"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, October 31, 2022

Georgetown Preview, 2022-23

Georgetown Hoyas

Head Coach: Patrick Ewing (68-84)

Three-Year NET Average: 110.3

Three-Year kenpom Average: 101.7

Projected 2022-23 T-Rank: 177

Projected Starters: PG Primo Spears (6'3" Jr), SG Jay Heath (6'3" Sr), SF Brandon Murray (6'5" So), PF Akok Akok (6'9" Sr), C Qudus Wahab (6'11" Sr)

 

Qudus Wahab is back in the middle for Georgetown

Photo by Frank Franklin II | AP Photo

After a disappointing 2020-21 regular season, there was optimism in D.C. after a Big East Tourney title and NCAA bid. They had Dante Harris back after his BET MVP award, the highest-ranked recruit in the Big East in Aminu Mohammed, and viable three-point threats in Donald Carey and Kaiden Rice. That optimism carried Hoyas fans right up to the opening night, when they lost a buy game to Dartmouth. They did manage to beat rivals Syracuse, but finished non-con a mediocre 6-5. But like the Big East Tournament, conference play is a chance to rejuvenate the season, right? Wrong, in the Hoyas' case. They went 0-19 in the Big East, setting a conference record for regular season losses. They also lost their opener in the conference tournament, becoming the first team since 1994 Miami to go completely winless against conference opponents (even 2009 DePaul won a game at MSG).

In response, Patrick Ewing fired two of his assistant coaches and relegated Louis Orr to a developmental role, opening the way for three new assistants. That staff also brought in five new transfers to start the season. At a glance, Primo Spears fits in perfectly, in that he's a high-usage, low efficiency guard whose previous team lost seventeen straight games against conference foes to end the season. Jay Heath is a more reliable shooter who spent time at Arizona State and Boston College, but like Spears has never played for a program that finished the season with a record above .500. Brandon Murray is the prized recruit, and the reason Patrick Ewing brought in Kevin Nickelberry from LSU. Murray started for the Tigers, averaging 10.0 ppg for a tourney team last year. Akok Akok is a long, athletic forward that brings a defensive edge and ability to stretch the floor. Qudus Wahab is a boomerang transfer, having left Georgetown for Maryland a year ago only to return after Kevin Willard took over. Wahab was effective as a rim protector and rebounder for Ewing but didn't have as big a role as he might have liked with the Terrapins. Harris is also back, though expected to come off the bench after being a disappointment last year. They also have a mix of experienced transfers in Bryson Mozone and Wayne Bristol as well as freshmen in Denver Anglin and D'Ante Bass that are expected to contribute.

The hope for the Hoyas will be getting back to what Ewing wants to do. They like to run four-out around a big, with Wahab having succeeded in that role before and the other four all capable of knocking down outside shots. Last year they had Aminu Mohammed to slash to the rim, but none of their current guards are nearly as good at attacking through contact. Wahab will stay down low, expected to clean the glass. Offensive rebounding is the one thing Ewing's teams have consistently done well and Wahab, Akok, and reserve center Ryan Mutombo should all keep that up. On defense, it's all funneling teams to the middle and having the shot-blocker shut down the opposing attackers. As a consequence, they don't deny passing lanes, create turnovers, or pay much attention to the three-point arc, which has led to four of five seasons outside the top-100, punctuated by a Ewing-worst #228 last year. Generally, Ewing's teams don't seem to care much about defending. If they are going to turn things around, that has to change, but it's hard to envision an entirely new starting lineup finding much cohesion, especially early on.

Let's be frank, if literally anyone on earth not named Patrick Ewing had one winning season in five years and had a winless Big East season at Georgetown, they would be cashing their buyout check. The only reason Ewing is still here is because his name means so much to the University. While there is some excitement around their transfer haul, it's important to put it in context. Wahab had success individually with Ewing, but that team was 9-12, 7-9 in the Big East before their miracle BET run and subsequent implosion in the NCAA Tournament. Akok Akok was a fine role-player for UConn, but injuries limited him to double-digit minutes in just 6 of 36 contests for the Huskies over the past two years, with 26 DNPs in 56 games. Murray had a nice freshman campaign, but he wasn't nearly the player Mohammed was last year, which is why he transferred to Georgetown instead of going to the NBA. And both Spears and Heath come from programs that haven't won. On top of it all, four of the top-five scorers from last year are gone and the one that returned is headed to the bench. It's hard to sell that this team will lose the bulk of their best players and get better on the premise that these players just aren't quite as bad as the old ones were, especially when the guy running things hasn't changed. It's hard to fire a legend, but if Ewing couldn't make a tournament with James Akinjo, Mac McClung, Jessie Govan, Josh LeBlanc, and Jamorko Pickett, why would anyone trust him to do it with this cobbled together roster of role-players and losers, at least in terms of record? If they make it to tenth in the Big East, it should be considered a massive accomplishment, but still shouldn't be enough to save the job of the worst coach in the league.

Marquette Memory: While Patrick Ewing has been poor at Georgetown, one thing he's been good at is finding ways to derail Marquette fan hopes. It started in 2019. After opening Big East play 12-2 and needing just one win to secure a Big East title, Marquette gave up a 5-point lead at Villanova with 5 minutes to play, a 4-point lead against Creighton with 5 minutes to play, and a 9-point lead at Seton Hall with 5 minutes to play. Despite all that, Nova lost at Seton Hall on the final day of the season, putting Marquette in position to share the Big East title with a home win against Georgetown. The teams traded blows in the first half, but after an 11-0 run put Marquette up 8, it looked like the title was coming to Milwaukee. But the Hoyas chipped away, taking back the lead with seven minutes to play and holding on for an 86-84 victory.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

DePaul Preview, 2022-23

DePaul Blue Demons

Head Coach: Tony Stubblefield (15-16 at Butler, 17-28 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 118.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 112.7

Projected 2022-23 T-Rank: 89

Projected Starters: PG Jalen Terry (6'0" Jr), SG Umoja Gibson (6'2" RS Sr), SF Javan Johnson (6'6" RS Sr), PF Eral Penn (6'7" RS Sr), C Nick Ongenda (6'11" Sr)

Tony Stubblefield is leading the Blue Blue Blue Demons

Photo from USA Today Sports

The first year of Tony Stubblefield looked a lot like the second tenure of Dave Leitao. They had a strong non-conference performance, going 9-1, then fell flat in conference play, beginning 1-9 en route to a bottom-two finish, marking the seventh straight year they landed at or near the bottom of the league. From that team, they lost their top-three scorers, including wing David Jones who transferred to St. John's. One year after starting his rebuild, Stubblefield looks to be rebuilding again.

The good news is that Jalen Terry and Nick Ongenda are back, giving some consistency at the point and center positions. Terry, however, has been turnover-prone and only a marginally effective shooter. Ongenda, on the other hand, seems to be developing in reverse. He posted a career high in minutes last year but career lows in eFG%, defensive rebounding rate, and block rate. The more he plays and the higher his usage gets, the less effective he seems. A pair of transfers join them in the starting lineup. Umoja Gibson blossomed as a scorer for Oklahoma last year, putting up a highly efficient 13.3 ppg. He's a bucket and will be expected to take much of the Javon Freeman-Liberty role. Eral Penn was a late transfer from LIU who was first team all-Northeast Conference last year and has been a high-level scorer and rebounder, but at a lower level. The other expected starter is Javan Johnson, who really seemed to be blossoming in late January before a hand injury ended his season. The wildcard might be Caleb Murphy, who is being touted as a future pro, but in two years at South Florida he was a high-usage, low efficiency volume shooter who primarily served as a drag on the Bulls' offense. Big man Yor Anei, wing Philmon Gebrewhit, and talented freshman guard Zion Cruz provide additional options for Stubblefield.

While DePaul started conference play terribly, they finished it much better. The Blue Demons went 5-6 beginning in February. Limiting turnovers went a long way in that improvement. Stubblefield is looking to reinforce the back court improvement by bringing in Gibson and Murphy. His hope also has to be improving their shot-making, particularly when 4 of their top 5 in terms of three point makes last year are gone. Gibson should help, but neither Murphy nor Penn cracked 30% last year so it's hard to see where that shooting will come from. On defense, their big man tandem provides solid rim protection and helps limit inside scoring, but as a team they give up too many threes, allow too many offensive boards, and don't turn teams over. Stubblefield is trying to put length at every position, but this was not a good defensive team.

