"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 19, 2012

Crowder dominates #2 NBA prospect, DJO awesome, but history shows we may need a 3rd star to emerge for a big run

NBA Draft Express updated its top 100 NBA prospects Saturday morning, and Marquette was one of 20 college teams with at least two NBA prospects. Marquette’s foe a few hours after the list was released was one of six teams with at least three NBA prospects, which as I’ve written in the past is usually what it takes for a team to make a Final Four run no matter how well they’ve played during the year.

So the question is whether or not Marquette’s prospect duo of Darius Johnson-Odom (37th best college prospect) and Jae Crowder (82nd best prospect) gives MU a chance to make that deep a run. However, first we must consider whether or not the dozen NBA Scouts at today’s game moved Crowder up from the 82nd top prospect after watching him play potentially the greatest game by a Marquette player since Dwyane Wade torched #1 Kentucky for a triple double in 2003. I posted a poll on MU Scoop if you are interested in voting between this and the other 6 greatest performances since Wade.

Crowder matched up against 6-foot-11 Andre Drummond, the player who is projected to go second in the draft after Anthony Davis of Kentucky. With both Marquette centers injured, one would think Crowder might have to foul to make up for guarding a guy 5 inches taller, than him, but actually he fouled only once while drawing five fouls on Drummond with the following results:

8:59 1st HCrowder draws charge on DrummondMayo hits 3-pointer at other end
8:17Crowder fouls Drummond to deny dunkDrummond misses both free throws
7:29Drummond fouls CrowderCrowder hits both free throws
7:53 2nd HDrummond fouls CrowderCrowder hits both free throws
5:08Crowder drains 3 as Drummond fouls himCrowder's only missed FT, but rebounds his miss
2:43Crowder dunks while being fouled by DrummondDrummond fouls out, Crowder hits FT

If Crowder had done nothing else besides those six plays, you might have to give him Player of the Game. But in fact, the overall matchup was even more lopsided.

Prospect Rank82nd2nd
eFG%71% (8 of 14, 4 treys)38% (3 of 8, no treys)
FT9 of 101 of 4

Greatest duo performance I can find; but do we have the 3 ½ stars?

When you add DJOs stats today, I cannot find a more dominant two-man performance. Marquette’s two seniors dominated play for 53 points on 65% effective field goal shooting (16 of 31 with 8 of the hits being from behind the arc to make it effectively 20-31 since the 8 treys are like turning 4 misses into made shots).

But Al McGuire’s adage that you needed 3 ½ stars to be a championship team has proven accurate more often than not. I determined a couple of years ago that the vast majority of Final Four teams include three players that will be within the NBA within two years. Clearly Marquette has two that are at least potential NBA players in DJO and Crowder, and they have the “half” star in the unselfish Junior Cadougan who had another 8 assists yesterday and has been the biggest reason MU is the third best assist team in the country (65.6% of all baskets scored off of assists).

However, everyone else on the roster is a freshman or sophomore and one will have to emerge to give MU a true third star in the tournament. Hopefully Davante Gardner will be back from the knee injury soon, and he has given MU a dominant half court option when healthy. Todd Mayo was unstoppable a few times early. Jamil Wilson is perhaps the most talented player on the roster and finally exploded last week for a big game.

However, the most likely candidate is Vander Blue who missed all five shots today, but is still considered the 30th best NBA prospect among sophomores and has played like that several times. While 3 stars does not guaranty any tournament wins – some teams have huge chemistry issues and lose in the first round. The VCUs and Butlers really are rare exceptions, and it is generally the Kentucky and UConn teams from last year who even when they have poor regular seasons have the horses to take over and make a tournament run.

So let’s identify those teams, and if Marquette can match up against them.

