"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, September 12, 2018

Southern Preview

Southern Jaguars
December 28, fiserv.forum

Coach: Sean Woods (0-0 at Southern, 127-150 overall)
3-Year RPI Average: 277.3
3-Year kenpom Average: 293.7
2018-19 T-Rank Projection: 350
Projected Starters: PG Eddie Reese (6'1" Sr), SG Cam Horton (6'1" So), SF Aaron Ray (6'3" Sr), PF Bryan Assie (6'7" Jr), C Hassan Hussein (6'9" Sr)

According to T-Rank, Southern is the worst team on the schedule & one of only two sub-300 teams Marquette will face this year. Southern lost a lot; their leading scorer & rebounder graduated, their third leading scorer transferred, & 4 other players graduated. Reese is the only returning player that averaged over 16 mpg. This is a roster of mostly backups & JUCO players.

If there is any reason for optimism at Southern, it is Sean Woods. This is his second tour through the SWAC, having taken Mississippi Valley State from 7 wins in his 2009 debut season to a 17-1 conference record & NCAA berth in 2012. Woods followed that up with four successful seasons at Morehead State in which his team was top-half of the league each year & made the CBI twice (including losing the championship-deciding game in overtime in 2016). The next season, Woods was accused of assaulting two of his players & resigned. After a season as an assistant at Stetson, Woods is back in a head chair. While his character may have some question marks, his coaching results do not. He improved win totals every year at MVSU & had 15+ wins every year at Morehead State. Since his arrival at Southern, he moved quickly to secure commitments from productive JUCO players like Horton, Assie, Osa Wilson, & Miles Gibson. Woods also added grad transfer Hassan Hussein from Florida International.

It's hard to know what to expect from this year's Southern team. Woods loved to press the pace for years, but had his most successful season at Morehead State with a slow-down system. One thing that his teams always do is crash the glass hard on both ends, & with three JUCO additions that averaged 5.9+ rpg as well as big-body Hussein, that will likely be Woods' calling card again. Defensively, Woods stresses turnovers. His Morehead State teams were top-50 in steal percentage all four years he was there. The downside to that is their physical style leads to a lot of fouls. Expect a very physical game from Southern.

It's hard to know how good this mishmash of players will be, but Marquette is the far more talented & experienced team. If Southern finds success, it likely will be later in the season once they get into conference play & the players have had time to come together. This should be a comfortable win for Marquette.

Marquette Connection: This isn't Sean Woods' first road trip to play Marquette. He brought his Mississippi Valley State team here on December 21, 2010. Jae Crowder led Marquette with 22 points in a 102-77 rout of the Delta Devils. At the time, it dropped MVSU to 1-10 on the season, but from there Woods turned the season & his coaching career around. His team went 12-6 in conference play and finished the season 13-19. The next year he brought MVSU to the NCAA Tournament.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

It's an offseason pod, but basketball is definitely in the air

The audio quality might not be the best because of some technical glitches but we think the pod turned out pretty good away. We got together to catch up on the latest offseason news and highlights, starting with recruiting news. We discuss the Derrik Akanno commitment and our feelings about Nico Mannion picking from MU and Arizona as his final two. We then transition to a review of the new home from #MUBB basketball, the Fiserv Forum and what kind of advantage it will provide in the years to come. We close out the pod with a quick tour of notable non-conference games now that it has been fully announced, including the showdown with probable Number 1 team in the country, Kansas. As always, enjoy!

Download this episode (right click and save)

Monday, September 10, 2018

Buffalo Preview

Buffalo Bulls
December 21, fiserv.forum

Coach: Nate Oats (64-39 at Buffalo)
3-Year RPI Average: 87.3
3-Year kenpom Average: 109.0
2018-19 T-Rank Projection: 91
Projected Starters: PG Davonta Jordan (6'2" Jr), SG Dontay Caruthers (6'1" Sr), SF C.J. Massinburg (6'3" Sr), PF Jeremy Harris (6'7" Sr), C Nick Perkins (6'8" Sr)

Buffalo stunned the college basketball world last March when they defeated Arizona in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. While some picked the 13-seed to advance, few expected the 89-68 drubbing the Bulls put on the Wildcats. Nate Oats' squad returns 3 players that averaged 15+ ppg & 4 starters from that team.

Massinburg was the biggest star last year, averaging 17.0 ppg/7.3 rpg, but he wasn't the only stud. Perkins (16.2/6.0) & Harris (15.5/5.9) complete an undersized but exciting frontcourt. Not only that, all three are threats to step outside as they combined for 212 made three-pointers. Depth isn't a problem as they have two 6'10" seniors on the bench. The backcourt must replace Wes Clark (15.5 ppg/5.4 apg) but Jordan, Caruthers, & Jayvon Graves played major minutes last season & freshman Jeenathan Williams provides size & athleticism.

The mindset for Buffalo going into this will be that speed can equalize size. They play very fast & more often than not all five players on the floor will be capable of handling the ball. Buffalo can score efficiently inside or outside & they don't turn the ball over often. On defense, they play tight man that can lead to fouls but they excel at chasing opponents off the three point line & make teams work for every shot. Buffalo had an average defensive possession length of 18.0 seconds, which was 291st in the nation & by far the best of any team in the top-20 in tempo (Marshall was next, ranked 208th at 17.5 seconds). What that means is that while Buffalo will strike fast on offense, they will dog you to the end of the shot clock on defense.

After a NCAA win last year & returning everyone but one player, I think Buffalo might be underrated coming into the season, at least by T-Rank. They comfortably won the MAC at 15-3 last year (12/15 wins by double-digits, all 3 losses by 3 points or less) & the gap between them & the rest of the league will likely be wider this year. They also are challenging themselves in the non-conference; along with Marquette, they play at 2018 NCAA Tourney teams West Virginia, Syracuse, & St. Bonaventure. This team would be a great scalp for NET & resume purposes, but will also be a tremendous challenge.

Marquette Connection: This trip will likely be a special one for Buffalo Associate Head Coach Jim Whitesell. After working his way up to a D1 coaching job at Loyola-Chicago, Whitesell was shocked when he was fired by a new AD in 2011 & replaced by then-St. Louis assistant Porter Moser. Fortunately for Whitesell, Marquette alum Rick Majerus quickly hired him at St. Louis into the same position Moser had just vacated. Alongside Majerus, Whitesell earned the Associate Head Coach title & helped guide the Billikens back to the NCAA Tournament. He stayed at SLU after Majerus' death to help new coach Jim Crews & they returned to the NCAA Tournament the next year.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

North Dakota Preview

North Dakota Fighting Hawks
December 18, fiserv.forum

Coach: Brian Jones (178-197 at North Dakota)
3-Year RPI Average: 195.3
3-Year kenpom Average: 202.0
2018-19 T-Rank Projection: 253
Projected Starters: PG Marlon Stewart (6'3" Jr), SG Billy Brown (6'3" Jr), SF Cortez Seales (6'4" Sr), PF Kienan Walter (6'9" Jr), C Conner Avants (6'7" Sr)

The Fighting Hawks suffered a big blow when star guard Geno Crandall grad transferred to Gonzaga. They do return three double-digit scorers in Stewart, Seales, & Avants, but while they have an experienced starting five, it will be mostly freshmen providing the depth as starting center Dale Jones graduated & two other bench players -- Jafar Kinsey & Garrett Franken -- transferred in the offseason.

The other big move for UND is stepping up to the Summit League. Jones' Fighting Hawks were successful in the big Sky, winning double-digit league games 4 times & earning a NCAA bid in 2017. In their new league, T-Rank picks UND 6th out of 9 Summit League teams. Last year, UND suffered significantly due to poor scheduling fortune in the Big Sky. Included in the 7 teams they played twice were the top-5 teams in the league & they went 1-9 in those games. Playing a balanced schedule in the Summit should help them as while they will have fewer games (16) it will be an even balance of top and bottom teams.

As far as what to expect from North Dakota, Jones' teams play at a blistering pace. They have finished top-40 in tempo for the past 4 years. Offensively, this is a team that thrives on driving. They'll take some threes, but even when they have had their better shooting teams they still focus on getting the ball inside. On defense, they limit opponent rebounds, generate turnovers, & use that to get the ball back up the floor fast

Marquette Connection: Cortez Seales was a standout on the Iowa Barnstormers AAU travel team before earning his scholarship to North Dakota. Not only was that the same travel team Joey Hauser would eventually play for, one of Joey's teammates on that Barnstormer team was Seales' younger brother, Corvon. Corvon Seales enrolls this year at Division II Minnesota State.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

UW-Madison Preview

UW-Madison Badgers
December 8, fiserv.forum

Coach: Greg Gard (57-36 at UW-Madison)
3-Year RPI Average: 61.7
3-Year kenpom Average: 43.0
2018-19 T-Rank Projection: 22
Projected Starters: PG D'Mitrik Trice (6'0" Jr), SG Brad Davison (6'3" So), SF Brevin Pritzl (6'3" Jr), PF Khalil Iverson (6'5" Sr), C Ethan Happ (6'10" Sr)

Pundits are believing in this UW-Madison team that returns nearly everyone. Trice & Kobe King return from injury, transfer Trevor Anderson will be eligible, & sophomores Nate Reuvers & Aleem Ford earned valuable experience last year. That said, this team did have a losing record when Trice & King were injured & finished with a losing record at the end of the year. While Gard has a likely preseason All-American in Happ & a wealth of options, no one else has yet proven they can be the Robin to Happ's Batman on a winning team.

Stylistically, little has changed for this team since Bo Ryan retired. Play the game at a painfully slow pace & stick rigidly to man-to-man defense. The Badgers averaged 20.6 seconds per offensive possession last year; only Virginia spent more time on the ball on offense. Offensively, they had their second worst team of the advanced stats era, largely because they didn't have many reliable shooters; only Aleem Ford shot over 36% from deep. They also had their worst defensive team in Pomeroy's rankings because they couldn't stop anyone inside. Last year's Badgers were the first UW-Madison team since 2002 to allow over 50% on 2PFGs.

While many expect this team to bounce right back to being the reliable tournament team they were to start the century, I'm not convinced. The Big 10 will be better this year, with both Michigan State looking like a top-tier team & a plethora of other teams that feel they can legitimately contend for a tournament berth. Even when UW-Madison was healthy last year, they weren't good & benefited heavily from a soft conference schedule that saw them go 5-5 against sub-50 kenpom teams but only 2-6 against top-50 teams.

The idea that a year of experience will take a team from not sniffing the NIT to top-25 & safely in the NCAA Tournament seems like a stretch. As mentioned in the Indiana preview, after Michigan State there are 11 Big 10 teams projected from 20-52 in T-Rank. The league will likely beat up on itself & shouldn't expect more than 7 bids, which leaves most likely 5 of those teams in the top-52 on the outside of the NCAA field looking in. Expect UW-Madison to be fighting a battle to the bubble all year long. It's a coin flip if they get in & not nearly the guarantee most experts seem to think it is.

Marquette Connection: UW-Madison is Marquette's most common opponent, & with rare exception the teams have played every season since the late 1920s. The most notable exception was a period from 1954-1957 when they didn't meet at all. Before then, UW-Madison had handily controlled the series, leading 36-18. The reason for the break in the series was because after one week of school in 1951, UW-Madison freshmen Rube Schulz & Doug Gill left campus, drove to Milwaukee, & flipped their commitments by transferring to Marquette. UW-Madison coach Bud Foster was so upset that he took Marquette off the schedule. The transfers paid off big for Marquette. In 1952, Marquette won the National Catholic Tournament. 3 years later, Schulz helped lead MU to their first ever NCAA Tournament, knocking off Miami (OH) & Kentucky en route to the Elite 8. Since the series was renewed in 1958, Marquette holds a 40-31 advantage.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

UTEP Preview

UTEP Miners
December 4, fiserv.forum

Coach: Rodney Terry (First season at UTEP, 126-108 overall)
3-Year RPI Average: 243.3
3-Year kenpom Average: 218.3
2018-19 T-Rank Projection: 280
Projected Starters: PG Evan Gilyard (5'10" So), SG Kobe Magee (6'1" So), SF Jordan Lathon (6'4" Fr), PF Paul Thomas (6'8" Sr), C Teddy Ochieng (6'8" Fr)

The deeper the Miners get into Rodney Terry's first year, the more disappointing they look on the schedule. The top-two scorers & top rebounder graduated. Then a pair of freshmen & a grad student transferred out. When four-star freshman Lathon committed, it looked like things were turning around, but the same day leading returning scorer Isiah Osborne transferred as well. What's left is a pair of supplementary scorers in Gilyard & Thomas surrounded by mostly freshmen. Terry has a number of quality transfers on the roster, to the point that the scout team might beat the first team, but they won't be eligible until next season.

Under Tim Floyd, the Miners were a solid buy game, posting winning records in 5/7 seasons. Last season they started 0-5 under Floyd, who departed leaving interim coach Phil Johnson to guide UTEP to their lowest kenpom ranking since 2003 at #240. With all the turnover that trend will likely continue.

Terry is a good coach; he made a NCAA Tournament at Fresno State & posted improved season ratings on Pomeroy & T-Rank each of the past 3 years with both rankings having the Bulldogs in the top-80 last year. With a young, inexperienced roster, I expect Terry will follow the same formula that he started with at Fresno. Slow the game down, defend like hell, & hope you can make enough threes to stay competitive. In early interviews, he said he wanted his teams to play tough defense & up-tempo offense, but it's hard to see that happening this year with such a thin roster.