What likely makes this even more frustrating for DePaul fans is looking at the age of the roster. After the first year of the rebuild, they lost their top-three scorers. This year, their rotation will feature four graduate seniors that aren't eligible to return and two more seniors that could also depart. It's hard to see how Stubblefield can build a foundation for the future when he only has two freshmen and no sophomores on the roster. If everything goes right this year, maybe Gibson, Murphy, and Penn can replicate what Freeman-Liberty, Jones, and Brandon Johnson provided last year. Maybe JUCO Da'Sean Nelson can be a different but equally effective bench presence to what Courvoisier MacCauley gave them. But even with those players, DePaul was one of the worst teams in the league, so if the new pieces come in and equal them, this is still a bad team. It must be hard to find optimism in Chicago when the best case scenario looks like bottom-3 in the league and there's a good chance 6 starters or rotation players will be gone at the end of the year.

Marquette Memory: When Tom Crean took over at Marquette, the hope was that he would return Marquette to the relevance they had a few years earlier before Kevin O'Neill left. They started the 1999-2000 season 8-4 and were staring down a three-game gauntlet of ranked opponents. After dropping a game to #3 Cincinnati, Crean took his team to Chicago in hopes of notching the program's first win over a ranked opponent in more than three years. Early on, it looked like smooth sailing for Marquette as they took a 36-26 lead into the break, but Quentin Richardson and DePaul seemed to take inspiration from the Blue Demon mascot parading around the Rosemont Horizon with the head of the Marquette mascot on a stick. DePaul rallied to tie the game at 44 and kept it close down the stretch. With the result in doubt, Cordell Henry and Olouma Nnamaka took over. First, Henry nailed a three to stretch the lead, then Nnamaka made a pair of baskets to put it away. Marquette beat DePaul 69-60 and followed that up with an overtime win over Louisville to take two of three from the most difficult stretch of the season.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Creighton Preview, 2022-23

Creighton Bluejays

Head Coach: Greg McDermott (276-137 at Creighton, 556-332 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 29.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 28.0

Projected 2022-23 T-Rank: 23

Projected Starters: PG Ryan Nembhard (6'0" So), SG Trey Alexander (6'4" So), SF Baylor Scheierman (6'7" Sr), PF Arthur Kaluma (6'7" So), C Ryan Kalkbrenner (7'1" Jr)

 

Arthur Kaluma and Creighton went 3-0 against Marquette in 2021-22

Photo by Tim Nwuchukwu | Getty Images

The lasting image of Creighton from 2021-22 is a team that took eventual national champions Kansas to the limit, as the short-handed Bluejays cut a 9-point deficit down to just one with a minute to play before succumbing to the superior Jayhawks. That came on the heels of a spirited 3-2 stretch that began with them ranked #70 in kenpom entering the Big East Tournament before earning wins over Marquette, Providence, and San Diego State. Their non-conference was marred not just by a loss to a bad Arizona State team but needing second-half comebacks to beat Kennesaw State, Southern Illinois, and SIU-Edwardsville. In league play, they opened with a dominating performance over Villanova, but as good as they looked in that game, they looked equally bad in most of their losses, dropping four Big East games by 17+ points. Because of that inconsistency, Creighton finished the season 50th in kenpom, and proceeded to lose their best player in Ryan Hawkins and their only other shooter over 32% from deep in Alex O'Connell.

Where Creighton gets their optimism is in their returners. Ryan Nembhard showed flashes of brilliance before a season-ending injury, though he desperately needs to improve his shooting (31.1% 3PFG%) and turnover rate if he is going to develop into an elite Big East guard. Trey Alexander is regarded as the best NBA prospect on the roster, despite similar turnover propensity and worse shooting from deep. Arthur Kaluma has the kind of usage and all-around impact numbers that foreshadowed Justin Lewis' breakout for Marquette, though he would require a similar efficiency improvement to match Lewis' impact. Ryan Kalkbrenner is the most proven returning player, as he's a high-efficiency big that dominates the offensive glass and is won Big East Defensive Player of the Year not only due to his rim protector but in how he shuts down opposing drive-and-kick efforts. Joining them is South Dakota State star Baylor Scheierman, who on paper looks like the high-efficiency sniper Creighton needs to replace Hawkins. Off the bench, Shereef Mitchell is a defensive specialist who missed most of last season with an injury while Francisco Farabello gives another long-range threat off the bench after transferring in from TCU.

Offensively, last year Creighton was a mess. It was the first time in 12 years McDermott's offense was outside the top-66, and at 112 was WAY outside. That was in large part because they were terrible shooting from deep and turned it over way too often, ranking sub-300 in both categories. Typically, McDermott's teams move the ball quickly and effectively, putting multiple shooters on the floor and spraying in threes from a four-out attack. Last year, it was unexpectedly the defense that was Creighton's strength. It was the first time McDermott had a top-30 defense at Creighton. Kalkbrenner was a big part of that because he was effective not just at closing the lane with his length and swatting shots, but doing both without fouling. However, when it comes to the best defensive lineups, it was Ryan Hawkins and not Kalkbrenner that showed up on the floor. Just look at the on/off numbers for Hawkins:

Ryan Hawkins On/Off splits from Hoop-Explorer.com

Granted, Creighton played far more possessions with Hawkins than without him, which probably includes some garbage time, but when he went off the floor their offense and defense both went in the toilet. No other player on their team had such a drastic impact on both ends. One of the biggest worries this year has to be Scheierman, who is expected to take many of Hawkins' minutes. With the Jackrabbits, he played for teams ranked #241, #222, and #217 in defense, and did so in a league that never had a team in the top-100 of adjusted defensive efficiency.

If everything goes right for Creighton, predictions of a Big East title and top-10 ranking make sense. But there are a lot of ifs. Alexander (97.1 Adjusted Offensive Rating), Nembhard (91.5), and Kaluma (90.5) were all low-efficiency players that each need to make Justin Lewis type jumps to be what prognosticators are predicting. For context, out of 70 players that kenpom rated in terms of offensive efficiency, Creighton's freshman trio ranked #58, #69, and #70. They are literally counting on 3 of the 13 worst qualifying players in the league to have breakout seasons. And while Scheierman has some gaudy offensive numbers, he was miserable last year against high-level competition, which is all he will see this year, and has never had to play defense at this level. Kalkbrenner is a potent force on both ends of the court, but he can't do it alone. If three freshmen have breakout sophomore seasons, if Scheierman can produce on both ends like Hawkins, if their transfers and freshmen can be proven contributors, if the overall defense can return to McDermott's average levels without a noticeable talent upgrade, and if Kalkbrenner can anchor another top-20 defense, they can be what people are predicting them to be. Those are a lot of ifs.

As Jim Root from Three Man Weave noted, in the past 15 years, there have been 28 teams that finished outside the kenpom top-25 and were predicted to be top-10 teams the following year in the AP Poll, and just 28.6% of them delivered on that hope. And of those eight teams, only ONE went from outside the top-40 (like Creighton) to the top-10, and that was last year's Kentucky which added the National Player of the Year and a one-and-done first round NBA Draft pick. Creighton did not do that. This should be a tournament team but has the look more of a Big East top-half team and single-digit seed than a clear favorite. While the Kansas game left Jays fans on a promising note, last season's results as a whole, the need for so many players to have simultaneous breakout seasons, and the expectation of defensive consistency from a coach that has never shown an aptitude for that would strongly indicate they won't get close to those top-10 projections. There's a reason none of the computer metrics have Creighton in the preseason top-20. It's because jumping from #50 into the top-10 simply isn't something that happens very often, especially not without a significant talent upgrade, and in trading Hawkins and O'Connell for Scheierman and Farabello, Creighton may have gone in the opposite direction.

Marquette Memory: Marquette fans will remember it as one of the greatest buzzer-beaters they've ever seen. Creighton fans still think it should have been waved off. And despite the controversy of the shot, many fans will remember it as the night Markus Howard scored a Big East record 53 points in a game. On January 9, 2019, the #21 ranked Golden Eagles traveled to Omaha. They came in as slight underdogs and Creighton soon showed why, establishing a double-digit lead midway through the first half. In fact, after the first basket was scored, Marquette never led and was never tied during regulation. And when Martin Krampelj's free throws made it 85-80 with 8 seconds to play, the game looked over. Sam Hauser tried a three to close the gap but missed. Joe Chartouny grabbed the rebound but missed a bunny under the hoop. He managed to get his own rebound and put it back in with 0.8 seconds on the clock. All Creighton had to do was inbound the ball and the game would be over. Instead, Connor Cashaw threw a Hail Mary style pass that was too long for Krampelj and the ball bounced out of bounds, giving Marquette an inbound under the basket with 0.8 to play. Howard lofted an inbound pass to Sam Hauser, who caught, rose, fired, and hit a miracle three at the buzzer to send the game to overtime. Even slowing the video and watching frame by frame, there's never a clear image of the shot being off. It's in Hauser's hand at 0.1, then out at 0.0, but there's no frame in between that shows the exact instant of release. In overtime, Howard took over. He scored 14 of his record-breaking 53 points in overtime, including the first 11 of the extra frame for Marquette. In a reversal of regulation, once the first overtime basket was scored, Creighton never led and was never tied during overtime. Marquette went on to escape with a 106-104 victory.



Friday, October 28, 2022

Connecticut Preview, 2022-23

Connecticut Huskies

Head Coach: Dan Hurley (73-47 at Connecticut, 224-152 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 37.0

Three-Year kenpom Average: 31.7

Projected 2022-23 T-Rank: 61

Projected Starters: PG Tristen Newton (6'5" Sr), SG Nahiem Alleyne (6'4" Sr), SF Jordan Hawkins (6'5" So), PF Andre Jackson (6'6" Jr), C Adama Sanogo (6'9" Jr)

Adama Sanogo is the Big East Preseason Player of the Year

Photo by Ian Bethune | The UConn Blog

Dan Hurley finally seems to be settling UConn back into the top-25 range. Fans will be heartened by consecutive single-digit seeds, with last year's team earning a 5-seed even after losing star guard James Bouknight. That was largely driven by the trio of R.J. Cole, who was an effective scorer and distributor, Tyrese Martin, a sharp-shooting wing with an excellent all-around game, and Adama Sanogo, the space-eater in the middle who posted 9 double-doubles last season. Unfortunately for Husky fans, Cole and Martin are gone, along with defensive stopper Isaiah Whaley and sixth man Tyler Polley.

Everything will start with Sanogo, who was named Big East Preseason Player of the Year. He's the kind of player who can vacuum up rebounds, block shots, and impose his will physically on opponents. The biggest question will be who can get him the ball. Tristen Newton will likely get the first shot at replacing Cole. He's a big guard who averaged 17.7 ppg/5.0 apg last season, but did so for East Carolina, a team that finished in the bottom-3 of the American every year he was there. He's joined by Nahiem Alleyne, who was effective as a secondary or tertiary option for Virginia Tech but has consistently shown he can knock down open shots. Jordan Hawkins and Andre Jackson were big time recruits that fans are hoping will break out this year. Both have viable NBA aspirations and are explosive athletes but thus far haven't translated that into on-court consistency. They need to step up for UConn to maintain that top-25 status. The roster boasts some depth as well, with Texas A&M transfer Hassan Diarra having microwave scoring ability, redshirt freshman Alex Karaban providing shooting depth, and 7'2" freshman Donovan Clingan providing depth behind Sanogo.

In Hartford, Hurley's teams have primarily gotten offense out of imposing their physical will on opponents. His teams have turned in back-to-back top-30 offenses with only one of the four factors ranking in the top-100, and it was offensive rebounding both times. They were #4 in 2020-21 and #2 last year. They haven't even been good at finishing inside, ranking outside the top-230 in 2PFG% both years, but having bigs like Sanogo, Whaley, and Martin attacking the offensive glass kept giving them opportunities. To continue thriving like that, they need Jackson and Hawkins to be more aggressive on the offensive glass. Defensively, UConn is the team more concerned with winning the fight than the game. They will hammer opponents inside, limiting 2PFG% while blocking shots at a high rate. They also aren't afraid to foul, as Hurley's teams have ranked outside the top-220 in defensive free throw rate every year of his career going back to Wagner. Adding Clingan will insure they always have an effective rim protector, but the other downside is they let teams take a lot of threes. That has bit them in each of the past two NCAA Tournaments as they lost first round games as favorites to New Mexico State (11/17 from deep) and Maryland (9/18 beyond the arc). The key to beating UConn is not getting drawn inside, but being patient enough to move the ball around for the perimeter shot and connecting on those.

The biggest question for Connecticut will be how the pieces fit together. Sanogo's return is huge, but they lost four of their top-five scorers. Hawkins and Jackson have the talent to star, but have to deliver on that promise and look like NBA talents consistently, not just in isolated athletic spurts. Newton and Alleyne look like nice pieces, but they have to translate what they did elsewhere. And none of the major reserves are players that have done it in this system. They should finish in the top-half of the Big East and earn a tourney bid, but whether Sanogo is a legit BEPOY contender, whether the returners deliver on their promise, and how well the newcomers fit in will determine the difference between a possible protected seed and a team closer to a double-digit seed.

Marquette Memory: When UConn left the Big East in 2013, they only faced Marquette once that season. It was a snowy night in Milwaukee and for most of the game MU fans were pretty comfortable. But after building a double-digit second half lead, it began to slip away. UConn went on a 16-5 run to take the lead, largely because of Marquette's abysmal shooting as they began the night 0/14 from long range. When Ryan Boatright hit a long fade-away jumper with 6 seconds to play to push the lead to 69-66, it looked to be over. Instead, Junior Cadougan pulled up on a deep three to force overtime at the buzzer. Marquette went on to win 82-76 in overtime and send the Huskies out of the Big East with a loss and 3-6 record against Marquette.



Thursday, October 27, 2022

Butler Preview, 2022-23

Butler Bulldogs

Head Coach: Thad Matta (24-8 at Butler, 439-154 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 86.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 88.7

Projected 2022-23 T-Rank: 110

Projected Starters: PG Eric Hunter (6'4" RS Sr), SG Chuck Harris (6'2" Jr), SF Simas Lukosius (6'6" So), PF Ali Ali (6'8" Sr), C Manny Bates (6'11" RS Jr)

Chuck Harris leads Butler into the second Thad Matta era

Photo from Butler Athletics

In 2020, the Big East lost out big not only because they had three teams favored to make the second weekend, with Villanova, Seton Hall, and Creighton all projected as top-3 seeds, but also because Butler was headed to the NCAA Tournament as a likely 5-seed with similar second weekend aspirations. That tournament never happened, Kamar Baldwin, Sean McDermott, and Jordan Tucker all left, and LaVall Jordan was never able to reconstitute a tourney-caliber roster. They collapsed hard in 2022, going 5-13 after mid-January, though 6 of those losses were decided by two possessions or less. Jordan kept them competitive, but not competitive enough to keep his job. As a result, Jordan was fired and Butler brought back Thad Matta, the two-time Butler assistant who also started his head coaching career there with a stellar 24-8 campaign in 2000-01 that culminated in an NCAA Tournament bid and opening win over Wake Forest.

Butler fans will certainly welcome back Chuck Harris, who's expected to be the star of this team. The mercurial junior has shown the ability to take over games, but can just as easily vanish. His performances against Marquette are a great example of this, tallying 15 points and 5 assists in a win only to follow it up two weeks later with a zero point 0/6 performance where he had more turnovers than assists. He's joined by Simas Lukosius, a potent wing whose free throw success (90%) indicates he is a better shooter than his numbers from distance (26.5%) showed. They are joined by a trio of transfers expected to start. Eric Hunter joins from Purdue where he spent four years as a competent role-player. He's a strong defender who will help on the perimeter and is able to knock down open shots. Ali Ali is a 6'8" scoring forward with shooting ability and length but needs to be tougher on the glass if he wants to compete in the Big East. He also has shot-making ability. The prize of their transfer haul is Manny Bates, a shot-blocking machine who is a force on the offensive glass. In terms of being a defensive eraser, Bates had more blocks in 2019-20 season (83) than Butler has had as a team in any of the last five years. Jayden Taylor and Myles Tate are returners that give them depth in the back court while they'll hope transfer Jalen Thomas will lessen the dropoff when Bates needs a rest.

Historically, Matta's teams are great at ball control, both in terms of turnovers and pace. Their efficiency comes inside where he's had bigs like Greg Oden, Jared Sullinger, and Amir Williams. Slow it down, don't turn it over, hammer the ball inside where they have a size and strength advantage. On defense, his teams are excellent at challenging everything without fouling. If healthy, Bates is the perfect rim protector for his system. Draw teams in to the bigs, then swat everything in sight.

The biggest question may be Matta himself. He hasn't coached since he was fired from Ohio State in 2017 after missing consecutive tournaments for the first time in his career. Health was reportedly the reason he didn't return sooner, so it will remain to be seen how well he adjusts to getting back on the sideline is what has to be considered a high-stress job. And while his starting five looks competitive, depth is a question as they are try to fit a number of pieces together in a hurry. That said, if Harris looks more like his freshman self than last year's inconsistent scorer and if Hunter and Bates can provide steadying veteran experience, there's real upside here. Butler had some clear holes in terms of shot making and defensive length, and Matta addressed that in the transfer window. If everything comes together and they hit their peak, this could be a tourney team come March. Expect them to land in the middle of the Big East, somewhere in the 6-8 range where they spend the season bouncing around the bubble.

Marquette Memory: Few venues have been more a house of horrors for Marquette than Hinkle Fieldhouse was once Butler joined the Big East. Starting with the 2014 overtime loss, Marquette was defeated in five straight trips to Indianapolis, including second half come-from-behind Butler victories in both 2017 and 2018. Marquette came into Indy ranked #10 in the nation in 2019. Rather than Marquette's prolific offense, it was the defense that was on display. Butler was held to 25 points in the first half and managed just 0.85 points per possession for the game. At the other end, All-American Markus Howard poured in 32 points to pace Marquette. It wasn't entirely without drama, as an 11-0 Butler run in the second half got the margin down to 6 with ten minutes to play, but Marquette answered with a 12-0 run of their own and finally broke the Hinkle curse with a 76-58 win.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Notre Dame Preview, 2022-23

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

December 11, 2022, South Bend, IN

Head Coach: Mike Brey (472-259 at Notre Dame, 571-310 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 64.3

Three-Year kenpom Average: 60.0

Projected 2022-23 T-Rank: 32

Projected Starters: PG Marcus Hammond (6'3" RS Sr), SG J.J. Starling (6'4" Fr), SF Cormac Ryan (6'5" RS Sr), PF Dane Goodwin (6'6" RS Sr), C Nate Laszewski (6'10" RS Sr)

Nate Laszewski allows Notre Dame to play five-out

Photo by Matt Cashore | USA Today Sports

After a fantastic run of 9 NCAA bids in 11 years, fans in South Bend were starting to wonder if Mike Brey had lost a step. The Irish hadn't had a tourney caliber team in four years and the "Fire Brey" chants started even before the 3-4 start to 2021-22. Then the Irish pulled one of the shockers of the season, knocking off Kentucky, and followed that up with a 15-5 ACC record, good enough for second place albeit in a depleted league, and made it back to the NCAA Tournament, where they beat Rutgers and Alabama and were two minutes from the Sweet 16 before a Texas Tech late comeback ended their season.

Brey's resurgence was largely down to freshman star Blake Wesley, who departed for the NBA. However while the back court of Wesley and Prentiss Hubb is gone, the entire front court of Cormac Ryan, Dane Goodwin, and Nate Laszewski are back. All three are high efficiency scoring options that connected on over 40% of their three point attempts. They are joined by another stud freshman, five-star J.J. Starling, who is more multi-dimensional than Wesley was as not just a scorer but a distributor as well. The biggest question mark is at the point, where Marcus Hammond will get the first crack. While he averaged 18.1 ppg last year, it was for Niagara so he'll have to adjust to high-major competition. If he doesn't work out, Starling may have to shift over because Brey's roster is heavy on wings and bigs but thin in the back court. Freshman forward Ven-Allen Lubin is pushing for a starting spot and would provide rebounding and defense. Sharpshooter Trey Wertz should also be in the rotation and could pick up slack if Hammond isn't ready.

Offensively, Brey's teams might be best described as meticulous. They have been top-100 in Assist Rate in 19 of his 22 seasons in South Bend. Add in that he hasn't had a team rank outside the top-60 in turnover rate since 1998 and the formula is pretty simple. His teams work the pass, grinding down the shot clock and finding the open shooter, and do so without making mistakes. Considering this team is made up of long players that can absolutely throw flames from deep with immense patience, they are a matchup nightmare. Consider this: Notre Dame ranked 16th nationally in three-point percentage last year largely because of the six players that took 60+ long-range attempts. The four returners shot a combined 43.4% from deep and the two that departed shot 30.8%. With that in mind, they should be even better from deep. That said, they aren't without weaknesses. When they do miss, they are terrible offensive rebounding team (#335 nationally was even worse than Marquette's #325) and they don't get to the line often. Then there is the defense. Brey has never had a top-40 defense and his teams average defensive rank was 113.6 over the past decade. A pair of defensive-minded assistants joined the staff last year and started mixing in some 2/3 zone as a changeup, but this is still a team that wins on the offensive end.

Looking at 2022-23, Notre Dame simply has too much firepower to not be in contention for an NCAA bid. They can't afford many injuries but if they stay healthy, they should be a top-half ACC team and in the mix to play in the tourney once again. How far they go will likely come down to Starling. They have a consistent, experienced rotation around him but last year it was the consistent scoring option of Wesley that put them over the top. While they are efficient, none of their returning players are the high usage types that you expect to carry a tourney caliber team. Starling needs to be that guy for Notre Dame to reach their potential. As far as Marquette goes, this will be one of the toughest games of non-con play. It's a true road game against an experienced team with NCAA aspirations. If Marquette can get this one, it would go a long way toward building an NCAA-worthy resume.

Marquette Connection: When Proviso East star Glenn Rivers chose Marquette over Notre Dame, he became the first McDonald's All-American in school history. However it wasn't that choice that cemented his legacy in Marquette vs Notre Dame lore. Digger Phelps brought his #5-ranked Irish to the Mecca on January 10, 1981. Despite being heavy underdogs, Dean Marquardt couldn't miss for Marquette, going 6/6 from the floor. That performance kept Marquette in the game and Michael Wilson forced a late tie-up and jump ball with the score tied at 52. Notre Dame won that tip, but lost the ball out of bounds. With just one second on the clock, Wilson fired an inbound pass to a streaking Rivers, who took one step and fired up a desperation 30-foot heave that banked in and secured the 54-52 victory.



Tuesday, October 25, 2022

NC Central Preview, 2022-23

NC-Central Eagles

December 6, 2022, Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: LeVelle Moton (228-172)

Three-Year NET Average: 258.0

Three-Year kenpom Average: 295.7

Projected 2022-23 T-Rank: 290

Projected Starters: PG Eric Boone (6'2" RS Sr), SG Justin Wright (6'1" Jr), SF Marque Maultsby (6'3" Sr), PF Kris Monroe (6'8" RS Sr), C Brendan Medley-Bacon (7'1" Sr)

Justin Wright hopes to lift NC Central back to the top of the MEAC

Photo from NC Central Athletics

After a string of three straight tourney bids was broken by COVID, the Eagles limped through an illness-plagued 2020-21 season. Thankfully for LeVelle Moton, the team rebounded to a 16-15 finish last year and a third-place finish in the MEAC. While they were a pedestrian shooting team that turned it over too much, they made up for that by hammering the glass and living at the free throw line, while also applying the high-pressure, turnover-generating defense Moton is known for. With three of the top-four scorers back, they look to build on last season's rebound.

Leading the way will be Eric Boone (9.7 ppg/3.7 apg) and Justin Wright (13.7 ppg/4.3 rpg) in the back court. Boone creates shots almost as easily as he forces turnovers while Wright is an efficient, multi-level scorer, and both are highly adept at getting to the free throw line. They are joined by Devin Butts, a sharpshooting former Mississippi State recruit who arrives from the JUCO ranks. Up front, Kris Monroe was a double-digit scorer a year ago who exploded after transferring down from Providence. Brandon Medley-Bacon is the first seven-footer Moton has had in 14 years at NC Central (per kenpom). He's been most effective living in the paint, protecting the rim, eating up boards, and finishing inside the paint. Their bench has a number of options, with Devin Gordon (11.2 ppg at MVSU), Marque Maltsby (spot starter last year), and Ja'Darius Harris (10.6 ppg as a JUCO) leading the way off a deep bench.

The Eagles start their approach with defense. They apply heavy ball pressure on the perimeter, which allows their ballhawking guards like Boone to generate turnovers and transition opportunities. They are aggressive in closing out on shots, but at their best when they have true rim protectors, which makes Medley-Bacon key to their approach. Moton's defenses have ranked in the top-100 at kenpom twice, and those were also the only two times they ranked in the top-100 in block rate. Look for heavy minutes from BMB. On offense, they need to improve their shooting, and the additions should help with that. When not in transition, his teams slow the pace and live on the interior, getting heavy percentages of points from inside the arc and at the line. Look for this team to funnel more through Wright and Monroe, with shooters like Butts and Gordon providing spacing for the team to work. When all else fails, Monroe and BMB should be capable of getting putbacks and, along with the aggressive guard tandem, drawing fouls and continuing to live at the line.

After a disastrous 2020-21, last year was a return to respectability for NC Central. This year they hope to be where LeVelle Moton typically has them, in contention for a conference title and NCAA bid. The Eagles aren't a real threat to pull a November upset, as Moton has never defeated a top-100 team according to kenpom, but once MEAC play rolls around they will be one of the toughest outs in their league. If you ignore 2020-21, NC Central has consistently been one of better opponents from a MEAC/SWAC level league out there. This should be a comfortable win for Marquette while hopefully being less of a drag on the schedule than some of the other guarantee game opponents.

What We've Learned: Marque Maultsby has taken the starting role we expected Devin Butts to occupy, but both are rotational 2/3 players currently. According to T-Rank, NC Central has played like the #210 team so far based on current season data alone, a number that places them at the top of the MEAC so far. They have wins over decent Gardner-Webb and UNC-Asheville teams. NC-Central has yet to win away from home, going 0-4. The duo of Wright (15.3 ppg/2.8 apg) and Boone (10.9 ppg/5.6 apg) has been efficient and effective. The Eagles are a dangerous buy opponent because they have been great shooting from deep (40.6% is 13th nationally) and so far they are 5-1 against the spread, including winning twice outright as an underdog. Marquette will be heavy favorites, but don't be surprised if this looks more like the Radford game (a team NC Central came within 2 points of on the road) than LIU.

Marquette Connection: While LeVelle Moton is a dismal 0-39 against teams that finished in the kenpom top-100, that doesn't mean he hasn't come close. On December 29, 2012, his team was deadlocked at 60 with six minutes to play against a Marquette team that not only finished in the top-100, but went to the Elite Eight that season. NC Central stayed in the game largely because Junior Cadougan and Jamil Wilson combined for more turnovers (11) than field goal attempts (8). Vander Blue led the way with 16 points and Todd Mayo came up big late as Marquette escaped with a 75-66 victory. And after struggling with the Eagles, Marquette won their next three against UConn, Georgetown, and Pittsburgh to start their Big East Championship campaign.

Monday, October 24, 2022

UW-Madison Preview, 2022-23

UW-Madison Badgers

December 3, 2022, Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: Greg Gard (144-78)

Three-Year NET Average: 23.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 24.3

2022-23 Projected T-Rank: 64

Projected Starters: PG Chucky Hepburn (6'2" So), SG Max Klesmit (6'4" Jr), SF Jordan Davis (6'4" Jr), PF Tyler Wahl (6'9" Sr), C Steven Crowl (7'0" Jr)

Madison fans hope Chucky Hepburn can be their next breakout star

Photo by Mark Hoffman | JS Online

For a team picked 10th in the Big 10, winning a share of the Big 10 title behind breakout star Johnny Davis was a massive overachievement in Madison. While they never impressed the computers like Badger teams of the past have, they found ways to win close games and earned a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament before being upset in the second round by Iowa State. For much of the year, it seemed like Davis was a get out of jail free card for those close games, using his shot making and excellent rebounding abilities to tear victory from the jaws of defeat time and time again. However Davis and back court mate Brad Davison are gone, leaving UW to figure things out without their top-two scorers from a year ago.

How they address that starts with Chucky Hepburn. While he had freshman inconsistency early on, he started to put it together in the second half of the season. In UW-Madison's last 17 games per T-Rank, he improved his efficiency (95.1 to 103.8), three-point shooting (28.3% to 42.1%), assist rate (11.7 to 16.6), and turnover rate (17.9 to 12.3). If Hepburn can build on those numbers, he could be one of the best guards in a league better known for bigs. He's joined by Wofford transfer Max Klesmit. The Neenah native was an effective scorer (14.9 ppg), though his efficiency took a hit against higher level competition so it may be a difficult initial transition to the Badger schedule. Jordan Davis will likely get the first crack at replacing his brother, but he was minimally used in his first two years in Madison and will see competition for minutes from Green Bay transfer Kamari McGee and freshman Connor Essegian. Up front, Tyler Wahl could be the other Badger poised for a breakout. He has steadily improved his efficiency along with his minutes and usage in his time in Madison. Steven Crowl will man the middle and looks like another prototypical Madison big. He needs to improve his rebounding, but has already shown some ability to stretch the floor and create matchup problems.

In terms of style, expect a return to UW-Madison slow-down basketball. Last year's team played at 66.5 possessions, their fastest tempo of the kenpom era. Much of that was Gard getting his system out of the way to let Johnny Davis do his thing. In games played at 71 or more possessions, the Badgers went 6-1. One of the biggest reasons for that success was virtually never turning the ball over, though their #2 national turnover ranking was largely driven by how good Davis (#300 nationally) and Davison (#15) were at ball control. Without them, expect a return to the deliberate pace in order to control the ball and a heavy dose of three point attempts to maximize scoring output in low possession games. They'll concede the offensive glass and free throws, but on the other end will keep the glass clean and defend without fouling, sticking in man with few switches to force teams deep into the shot clock.

Predictions have UW-Madison in the bottom half of the Big 10 this year. But after making 22 of the last 23 NCAA Tournaments, writing this team off early is a mistake. Hepburn is ready to make a jump, they have capable shooters at five positions, and a return to their slow-down style will provide headaches for opponents. Wahl and Crowl give them an efficient if unspectacular front court. Add in what looks like a down Big 10 and the Badgers will likely finish in the top-6 of their league and make the NCAA Tournament as a single-digit seed. If anything could trip this team up, it would be injuries. There's no one proven behind Wahl and Crowl up front and none of the bench options have shown reliable high-major contributions before. Even still, for now pencil them into a boring but respectable finish.

What We've Learned: Bucky has top-100 wins over Stanford, Dayton, and USC, and nearly knocked off Kansas, falling by one point in overtime. They've done that mostly behind a solid defense, though how sustainable that is when opponents are making just 23.4% of their three-pointers is questionable. Offensively, they have slowed the pace back down but aside from not turning it over, aren't doing anything particularly well. Tyler Wahl has taken over the alpha role, albeit inefficiently. The real breakout player has been freshman Connor Essegian, who's making 54.2% of his thees and has become a microwave scorer off the bench. He was the difference maker in the Atlantis MTE, where he averaged 14 ppg/3.8 rpg in leading the Badgers to those Dayton and USC wins and the close-but-not-quite against Kansas. He has the look of a player Badger opponents are going to hate for the next four years.

Marquette Connection: Marquette celebrates the 20th anniversary of the 2003 Final Four season this year, which would include the 63-54 victory over UW-Madison. It was a close first half with the Badgers leading 29-28 at the break, but Todd Townsend hit a series of big threes to secure the lead in the second half and Dwyane Wade closed things out as he paced all scorers with 25 points. It was also the first win for Marquette over a Bo Ryan coached Badger team. Here's hoping the 2022-23 result is just as satisfying.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Baylor Preview, 2022-23

Baylor Bears

November 29, 2022, Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: Scott Drew (399-222 at Baylor, 419-233 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 4.0

Three-Year kenpom Average: 3.0

2022-23 T-Rank Projection: 2

Projected Starters: PG Adam Flagler (6'3" Sr), SG L.J. Cryer (6'1" Jr), SF Keyontae George (6'5" Fr), PF Jalen Bridges (6'7" Jr), C Flo Thamba (6'10" RS Sr)

Adam Flagler helped Baylor to the 2021 National Championship

Photo by Jamie Schwaberow | Getty Images

After winning the National Championship behind a loaded back court of Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler, and MaCio Teague, the expectation was that Baylor would take a step back in 2021-22. Instead, they opened the season 15-0, working their way up to the #1 AP ranking in January. They lost a handful of games, but still managed to share the Big 12 title with eventual National Champions Kansas and earned a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament. In the second round, they fell behind by 25 to North Carolina before rallying to force overtime, but ultimately lost the game. While they lost four of the top six scorers from that team, what they return coupled with their new additions have most people expecting them to be a national title contender once again.

Baylor's attack starts with their excellent back court. Flagler and Cryer both averaged over 13 points per game last year, though neither is a true point guard. Freshman Keyontae George is a potential lottery pick with electric scoring ability and top-notch athleticism on the wing. Up front, West Virginia transfer Jalen Bridges is a versatile defender whose length gives opponents problems and whose shot-making allows Baylor to regularly play four-out. In the middle, Flo Thamba won't be much of an offensive threat, but he eats space, cleans the glass, and is a solid rim protector. The Bears also boast depth, with Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua serving as a defensive ace while former five-star guard Langston Love provides talent in the back court, though both are coming off injuries and may not be at full strength to start the season.

Scott Drew has transformed Baylor. There's simply no other way to describe what Baylor was before he arrived and the absolute juggernaut they are today. How do they do it? On offense, they surround their bigs with a plethora of shooters that spread opponents out and exploit ball screens. When they miss, they relentlessly attack the offensive glass, ranking in the top-10 each of the past nine years. On defense, they have shifted away from a zone/man mix and adopted much of the No-Middle Defense popularized by Texas Tech. The Bears have numerous switchable defenders that are elite at forcing attacking players away from screens and keeping them out of the middle of the court. They rely on their athletic wing defenders to stay in front of their man. They switch less than a team like Texas Tech, which makes them less vulnerable to open threes, but the early shot clock three is still one of the best ways to attack them. This will be one of the biggest tests of the year for Marquette's shooters and the pick and roll effectiveness of Tyler Kolek particularly.

So will Baylor be a monster once again? It likely comes down to staying healthy. They have the right mix of talent and experience, but Cryer, Love, and Flagler are coming off injuries while Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Love may not be ready to go when they come to Milwaukee in late November. They will certainly be a good team, but last year it was injuries that likely cost them that game against North Carolina and it remains to be seen how strongly everyone comes back. It's possible this is a team that will be more vulnerable in November and becomes a contender if they can get healthy as the year goes on, but even optimistic Marquette fans won't want to put this one in the win column until not just the final buzzer, but until you sleep on it and double-check the morning box score. Drew has turned Baylor into one of the best teams in the county year-in and year-out, and there's no reason to expect this year will be different.

What We've Learned: The offense is ready to go. Flagler, Cryer, and George are all averaging over 14 ppg on over 110 offensive rating. The Bears are #3 nationally in offensive eFG%, largely because they are taking a ton of threes (more than half of their field goals have been from deep) and making them at a great clip (38.5%) while continuing their rebounding tenacity (#20). Defense, on the other hand, has been less positive. The two main reasons seem to be a team that is foul prone and opponents that are making threes at a high rate. That second may be largely luck, as Virginia' 9/14 against Baylor is responsible for a 4% jump over the other 5 games they played. Neither Tchamwa Tchatchoua nor Love have played yet, so this is a bit of a short-handed team. This should be an entertaining, high-octane game between two teams that go fast on offense and are tenacious on defense.

Marquette Connection: The good news for Marquette fans is that head coach Shaka Smart has twice as many wins against Baylor in his career as Marquette does in its history. The bad news is that Marquette is just 1-1 against Baylor from a 1997-1998 home-and-home series while Shaka was a woeful 2-10 against Baylor in his six years at Texas. Smart won his first matchup with Drew in 2016, then didn't tally another victory until 2019. Suffice to say Drew has had his number and it would be satisfying to get a win against his old cross-state rival.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Chicago State Preview, 2022-23

Chicago State Cougars

November 26, 2022, Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: Gerald Gillion (7-25)

Three-Year NET Average: 346.3

Three-Year kenpom Average: 349.7

Projected 2022-23 T-Rank: 310

Projected Starters: PG Elijah Weaver (6'5" Sr), SG Bryce Johnson (6'3" So), SF Brent Davis (6'3" Jr), PF Wesley Cardet (6'6" So), C Jahsean Corbett (6'6" So)


 
Gerald Gillion led CSU to the most wins they've had since 2014-15

Photo from Twitter - @CoachGillion

Typically, a team going 7-25 and finishing #340 in kenpom isn't reason for celebration. But when you consider the Cougars had won seven games combined in the past three seasons and finished below #350 in each of them, it's a step in the right direction. Not only that, all seven wins came against D1 competition, matching the TOTAL number of D1 wins for the program in the previous SIX seasons. Simply put, in recent memory, Chicago State is one of the worst programs in Division I. However the 2021-22 crew started 2-0 and secured a win over New Mexico State in February, a team that would go on to beat UConn in the NCAA Tournament. How did they do it? They slowed the pace, took a ton of threes, and hammered the offensive glass. When it worked, the low tempo and high variability gave them a chance.

The Cougars have left the WAC and are going Independent in 2022-23. One of the drawbacks to that is that seven players who started at least one game last year have entered the transfer portal, including five of the top seven scorers. The two not included there are Bryce Johnson and Jahsean Corbett, a pair of sophomores that were pleasant surprises on last year's team. Elijah Weaver is a former top-50 recruit that was a rotation player at USC and Dayton before landing in Chicago. He's a versatile scorer and distributor that gives a talent boost to this team. Wesley Cardet is another former four-star prospect that started every game he played last year for Samford and came on strong in conference play. Up front, Arol Kacoul will likely be the anchor. The JUCO transfer isn't much of an offensive threat but provides length and rim protection to allow Corbett to play forward. Others to keep an eye on include Brent Davis, a transfer from The Citadel who had an erratic season but at his best scored 19 points against Duke at Cameron Indoor, and Taeyon Neal, a 6'9" 315 pound transfer who might give off some Davante Gardner vibes.

As mentioned above, the plan is pretty straight forward. Reduce possessions and take a ton of threes. The problem is that last year, Chicago State was a terrible shooting team (#331 in eFG%). Hitting the glass helped but when your team struggles to finish and lost its two best distributors and top-three long range threats, it's likely to be a struggle. Weaver and Cardet both help in terms of talent, but both were moderate usage, lower efficiency players previously so it's hard to say how they'll adapt to likely having to carry the load. Defensively, this is a team that really benefited from opponent mistakes. Per kenpom, they only ranked in the top-150 of one of the Four Factors/Miscellaneous Components, which was Non-Steal Turnover rate. Some of that could be a team good at drawing charges, but it's also likely in part due to teams just throwing the ball away or stepping out of bounds, often factors that are down to luck.

If Chicago State lives up to their T-Rank expectation, it would be their best result since 2013-14. But with as much turnover as they've had this offseason, it will take a lot going right for a second straight year to realize that potential. Ultimately, their roster is a mix of guys that couldn't cut it at higher levels, supporting cast on last year's team, and unproven newcomers. Gillion deserves a ton of credit for what he's already done, but even if this team overachieves they will be a bottom half of Quadrant 4 buy game. Even if Chicago State manages to slow the pace and make their threes, expect a double-digit home victory for Marquette.

What We've Learned: Gillion has been playing a lot of small ball. Arol Kacoul has started a few games but has taken a back seat once things get going to Jahsean Corbett. As a result, they often don't have anyone taller than 6'7" on the floor. The smaller lineup has allowed them to chase opponents off the line with more frequency. They are 22nd nationally in limiting three-point attempts and have taken more threes than their opponents in 5/7 games. As a team, they have also been very good on the offensive glass, led by Corbett. Their plan is still slow it down, take more threes than their opponent, and hit the offensive glass. However, while they have competed with lower class opponents, beating Valparaiso and IUPUI while being tied or leading Marshall and Cleveland State in the second half, they have not fared as well against top-100 opponents. Northwestern got out to a 9-0 start and led by 16 at halftime while Kent State opened up 15-0 and led by 31 at the half. Marquette's size and swarming defense should allow them to get up early on the Cougars and expect this one to be comfortably over by the end of the first half.

Marquette Connection: While this is a mismatched roster, there is one player who's taken on Marquette before. Elijah Weaver started for the USC Trojans against Marquette in the 2019 Orlando Classic. Weaver led the Trojans in minutes and was second in scoring as he tallied 12 points in the contest. He was significantly outshone by the star guard on the other end of the floor as Markus Howard poured in 51 points, which was the highest output of his senior season.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Utah Preview, 2022-23

Utah Utes

November 23, Fort Myers, FL

Head Coach: Craig Smith (11-18 at Utah, 236-126 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 94.0

Three-Year kenpom Average: 93.3

Projected 2022-23 T-Rank: 119

Projected Starters: PG Rollie Worster (6'4" Jr), SG Marco Anthony (6'5" RS Sr), SF Gabe Madsen (6'6" Jr), PF Lazar Stefanovic (6'7" So), C Branden Carlson (7'0" Sr)

Utah center Branden Carlson's length impacts both ends of the court
Photo by Rick Bowmer | AP Photo

Craig Smith is likely happy to put his first season in Salt Lake City behind him. While their 8-4 start was decent, the most impressive victory was over Fresno State and it was followed by a 10-game losing streak. They managed to avoid the Pac-12 basement due to Oregon State, but they were the only Pac-12 team to lose to the Beavers and they will certainly want to improve on their dismal start to the Smith era.