Kentucky and UNC in a class by themselves with 6 NBA prospects each
While I was there in person for Kentucky’s only loss this year, they look almost unbeatable on a neutral court. While UNC has been inconsistent, be aware that they are the only other team with six NBA stars as we unfortunately saw in the Sweet 16 last year. So let’s get those two out of the way since they don’t fit on my table. The following are their players listed among the top prospects, and their rank (e.g. Anthony Davis is expected to go No. 1 in the draft, so is the Number One college prospect, etc):

Kentucky NBA Prospects: 1 Anthony Davis PF, 3 Michael Gilchrist, 11 Terrence Jones SF/PF, 33 Marquis Teague PG, 39 Doron Lamb SG, 78 Darius Miller 78
UNC NBA Prospects: 4 Harrison Barnes SF, 8 John Henson SF, 9 Tyler Zeller PF/C, 17 James McAdoo PF, 19 Kendall Marshall PG and 54 Reggie Bullock SG

That’s unfair. There are only four other teams with 3 of the top 100 prospects, and Marquette has played 3 of the 4. Here is the list with where their players rank and their current projected seed in the tournament:

TeamTop NBA ProspectRnkOther NBA prospectsSeed
ConnecticutAndre Drummond C212 Jeremy Lamb SG, 65 Alex Oriakhi PF9
KansasThomas Robinson PF642 Tyshawn Taylor PG, 51 Elijah Johnson PG/SG1
SyracuseDion Waiters SG2649 Kris Joseph SF and 53 Fab Melo C1
VanderbiltJeff Taylor SF2429 Festus Ezeli C and 40 John Jenkins SG7

History would indicate that Kentucky, UNC, Kansas and Syracuse therefore have the best chance at the Final Four when you combine how they are playing with the fact that they each have three players who could be in the NBA within two years. But the warning is that while UConn and Vandy have been very inconsistent, teams with that much talent can make the surprise runs if they can pull it together.

At the other extreme, Louisville and Michigan State are the two top teams who do not have a single player among the top 100 prospects. Certainly you have two coaches who can take those teams on runs, but most teams with no NBA prospects hit a team they just can’t match up with sometime in the first four games during which their three-pointers aren’t falling.

All 20 teams with more than one NBA prospect on the list are projected to make the tournament, but certainly it is no guaranty. In addition to UConn above, Alabama, NC State, Texas and Washington from the list below are no shoo-ins to make the tournament – particularly since both players on Alabama’s list were suspended by Anthony Grant recently with no news on when he will let them play again:

TeamTop NBA ProspectRnkOther NBA prospectsSeed
AlabamaJaMychal Green PF6769 Tony Mitchell SF10
BaylorPerry Jones PF713 Quincy Miller3
DukeAustin Rivers SG2021 Mason Plumlee PF2
FloridaBradley Beal SG1016 Patric Young PF/C5
GeorgetownHollis Thompson SF5885 Henry Sims PF3
IndianaCody Zeller C1876 Christian Watford PF4
MarquetteDarius Johnson-Odom SG3782 Jae Crowder SF/PF3
MemphisAdonis Thomas SG/SF2841 Will Barton SG/SF8
Mississippi St.Arnett Moultrie PF/C2579 Dee Bost PG8
MissouriRicardo Ratliffe PF/C4556 Marcus Denmon SG1
N.C. StateC.J. Leslie SF/PF3555 Lorenzo Brown PG12
Ohio StateJared Sullinger C548 William Buford SG2
TexasMyck Kabongo PG2750 J’Covan Brown PG/SG11
WashingtonTerrence Ross SG/SF1532 Tony Wroten PG/SG13

Certainly other duos are more highly ranked than DJO and Crowder (e.g. Baylor has #7 Perry Jones and #13 Quincy Miller), but experience is also important in the tournament, and Marquette is one of only three teams with more than one senior in the Top 100 list (Vanderbilt and Missouri are the others).

Don’t base your bracket on this. Experienced guards, computer rankings and teams that are hot going into the tournament can be better indicators in a given matchup. But when it comes to having to put together four wins in a row, it usually takes a few players who are just plain better than their opponents. Certainly DJO and Crowder established again yesterday that we have two, and Cadougan has proven we have our distributor/half star, but it may take one more player taking it to the next level for two weekends in a row to give MU a shot at a big run.

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