"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 06, 2021

Not what you want in a rivalry game, does Shaka have a bounce back?

Well, this was the first truly disappointing loss for #mubb in the young Shaka era. Marquette not only loses to noted rival, Wisconsin Badgers, but let's the second half get away from them. We talk about the Wisconsin game, what went wrong and what went not so wrong. We also make a compliment sandwich involving the team before pivoting to the week ahead. We review the KSU game and whether MU can get a win in December before talking about any lane to success for MU against UCLA. Let's hope we go 1-1 this week. Enjoy! https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/5rzf9e/ScrambledEggs_Editted_120521.mp3

Monday, November 29, 2021

Post Thanksgiving relaxation and #BadgerHateWeek

Hope everyone had an excellent Thanksgiving! Scrambled Eggs is back from our turkey naps to talk about #mubb. We briefly touch on the only game this week against Northern Illinios (nothing remarkable happened) and then move on to the meat of the pod, so to speak: Badger Hate Week. We talk about the game, conflicting styles, and what MU needs to do to win the game at the Kohl Center. We spend a little time talking about the month of December and what expectations we can/should have for this team. We close out with a prediction on the game. As always, enjoy! https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/fejzxe/ScrambledEggs_Editted_112821.mp3

Monday, November 22, 2021

As starts to regimes go, this was a pretty, pretty good one

#mubb is back baby, well at least mostly back. What a week for Marquette basketball, upset and come from behind win against Illinios followed by an exciting run to the Charleston Classic championship. We're here to talk about all of it (including the loss against St Bonaventure) and discuss if Marquette, is in fact, back. We also spend a little time talking about the upcoming week and what the first 6 games means for the season overall. Happy Thanksgiving and Enjoy! https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/dgnnzq/ScrambledEggs_Editted_112121.mp3

Sunday, November 21, 2021

What MTE Titles Mean in March

Jay Wright at the 2016 Charleston Classic; he won MTEs in all 5 surveyed seasons

Photo by Mic Smith | AP News
 

Tonight Marquette will take on St. Bonaventure in the championship game of their multi-team event (MTE), the Charleston Classic. While this young Golden Eagles squad has already given fans more excitement in the first two weeks of the season than most expected for the entire year, a victory over the Bonnies could go a long way toward punching Marquette's ticket to the NCAA Tournament come Selection Sunday.

While it might seem silly to think about NCAA bids in November, non-conference is the only time leagues can establish themselves against other leagues, which directly determines how many bids leagues earn in March. There is no time of the year more important to determining the number of bids a league will earn than November and December, and with the shortening of non-conference schedules as leagues move to 20-game schedules, each game becomes that much more important.

I looked at the postseason destinations of the champions of 17 different MTEs over the past five full NCAA seasons. I excluded 2019-20 due to COVID cancelling the tournament and 2020-21 due to the irregularity of MTEs. I also looked at the number of runners-up that made it to the subsequent NCAA Tournament. Not surprisingly, winning is better. Here's the breakdown:


Champ-NCAA Champ-NIT Champ No Bid Runner-Up-NCAA
2018 15 2 0 8
2017 7 5 5 7
2016 13 2 2 10
2015 14 2 1 5
2014 11 4 2 8
Total 60 15 10 38

This included going through 85 separate brackets. MTE champs went to the NCAA Tournament 70.6% of the time and earned a postseason bid (NCAA or NIT) 88.2% of the time. Runners-up went to the NCAA just 44.7% of the time. Based on the numbers, the winner between Marquette and St. Bonaventure will be 25.9% more likely to earn a bid on Selection Sunday.

It's certainly possible for one or both teams to miss. That happened in 2015 when Marquette beat Arizona State to win the Legends Classic but both teams were left out of the NCAA and NIT fields. But numerically, when you beat 2-3 quality opponents over the stretch of a few days, it's a significant resume boost that greatly enhances your chances of playing longer in March, and more often than not in the Big Dance. In addition, since Marquette's 2001 Great Alaska Shootout win, that Legends Classic is the only time Marquette won an MTE and failed to punch their NCAA dance card, earning bids in 2002, 2006, 2007, and 2012.

So if you need an extra reason to cheer for Marquette tonight, remember that even in mid-November, an NCAA Tournament bid may very well be on the line.

----------

The events analyzed for the piece were the Battle for Atlantis, Maui Invitational, Charleston Classic, Orlando Invitational, Paradise Jam, Las Vegas Invitational, Hall of Fame Tip-Off, MGM Main Event, Gulf Coast Classic, NIT Tip-Off, Legends Classic, Hall of Fame Classic, Cancun Challenge, Wooden Legacy, Emerald Coast Shootout, Diamond Head Invitational, and 2K Classic. Here's the full dataset, including the events, champions, and seeding for all 85 MTEs surveyed:




Friday, November 19, 2021

Marquette’s Greatest Hits Against Bob Huggins

The Marquette Golden Eagles meet an old foe tonight as they take on Bob Huggins’ West Virginia Mountaineers in the Charleston Classic semi-finals.

Huggy Bear and Marquette have a long history together during his days as Cincinnati’s head coach and when West Virginia was in the Big East. Here are some of the greatest defeats in timeline order that Marquette handed the always smug and controversial coach...

02/10/1994: Marquette tops Cincy 61-60 for its first win over Huggins. Marquette lost its first four games to Huggy Bear and only of one those losses were close. On that day in Cincinnati, Marquette Head Coach Kevin O'Neill and the legendary starting five of Jim Mcllvaine, Damon Key, Tony Miller, Roney Eford, and Robb Logterman, were not going to be denied.

03/02/1996: Marquette wins 74-72 over No. 7 Cincinnati at the Bradley Center. The win is not only a victory over a top-10 team but caps off Marquette’s first undefeated home record since moving into the Bradley Center.

03/07/1997: Marquette rips apart the Bearcats and Huggins 91-79 in the Conference USA Tournament semi-final round. Marquette would go on to win the next day, capturing its only conference tournament crown.

02/10/1999: Not much went right during Mike Deane’s last season. On this night, Marquette shocked Huggins’ No. 4 Bearcats 62-58 at the Bradley Center. It was the highlight victory of a 14-15 Golden Eagles 1998-99 campaign.

01/10/2001: Brian Barone hits a game-winning three from the corner during the game's final minute and Marquette hangs on to win 47-44. The victory gives Tom Crean his first win over Huggins.

02/02/2002: Dwyane Wade, Cordell Henry, and the gang combine to dominate No. 4 Cincinnati 74-60 at the Bradley Center. The fans storm the court celebrating, snapping the Bearcats' 20-game win streak.

03/08/2003: Confetti rains down from the Bradley Center rafters. Marquette becomes the first non-Bearcats team to win the Conference USA regular-season title outright. It appropriately happens with a 70-61 win over Cincinnati on the final day of the season. Wade and Robert Jackson memorably embrace at center court celebrating their achievement.

01/01/2011: Marquette opens Big East conference play with a 79-74 win over West Virginia. Bob Huggins coaches, looking as if he was out all night on Water Street celebrating New Year's Eve.

03/09/2011: Marquette beats No. 20 West Virginia at Madison Square Garden in the Big East Tournament. The win helps solidify a birth into the NCAA Tournament and the Golden Eagles go on that first magical run to the Sweet 16 in the Buzz Williams era.

02/24/2012: Williams suspended Darius Johnson-Odom, Junior Cadougan, and Vander Blue for the first half for a violation of team rules. Marquette went into halftime down 32-21. DJO was back on the court for the second half and Marquette proceeded to go on a 24-8 run. Jae Crowder scored 26 points and the Golden Eagle squeaked a 61-60 win. Buzz celebrated the win by dancing on the court. 

Monday, November 15, 2021

Shaka's Past and the Marquette Roster's Future

Darryl Morsell represents the culture Shaka Smart wants at Marquette

Photo by Mark Hoffman | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel
 

When Buzz Williams was at Marquette, much was made of how his program wasn't for everyone. He wanted the tough guys, the ones who had to work a little harder to get here, the kids that knew they wanted the Number 2 from the McDonald's value meal menu. If you asked Al, he might've said they knew about the Cracked Sidewalks. Because of that, much was made of how frequently Buzz had players transfer out under his watch. When Steve Wojciechowski replaced him at Marquette, the conversation shifted to how he retained the entire roster Buzz left behind as fans hoped the transfer "problem" would be fixed. In retrospect, that hope was in vain.

So what does any of that have to do with today? Under Shaka Smart, Marquette is in a vastly different place than they were when Williams inherited Tom Crean's loaded 2008-09 team or when Wojciechowski retained Williams' entire current roster despite losing most of the freshmen recruits. Only three of Wojo's scholarship players stayed with Smart as he focused more on building his own culture than trying to hold on to the roster his predecessor left behind. Today, we're going to look at the early departures under all three coaches, Williams and Wojchiechowski in their time at Marquette and Smart in his time at Texas, to try to tell if Marquette will be in a better place as immediately eligible transfers become more common in the modern game.

Williams changed the conversation about transfers at Marquette

Photo by USATSI

Buzz Williams' Tough Love

"I think recruiting, as things have evolved, tends to spoil kids. And within the culture I coach in on a daily basis, spoiled kids really struggle in dealing with me." That was Buzz Williams' view on the culture he created. That led to more transfers out than Marquette fans were accustomed to and also more Junior College transfers in as Buzz tapped his own JUCO roots. Here's the list of players that left Marquette early under Williams, though we are only counting players that spent time on campus as students.

Year Player % Minutes Destination Original Coach
2009 Brett Roseboro 0.0 St. Bonaventure Williams
2009 Patrick Hazel 17.9 Boston University Crean
2010 Jeronne Maymon 10.7 Tennessee Williams
2010 Liam McMorrow 0.0 Tennessee Tech Williams
2010 Youssoupha Mbao 4.3 Marshall Williams
2011 Erik Williams 11.3 Sam Houston State Williams
2011 Reggie Smith 5.3 UNLV Williams
2012 Jamail Jones 16.9 FGCU Williams
2012 T.J. Taylor 0.0 North Texas Williams
2013 Jamal Ferguson 4.6 NC Central Williams
2013 Vander Blue 79.1 G League/NBA Williams
2013 Jameel McKay 0.0   
Iowa State
Williams

Buzz had 12 early departures in 6 years, about 2.0 per year. However, of those 12, only Jeronne Maymon, Reggie Smith, Vander Blue, and Jameel McKay seemed to have significant future roles penned in for them. McMorrow and Blue are accented with a different color because their departures weren't traditional transfers. McMorrow was ruled medically ineligible and later transferred while Blue declared for the NBA Draft, went undrafted, and played in both the G League and NBA in the first season after his time at Marquette. Only three players under Williams, Maymon, Blue, and McKay, left for locations that had levels of play that were comparable or at a higher level than Marquette. Generally, when people left Marquette, it was because they weren't good enough and went somewhere they thought they could play. If there is blame to lay at Williams' feet, it is misevaluations in recruiting. Some of the guys he brought in simply weren't good enough to play at this level.

The Buzz Williams tenure at Marquette was just a bit ahead of the NCAA norm. He averaged 2.0 departures per year. That is similar to 2020, the last year before immediate eligibility, when the average number of transfers per school in Division I was 1.83 (648 confirmed transfers for 353 schools). In addition, most of the players that left under Williams were players most of the Marquette fanbase wouldn't remember or miss based on their accomplishments or expectations here.

The Hausers set their sights outside Milwaukee

Photo by Mitchell Layton | Getty Images

Steve Wojciechowski's Lost Team

After Williams left, there was a lot of speculation about how the recruiting class would be lost and the roster would leave. Instead, "...Wojciechowski did something that went unnoticed by many. The first time he walked into the Marquette locker room, with nine young men confused about their futures standing inside it, he gave each player a hug." At the time, it seemed exciting that Wojo retained the roster and later rallied around the #8Strong concept. Most of the recruits left, but Wojo also was able to successfully re-recruit top-100 local kid Sandy Cohen. The end results, however, told a different tale.

Year Player % Minutes Destination Original Coach
2014 Gabe Levin 0.0 Long Beach State Wojciechowski
2015 Deonte Burton 10.0 Iowa State Williams
2015 John Dawson 0.0 Liberty Williams
2015 Steve Taylor 54.8 Toledo Williams
2016 Henry Ellenson 82.6 NBA Wojciechowski
2016 Wally Ellenson 19.0 G League Wojciechowski
2017 Sandy Cohen 1.5 Green Bay Wojciechowski
2017 Traci Carter 10.1 La Salle/Hartford Wojciechowski
2017 Duane Wilson 38.3 Texas A&M Williams
2018 Haanif Cheatham 9.3 FGCU/Nebraska Wojciechowski
2018 Harry Froling 17.5 QBL Wojciechowski
2019 Sam Hauser 82.7 Virginia Wojciechowski
2019 Joey Hauser 72.7 Michigan State Wojciechowski
2020 Ed Morrow 15.7 Unknown Wojciechowski
2020 Brendan Bailey 62.1 Macedonian League Wojciechowski
2021 Symir Torrence 28.8 Syracuse Wojciechowski

While many expected Wojo's softer touch to result in better player retention, he saw 2.29 players per year leave the program, more than Buzz during his tenure here. It started with Levin, who left before ever suiting up for Marquette, continued with two of the retained players from that first team (Burton and Dawson) leaving before Christmas, and carried on with his own players leaving for both collegiate and professional options. Looking back at Wojo's first #8Strong season, that hashtag only came about because of three departures before Christmas (Levin, Burton, Dawson), and of the #8Strong players that didn't graduate (Carlino, Anderson, Derrick Wilson), most of those still transferred away before their careers were over (Cohen, Carter, Duane Wilson). One of the big differences is that while Williams' departures were largely kids that couldn't make the grade at this level, Wojo lost a lot of players to other high major programs.

An in-their-prime roster of Duane Wilson, Haanif Cheatham, Sam Hauser, Deonte Burton, and Steve Taylor with Joey Hauser, Traci Carter, Gabe Levin, and Sandy Cohen off the bench would be a pretty good college team (though maybe not defensively). In addition, while one can't fault Henry Ellenson for going from top-10 recruit as a freshman to First Round NBA pick after his one season, the other players that left Marquette early for professional options didn't come close to reaching the heights of the sport. It's also worth noting that aside from Dawson and maybe Froling, all of these players had clear futures and roles had they stayed at Marquette.

The problem for Wojo wasn't talent evaluation, it was getting guys to buy in to his program at Marquette, and it showed whether they were major contributors (Bailey, the Hausers), rotation players that other coaches agreed were good enough for the high-major level (Wilson, Torrence), or they were just starting their Marquette careers (Carter, Cohen, Levin). That seems to indicate a culture problem.

Smart hugs Elijah Mitrou-Long as Jaxson Hayes looks on

Photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez | American Statesman
 

Smart's Culture Approach

In taking over Marquette, Smart did not inherit the level of talent Tom Crean left for Williams nor did he retain the entire roster as Wojciechowski did. Smart has kept a journal from his time at VCU, and one of the lines his younger self wrote about things he would do differently if he had to start over in the future was "All culture for the first two years." Well, here he is, and we've heard a lot about how the focus will be on the culture. Just as telling is looking back on the departures during his time at Texas.

Year Transfers Out % Minutes Destination Original Coach
2016 Jordan Barnett 1.8 Missouri Barnes
2016 Isaiah Taylor 76.5 G League/NBA Barnes
2017 Tevin Mack 35.6 Clemson Smart
2017 Jarrett Allen 80.2 NBA Smart
2018 Jacob Young 35.7 Rutgers Smart
2018 James Banks 6.7 Georgia Tech Smart
2018 Mohamed Bamba 64.3 NBA Smart
2018 Eric Davis 48.2 Unknown Smart
2019 Elijah Mitrou-Long 43.1 UNLV Smart
2019 Jaxson Hayes 50.0 NBA Smart
2020 Will Baker 15.5 Nevada Smart
2021 Kai Jones 54.3 NBA Smart

While Smart saw 2.0 players leave per year, only 1.2 left for anywhere other than to play in the NBA. Of the 6 that pursued pro options, 5 played in the NBA the next season. Mack was dismissed from the team before transferring. 5 players transferred. It doesn't seem to be an evaluation issue, as three went to high major levels and two of those were guys that barely got minutes. Generally speaking, while departures happened, the only times it happened with key players was when they went to the NBA and from a recruiting perspective, it wasn't because they weren't good enough for the high major level.

The question is if this cultural focus will work in an era of immediate eligibility. Smart's history at Texas indicates the talent evaluation is spot on and when players depart to be professionals, that is usually because they are good enough for the NBA. But now that no one has to wait to play, will retaining young talent like Emarion Ellis and David Joplin who have long-term upside but might not see major minutes this year be harder than it was for Smart at Texas? In addition, 40% of the players Smart sent to the NBA were McDonald's All-Americans (Allen and Bamba) which will likely be less common at Marquette.

I will leave you with this. Of the three departure tables above, I think everyone would take Smart's over either of the other two. It shows better recruiting evaluations than Buzz, better buy-in than Wojo, and a better ability to send players to the NBA than both former Marquette coaches combined. Even if you take the five-stars out of the mix, Smart put more players that were not high school All-Americans in the NBA (Taylor, Hayes, Jones) than Buzz and Wojo did combined. And when it comes strictly to transfers out, Smart's average of 0.83 transfers per year is better than Wojo's 1.57 or Williams' 1.67.

However, Smart is the only one that will be coaching Marquette with immediate eligibility for all transfers, which stands to make it more difficult to retain players. Sure, Smart was better at keeping players when sitting out was the alternative, but will that retention ability hold up when young players with bright futures have the chance to go play at another similarly prestigious program tomorrow?

All culture for two years. That's the goal. And considering 9 scholarship players on the roster have up to 4 years of eligibility left, the success of that culture is a huge part of creating a sustainable foundation for the program. If the players buy in as well as they did at Texas, perhaps Marquette can better weather the future in an open transfer market. If nothing else, comparing his predecessor's to Smart's past shows what should be a brighter and more stable future at Marquette.

And we're off, #mubb season is underway

Week one of the new #mubb season is in the books, so we need to react to it. We talk about the first two games of MU's season, what we liked, what we didn't like, is there anything to be worried about, etc. We also talk about our biggest surprises in the young season now that we've actually seen the team play. We then turn to the 4 games, yes 4, MU has this week to break down how we think it will go. We close out with everyone's new favorite bit, Take My Money. Enjoy! https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/j6fftv/ScrambledEggs_Editted_111421.mp3

Friday, November 12, 2021

Experience and the Upset

On opening night of the college basketball season, there were six high-major teams that suffered losses in guarantee games, which is when the more prominent team pays the smaller team money to come play in their arena. So not only did #25 Virginia lose to Navy, but they PAID for that loss, literally. And while opening night featured the highest quantity, it was last night that gave the biggest moment when UC Riverside hit a three-quarter court shot at the buzzer to stun Arizona State.


Considering the high number of returning players this year to the college game, I decided to break down the experience levels and minutes continuity of those teams. It would seem that the more experienced teams would be better suited to go into a hostile environment and pull off the upset. That seemed especially salient considering the New Hampshire team Marquette will play tonight has a number of experienced players. Here are the results, with New Hampshire added in based on their opening game:

Upset Team Experience Continuity Victim
Miami (OH) 23 10 Georgia Tech
New Hampshire 64 29 Marquette
The Citadel 182 78 Pittsburgh
Navy 46 86 Virginia
UC Riverside 184 90 Arizona State
Northern Illinois 50 93 Washington
UC San Diego 194 100 California
Western Illinois 78 113 Nebraska

Considering there are 358 Division I teams, all but one are top-100 in Minutes Continuity (and all are 68th percentile or better) and the only one that isn't top-100 is Western Illinois, who is top-100 in Experience. Further, four of the seven are top-100 in Experience and all are at least in the 46th percentile. While this is a small sample size early on, clearly having experience and continuity didn't hurt these teams when it came to upsetting high majors.

I would again point to New Hampshire. I had to manually calculate their numbers, but using kenpom's tools, it was pretty easy. They would rank #64 in Experience and #29 in Continuity, making them a dangerous buy game opponent. I would also point out that Northern Illinois (who upset Washington) is the next guarantee game Marquette plays, and future opponent Jackson State is #85 in Experience and #110 in Continuity. If the first week is any indication, Marquette shouldn't take any of their guarantee games lightly, because sometimes that guaranteed paycheck has a loss written into the memo line.

Monday, November 08, 2021

The Shaka era begins, as does a new Scrambled Eggs bit

Welcome to the first regular season podcast of the Shaka era with #mubb. We start the pod with a general review of the exhibition as it were. We then discuss the news that came out around the time of the exhibition including Greg Elliott's suspension, Keeyan Itejere's redshirt, and what exactly happened to MU's court? We then talk about the two games this week, SIU-Edwardsville and New Hampshire. We close out with a new bit from Joe. Enjoy! https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/nuyhzw/ScrambledEggs_Editted_110721.mp3

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

UCLA Preview, 2021-22

UCLA Bruins

December 11, Fiserv Forum, 1:30 pm

Head Coach: Mick Cronin (406-193 overall, 41-22 at UCLA)

Three-Year NET Average: 70.3

Three-Year Kenpom Average: 64.3

Projected 2021-22 T-Rank: 2

Johnny Juzang shot UCLA to the Final Four
Photo by Jamie Schwaberow, Getty Images

Projected Starters: PG Tyger Campbell (5'11" Jr), SG Johnny Juzang (6'6" Jr), SF Jules Bernard (6'6" Sr), PF Jaime Jacquez (6'6" Jr), C Cody Riley (6'9" Sr)

Hollywood couldn't have scripted a much better finish for UCLA than they had in 2021. Johnny Juzang had his star turn, averaging 22.8 ppg in the NCAA Tournament on a sparkling 58.0 eFG% and 37.5% from beyond the arc. They dispatched Michigan State (in overtime), BYU, Abilene Christian, Alabama (in overtime again), and Michigan before falling to Gonzaga in a third overtime contest on Jalen Suggs half-court buzzer beater. While the Bruins certainly deserve credit for that run, it's worth remembering how they got there. UCLA sputtered down the stretch, losing their last four and barely making it into the Tournament field. Before they rallied from 14 down against Michigan State, they were ranked #44 on kenpom, with losses to #83 Stanford, #85 Oregon State, #107 Washington State, and needing overtime to beat #112 Pepperdine and #113 Arizona State. Maybe it was the analytics underrating the Pac-12 or maybe UCLA just wasn't all that good, but they did find lightning in the NCAA bottle. They escaped Michigan State and they did win all those games in March. All of that counts, but it took a remarkable run to get from where they were before the NCAA Tournament started to where they are ranked today.

They do bring just about everyone back from that run, starting with Tyger Campbell. He's a reliable floor general that distributes and protects the ball. Juzang, Jules Bernard, and Jaime Jacquez give Cronin a trio of versatile, athletic wings that can all shoot the ball and defend almost any position. Up front, Riley is a space-eater that can score down low and keep the boards clean on both ends. In addition, the Bruins bring in a five-star recruit in Peyton Watson that could push Bernard for minutes with his length and athleticism while Rutgers transfer Myles Johnson is a true rim protector that will offer a change of pace from Riley and could emerge as the team's leading center by the season's end. With those two additions, there is a viable argument that UCLA will be a better team because they have legitimate pieces that improve what was already there on last year's Final Four team.

Perhaps the most surprising thing under Mick Cronin is how UCLA has remained an offense-first program. While there's no automatic shooter, everyone they put on the floor 1-4 is a threat to make threes. They run a highly deliberate offense, avoiding the fast break in favor of half court sets. Campbell pulls the strings and having a player like Juzang who can break any individual defender down is an incredibly lethal combination. That said, they do like the midrange (5th in the number of 2PFGs away from the rim) which is among the most inefficient means of scoring. Defensively, this team still hasn't fully come around to Cronin's style. They try to keep teams away from the rim and are good at limiting second chance opportunities. Having a shot-blocker like Johnson could really help the rest of the team extend the defense further out. So much of what UCLA does comes down to shooting. It seems basic, but if they have an off night and their opponents are hitting from outside, their scheme isn't going to disrupt that and they are vulnerable.

So what is UCLA? Are they the team currently receiving first place votes in the AP Poll? Are they the team that was ranked 44th on kenpom going into the tournament last year, albeit slightly older? It's worth noting that in the NCAA Tournament, UCLA had a free throw defense of 62.4% (63/101) and three point defense of 26.3% (30/114). Over the course of the season, those relatively random statistics in terms of what can be controlled for would have ranked #2 and #1 nationally. Four of their opponents shot below their season free throw average and five shot below their season three point average. Over a full season, those numbers are not sustainable. They certainly have a lot of talent and have the potential to compete at the highest level, as last year showed, but their players will have to carry that step forward into the new season and the new pieces will have to fit in seamlessly if they are going to be as good as the pundits are saying. They will likely be a contender for the Pac-12 title and have the ability to be fighting for a protected seed in March, but anyone penciling them into a 1-seed or Final Four again is probably being a bit premature based on the reality of what they are as currently constructed.

Marquette Connection: Last year's UCLA tied the record for the lowest seed (11) to ever advance to the Final Four while also becoming just the second team in history to advance from the First Four to the Final Four, matching marks both accomplished by Marquette head coach, Shaka Smart. Smart took his 2011 VCU team on a similar run to the Final Four. While this will mark the first time two coaches that went First Four to Final Four square off head-to-head, it won't be the first time Smart and Cronin have faced off. They first met in December, 2014, when Smart's VCU team traveled to Cincinnati and laid a 68-47 beat-down on Cronin's Bearcats. The two almost met for a second time last year. Had Smart's Texas Longhorns not been upset by Abilene Christian on two free throws by a 59% free throw shooter with 2 seconds to play, Texas would've faced UCLA in the second round.

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Kansas State Preview, 2021-22

 

Kansas State Wildcats

December 8, Manhattan, KS, 8:00 pm

Head Coach: Bruce Weber (483-285 overall, 170-130 at Kansas State)

Three-Year NET Average: 99.7

Three-Year Kenpom Average: 85.7

Projected 2021-22 T-Rank: 96

Mike McGuirl is 0-2 against Marquette in his career

Photo from Kansas State Sports

Projected Starters: PG Nijel Pack (6'0" So), SG Mike McGuirl (6'2" Sr), SF Mark Smith (6'5" Sr), PF Ismael Massoud (6'8" Jr), C Davion Bradford (7'0" So)

Kansas State fans looking for ammunition to part ways with Bruce Weber got more of it last season. The warning signs were there early as they lost to UNLV and Division II Fort Hays State and barely beat UMKC, UW-Milwaukee, and Nebraska-Omaha, but it was punctuated by a 13-game losing streak to start 2021. That was largely down to four true freshmen in the rotation and while the results were disappointing, the grown the of the class remains a reason for optimism, though Weber has gone just 7-29 in Big 12 play since their 2019 Big 12 title season and will be feeling the heat if they finish near the bottom of the league again as they are projected this season.

Mike McGuirl is the only player returning from the K-State teams that Marquette swept in their 2018/2019 home-and-home series. He's a heady veteran who finally found his footing with Nijel Pack late in the season as they did finish the season 4-1 in games played together down the stretch with the only loss a tight contest against eventual National Champions Baylor. Pack is a quick lead guard that is lethal from deep and has a tight handle. On the wings, Mark Smith (Missouri) and Ismael Massoud (Wake Forest) are experienced wings that can stretch the floor and allow Weber to put four shooters around big man Davion Bradford. Off the bench, Weber will bring transfer point guard Markquis Nowell (Little Rock) and a pair of sophomore wings, Selton Miguel and Luke Kasubke, to provide depth.

Weber made a definite shift last year that will likely continue into 2021-22. He went away from the two bigs he typically plays and went to playing four-out surrounding big man Bradford. What really stood out about that change was how it impacted the defense. The smaller Wildcats played faster, were able to limit opponent three-point opportunities, thus driving down their eFG% defense and increasing their ability to turn opponents over. They also shot better from two, better from three, and drew fouls at a higher rate. With a deeper team that has the added experience of Smith and Massoud on the wings, expect the four-out look to continue.

It has to be noted that three-point percentage defense is considered to be largely down to luck rather than skill, and during that stretch K-State's opponents shot 26.2% from three as opposed to 38.8% before, but the defensive improvement and overall team improvement would've been reflected regardless. With an extra year of experience for last year's freshmen, a deeper team through the transfer window, and the momentum of last season, this Wildcat team should be better than they were last year. In many ways, banking on defense and surrounding a big man with shooters and wings will lead to K-State looking like a slower-paced version of this year's Marquette team. This should be a tight contest that will likely be decided based on whose shots are falling that night.

Marquette Connection: The 2018-19 Marquette team had come up short in early opportunities against Indiana and Kansas, so when #12 Kansas State came to town, it was a massive opportunity to get on the right side of a big game. Early on, the Wildcats took a 19-15 lead, but then it was Markus Howard's time to shine. He scored all the points in a 12-1 run. In the second half, Howard took note of the Wildcats getting in foul trouble and went at Dean Wade and Makol Mawien, fouling both of them out. When the dust settled, Howard had scored 45 points, the most ever by a Marquette player in a home game, and Marquette came out with the 83-71 win. It would be the first of three home victories over the #12 team in the country in the month of December (Wisconsin and Buffalo both came in ranked #12) and when Marquette won at the Octagon the following year, it was the first sweep of a high-major home-and-home series since sweeping Big 12's Iowa State more than 20 years earlier in 1996 and 1997.

Monday, November 01, 2021

UW-Madison Preview, 2021-22

UW-Madison Badgers

December 4, Madison, WI, 11:30 am

Head Coach: Greg Gard (119-70)

Three-Year NET Average: 21.0

Three-Year Kenpom Average: 17.3

Projected 2021-22 T-Rank: 54

Brad Davison protesting a technical after punching someone in the groin...again

Photo by Noah K Murray | USA Today Sports

Projected Starters: PG Chucky Hepburn (6'1" Fr), SG Brad Davison (6'4" Sr),  SF Johnny Davis (6'5" So), PF Tyler Wahl (6'9" Jr), C Chris Vogt (7'1" Sr)

In mid-January, everything was looking up for UW-Madison. They were 12-3, ranked in the top-10 of both polls, climbed to #8 in Kenpom, and looked to be heading for another protected seed in the NCAA Tournament. Then they lost 8 of their final 12 regular season games, split a pair of contests with Penn State and Iowa in the Big 10 Tournament, and earned a 9-seed in the NCAA Tournament. They managed to knock North Carolina and Roy Williams out in the first round for the first and last time of the coach's illustrious career before being thoroughly drubbed by Baylor in the second round. In the offseason, scandal broke out as now-former UW-Madison assistant Alando Tucker allegedly leaked a tape of a meeting between coaches and players where the Badger squad decried the actions of Greg Gard. That was followed by all but one of the seniors that were eligible to return departing, leaving only serial flopper and groin-puncher Brad Davison as a returning regular starter.

Davison will be the clear leader of this team. He averaged 12.1 ppg last year and will likely shoulder even more of the offensive load. Davison is terrible (27.5%) shooting inside the arc, likely down to referees getting wise to him just throwing himself into players to try to draw fouls (he had the lowest free throw rate of his career last season) but he's reliable from distance, making 39.1% of his three-point attempts. Chucky Hepburn joins him in the backcourt. The freshman is a crafty player who is quick but, as is appropriate for Gard's Swing offense, doesn't play fast. Johnny Davis flashed potential last year, showing the ability to score inside and out while using his quickness to defend effectively. Up front, veteran reserve Tyler Wahl and Cincinnati transfer Chris Vogt provide size and strength but neither are particularly efficient offensively and will have to be more productive than they've been in the past. To Gard's credit, he does have a number of young players to lean on, as Ben Carlson, Steven Crowl, Matthew Mors, and Lorne Bowman all are expected to contribute while Wake Forest transfer Jahcobi Neath gives another back court option.

Stylistically, you know what you're going to get with UW-Madison. Last year was the fastest pace played under Gard, which was still #320 nationally in offensive possession length and #328 in overall tempo. The goal is to create mismatches with cuts and screens, either isolating their bigs in the post or getting open looks from deep. But the true calling card of this team is defense. Critics of analytics will point to how UW-Madison is "overrated" but the reason for that is because they are consistently great defensively. Gard has had a top-20 adjusted defensive efficiency in 6 of his 7 seasons in Madison. They play tight man-to-man defense and excel at staying in front of their man, which allows them to contest everything. In addition to size inside, their guards and wings like Davison and Davis are competent rebounders so they limit second chance opportunities.

On paper, this looks like a team about to take a major step back. It's easy to look at the 2018 team where it was Ethan Happ and a ton of young guys as an example of Gard's system not favoring a roster this young. The difference this time is Davison, Davis, and Wahl all played major minutes last year. Transfers Vogt and Neath have played significant minutes against quality competition. And off the bench, instead of the freshmen from 2018 Gard has sophomores to fill in for starts and provide depth. Expect another tough defensive unit that manages to get some late-in-the-shot-clock bailouts from Davison. If this was Bo Ryan, they'd be penciled in to the top-20 and a top-4 Big 10 finish. Gard hasn't earned that yet. While this won't be Gard's best team, their style will earn them a big win or two (Gard has at least one Kenpom top-10 victory every season he's been at UW-Madison) and should have them at least fighting to be on the bubble when the end of the season rolls around.

Marquette Connection: While Brad Davison is climbing up the stat charts at UW-Madison--he's 4th in career starts, 5th in made threes, 12th in steals, and 19th in points--he could accomplish another feat this year that no Badger has performed in more than 40 years. That would be losing to Marquette four times in his career. While Marquette did have a 4-game winning streak from 1981-84, no Badger was on all four of those teams and the two squads didn't play in the 1984-85 season. The last Badger to accomplish the feat was Bill Pearson in 1978. Pearson really stands out because he lost to Marquette SIX times as the teams played twice in the 1975-76 and 1976-77 seasons, with Marquette winning every contest between the two in his career. Here's hoping Davison can add this piece of history to his already-ignominious career.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Jackson State Preview, 2021-22

Jackson State Tigers

November 30, 8:00 pm, Fiserv Forum


Head Coach: Wayne Brent (107-136)

Three-Year NET Average: 289.7

Three-Year Kenpom Average: 288.3

Projected 2021-22 T-Rank: 181

Jayveous McKinnis averaged a double-double for the Tigers last season

Photo courtesy of JSU Athletics

Projected Starters: PG Jonas James (6'0" Sr), SG Gabe Watson (6'2" Sr), SF Cainan McClelland (6'4" Sr),  PF Terence Lewis II (6'7" Sr), C Jayveous McKinnis (6'7" Sr)

If you're ever looking for the definition of the perfect "Successful SWAC team" schedule, 2020-21 Jackson State epitomized it. The Tigers went 0-5 in non-conference play, losing by an average 24.6 ppg, before running the table in league play, going a perfect 11-0 before falling to eventual tournament champions Texas Southern. Leading the way was SWAC player of the year Tristan Jarrett and two-time SWAC defensive player of the year Jayveous McKinnis, who posted 12.5 ppg/13.2 rpg. Jarrett is gone, but McKinnis is one of three starters back for Wayne Brent as his team eyes a second straight SWAC title.

McKinnis is joined by an experienced team around him. James and McClelland played in every game for the Tigers last year and combined for 33 starts. Watson is a transfer from Tulane who should show out better against SWAC competition (he scored 13.0 ppg for Southern Miss in C-USA) and Lewis is a high-efficiency big that couldn't get minutes behind North Texas' three-headed front court monster. Both should be even more productive at this level. Brent also has an experienced bench as Ken Evans and Hezekiah Quinlan were both spot starters last year and Chris Freeman transfers in after earning starts for Texas-Rio Grand Valley each of the past two years.

Everything at Jackson State under Wayne Brent starts on the defensive end. Statistically, in 8 years as a head coach he has had a top-4 defense in the SWAC every single year while never having an offense ranked better than 5th in league play. Nationally, he has never had an offense ranked better than #318 while his defenses have been top-200 6/8 years, peaking at #92 last season. The Tigers used to do that with pressure, but have moved to more man defense, denying the wings and instead of gambling on steals, taking advantage when the opponent makes mistakes. Inside, McKinnis is a monster, blocking shots and absolutely dominating the glass (32.1% defensive rebounding rate). Offensively, they thrive at turning defense into offense. This is where they stand to make the most improvement, as both James and McClelland shot over 35% from deep last year so it will be interesting to see if this team can be better in the half court as well with the additional experience.

Jarrett was a big loss, but Brent has started to bring in the talent to allow his team to continue thriving. McKinnis is going to dominate his league again while Lewis and Watson are both the kind of players who can immediately upgrade the talent level. What's interesting is the disparity in computer rankings. T-Rank places the Tigers as the only top-200 SWAC team and league favorites while Pomeroy has them #295 and closer to the middle of the league. Considering their experience and the success of Brent's system, expect this team to be competing for the league title again and don't be surprised to see them dancing in March. That said, Brent has never beat a high-major opponent and has only 3 combined Division I non-con victories the past 4 years. The talent level may be high for the SWAC, but it simply won't be enough to keep up when they come to Milwaukee.

Marquette Connection: Jackson State has only traveled to Milwaukee once before when they took on Marquette at the Bradley Center in 2015. That game left fans singing the praises of Haanif Cheatham, who posted 24 points on 7/12 shooting, including 4/4 from deep, in an 80-61 victory. While it was just his sixth game in a Marquette uniform, it was the highest scoring total he ever reached in his time here. Cheatham would transfer early in his junior year, spending time at Florida-Gulf Coast and Nebraska before graduating. He only once bested that 2015 scoring total, when he tallied 26 for the Cornhuskers in a non-conference game against South Florida in 2019.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Northern Illinois Preview, 2021-22

Northern Illinois Huskies

November 27, 7:00 pm, Fiserv Forum


Head Coach: Rashon Burno (0-0)

3-Year NET Average: 217.3

3-Year Kenpom Average: 218.3

Projected 2021-22 T-Rank: 315

Trendon Hankerson is the Huskies' leading returning scorer

Photo from NIU Athletics

Projected Starters: PG Kaleb Thornton (6'0" Jr), SG Trendon Hankerson (6'2" Sr), SF Zool Kueth (6'7" Sr), PF Chris Osten (6'9" Sr), C Martice Mitchell (6'10" So)

After seven straight top-250 finishes at Kenpom and his first winning MAC record in 2020, Mark Montgomery saw his team crater in 2021, finishing a career-worst #337 at kenpom and just 2-12 in the MAC. The Huskies were not just the worst team in the MAC but one of the worst in all of Division I. Montgomery is gone, replaced by former DePaul player Rashon Burno, who polished his coaching credentials at Florida with Billy Donovan and Arizona State with Bobby Hurley.

Burno kept much of last year's roster, including six players that started multiple games for the Huskies. Thornton and Hankerson give him an experienced but turnover-prone backcourt. Hankerson can score and will likely play a lot with the ball in his hands while Thornton is more of a defensive specialist that needs to improve his handle and productivity level. Expect transfers Keshawn Williams (Tulsa) and Darweshi Hunter (Weber State) to provide some back court depth. Up front, Zool Kueth is a high-efficiency shooter that will be one of the most dangerous offensive weapons. He's joined by a pair of high-major transfers in Chris Osten (Arizona State) and Martice Mitchell (Minnesota), who provide a length and talent upgrade. The Huskies have some depth, with Anthony Crump, Chinedu Kingsley Okanu, and Adong Makuoi all providing depth with starting experience.

It will be interesting to see what Burno does schematically. Donovan's rosters played at a slower pace with defense being the primary focus while Hurley pushed the pace with offense the centerpiece of their success. Montgomery tended to play slow and that seems the pragmatic way for Burno to start things off. Hankerson, Kueth, and JUCO transfer Edward Manuel are reliable threats from deep, so a slow pace that aims for high percentage deep looks seems like the best way to score some upsets this year. Burno has really stressed defensive toughness in his interviews, and considering that depth is one of their strengths, I could see this being a team that mixes it up and tries to win with physicality on the defensive end of the floor.

I like this roster more than most. Hankerson and Kueth were two of the best players on a bad team last year and adding transfers from clearly superior leagues gives the Huskies a much higher talent floor than they had a year ago. Their collapse last year coincided with the losses of all-time leading scorer Eugene German and three-year starter Lacey James. They're going to give some teams troubles and while they'll probably be in the bottom half of their league, I don't think they are the clear-cut cellar dweller they were a year ago. In terms of playing Marquette, however, this should be a comfortable win, though don't be surprised if it is a low-scoring, mostly defensive affair on both ends.

Marquette Connection: Rashon Burno may not have the most fond memories of Marquette from college, as he was just 2-5 against the Golden Eagles in his days at DePaul. The first time he coached against Marquette was a different story, however. Burno was an assistant at Florida when they played Marquette on November 29, 2012 in Gainesville in a rematch of the game that ended Marquette's season the year before. The Gators dominated Marquette from the jump, opening up an 18-point first-half lead and ultimately coming away with a dominating 82-49 victory. At the time, Buzz Williams said "I've never been beat this bad in my career -- 179 games as a head coach, that's the worst loss. Not close." Marquette fans will hope for an outcome more like the last time they saw Burno, a 78-73 overtime victory against Arizona State in 2015 when Henry Ellenson led Marquette to the come from behind win.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Clemson/Temple Capsules, 2021-22

Clemson Tigers

November 21, Charleston, SC

Head Coach: Brad Brownell (368-233 overall, 201-149 at Clemson)

Three-Year NET Average: 53.7

Three-Year Kenpom Average: 51.0

Projected 2021-22 T-Rank: 50

Al-Amir Dawes will lead Clemson's attack
 Photo from Wikipedia.com

Projected Starters: PG Nick Honor (5''10" Jr), SG Al-Amir Dawes (6'2" Jr), SF David Collins (6'4" Sr), PF Hunter Tyson (6'8" Sr), C PJ Hall (6'10" So)

The Tigers under Brad Brownell have become pretty reliable. They'll be within a game or two of .500 in the ACC, generally in the 45-75 range on the advanced metrics, and at the end of the year be good but not great. Brownell's teams play at a slow pace and are better on the defensive end than the offensive one, but they have a big piece to replace in Aamir Simms. They will hope for Hunter Tyson, PJ Hall, or transfer Naz Bohannon to step into that role, but those are massive shoes to fill, as the chart below from Three-Man-Weave indicates.

Chart courtesy of Three-Man-Weave.com

Clemson is likely going to take a dip this year. Losing Simms and having no proven players to fill that gap is going to be tough to overcome. That said, Brownell has managed top-75 finishes per kenpom each of the past seven seasons, so they will likely figure it out and be competitive by the season's end. On offense, Brownell does a good job letting good talent dictate the style, and with this group it will likely be heavy on threes. On defense, they grind every possession and seek to take away everything at the rim. Early in the season, expect them to get into a number of rock fight games and if they meet Marquette, it likely won't be pretty at all. It will likely come down to which team can get their offense rolling.

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Temple Owls

November 21, Charleston, SC

Head Coach: Aaron McKie (19-28)

Three-Year NET Average: 110.7

Three-Year Kenpom Average: 109.0

Projected 2021-22 T-Rank: 122

Khalif Battle & Damian Dunn lead a long Owl back court
Photo by Colleen Claggett | The Temple News

Projected Starters: PG Jeremiah Williams (6'5" So), SG Khalif Battle (6'5" Jr), SF Damian Dunn (6'5" So), PF Nick Jourdain (6'8" So), C Jake Forrester (6'9" Sr)

It's hard to hold Temple's dismal 2020-21 against them as they didn't get a game in until December 19 and had two long lay-offs during the COVID year. The 5-11 record certainly wasn't flattering for Aaron McKie, who's still trying to find his footing, but it's starting to become clear how they want to play. Expect a lot of four-out sets and a roster of 6'5" and taller athletes that can switch defensively. McKie was an NBA point guard, so the offensive plan of relying on sharing the ball, taking threes, and going downhill to get to the line makes sense.

I expect Temple to be improved over last year, but there are still some question marks. None of their seniors from last year elected to stick around, so another question will be where their depth comes from as they lost two starters and a key reserve that provided experience and a solid 80 minutes per game. With no true ballhandler, they can be turnover-prone. With both Battle and Dunn being high-usage, low-efficiency scoring options, they likely won't see significant offensive improvement unless those two can develop into more reliable shot makers. It will take time for McKie to build this team back up to what they were under Fran Dunphy and this year will likely be a bridge between the COVID train-wreck of last year and any future success once McKie is able to get his system working.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

St. Bonaventure/Boise State Capsules, 2021-22

St. Bonaventure Bonnies

November 21, Charleston, SC

Head Coach: Mark Schmidt (324-275 overall, 242-185 at St. Bonaventure)

Three-Year NET Average: 90.3

Three-Year Kenpom Average: 92.0

Projected 2021-22 T-Rank: 16

Kyle Lofton led the nation in minutes per game in 2020-21
Photo by Rich Barnes | USA Today

Projected Starters: PG Kyle Lofton (6'3" Sr), SG Jaren Holmes (6'4" Sr), SF Dominick Welch (6'5" Sr), PF Jalen Adaway (6'5" Sr), C Osun Osunniyi (6'10" Sr)


On paper, this is the best team Mark Schmidt has ever had. He brings back all five senior starters from a team that went 16-5, won the Atlantic-10, and earned a 9-seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Bonnies are ranked in the AP Poll for the first time in over 50 years. All five players averaged double-digit points last year. The leader is Lofton, who scored 14.4 ppg in an insane 38.4 mpg. He played 39 or 40 minutes in 16 of the Bonnies 21 games last year, so expect him to pretty much never come out. If they have a weakness, it's depth. Only two bench players tallied more than 100 minutes last season and both transferred. They'll hope for a boost from Pitt transfer Abdoul Karim Coulibaly, who averaged 5.2 ppg/3.9 rpg last year. Beyond that, Schmidt has no proven options.

With so little depth, it's no surprise the Bonnies slow it down on both ends. They don't turn the ball over on offense and the combination of Adaway and Osunniyi are excellent at creating second chances on the offensive glass. Defensively, they excel chasing teams off the line and forcing them to go inside, where they like to bring double-teams and Osunniyi is a human eraser. The Bonnies should be a tournament team again this year, but the danger is injuries. With so little depth, they can't afford to lose any of their starters. Teams playing the Bonnies would be advised to try to speed the pace and be aggressive seeking fouls to wear them out and get into the bench. When a starter fouled out, the Bonnies were 0-3. The Bonnies look solid, but they only played two non-conference games last year and most of their results came against an A-10 with just one other top-50 team (#48 VCU) and were drubbed in the NCAA Tournament by LSU when they played their first high-major opponent. They should still be good and in the mix in the A-10, but might not be the runaway favorite they are made out to be, particularly in a longer season that will test their depth more often.

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Boise State Broncos

November 21, Charleston, SC

Head Coach: Leon Rice (237-137)

Three-Year NET Average: 97.3

Three-Year Kenpom Average: 94.3

Projected 2021-22 T-Rank: 71


Projected Starters: PG Marcus Shaver, Jr (6'2" Sr), SG Devonaire Doutrive (6'5" Sr), SF Emmanuel Akot (6'8" Sr), PF Abu Kigab (6'7" Sr), C Mladen Armus (6'10" Sr)

Former five-star recruit Emmanuel Akot is hoping for a senior star turn
Photo courtesy of Boise State Athletics

At 14-4 and having just swept Utah State, the Broncos looked NCAA-bound. They proceeded to lose their last four games, including their Mountain West Tournament opener, and dropped to the NIT where they lost in the second round to eventual champs Memphis. They return three starters in Shaver, Kigab, and Armus, while both Akot and Doutrive were spot starters and played significant minutes last year. They did, however, lose their leading scorer in Derrick Alston and leading assister in RayJ Dennis. Max Rice, the coach's son, is the only experienced bench player. Like the Bonnies, depth will be a problem.

On offense, Rice's teams run motion in a style that emulates his mentor, Mark Few. They want to space opponents out then create open looks off of screens and dribble hand-offs. More often than not, the three-ball is a heavy part of the arsenal. On defense, they slow teams down, chase them off the line, and control the glass. Everyone on the floor from 1-5 is expected to rebound. From a results perspective, Rice's first few years were a dream for Bronco faithful, with two NCAA bids in his first five seasons. Unfortunately, both were First Four losses and since then it's been three NIT appearances in six years. The Broncos are typically good enough to challenge for a postseason berth but late-season swoons before Selection Sunday (0-4 to finish 2021, 4-4 to finish 2020, 2-7 to finish 2019, 3-4 to finish 2018, 3-4 to finish 2017, 5-6 to finish 2016) have doomed their NCAA aspirations since that last 2015 appearance. This team looks like it will be more of the same. Competitive, but somewhere around the bottom of the top-half of the Mountain West and more likely sniffing an NIT bid than one in the NCAAs.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Elon Preview, 2021-22

Elon Phoenix

November 19, Charleston, SC, 6:00 or 8:00 pm


Head Coach: Mike Schrage (23-30)

3-Year NET Average: 241.3

3-Year Kenpom Average: 263.7

Projected 2021-22 T-Rank: 205

Hunter McIntosh rises and fires

Photo courtesy of Elon Athletics

Projected Starters: PG Darius Burford (6'0" So), SG Hunter McIntosh (6'2" Jr), SF Jerald Gillens-Butler (6'4" Sr), PF Hunter Woods (6'5" Jr), C Chuck Hannah (6'7" Sr)

The Phoenix were streaky in 2020-21, starting the season on a 3-game winning streak before dropping 8 in a row, punctuated by another 7-game winning streak that took them all the way to the first Colonial Title game appearance in program history, where they fell to Drexel. While their 10-9 record and 205 kenpom rank from a year ago won't dazzle, it represents their first winning record since 2017 and a more than 100-spot improvement in Schrage's first two years at Elon (#309 in 2019).

Elon will hope to be the Hunters and not the prey this year, specifically leading returning scorer Hunter McIntosh (15.7 ppg) and leading returning rebounder Hunter Woods (6.8 rpg). Floor general Darius Burford was an All-Freshman team member in the CAA while Chuck Hannah and sophomore Michael Graham provide a solid center rotation. The guy to keep an eye on is Jerald Gillens-Butler. The Butler transfer averaged 15.7 ppg in that 3-0 start for the Phoenix last year before an injury ended his seasons. If healthy, he will take the pressure off McIntosh and could help fuel continued improvement for Schrage's team.

Offensively, the focus is protecting the ball and taking threes. Six different players averaged over 2.0 three point attempts/game last year. They are a team that won't beat themselves. On defense, they want to slow the pace and make teams work for the shot attempt. They challenge well, cut down passing lanes, and really excel at limiting second chances for the opposing offense. This is definitely a team you would rather play early in the season, as well. Schrage's teams are 9-22 from November to January but 14-7 in February and March.

If Marquette plays Elon, that likely means they lost their Charleston Classic opener to Ole Miss. While Schrage seems to have this team on the right track, they will be doing their damage in conference play, not against high majors in November. Players like the Hunters and Gillens-Butler will allow them to hang for a bit with the big boys, but there simply isn't enough talent or length to handle 40 minutes against a West Virginia or Marquette. Once conference play starts, however, they have a legitimate shot at being a top-half CAA team and if Schrage's conference tourney record (5-2) is any indicator, they will eventually break through to the NCAAs.

Marquette Connection: Mike Schrage has had quite a bit of success against Marquette. He most recently saw Marquette as part of Chris Holtmann's staff at Butler in 2016-17, when the Bulldogs swept Marquette. Before that, he was part of Johnny Dawkins' staff at Stanford that knocked off Marquette 82-81 in overtime in the 2008 NCAA Tournament. The only time Schrage was ever part of a loss to Marquette was in 2006, when he was the Director of Basketball Operations for Mike Krzyzewski and Marquette knocked off Duke in the CBE Classic Championship Game, 73-62.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

West Virginia Preview, 2021-22

West Virginia Mountaineers

November 19, Charleston, SC 6:00 or 8:00 pm


Head Coach: Bob Huggins (900-381 overall, 310-170 at West Virginia)

3-Year NET Average: 48.3

3-Year Kenpom Average: 42.7

Projected 2021-22 T-Rank: 35

Familiar foe Bob Huggins celebrated his 900th win in the 2021 NCAA Tournament
Photo by Mark Humphrey -- Huntington Herald-Dispatch

Projected Starters: PG Malik Curry (6'1" Sr), SG Sean McNeil (6'3" Sr), SF Taz Sherman (6'4" Sr), PF Jalen Bridges (6'7" So), C Gabe Osabuohien (6'7" Sr)

Last year's West Virginia felt like the antithesis of Bob Huggins basketball, but also exemplified why he's such a great coach. He had a team that couldn't stay with their own shadows on the defensive end, especially once big man Oscar Tshiebwe left midseason. Rather than trying to gut it out, he shifted to a perimeter oriented attack, giving his shooters the freedom to let it fly while continuing to relentlessly attack inside seeking fouls and second chance opportunities. The result was a massive flip from the year before as per kenpom the offensive rank improved from #67 to #12 but the defense plummeted from #3 to #70. Despite the change, Huggy Bear still earned a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The two most prolific scorers from a year ago, Miles McBride and Derek Culver, are gone, but they return plenty to be excited about. Both McNeil and Sherman averaged double-digit points last year while Bridges was a low-usage efficiency monster that shot over 40% from deep and excelled attacking the offensive glass. Osabuohien moves from a platoon role as a defensive stopper to the forefront. Curry transferred in from Old Dominion and will seek to fill McBride's NBA-sized shoes. The Mountaineers have depth in the front court with Isaiah Cottrell and DePaul transfer Pauly Paulicap (who really should change his name to Westy Westvirginiason) but their backcourt reserves are all freshmen.

Offensively, Huggins is planning to use a 4-out, 1-in system. Osabuohien will be the man in the middle and everyone else will be focusing on either getting open for a three or attacking the rim. While the NBA-bound McBride seems like the bigger loss, the real question will be if they can get offensive contributions from the middle without Culver. The big man put a ton of pressure on opposing defenses by demanding the ball, dominating the glass, and drawing fouls. Osabuohien is a different type of offensive player, better as a passer than as a shooter, where he had an abysmal 34% 2PFGs/33% 3PFGs/39% FTs shooting split. On the defensive end is where he shines. While undersized, he can man the paint on his own, allowing the wings to fly around and apply pressure. This team won't be back to full on Press Virginia, where they pick teams up 94 feet from the rim, but they will throw multiple pressing looks at opponents, seeking to create havoc for inbounders and primary ball-handlers alike.

This feels like the kind of team that will get better as the season goes on. How they incorporate their transfers and where they find guard depth are questions that will need to be answered but probably won't definitively be figured out before the end of November. While playing in the Big 12 will make for a tough road, West Virginia has shown time and time again they are part of the reason that road is so tough. They look like a NCAA team, though likely not as highly seeded as they were a year ago. If Marquette meets the Mountaineers, they will be underdogs, but this may be a matchup they are uniquely well-suited for. Marquette will be playing against pressure every day in practice and the quick inbounds with no dedicated primary ball-handler may give them an edge against a team specifically targeting those aspects of the opponent offense. If nothing else, it would be a renewal of acquaintances for both Marquette and Shaka Smart against Bob Huggins. Marquette is 16-22 against Huggins (but 5-2 against his WVU teams) while Smart is 7-6 against Huggins, all in his time at Texas.

Marquette Connection: Raise your hand if you remember the last time Marquette faced West Virginia! If images of Buzz Williams are (literally) dancing in your head, you are correct. It was 2012 and Marquette was facing West Virginia for the last time before they turned in their Big East coats for Big 12 apparel. In addition to facing perceived 2012 Big East Player of the Year front-runner Kevin Jones, Buzz benched starters Darius Johnson-Odom, Vander Blue, and Junior Cadougan in the first half and West Virginia Todd Mayo in the second half for violations of team rules. WVU took advantage, building a 37-22 lead early in the second half before Jae Crowder took over. The actual 2012 Big East Player of the Year keyed a 24-8 run as he tallied 26 points and 8 rebounds enroute to the 61-60 Marquette win. After the game ended, Buzz Williams danced to John Denver's Country Roads as Mountaineer fans became apoplectic and Buzz created a moment that rivaled Al McGuire jumping on the scorer's table after beating UW-Madison.