"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, December 31, 2012

Keys to a Marquette NCAA Bid

Despite having what may be his most physically talented team in his five years at Marquette, many fans seem pessimistic on this team's odds of making the tournament this year. Regardless of talent, it seems this team is giving its faithful more questions than answers. Will Trent Lockett find his Arizona State form? Can Junior Cadougan limit his turnovers? Does Jamil Wilson have the ability to translate his physical gifts into on-court dominance? And can a Marquette team that struggled with cupcakes hope to manage their Big East schedule?

I'm still confident Marquette can battle through and reach the NCAA Tournament. Not only that, I think this team could still make a deep run in March. The necessary pieces are there, but those pieces have to work together to make that possible. Here are my keys to Marquette finishing the season strong:

1) Manage the Point: Junior has turned the ball over 18 times in the past 4 games as opposed to 16 turnovers in the first 8 games. Even still, he made key plays that led to wins against LSU and NCCU. Earlier in the season, Buzz alluded to Derrick Wilson showing starting ability but sticking with Junior out of loyalty. When Junior is faltering, Buzz has to be willing to give DW the keys. Per 40 minutes, Junior is averaging 4.3 turnovers to Derrick's 2.1, but their turnover rate is actually fairly similar: Junior turns the ball over 26.6% of the time he has the ball (slightly high for a PG) while Derrick turns it over 22.7% of the time (about average). The difference of the per 40 numbers and turnover rate indicates DW is more willing to share ball-handling duties with the other guys on the court. While Junior is scoring more and assisting at a higher rate, his proclivity for turning the ball over puts is par of the reason Marquette has needed late-game heroics. Buzz should be quicker with the hook to force Junior to understand that turning the ball over won't be tolerated. Hopefully better ball management will lessen the need for those heroics.

2) Step Up, Jamil: Jamil Wilson has the highest offensive rating of players that average 60% of the team's minutes, but is fourth of those players in terms of usage behind Cadougan, Blue, and Lockett. In the NCCU broadcast, Jim McIlvaine talked about how Stanton Kidd, the Eagles' best offensive player, needed to shoot because by being selfish he gave his team the best chance at winning. The same could be said for Jamil. He can score many ways but often passes up good looks and is unwilling to take over a game. In the opening 30 minutes against Green Bay, Wilson scored 14 points on 5/9 shooting including 4/5 behind the arc. In the final 10 minutes, he took only one shot, a dunk that he made. With the game on the line, the best players have to be willing to play. Jamil has to be willing to take the ball as he did consistently through the first 30 minutes and continue scoring and step on the opposition's throat. Instead, he allowed others to shoot and Marquette went 3/10 from the field over the final 10 minutes with one of the three makes being his basket. As Jim McIlvaine inferred your best players need to play. In the case of Jamil Wilson, that's him.

3) Manage the Schedule: The first 8 games will be key. Marquette takes on Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Louisville on the road, games in which their odds of winning per Pomeroy are never better than 19%. That means winning at home early is important. Marquette should look to win at least 4/5 at home in that span against Connecticut, Georgetown, Seton Hall, Providence, and South Florida. After that, Marquette only plays three games against Pomeroy top-40 teams and all three are at home (Pitt, Syracuse, Notre Dame). While they do play on the road in 6 of their last 10 games, only one is against a team in Pomeroy's top-80 (#43 Georgetown). This is a schedule set up to get MU to the tournament.

There are, of course, other questions. Will Lockett and Jake Thomas start producing offensively like they did at their previous stops? Can Vander Blue find consistency? Where will Todd Mayo fit in? Can the defense start stringing together consecutive stops? But those I'm not as worried about. Those are all things that should improve with time, and if not, there are other players that can make up for the deficiencies.

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