"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 30, 2019

North Dakota State Preview

North Dakota State Bison
December 20, fiserv.forum

Coach: Dave Richman (96-67)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 181.0
3-Year kenpom Average: 181.7
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 142

Projected Starters: PG Vinnie Shahid (5'11" Sr), SG Jared Samuelson (6'3" Sr), SF Tyree Eady (6'5" So), PF Tyson Ward (6'6" Sr), C Rocky Kreuser (6'10" Jr)

Last year the Bison came into the Summit League Tournament as the hunter. After a 15-15 regular season earned them the league's 4-seed, they capitalized when the top seed South Dakota State lost in the first round. Wins over Oral Roberts and surprising Western Illinois gave them a relatively easy road to the final, where they dominated the first half and coasted to a win and NCAA berth as they defeated Nebraska-Omaha. Their run continued as the won a First Four game in Dayton and played close to overall top-seed Duke in the first half before the Blue Devils put the screws to them in the second half.

Now the Bison go from hunter to hunted. T-Rank has them as the favorites in the Summit as they return five starters all but one key contributor. Shahid and Ward are the stars, the top two scorers, and also lead the team in assists and rebounding, respectively. They present a unique threat as all five starters had at least 24 three-point makes and all shot at least 32.0% from beyond the arc. The Bison bring back experience, talent, and more depth than anyone else in their league. They are going to be a threat to return to the NCAA Tournament and are, on paper, the best buy game opponent Marquette will face this year, albeit by a narrow margin.

What makes the Bison effective is their offense. They were top 100 in eFG%, 3PFG%, 2PFG%, FT%, and literally every player on the roster can to hit the three. They play at a deliberate pace and take and make a lot of threes. This shortens the game and maximizes their ppp. They also are exceptional at not turning the ball over. All of their returning players had a turnover rate under 20%; for comparison sake, Marquette had 5 rotation players with a 20+% turnover rate last year. On defense, they will speed you up while trying to control the offensive glass and keeping opponents off the free throw line. However they are a poor shot defending team. Effective offensive teams are their kryptonite. They lost their first 12 games against kenpom top-150 offenses and finished the season just 2-13. When the Bison can be scrappy and run their offense, they win, but when they have to keep up with teams that can also score, they are in trouble.

The Bison showed promise last year and the table is set for them to win their league and return to the NCAA Tournament. In 5 seasons, Dave Richman has 4 campaigns with 19+ wins and should be confident his team can repeat that feat this year. Marquette has made a habit of having marquee buy games in recent years, and while North Dakota State is not on par with Buffalo or Vermont, this is a high-ceiling team that should be a Quadrant 3 opportunity.

Marquette Connection: This game will be a Minnesota reunion game. Both Vinnie Shahid and Sacar Anim played with the same Howard Pulley AAU team. On the high school side, Theo John's senior year at Champlin Park saw him face off against both Rocky Kreuser's Totino-Grace and Jarius Cook's Park Center teams (John's team won both contests). It will be a North Star showdown at the Fiserv Form.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Grambling State Preview

Grambling State Tigers
December 17, fiserv.forum

Coach: Donte Jackson (34-31)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 286.7
3-Year kenpom Average: 296.7
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 182

Projected Starters: PG Ivy Smith, Jr (6'0" Sr), SG Anthony Gaston (6'4" Sr), SF Dallas Polk-Hilliard (6'7" Sr), PF Axel Mpoyo (6'8" Sr), C Devante Jackson (6'9" Sr)

In 2006, Grambling went 14-13. That was the last time they had a record .500 or better before the arrival of Donte Jackson. In his two seasons with the Tigers, they have reached .500 both years, going 17-14 in his first year and 17-17 last year. That includes back-to-back winning conference seasons and an appearance in the CIT. For years, Grambling has been arguably the worst team in college basketball, but with Jackson at the helm, things are turning around. They are the prohibitive favorite in the SWAC, return 4 starters and their top-7 in points per game. This is an experienced, cohesive team that isn't the anchor chained to a NCAA resume that they once were.

The Tigers bring back almost everyone. Smith will be the likely preseason SWAC Player of the Year and both Polk-Hilliard and Mpoyo have the ability to take over games while also stepping out and shooting threes at about a 45% clip. This isn't just a team of starters, either. Coming off the bench, 6'7" Prince Moss ranked 7th in the nation beyond the arc at 48.5%. They have a monster in the middle with 7'1" Travon Bunch providing rim protection, rebounding, and inside scoring. And in the backcourt, Lasani Johnson, son of NBA great Larry Johnson, will insure there's little dropoff if the back court starters need a breather as he averaged 9.5 ppg/3.4 rpg. This is a team with proven starters and a bench that goes 10 deep.

When Coach Jackson came in, his immediate focus was to upgrade the intensity for the Tigers. That started on the defensive end. This is a team that will hustle, play hard, and challenge every shot. But that intensity also leads to a lot of fouls. Their opponents may struggle to make shots, and they do, but they get to the line a lot. Conversely, that's what Grambling does on the other end as well. Despite being a great three-point shooting team (40.2% was 4th in the country) they are a downhill, attacking team that excels at getting points at the line. Smith is truly the star. He's a true point guard that has the ability to distribute, attack the paint, make free throws, and be a defensive disruptor.

As stunning as this is to say, Grambling is going to be good. It might only be "for the SWAC" good, but considering what this program has been for the past 15 years, that is an accomplishment. Jackson has injected length, talent, motivation, and energy into this team and they have responded. Unlike many transfer-heavy SWAC teams, many of these guys have been playing together for 3 and 4 years, and the transfers come from successful programs (Polk-Hilliard from South Dakota State, Johnson from Stephen F Austin). This has a chance to be a Quadrant 3 game if the Tigers hit their ceiling and this will almost certainly be the best Grambling team in decades.

Marquette Connection: The first name that caught my eye was Travon Bunch. The Racine, WI native had an offer from Buzz Williams in 2013. He later went JUCO and joined Grambling last year. But looking at the Grambling roster...there's a LOT of local connections. Dallas Polk-Hilliard is a Milwaukee native that played at Messmer. Devante Jackson played at Brown Deer. Deontay Long, the #1 recruit in the 2019 Wisconsin class, is redshirting this year after some legal troubles. Why are there so many Milwaukee-area kids at Grambling? Look no further than head coach Donte Jackson. He is also a Milwaukee native and played his freshman year at UW-Milwaukee before transferring out of state. Clearly he's kept his local ties, and because of it, this will be a homecoming for many of his players that grew up in the shadow of Marquette. And for the rest of the year, if you want an underdog to root for, one full of Milwaukee-area kids seems like a good choice.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Practice has started so we shall pod

Official practice not based on a European trip has started for your Marquette basketball team so we need to pod. After a brief intro we talk about some of the news and notes coming from John Fanta as he spent the first day of practice with Wojo and the team (2:06). That leads into a discussion on the Brian Hamilton (The Athletic) article on the State of the Program for #mubb that came out a couple of weeks ago(22:06). We then focus on the commitment news of Osasere Ighodaro and analysis what that means for the 4 remain scholarships in the 2020 class(27:36) We then turn to other recruiting news to take about the general landscape and what Wojo is looking for (32:00) and then close out the pod with a high level overview of the Big East schedule now that it's been released (41:00). The season is neigh and as always, enjoy! https://scrambledeggs.podbean.com/mf/play/32ytvt/scrambledeggs_edit_092319.mp3

Kansas State Preview

Kansas State Wildcats
December 7, Bramlage Coliseum, Manhattan, KS

Coach: Bruce Weber (150-89 at Kansas State, 463-244 overall)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 44.7
3-Year kenpom Average: 30.7
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 40

Projected Starters: PG David Sloan (6'1" Jr), SG Mike McGuirl (6'2" Jr), SF Cartier Diarra (6'4" Jr), PF Xavier Sneed (6'5" Sr), C Makol Mawien (6'9" Sr)

Last year's Wildcats came in with high hopes. They were fresh off an Elite 8 bid and had 5 upperclassmen starters returning, including seniors Barry Brown, Dean Wade, and Kamau Stokes. After some lofty rankings to start the season, 4 losses by early January, including a road loss at Marquette, had K-State out of the top-25. From there, they rallied. The Wildcats won 12 of their last 14 conference games, earning the 1-seed in the Big 12 Tournament as they unseated Kansas from the top spot for the first time since 2004. From there, they were upset by Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament and fell to 13-seed UC-Irvine in the NCAA Tournament.

Their top-three scorers were Brown, Wade, and Stokes, all of whom are gone. Xavier Sneed tested the NBA Draft waters but decided to return for his senior season. The downside is that offensively, Sneed is the only returning player who averaged double-digit points and an offensive rating over 100. Sloan is a JUCO transfer that will likely get first crack at replacing Brown, but those are big shoes to fill. McGuirl and Diarra were decent bench players, but both are streaky shooters at best. This is an offensively challenged team that lost their three best scorers. Granted, their calling card was on defense, but those losses will be felt on that end as well as both Brown and Stokes were exceptional at guarding and creating turnovers without fouling.