This Utah team does have some continuity from last year, returning four starters. Rollie Worster and Marco Anthony came with Smith from Utah State. While both took slight steps back in terms of scoring, they also had their most efficient seasons and will continue to run the offense. Lazar Stefanovic and Gabe Madsen both earned starts last year and are the two most prolific returning shooters in terms of threes made. If either of them isn't ready to go, former Badger Ben Carlson joined through the transfer portal and provides some length and experience to the front court. The real man to watch is the big body in the middle, Branden Carlson. He led the Utes in scoring a year ago and has the ability to not just score and clean the glass inside, but can also step out and hit the occasional three. The Utes also have some depth with transfers Mike Saunders (Cincinnati) and Gavin Baxter (BYU) giving Smith options while international freshmen Wilguens Exacte and Luka Tarlac provide some length.

In terms of what to expect, the Utes should be better on offense than last year's outfit. Smith's attack features a heavy dose of motion, cutting, and screening. His teams are consistently among the nation's best in assist rate. It's truly a team effort and expect there to be a wealth of guys averaging 7-8 points per game or more. They struggled on offense for two primary reasons last year. They simply didn't have shot makers and weren't as aggressive crashing the glass as his Utah State teams. Defensively, he prefers a system similar to Tony Bennett's pack line at Virginia. He has a number of solid man-to-man defenders well-versed in the system (Anthony spent two years at Virginia before joining Smith at USU) and the goal is to clog the middle and protect the paint. It worked better at Utah State because he had an elite shot blocker in Neemias Queta. Thus far, Branden Carlson hasn't proven as adept at that and as a team their rebounding came up short. It's possible Smith could change things up if it doesn't work this year; he radically changed from a driving, isolation offense at South Dakota to his motion/ball-movement heavy Utah State approach. At the moment, however, it looks like he might need to have a few more recruiting wins and time to develop before his roster can execute what he wants to do.

Returning five major rotation players and bringing in a number of transfers from quality programs should lead to improvement. Smith is a savvy coach who adapts to his roster and last year was the first time his team didn't outperform their preseason kenpom ranking. Getting to the middle of the Pac-12 and NIT mix would be considered a success after last season. The question is if there's enough there to get it done. Branden Carlson is a worthy high-major starter, but it would be a stretch to call him a star. Worster, Anthony, and Stefanovic are all probably fine as a team's fifth offensive option, but those are the options 2-4. The transfers are experienced, but that experience was gained coming off benches of comparable programs. None of these guys look like the types to move the dial individually. If Smith can get them sharing the ball and slowing the pace, maybe they can keep games close enough that someone will take those small steps up, but it looks like the Utes might still be a year or two away from being a truly competitive high-major team.

Marquette Connection: You can't mention Marquette and Utah without immediately thinking of Rick Majerus. After sitting next to Al McGuire for the 1974 Final Four and 1977 Championship, then continuing alongside Hank Raymonds, Majerus became Marquette's head coach in 1983. It was probably a bit too early for him as he never hit his stride here. After a year in the NBA and two at Ball State, Majerus took over Utah. The Utes went to 10 NCAA Tournaments in 15 seasons with Majerus at the helm, highlighted by a Final Four appearance and NCAA runner-up to Kentucky in 1998. After that game, Majerus quipped "When I die, they might as well bury me at the finish line at Churchill Downs so they can run over me again." He was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2019, primarily because of his excellent tenure at Utah, where he went 323-95 (.773 winning percentage) and additionally had an Elite Eight and two Sweet Sixteen runs. His finest stretch was from 1994-95 through 1998-99, in which Utah went a stunning 142-26, finishing in the top-20 of the AP Poll every year and the top-10 three times. If Marquette does take on Utah in Fort Myers, expect an in memoriam segment on Rick Majerus, a Marquette champion and Utah legend.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Georgia Tech Preview, 2022-23

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

November 23, Fort Myers, FL

Head Coach: Josh Pastner (94-96 at Georgia Tech, 261-169 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 90.0

Three-Year kenpom Average: 85.7

Projected 2022-23 T-Rank: 97

Projected Starters: PG Deivon Smith (6'1" Jr), SG Lance Terry (6'2" Sr), SF Kyle Sturdivant (6'2" Sr), PF Deebo Coleman (6'6" So), C Rodney Howard (6'10" Sr)

Deebo Coleman needs to jump from role-player to star

Photo by Mark Konezny | USA Today Sports

There was optimism in Atlanta after Mark Pastner won the 2021 ACC Tournament and brought the Yellow Jackets to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his tenure. Opening 2021-22 with a buy game loss wasn't the best start. Things never really got right for this team, as they lost all their significant non-conference games and staggered to a 5-15 ACC record even in a down year for the league. From that team, Pastner loses his top-two scorers and finds himself with a worse roster on paper than the team that gave him the worst record of his career.

Georgia Tech optimism will be tied to their returnees. Deebo Coleman and Miles Kelly are promising sophomores who flashed ability last year but were rutted in inconsistency. In the back court, Kyle Sturdivant was consistently solid but not spectacular while Deivon Smith has raw talent but similar inconsistency to the now-sophomores. The man to watch may be Rodney Howard, who has the frame to be a dominant interior player, but is too foul prone (fouled out of four straight games in February) and not very assertive on offense. They will hope to get additional contributions from sophomore Jalon Moore as well as transfers Lance Terry and Javon Franklin, two up-transfers that averaged double-digit scoring at their previous stops.

Settling on an offense has been a struggle for Pastner at Georgia Tech. Whereas his best Memphis teams played fast, moving the ball well and attacking the interior with reckless abandon, he hasn't found that to be as easy in the ACC. The 2021 team with two NBA players in Jose Alvarado and Moses Wright is the only top-150 offense he's had in six seasons. Erratic pace, failure to adapt to the perimeter-oriented shift in the game, and a lack of talent are issues. Last year, they were a team unwilling to shoot the three, poor at shooting inside, and unable to get to the line. That wasn't a recipe for success. They likely need to turn up the pace as they do have some promising young players, but that could lead to a turnover-prone team (sub-200 in five of Pastner's six seasons in Atlanta). Where they are consistent is the defensive end. Pastner's teams are great at challenging and blocking shots, limiting opponent eFG% while mixing in a heavy dose of zone looks. With most of the key pieces being in the system for the second year, look for defense to be what keeps them in games.

After last year, expectations aren't high for this outfit. If Coleman can make a star turn and Rodney Howard can finally use his size effectively, there's reason for optimism, but by and large what returns is a group of lower usage, inefficient offensive players that will have to turn games into rock fights just to have a chance. And teams that try to grind out games tend to do best when they can convert the three. While Georgia Tech might have a few capable shooters, Pastner hasn't had a team in the top-200 of three point attempt rate in more than a decade, so what's more likely is a team that grinds opponents down defensively but doesn't have the offensive chops to get the job done. As fun as the 2020-21 team was in winning the ACC Tournament, it was Pastner's only tourney berth and only top-60 kenpom finish in the past 8 seasons, including his entire tenure at Georgia Tech. If he can't turn this bunch into a competitor, don't be surprised if he's on the hot seat come March.

What We've Learned: Gardner-Webb transfer Terry has started every game, with Kelly serving as a multi-positional reserve. While Marquette has had trouble with physical bigs like Howard, he's been awful this year, with more turnovers (5) than points scored (2) against D1 competition. The Yellow Jackets have been running out an undersized lineup, frequently playing a three-guard back court with no one taller than 6'7" on the floor. They have been miserable shooting the basketball, ranked #344 in eFG% and sub-300 in each individual shooting component including free throw percentage. Defensively, they look better, but that might be luck. While they have the 12th ranked eFG% defense, that's mostly because opponents are shooting just 22.7% from deep against them, which is dragged down with two of their three opponents ranked sub-340 in 3PFG%. This should be a get-right game for Marquette.

