"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, September 03, 2012

Non-Conference Schedule 2012-13, Part II

This time around I'm going to focus on the Maui Invitational. The primary team I'm going to focus on is Butler. While UNC and Texas loom as bigger names in the field, the only team we know for certain we will play are the Bulldogs. I'll then add a few thoughts about the rest of the field.

Butler (Neutral)

Something Old: The Bulldogs made consecutive NCAA Finals appearances in 2010 and 2011, but missed the tournament in 2012. A major reason was the departure of stars like Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack to the NBA. But the positives of deep NCAA runs often isn't felt for a couple years, and guys like Khyle Marshall, Andrew Smith, and Crishawn Hopkins now have the experience to be major contributors.

Something New: Last year, Butler lacked star power. This year, transfer Rotnei Clarke fills that role. He averaged over 15 ppg in each of his last two seasons at Arkansas and figures to be one of the best players in the A-10. In addition, freshman Kellen Dunham is a legitimate four-star recruit and lights-out shooter that will likely get significant minutes from the start.

Something Borrowed: After connecting on over 34% of their threes the past two seasons, Butler only shot 28.1% from three in 2011-12. That should improve thanks to Clarke and Dunham. CBS Sports' Jeff Goodman says "Clarke is the best shooter in the nation, and after a year off, he'll regain his throne. But even more importantly, Clarke will make Stevens and Butler nationally relevant again." This year's Butler team looks to be much better than last year's, and is certainly one that Marquette cannot overlook.

Something Blue (and Gold):  Most will see stopping Clarke as the key to stopping Butler, but shutting down Butler inside may be just as important. Smith and Marshall were the two leading scorers last year and combined to shoot at a 56.5% rate inside the arc. Guys like Chris Otule and Jamil Wilson will need to play big down low to beat the Bulldogs.

North Carolina: If Marquette beats Butler, they would likely face the Tarheels. James Micheal McAdoo will be the star of this team, but having lost four players to the first round of the NBA draft, this won't be last year's UNC. A number of freshmen, including Menomonee Falls' JP Tokoto, will need to play meaningful minutes for Roy Williams' team. This is likely the most vulnerable UNC team since 2009-10 when they missed the tournament after 3 players were drafted to the NBA from their 2009 NCAA Championship team.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs are in transition after losing Arnett Moultrie to the NBA, Dee Bost to graduation, Rodney Hood to transfer, and Renardo Sidney to the dreaded early-declaration without being drafted.. New coach Rick Ray will have his work cut out for him as this is the beginning of a major rebuilding project.

Texas: The Longhorns return a stellar 2011 recruiting class led by Myck Kabongo and welcome in another stellar 2012 class led by Cameron Ridley. This is one of the most talented teams Rick Barnes has had to work with. The biggest question for this team is how quickly they can gel and mature as college players.

USC: The Trojans were bad last year, and just lost leading scorer Maurice Jones to academic ineligibility. However, they add three transfers and return two from injury. I find it hard to believe this team will be very good.

Illinois: The good news for John Groce is that senior Brandon Paul is a stud. The bad news is that after losing Meyers Leonard to the NBA draft and not bringing in much recruiting-wise, there just isn't much talent there. They will be relying on a number of sophomores to carry the load. This is the start of a major rebuilding process, and I can't see the Illini offering much threat to Marquette if they met along the way.

Chaminade: Not a D1 school. They host a nice tourney and had a great win over Virginia 30 years ago, but they'd be a rubber-stamped win for Buzz Williams' team.

This tournament really seems to have two classes of teams. Marquette, Butler, North Carolina, and Texas are all likely going to be in the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year and should be at or near the top of their respective conferences. MSU, USC, and Illinois are simply not very good teams and don't typify the types of teams you expect to see in Maui, in large part due to unexpected early-entry players. Beating Butler is imperative, as this tournament would be a severe let-down if Marquette didn't get the opportunity to play either North Carolina or Texas.

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