The gameplan for the Wildcats starts with defense. The guards attack the ball-handler to force turnovers. They challenge every shot and limit offensive rebounds. They grind as much time out of possessions in order to shorten the game. And they generally do all of this without fouling. Offensively, they are challenged. They slow the game down on that end as well because Weber believes the best shot is not the closest but the most open. K-State will be patient and seems to operate on the philosophy that they don't have to be a good offensive team, they just have to be good enough to score some points while their defense suffocates you at the other end. At Fiserv Forum last year, we saw firsthand the ideal panacea to K-State's plan. Howard went straight at the Wildcats. He very deliberately fouled Dean Wade out midway through the second half, then went after Makol Mawien and did the same to him. Marquette sped up the game, drew the fouls K-State tries to avoid, and once there was no interior defenders left, scorched them inside the arc.

To me, K-State feels like a team that is about to fall sharply. Weber has struggled for consistency and his most notable achievement in Manhattan was largely due to benefiting from playing a 16-seed in the second round. They should still be a good defensive team, but I don't think they will be as good as they were last year. In the past six years, they have had a top-50 offensive efficiency just once, and losing three of their four most efficient offensive pieces means their #98 ranked offensive will likely be worse. Projections have them as a bubble team, but they look more like a NIT team that lacks the firepower to compete for a NCAA bid. The Octagon of Doom is always a tough place to play, so I don't expect an easy win, but Marquette definitely brings the best player and better team into this contest. I think this will be the first home-and-home high major sweep for Marquette of this century.

Marquette Connection: When Marquette enters the Octagon, they will be looking for their first win ever in Manhattan, having gone 0-5 in road games against KSU in the past. That started with a loss against the #1 ranked Wildcats in 1953. The closest Marquette game was a 56-55 loss on January 2, 1986. That game was the second of three consecutive 1-point losses to the Wildcats in consecutive seasons. Tom Copa led the way with 15 points while David Boone added 17 rebounds for the Warriors. On the upside, Marquette has never lost at the Octagon. It opened in 1988, 9 months after the last time Marquette played in Manhattan.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Five Times As Many Click on Game with Marquette 2003 Than Baseball Posts

Planning for the flight into Milwaukee for the tipoff against Loyola (preview here) at my favorite sports time of the year - who would believe the Brewers potential playoff run without Christian Yelich or that the Packers won their first three after being picked to finish 9-7.

I assumed I was one of the few focused on college basketball - so I was surprised to see that my the link to my Value Add Basketball game (a free dice game which features the 2003 Marquette team) on www.pudnersports.com pulled in 2,800 clicks this week - much more than my two main blogs on my Statis-Pro baseball games which drew a fairly average 205 and 254 clicks respectively last week. In that game the Brewers fell just short of my playoffs with a 47-43 mark (see this post which includes a photo of Tony Dorsett at the Pitt/Penn State game I attended for a little football angle). The fact that I play all roster players regardless of injuries helped the Cubs start strong in the Statis-Pro playoffs.

I started www.pudnersports.com after placing a few posts at www.crackedsidewalks.com that were not Marquette-centric, and realizing I should set up a new blog for those. For those of you who do not use blogger, it gives you a screen shot to check your traffic and see how many clicks each post gets to give you a screen like this.

The story on how to play the basketball game includes links to players for 48 great teams of this Century - the 42 schools which placed a team in the Final Four or the top five of www.kenpom.com and six extra teams with a great player I just wanted to include to round out each conference. I played a few games last season before shifting to baseball, and these will be the Big East standings when I resume to get fired up for Markus Howard and company.

Big East (past & present)WLPtsPtsAllPt Dif
Connecticut 200431736013.0
Villanova 20182174695.0
Marquette 20032173730.0
Louisville 20131174695.0
Georgetown 20071176715.0
Cincinnati 2002117175-4.0
Creighton 2014027285-13.0
Butler 2010025480-26.0

Marquette 2003 edged 2014 National Player of the Year Doug McDermott  84-83 and defeated Steve Logan's 2002 team 73-62 (not far from their actual 77-63 win in the CUSA Championship). However, Roy Hibbert and the Georgetown 2007 team beatup on MU inside for a 74-62 win, and MU still needs to play the three national champions in the conference - UConn 2004, Louisville 2013 and Villanova 2018.

The results for all 6 conferences games appear in this google doc, or if you can open this image big enough, you can see all results here. Good luck Brewers and Packers for all those back in Milwaukee, but happy to see others geared up for basketball already.

Jacksonville Preview

Jacksonville Dolphins
December 4, fiserv.forum

Coach: Tony Jasick (70-92 at Jacksonville, 122-139 overall)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 287.3
3-Year kenpom Average: 280.7
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 299

Projected Starters: PG Aamahne Santos (5'10" Sr), SG DeAnthony McCallum (6'4" Sr), SF Kevin Norman (6'4" Jr), PF Tyreese Davis (6'6" So), C Dave Bell (6'9" Sr)

The Dolphins had an up and down season last year with the downs generally lasting longer than the ups. When they were good, it was largely down to two players: star guard J.D. Notae, who led the team in scoring, rebounding, and assists and forward Jace Hogan. Any momentum the Dolphins hoped to build was largely hurt with the graduation of Hogan and the transfer of Notae to Arkansas, one of four guards to leave the program this past offseason.

If there's reason for optimism, it's the return of three starters. Santos slides to the point from the SG position, Davis flashed potential before missing the final few games of the season, and Bell anchored the middle after transferring in from Ohio State. In addition, McCallum was a spot-starter and Norman was a JUCO All-American so there is experience in this team.

In Tony Jasick's first three years at Jacksonville, the Dolphins progressively shot more and more threes and did so at a highly effective rate, which was a continuation of what he had taught at IPFW. They seemed to be embracing pace and space, and then the previous coach's players graduated and those numbers fell off a cliff. The one positive adjustment they made was pounding inside, which they have done effectively as Bell, McCallum, and Davis were all over 54% on 2PFGs. But defensively they were one of the worst teams in the country at stopping the three. When you play really fast and let other teams make a lot of threes, it generally doesn't end well.

Jacksonville is one of the two teams on the schedule that are effectively duds. They are a bottom-half of the Atlantic Sun team and will almost certainly be fighting to stay in the top-300 of NET. Losing Notae, Hogan, and another promising guard in Jalyn Hinton hurt their outlook significantly. This is a game Marquette should win comfortably and a game in which Markus Howard in particular could feast. But considering they are the worst T-Rank projected team on the schedule and still in the top-300, that's a good thing. While the Dolphins won't be good, they are a significant upgrade from the teams we've seen in that "bottom of the schedule" classification in past years.

Marquette Connection: The first time Jacksonville played Marquette was a different type of occasion. The Dolphins, less than two years removed from a NCAA title game appearance, already had a top-10 road win over Florida State three weeks earlier. Marquette came in ranked #2 in the nation and undefeated. It was a back-and-forth affair, but ultimately Marquette's All-American center Jim Chones would lead the way to an 88-79 victory, tallying 23 points and 14 rebounds on the night. It would be Chones' final game in a Marquette uniform. Chones left the team in the middle of the season for the ABA at the recommendation of Al McGuire. Marquette would go 4-4 the rest of the way, dropping from #2 in the country down to #7 as they finished the season 24-4.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Texas A&M & Harvard Previews

Texas A&M Aggies
December 1, HP Field House, Orlando FL
Coach: Buzz Williams (0-0 at Texas A&M, 253-155 overall)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 68.7
3-Year kenpom Average: 61.3
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 49

Projected Starters: PG T.J. Starks (6'2" Jr), SG Wendell Mitchell (6'3" Sr), SF Jay Jay Chandler (6'4" Jr), PF Savion Flagg (6'7" Jr), C Josh Nebo (6'9" Sr)

Billy Kennedy's started his final season in College Station 1-4 and it never really looked up from there as the Aggies missed the NCAA and NIT. They do return their top three and five of their top six scorers, so there's reason for optimism. In addition, Williams immediately landed a top-10 JUCO reserve in Quenton Jackson as well as a pair of freshmen in Cashius McNeilly and Emanuel Miller that will be expected to contribute immediately.

Buzz went from three-anemic at Marquette to a heavily perimeter-oriented attack at Virginia Tech. One thing about Williams, he excels at adapting his style to his team. This A&M team is filled with mediocre shooters, so expect them to pound it inside to Flagg and Nebo. Tempo-wise, I expect a slow pace. With the exception of his first year at Marquette with the Amigos, Williams has played slower and last year in Blacksburg was the lowest ranked tempo of his career. With an unfamiliar roster that could struggle to score, a slower pace and mostly zone defense seems likely. That said, there is enough here that a good coach might be able to eke a NCAA bid out of this roster.

Marquette Connection: Shall we talk about the elephant in the room? Paint Touches' contributor Ryan Jackson is a Marquette alum that works at Texas A&M. Oh...the OTHER elephant in the room. After a stellar run at Marquette that included two Sweet 16s and an Elite 8, Buzz Williams left for Blacksburg and brought Virginia Tech to their first Sweet 16 in more than five decades. Then, in customary Buzz fashion, he headed for greener pastures with a program in disarray behind him. If this game happens it will be the first meeting between Buzz and one of his former programs. This would be one of the biggest narratives of the Thanksgiving weekend and if MU lost this matchup would likely make #mubb Twitter and MUScoop.com unbearable for a week or so.


Harvard Crimson
December 1, HP Field House, Orlando FL
Coach: Tommy Amaker (180-92 at Maryland, 430-251 overall)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 129.7
3-Year kenpom Average: 122.3
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 18

Projected Starters: PG Bryce Aiken (6'0" Sr), SG Christian Juzang (6'2" Sr), SF Justin Bassey (6'5" Sr), PF Seth Towns (6'7" RS Jr), C Chris Lewis (6'9" Sr)

Harvard has finished in a tie for the league title each of the past two years and ended each of those seasons in the NIT. On paper, Tommy Amaker's team looks like a strong bet to get back to the NCAA Tournament this year. Their top-7 scorers are all back, as is 2018 Ivy League Player of the Year Seth Towns, who missed last season with injury (and will likely be a hot grad transfer name in 8 months due to Ivy League rules). How optimistic should Crimson fans be? T-Rank only has them as underdogs once this entire season. They are deep, experienced, and talented. The top-20 projection might be a little bullish, but this does look like a fringe top-25 roster.

In the past, Amaker's teams have tended to play slow and make shots. They won't pound you inside and while they usually shoot free throws well, they struggle getting to the line. The return of Towns will be intriguing as Aiken dominated the offense last year, scoring 22.2 ppg. At the other end, expect pressure man-to-man defense. In terms of resume building, Harvard is set to be very good. 20-25 wins and a NCAA bid seem likely. This is the kind of team that will be a very tough out thanks to their experience and talent level.

Marquette Connection: Tommy Amaker and Steve Wojciechowski have a lot in common. Both played point guard for Coach K. Both won Defensive Player of the Year for Duke. Both were Duke assistants, both went on to head coaching careers, and both made the NIT in 2018, when Amaker's Crimson saw their season end in Milwaukee, dropping a 67-60 decision to Wojciechowski's Golden Eagles. While Amaker was part of the staff that recruited Wojo to Duke, he is probably getting sick of him on the opposing sideline: Amaker is 0-3 against teams Wojo has been on the coaching staff for, going 0-2 while at Michigan against Duke when Wojo was an assistant before that 2018 NIT game.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Maryland & Temple Previews

Maryland Terrapins
December 1, HP Field House, Orlando FL
Coach: Mark Turgeon (180-92 at Maryland, 430-251 overall)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 45.0
3-Year kenpom Average: 36.3
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 8

Projected Starters: PG Anthony Cowan (6'0" Sr), SG Darrell Morsell (6'5" Jr), SF Eric Ayala (6'5" So), PF Aaron Wiggins (6'6" So), C Jalen Smith (6'10" So)

Like Marquette, the Terps started last year on fire but faded down the stretch. Big man Bruno Fernando left for the NBA but everyone else of note returns. This is a talented team with potential star power in Cowan and Smith. The Terps could go bigger and put 4-star freshman Makhi Mitchell in the middle so Smith can remain at his natural PF position, but the roster above would give them a combination of on-ball defense and scorers.

The question this year will be the Terps' identity. Fernando dominated the offensive glass and was a potent rim protector, both of which were keys to their efficiency on both ends. They don't shoot particularly well and relied on put-backs. Expect a motion offense with a fairly deliberate pace. Everyone on the team can score, but I'm not sure they have that guy who can take control of a game. Defensively, they challenge shots and generally stick to man, though Turgeon is willing to go zone if necessary (see the LSU game last year). Maryland is getting top-10 respect and should be a Big 10 title contender. On paper, they are the best team Marquette could see in the non-conference, but pundits may be underestimating how important Fernando was on both ends of the floor. They will overwhelm some teams with sheer talent, but when it comes to other deep, high-major rosters, someone will have to emerge as a star.

Marquette Connection: If Maryland and Marquette meet in Orlando, it will mark the first time in their mutual history. Maryland is one of just three high-major programs (along with Oklahoma and California) that Marquette has never played. The closest they came was in the 2009 NCAA Tournament. The teams were set to meet in the Sweet 16, but each lost one game too early for the matchup to happen. Marquette lost to Missouri while Maryland fell to Memphis.


