"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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Can MU beat Butler to give Gardner a chance to repeat dominance of UNC?

In the CrackedSidewalks preseason preview I was the only one to pick a Marquette upset of UNC Tuesday on ESPN at 7 p.m. in the Maui Classic.  As a freshman, Davante Gardner torched UNC for 16 points in 18 minutes on an incredible 6 of 9 shooting and 4 of 5 from the line to go along with 6 rebounds.

"Butler is a huge game, as a loss could make MU a bubble team worried about Selection Sunday"

While Gardner dominated UNC as a freshman, Value Add projects him as the top player on a very balanced MU team this year and projects UNC as being (relatively) down for a year before being a contender again in 2014.  So UNC seems ripe, even though in two previous meetings, Williams built leads of 42 points (Kansas 2003) and 31 points (UNC 2011) vs. MU.

However, now MU needs to win its first big game of the year Monday at 2:30 CT against Butler Monday to even get that chance.  Butler is a huge game, as a loss could make MU a bubble team worried about Selection Sunday, but a solid win could indicate MU is incorporating all of the new roles and is worried more about what seed it will be with a chance to make a statement against Roy Williams.  

When I picked MU to easily beat Butler and then stun UNC, I considered MU the 25th best team in the country based on Value Add.  Since then, Todd Mayo was ruled ineligible dropping MU from 25th to 34th in the Value Add projections – thus projecting a MU as a first round LOSER in the NCAA tournament.  Then a weak performance against Southeastern Louisiana dropped MU all the way to 41st in www.kenpom.com, and made MU only a 3-point favorite Monday against Butler, despite Butler dropping to 79th in www.kenpom.com after their 15-point loss to Xavier.

An upset against Butler could be a neutral court loss to a Non-top 50 team come Selection Sunday, and would saddle MUs RPI with the record of consolation opponent Mississippi State (132nd in Value Add) on Tuesday at 1:30 on ESPN2, rather than a “nothing to lose” chance at UNC Tuesday at 7 on ESPN.

So while I do believe UNC is vulnerable early this year, the Butler game is a huge game for MU.


At the beginning of the season Value Add rated Butler as the 89th best team in the country, 10 spots below where www.kenpom.com has them now.  Value Add identified just two Butler players as legitimate BCS-level starters in Rotnei Clark and Andrew Smith, and rated Khyle Marshall and Roosevelt Jones as strong BCS-level bench players.  Those four have performed about where expected through two games, but the surprise has been freshman Kellen Durham who was rated just outside the top 1000 (top 25% of all players) but has scored 14.5 points per game on 4 of 11 treys.  In order of preseason Value Add, here are how the top players have performed:

268. Rotnei Clarke, 6-foot-0 SR, preseason 268th best player, 14 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists per game
381. Andrew Smith, 6-foot-11 SR, 381st, 4.5 points, 8 rebounds per game
468. Khyle Marshall, 6-foot-6 JR, 468th, 10.5 points, 4 rebounds per game
673. Roosevelt Jones, 6-foot-4 SO, 673rd, 4.5 points, 3 rebounds per game
1007. Kellen Durham (6-foot-6), who has averaged 14.5 points per game largely due to hitting 4 of 11 treys.

We know Brad Stevens gets more out of his teams than the sum of its parts, so only being a projected 3-point favorite is a big concern.  Being upset on a neutral court by Butler would clearly signal that Marquette is a bubble team.  However, with an entire roster of top 1000 players, a solid MU win could show the team was just still making some adjustments to playing.

There are encouraging signs with the new papers shoring up the defensive boards, and the balance looking very good.  With two games under their belts, Monday is MUs first fork in the road to either take the overall play to another level to take care of Butler give Davante another shot at UNC, or take the other fork which may well lead to a nervous Selection Sunday to keep the streak of invites alive.

No comments: