"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, January 02, 2012

Closing Time

Welcome back, Dr. Blackheart.  Following the Warriors' victory over the Villanova Wildcats to start the Big East season, the Good Doctor hit the keyboard to share his thoughts on the conference opener -- specifically the excruciating close.


At the of last season, I did a guest piece on late game free throw shooting, where it was pointed out that MU shot 56% in the last four minutes of BE play at the free throw line, despite shooting 73% for the other ninety percent of the game. MU Big East opponents shot nearly 80% at crunch time, in comparison.

While I loved MU's play at home against Villanova up till the final 4:00 mark where MU led comfortably 72-61, and with MU in the double bonus at the line, I did not (nor did any fan) like the ensuing action. (I apologize for the negative fan rant upfront, but this same story is a tough rerun to watch). Let's recap the final four minutes
  • MU shot 9-16 on free throws, or a very familiar 56%.
  • MU committed three turnovers, leading (luckily for MU) to two Nova points (this could have been up to eight points).
  • Although not technically a turnover, MU attempted a trey with 24 seconds left on the shot clock that was directly turned around--eight seconds later--into a made three point shot on the other end. If MU just holds the ball and lets the shot clock expire before Nova scores, that is 32 seconds burnt. More likely, Nova fouls and MU gets the chance at points and further erodes Nova.
  • MU stopped the clock for Nova with four fouls on their own, where Nova shot 7 for 8 at the charity stripe, or 87.5%. Again, this opponent FT% sounds very familiar to last season.
  • So, MU gave Nova back eight possessions on turnovers, fouls and an ill-advised shot (not even counting the missed MU free throws). Nova was able to score 12 points off these. Two key MU rebounders also fouled out during this time.
  • Further, between the missed Mayo three that was turned around and the Nova made free throws, Nova was able to score 10 points in a total of 8 seconds.
  • MU's full court, all-out pressure defense did cause five Nova turnovers. However, MU did not stop any of the four Nova possessions where they attempted field goals (made first shot or put backs on offensive rebounds--as our rebounders had fouled out), and MU stopped the clock with four fouls of their own as they scrambled. (Note: Jay Wright only had two timeouts to use in the final 4:00).
  • While the pressure mistakes by underclassmen are very understandable, our senior leaders committed three fouls, had two turnovers and went 1-2 on free throws. Who is this year's JFB? Is it Jae Crowder like against Washington? Is it Todd Mayo?
  • From the 4:00 minute mark to 1:37, MU scored one point. Buzz used a 30 second time out at 1:37 to settle the troops, finally. After that point, Nova outscored MU only 9-8, with that last second meaningless tip-in giving Nova the advantage. Still, MU was 8-12 on FT's and had two fouls after that time out, but no had turnovers.
Great win. Great game preparation and strategy. Great bounce back. A Big East win is always prized and should always be cherished. However, this end of game approach continues to need focus. The opponent here is the time clock, whether playing the talent level of a Norfolk State or a Big East talent of Villanova. Frankly, this is a "coachable moment" that should be practiced time and again.

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