Temple Owls
December 1, HP Field House, Orlando FL
Coach: Aaron McKie (0-0)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 81.0
3-Year kenpom Average: 91.0
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 86

Projected Starters: PG Alani Moore (5'10" Sr), SG Nate Pierre-Louis (6'4" Jr), SF Quinton Rose (6'8" Sr), PF J.P. Moorman (6'7" Jr), C Justyn Hamilton (6'10" Jr)

Temple won 7 of their last 9 conference games to grab one of the last 2019 at-large NCAA bids. That streak was largely carried by the departed Shizz Alston's 23.7 ppg down the stretch. Alani Moore will take the reins, but it'll be hard for a guy who has only hit double-digit scoring 4 times in the past 2 years to fill those shoes. Expect the offense to be dominated by Rose, who is a high-usage, low-efficiency wing. The Owls have depth and experience as the top-8 rotation players are juniors or seniors, but the ones that look most likely to dominate the ball (Rose, Pierre-Louis, Moore) are also the least efficient offensively.

I expect this team to try to run. Since McKie's second season, Temple's pace has increased every year while top assistant Monte Ross had his greatest success pushing the pace at Delaware. Defensively, Temple focuses on turning teams over. Rose, Pierre-Louis, and bench wing D'Vondre Perry all excel at forcing turnovers so I expect a high-pressure man-to-man that seeks to get easy baskets in transition. As far as expectations, without Alston this just doesn't look like a tourney team. They will likely play fast and make games fun to watch, but Temple looks like a middle-of-the-American team that will be fighting for a NIT berth rather than a NCAA one. If Marquette plays them, it likely means they lost to Davidson.

Marquette Connection: Before Aaron McKie became the heir apparent to Fran Dunphy, there was another rising assistant at Temple. Current Marquette assistant Dwayne Killings started his college coaching career as the Director of Basketball Operations at Temple from 2006-09. After a brief stint away,  he came back as an assistant from 2011-16. He arrived with the Owls three years before McKie was hired. While McKie, as a Temple alum and former NBA assistant was a natural fit to succeed Dunphy, it's possible Killings would've been just as viable a candidate had he stuck around. This will be their first on-court reunion since Killings left Connecticut and the AAC for Marquette.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Fairfield Preview

Fairfield Stags
November 29, HP Field House, Orlando, FL

Coach: Jay Young (0-0)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 217.3
3-Year kenpom Average: 239.0
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 215
Projected Starters: PG Aidas Kavaliauskas (6'1" Sr), SG Landon Taliaferro (6'3" Sr), SF Taj Benning (6'3" Jr), PF Jesus Cruz (6'5" Jr), C Vincent Eze (6'8" RS Sr)

When it comes to the Advocare Invitational field, "one of these things is not like the others" and it's definitely Fairfield. It isn't just that the Stags were bad last year, and finishing bottom of the 28th ranked MAAC is definitely bad, but they proceeded to follow that up by firing Coach Sydney Johnson and losing three starters. Big men Matija Milan and Jonathan Kasibabu graduated while freshman point guard Neftali Alvarez transferred to Mercer. Before those departures, the Stags went 9-22 on their way to the worst kenpom ranking of Johnson's coaching career.

So who comes back for rookie coach Jay Young? Taliaferro was last year's leading scorer and will carry the offensive load alongside Cruz, the only other returning player who averaged over 6 ppg last year. Kavaliauskas and Benning both earned minutes last year, but are both also very turnover prone. Eze joins as a grad transfer from Maine that contributed as a rotation piece last year and will be expected to fill a bigger role for the Stags. Calvin Whipple and Wassef Methnani provide some depth off the bench, but this is generally an unproven team that was bad for a reason. The freshmen will be intriguing, particularly 6'10" big man Chris Maidoh, who needs development but picked Fairfield over St. John's.

Young had some success as a Division II head coach before joining Steve Pikiell as an assistant, first at Stony Brook and later at Rutgers. Unlike most recent head coach hires that preach offense and pushing pace, Young is planning to set the tone for the Stags on defense. His first two days of practice were exclusively working on defense. Pikiell's teams were deliberate on offense and got their points by outworking teams on the offensive glass. Defensively, they mixed man and zone, but I would expect more zone from Fairfield this year as it's easier to install early.

The consensus seems to be that Fairfield will be around the middle of the MAAC this year, but that still leaves them as by far the worst team in Orlando. USC should handle them with ease, so if Marquette plays Fairfield, the downside is a hit to the strength of schedule but the upside is what should be a comfortable 20+ point win. This is essentially a neutral court buy game and will likely be a Quadrant 4 win when Selection Sunday rolls around. The best case scenario would be Fairfield cracking the top-200 of NET to reach Quadrant 3, but I'm not at all optimistic and honestly, the T-Rank projection might be a bit high for this team.

Marquette Connection: Before he came to Marquette, former assistant coach Aki Collins was an assistant at Fairfield. Collins joined Buzz Williams' staff in 2008 and was best known for player development, though he was also instrumental in recruiting guards Derrick Wilson and Todd Mayo. In addition, Collins' boss at Fairfield was current Providence head coach Ed Cooley, who has a 5-9 record against Marquette since leaving the Stags for the Friars.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

USC Preview

USC Trojans
November 29, HP Field House, Orlando, FL

Coach: Andy Enfield (151-120 overall, 110-92 at USC)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 54.3
3-Year kenpom Average: 62.0
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 77

Projected Starters: PG Elijah Weaver (6'5" So), SG Jonah Matthews (6'3" Sr), SF Daniel Utomi (6'6" RS Sr), PF Isaiah Mobley (6'9" Fr), C Nick Rakocevic (6'11" Sr)

On paper, the Trojans looked like a team that would compete for a NCAA bid. Instead, injuries and off-court issues led to a losing season that included 6 sub-100 kenpom losses and three losing streaks of 3+ games. This led to massive roster upheaval in the offseason. Leading scorer Bennie Boatwright and starting wing Shaqquan Aaron graduated. Star freshman Kevin Porter left for the NBA Draft. Starting point guard Derryck Thornton led a cascade of transfers that also included bench players Jordan Usher, J'Raan Brooks, and Victor Uyaelunmo.

Matthews and Rakocevic are proven Pac-12 players that will lead the new-look Trojans. Weaver got some run at the point last year and will hope to improve on a dismal offensive efficiency rating. Utomi (Akron) and fellow grad transfer Quentin Adlesh (Columbia) were both double digit scorers for their mid-major programs and will add scoring and three-point shooting options. In addition to the returning starters and grad transfers, USC has an injection of young talent coming in as well. The biggest name is 5-star recruit Isaiah Mobley. He is not only the centerpiece of a top-10 recruiting class that includes another 5-star (6'8" F Onyeka Okongwu) but also the older brother of the top-ranked recruit in 2020, Evan Mobley, who will join the Trojans next season.

Under Andy Enfield, USC runs what they call an attacking man-to-man offense. They want to spread teams out to the arc and attack the interior using their length and athleticism in isolation. Enfield's teams have never been ranked lower than #67 in offensive average possession length, so their intent is to get to the rim before the defense is able to get set. The Trojans don't shoot a ton of threes, but when they do they do so efficiently. Expect lots of drives inside and when they kick it out the shooters to knock down shots. USC doesn't turn it over often (top-50 TO% each of the past 3 years). On the other end, USC will be looking to find a defensive identity. Enfield uses both man and zone defenses and numerous injuries led to a lack of identity last year. They will try to challenge every shot and do so without fouling, but even in his most successful seasons Enfield has never had a defensive efficiency rating better than #80 in the nation. They win games on the offensive end.

USC has a lot of intriguing pieces, but getting them to fit together will be a challenge. There's no proven point guard and while USC has plenty of size, how they play together will be a question mark. Their raw talent will earn them wins but they are projected almost across the board as a middle of the pack Pac-12 team. If it all comes together, they could challenge for an at-large bid, but while they will almost certainly win their first round Advocare matchup with Fairfield, this is a team that Marquette should beat.

Marquette Connection: Marquette has only played USC once in program history, but it was chock full of inter-program coaching ties. The two teams met in 2012 in the final game of the Maui Invitational. What stands out about that game is that USC was also coached at the time by former Marquette coach Kevin O'Neill. O'Neill wasn't the only former Marquette connection on the sidelines that day. Marquette's all-time assists leader, Tony Miller, was one of the O'Neill's assistant coaches. Jamil Wilson led the way for Marquette with 19 points and 6 rebounds as MU claimed a 72-64 win. It was also the last chance Marquette had to see O'Neill, as he would be fired less than 2 months later. Marquette dealt USC their second loss of the season en route to a 7-10 start that saw him fired mid-season. I would love to say that future USC and Marquette wing Katin Reinhardt was on the bench that day, but he didn't arrive at USC until 6 months after this game was played.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Davidson Preview

Davidson Wildcats
November 28, HP Field House, Orlando, FL

Coach: Bob McKillop (578-350)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 70.3
3-Year kenpom Average: 71.0
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 52