In 2-3 years, UTEP will likely be a good buy game & Terry could very well have them competing at the top of C-USA. For now, this is a program in transition that will just be a comfortable speed bump ahead of the Wisconsin game.

Marquette Connection: The two schools have only played once & that was a Marquette victory in 1963, however these two teams do have a connection. In 2013-14 and 2014-15, Marquette's Ed Morrow and UTEP's Evan Gilyard were teammates on the Chicago Simeon basketball team. They went 44-10 in those two seasons, including a 27-3 season in 2014-15 when Simeon was the #2 ranked team in the state of Illinois. For Gilyard, this trip to Milwaukee will not only be close to home, it will be a reunion with former teammate Morrow.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Kansas State Preview

Kansas State Wildcats
December 1, fiserv.forum

Coach: Bruce Weber (125-80 at Kansas State, 438-235 overall)
3-Year RPI Average: 66.3
3-Year kenpom Average: 42.3
2018-19 T-Rank Projection: 25
Projected Starters: PG Kamau Stokes (6'0" Sr), SG Barry Brown (6'3" Sr), SF Cartier Diarra (6'4" So), PF Xavier Sneed (6'5" Jr), C Dean Wade (6'10" Sr)

Ever since Bill Self arrived in Lawrence, the season starts with a small handful of teams that dream of prying the Big 12 title from the Jayhawks. This year, Kansas State is at the top of that list. Expectations are high in Manhattan as Bruce Weber returns everyone from a team that went to the Elite 8. This looks like the best team Weber has had since he took the KSU job. Brown considered the NBA but came back & along with Wade gives the Wildcats two legitimate all-conference players. Not only that, but everyone else in the league lost significant pieces, so KSU could benefit from a down Big 12, similar to how Marquette fans are hoping a down Big East might make a rise up the standings a bit smoother.

However, when you dig into KSU's resume last year, there are some warts. Their only non-conference wins of note were over Georgia & Vanderbilt teams that didn't make the NIT. They did win 10 games in the Big 12, but went 0-7 against the true heavyweights at the top (Kansas, West Virginia, Texas Tech). And their Elite 8 appearance was aided by playing a 16-seed in the second round and narrowly escaping a woeful shooting Kentucky team. While the Wildcats return a lot, the heights they reached last year were a bit of a fluke & those expecting this to be a top-10 to 15 team may need to temper expectations a bit.

Offensively, this Kansas State team likes to spread the floor. Brown is the team leader on a group that can put four guards on the floor to open up driving lanes & dump it in to Wade. It helps that the big man is a 44% shooter from distance to stretch defenses. Weber's teams are patient on offense. With so many guards, they will keep moving the ball for the best shot. Despite being guard-oriented, this is not a team of multiple three-point threats. Expect the Wildcats to get most of their points inside the arc. Defensively, the Wildcats play stout man-to-man defense that thrives on creating turnovers. Their Achilles' Heel is rebounding, though they hope to see that change with the addition of JUCO transfer Austin Trice. If Trice can keep the defensive glass clean, KSU could meet their lofty expectations.

One interesting note about a team coming off an Elite 8 is that not all fans in Manhattan are happy with Weber's job. Some were hoping he wouldn't make the NCAA Tournament last year in hopes he'd be fired. It will be interesting to see which camp is proven right this season -- the pro-Weber camp that thinks they can compete for a Big 12 title or the anti-Weber camp that was disappointed in an Elite 8 run that secured his job for the near-future.

Marquette Connection: Marquette fans fondly remember the 1977 Championship season, but younger fans may not know how close Al McGuire's run came to ending in the Sweet 16 against Kansas State. The Wildcats won the Big 8 Regular Season & Tournament titles & led Marquette 36-28 at the half. The Warriors battled back, using their size to wear down the smaller Wildcats. Marquette lead 67-64 with less than a minute to play when the Wildcats' 6'5" center Darryl Winston tipped in a miss & simultaneously drew a foul on 6'10" Bo Ellis, seemingly indicating a bucket-and-one opportunity that would allow the Wildcats to tie it at the line. However, due to the NCAA rule at the time, tipped shots were not considered controlled shots. The ref waved off the basket & Winston went to the line. He drew KSU to within a point at 67-66. Marquette was then able to run out the clock & march on to the Elite 8 & ultimately the National Championship. After the season ended, the NCAA Rules Committee overturned that rule. The new "Winston Rule" meant fouls on a made tip-in would result in an and-one opportunity.