4.36.82.5DJO 33rd, Gardner 57th
Height6-f-116-f-86-f-7Team 178th with Otule
Blk% 48th, J. Wilson 118th
Def Reb15.315.912.9Crowder 321st

Losing Otule is not a big blow on the offensive side of the court. While Gardner’s overall great Offensive Rating (points per 100 times a player has the ball) of 124.4 will drop off with more possessions and minutes played, he will still almost surely produce more points than Otule’s 92.2. So overall, expect a few more points with Wilson and Gardner splitting Otule’s minutes. If DJO was the guy with the ball 28% of the time rather than his actual 27% of the time to date, his ORtg would be the 5th best of any go-to player in the country. As it is, DJO is the 18th best offensive player that is used at least 24% of the trips down the court, and Jae Crowder is the 11th best offensive player used at least 20% of the time down the court, and Todd Mayo has already broken into the top 300 as a freshman. So the offense looks unstoppable.

Both Otule and Gardner have effective Field Goal percentages of 60%, and while Wilson is lower right now that is with only 23 shots attempted. The fact that he can pop out and hit the trey (2 of 5 so far) certainly indicates he could create a tough matchup.

The one place on offense Otule was having an excellent start was in grabbing 11.4% of all Marquette misses, good for 246th of the 3500 D1 players, but if Gardner had more minutes played, his 14.4% of MU misses grabbed would rank him 73rd in the country. However, this is where having Wilson on the court playing center would hurt. Gardner’s ability to draw a foul 6.8% of the time would rank him 57th in the country, not far behind DJO’s ranking of 33rd (draws fouls 7.3% of the time). Mayo cracks the top 500 here too at 4.8%.

When you add in that Junior is 21st in the country in assists (38.3% of all MU baskets while he is on the court come off his assist), and Blue and DJO are ranked 263rd and 383rd respectively. It’s easy to see why Marquette’s offense is ranked as the 8th best in the country, and it looks like they can continue to be in the top 10 even down a couple of players. The question is, can they score enough against the tough teams like Georgetown and Syracuse to make up for a weakened defense if Otule is still out.

Defense – give up rebounds with Wilson, blocks with Gardner
Marquette is one of the top defensive teams in the country in three of four categories; turnovers, opponent’s shooting percentage and not fouling. They have been very weak in defensive rebounding.

Certainly the turnovers should keep coming from the 1-4 spots, led by Blue surging to 75th in the country by stealing the ball 4.4% of opponent’s trips down the court.

However, the absence of the 6-foot-11 Otule could definitely be felt with much improved shooting by Marquette opponents no longer being denied at the rim. Otule is blocking 9.6% of opponents’ 2-point shots so far this year, about the same as last year and fourth best in the Big East behind only Melo, Drummond and Dieng, and 48th best in the country.

While Gardner is basically Otule’s equal in defensive rebounds (15.9% of opponents misses to 15.3% of Otule), Otule is five times as likely to block a shot as Gardner, so expect opponents shooting percentages to go way up with Otule gone. Wilson has actually been a very good shot blocker at 6.8%, good enough for 118th in the country. However, while his defensive rebounding is solid at 12.9%, he is probably unlikely to be able to seal off opposing players as well as Otule does , meaning MU is likely to allow even more opposing second shots with Otule out.

While inconsistent, Marquette’s defense had been dominating at times this year and overall outstanding as one of only 18 teams to allow fewer than 90 points per every 100 trips down the floor.

It’s hard to see MU’s defense staying at that level with Otule out, so to stay as the projected No. 2 seed and top 10 team most are calculating through a month, MU either needs to fight through the next month and hope to get Anderson and Otule back for most Big East play, or simply have one of the top couple of offenses in the country and win shootouts in the 80s.

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