Projected Starters: PG Jon Axel Gudmundsson (6'5" Sr), SG Kellan Grady (6'5" Jr), SF Luke Frampton (6'5" RS So), PF KiShawn Pritchett (6'6" Sr), C Luka Brajkovic (6'10" So)

Last year had to be a disappointment for Davidson fans. They returned the dynamic backcourt duo of Gudmundsson and Grady, both of whom were at least on NBA radars the year before. They had a ton of young talent, but after an 8-1 start, lost their last three meaningful non-conference games to Temple, Wake Forest, and North Carolina. They finished second in the A-10, including being one of two teams to knock of regular season champs VCU, and when early conference tournament upsets of VCU & Dayton left them the only top-100 (per Pomeroy) team in the semifinals, a NCAA bid seemed within grasp. Then they got lambasted by a mediocre St. Louis team and went to the NIT instead, where they squandered a 9-point second half home lead to fall in the first round to Lipscomb.

The good news is that after testing the waters, Gudmundsson and Grady are back. Along with Frampton, they form the most dangerous offensive backcourt in the A-10. All five starters are back, as is the only other player to average double-digit minutes in SG Carter Collins. The A-10 looks to have three NCAA caliber teams this year, and this is definitely one of them. The Wildcats will be tested again, with games against Auburn, Vanderbilt, Nevada, Wake Forest, and Loyola-Chicago in addition to the three Orlando games. The difference this year is that, according to T-Rank, they are pick-em or better in all of those games. In the A-10, they play VCU and Dayton just once each with both games at home. They are only projected as more than a 1-point underdog in 2 of their games: Marquette and at Rhode Island. This is a team that is going to win 20+ games, has a legit shot at winning their conference, and should be at least in the mix for an at-large berth come Selection Sunday.

Bob McKillop has had 18 straight winning seasons at Davidson, including 13 campaigns with 20+ wins in that span. The main reason is because of his dynamic offense. His teams are incredibly adept at running the break, running ball screens, shooting, and making good decisions. Everyone is involved, everyone can pass, everyone can shoot, and they take a LOT of threes (18 straight years in the top-65 of 3PFGA%). Davidson is also a team that won't beat themselves. They don't turn the ball over much, they don't expose themselves to fast-breaks by overcommitting on the offensive glass, and on the other end, they limit second chances. What's impressive about the last bit is that in the past two years, McKillop has taken advantage of his long guards by moving more to a 2-3 zone. The length of Gudmundsson and Grady bothers shooters on the perimeter and unlike traditional zone teams, they have been able to limit offensive rebounds. For comparison, the past two years Davidson has been top-35 each season in defensive rebounding percentage. The most notable zone in the country, Syracuse, has never been ranked better than #131 in the past 23 years.

I'll be honest, when I saw Davidson come up for Orlando, I shuddered. Their creative, well-schooled offense makes them an incredibly tough defensive matchup, and without the Hausers, shooting over their zone will be a challenge for Marquette. Davidson is a team that, like Belmont or Syracuse, are simply very difficult to match up with because what they do is unlike what anyone else does. The loser of this game will also likely draw a second-round match with Fairfield, which is by far the weakest opponent in Orlando, and also miss out on the chance to make a statement against preseason top-10 Maryland. Because of the importance of neutral court games and the implications on the schedule, this is unquestionably the most important non-conference game on the schedule, on par with the 2017 VCU game and 2012 Butler game, both played in Maui.

Marquette Connection: Anyone that listens to the Real Chilly Podcast knows the call from their introductory music. "Here we go, 5 seconds left, Marquette down by 1, trying to avoid the upset. Blue with the drive, the left hand, IT'S GOOD! 1 second to play, Vander Blue has put Marquette in front by 1!" Any Marquette fan whose allegiance goes back more than 5 years was likely jumping and dancing like an overcaffeinated idiot just like I was at BBC on the East Side of Milwaukee. Marquette finished the game on an 11-4 run. While some called it a choke, Davidson's 4 possessions before Blue's layup featured 1.200 points per possession, 75% free throw shooting, 100 eFG%, and just one turnover. They didn't choke. It was Marquette scoring a ridiculous 2.750 ppp, going 3/3 beyond the arc after starting the game 1/12, and having a 175 eFG% in the final minute of the game. Blue stole the final inbound to seal the improbable triumph. Marquette went on to follow that win with victories over Butler and Miami en route to the Elite 8. It all started with that Davidson game. If you never saw it or just want a reminder, you can get your goosebumps here.