Marquette Connection: In 1999, current Georgia Tech assistant coach Julian Swartz was a household name among Wisconsin high school basketball aficionados. The Waukesha South star capped off his career with a State Player of the Year trophy in his third consecutive all-state selection. He enrolled at UW-Madison and was a reserve on Dick Bennett's 2000 Final Four team. But what those aficionados didn't know was that Swartz was dealing with a powerful obsessive-compulsive disorder that led him to leave Madison after just one season. He returned to Waukesha and enrolled at Carroll College, serving as an assistant coach at Waukesha South. After graduating from Carroll, he went to Marquette, serving as a graduate assistant for Tom Crean on a number of NCAA Tournament teams. He also worked with the West Allis/West Milwaukee school district, developing social emotional learning techniques, before committing to basketball full-time when he went to work with Josh Pastner at Memphis. Marquette's College of Education awarded him with the Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology Achievement Award in 2016. If Marquette faces Georgia Tech in Fort Myers, it will be the first time Swartz has coached against his grad program alma mater.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Mississippi State Preview, 2022-23

Mississippi State Bulldogs

November 21, 2022, Fort Myers, FL

Head Coach: Chris Jans (0-0 at Mississippi State, 143-44 Overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 62.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 54.7

Projected 2022-23 T-Rank: 79

Projected Starters: PG Shakeel Moore (6'1" Jr), SG Dashawn Davis (6'2" Sr), SF DJ Jeffries (6'7" Sr), PF Cameron Matthews (6'7" Jr), C Tolu Smith (6'11" RS Sr)

Tolu Smith is the kind of big man that gives Marquette trouble

Photo by Kim Klement | USA Today Sports

Fresh off an NCAA upset win over UConn, Chris Jans takes over what would have to be considered a disappointing seven years in Starkville for Ben Howland. Last year's team flirted briefly with the bubble, notching wins over a trio of NCAA teams in Richmond, Alabama, and Arkansas on their way to a 13-5 start, but went just 5-10 the rest of the way, losing to Virginia in the NIT first round. While they lost flashy guard Iverson Molinar and productive big man Garrison Brooks, Jans does have some returning talent and incoming options.

Shakeel Moore and DJ Jeffries were expected to be big impact transfers, and while both showed flashes of promise, their seasons were erratic and both saw their efficiency drop off late in the year. Some of the backcourt pressure should be relieved for Moore as transfer Dashawn Davis was a prolific distributor for Oregon State. Tyler Stevenson joins the squad from Southern Miss and put up impressive raw numbers for a bad team. Tolu Smith is the guy Jans will hope anchors the team. He posted double-digit scoring in their last 7 games last year, with three double-doubles in there. He's a physical big that can be a game-changer, but had four stretches where he missed multiple games with injury last season. The bench will feature a transfer trio in Eric Reed, Jamel Horton, and Will McNair. The former two will help stretch the floor and provide back court depth while McNair follows Jans from New Mexico State and projects to be a rotational big with Stevenson and Smith.

Jans' strategy at Mississippi State will likely be similar to what he did with the Aggies, where he was a master of bringing disparate pieces together and molding them into a team. That got him results as he won 25+ games in four of his five seasons in Las Cruces, with the only exception being the COVID-shortened 2021 season. How did he do it? First, his teams pound the glass. Rebounding is a team effort and guys like Smith, Stevenson, and McNair are the kind of bodies that Jans wants to keep the boards clean. On offense, they will slow the pace and take a high volume of threes. While this team has guys willing to play the shooter role, they haven't shown to be particularly good at shooting. Reed and Horton give them some long-range ability, but they are the only players on the roster to crack 32% from deep last year and neither hit 36%.

So what will Mississippi State be? If Jeffries plays like an NBA talent, if the back court can settle down and play efficiently, if Smith is healthy, and if they hit threes, this team could challenge for an NCAA berth. But that's a lot of ifs and a lot of coming together in a short time. Jans has done it before and he's great at molding collections of players into teams, but they are vulnerable in non-conference play. If you exclude the COVID outlier season, his teams went 110-24 in four seasons, and eighteen of those twenty-four losses were to non-conference opponents. Part of that was playing in the WAC, but part of it was also his teams tending to get metrically better as the season went on. This game might be the best non-conference measuring stick for Marquette's future. This is a neutral site game against another team that is being overlooked early on but has NCAA upside. Winning this could go a long way in March.

What We've Learned: The Bulldogs have only played four buy games, but they have quietly been one of the best teams in the country. On kenpom, they have shot up from #53 to #27, which is a 26-spot improvement. That's mostly because of their defense. MSU is allowing a stingy 0.71 points per possession, fourth best nationally. The key to that has been Cameron Matthews, who was a rotation player last year and has turned into a high-level shot blocker and turnover generator, ranking top-100 in block and steal rates. Defensively, they have grinded teams down to a slow pace and dominated them physically. Offensively, they've been fine in most aspects but Matthews and Tolu Smith have been elite on the glass giving them many second chance opportunities. They haven't taken a ton of threes, which is a positive for a team that isn't shooting it well. Look for both teams to apply a lot of pressure (MSU is also #1 as a team in steal rate) with the biggest difference being the pace they want to play at. One key factor may be the health of Dashawn Davis, who picked up an ankle injury in their opener and is now listed as day-to-day. This will be another really good test and strong litmus test for Selection Sunday.

Marquette Connection: There has only been one prior meeting with the Bulldogs, and it was a whomping. The teams met in Maui in 2012 the day after Rotnei Clarke tore Marquette fan hearts out. Vander Blue led the way as Marquette took out their frustrations on Mississippi State, opening the game with a 25-9 run on their way to an 89-62 rout. Blue's 18 points and a 15/12 double-double from Davante Gardner paced Marquette in the victory. That team went on to win the Maui consolation bracket and later took revenge against Butler in the NCAA Tournament on their way to the Elite Eight.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Long Island Preview, 2022-23

Long Island Sharks

November 17, 2022, Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: Rod Strickland (0-0)

Three-Year NET Average: 247.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 257.7

Projected 2022-23 T-Rank: 347

Projected Starters: PG Tre Wood (6'1" RS Sr), SG Jacob Johnson (6'5" Jr), SF Quion Burns (6'5" So), PF Jake Cook (6'8" Jr), C Cheikh Ndiaye (6'8" Sr)

Tre Wood leads a new-look LIU squad
Photo from LIU Athletics

By seemingly any measure, Long Island had a successful 2021-22 season. After a rocky (but brutally scheduled) start, the Sharks went 12-6 in NEC play, their best conference record under Derek Kellogg, leading to their first overall winning record since 2018. Individually, Ty Flowers and Eral Penn were both named first team all-conference. The third-place league finish was a great foundation for a team that was set to return four starters and their top two reserves. They would've been one of the league favorites as it looked like Kellogg was even weathering the transfer market. Then in late June, LIU shockingly fired Derek Kellogg. Three of those four starters and one of the key reserves transferred, which means they lost their top five scorers. Rod Strickland took over the program, leaving his position with G League Ignite, but as a coach taking over in July, the transfer market was already picked over, leaving the Sharks with one of the most dismal looking rosters in Division I.

On paper, Maurice Commander should step in as one of the leaders of this team. However, he sat out the 2021-22 season. Whether it was because of a back injury or the death of his father, it's unclear how ready he will be to be a major contributor, but he's the only Shark that has averaged double-digit points in Division I. Tre Wood is the leading returning scorer, but he was a low-usage, low-efficiency player who was more a role-player than anything else. Jacob Johnson transfers in from UMKC, where he earned starting minutes but is another unlikely scoring option as he was the Roos' seventh option. Quion Burns is the returning reserve but (common refrain) was another player that was rarely a scoring threat, only hitting double-digits once against a D3 program. Freshman big CJ Delancy has athletic upside but is very raw, while fellow big man Amadou Fall is a journeyman at his third D1 program while also spending time at a JUCO along the way. Andre Washington, Noble Crawford, and Cheikh N'Diaye are the most likely bench contributors.

This team's strategy is hard to forecast. Strickland was the Director of Basketball Operations for John Calipari at Kentucky and later an assistant for the ill-fated Orlando Antigua era at South Florida, but he hasn't done much on his own outside of Ignite. Under Kellogg, LIU played at a blazing pace while playing an efficient defensive style that prioritized chasing teams off the line and drawing drivers into their shot blockers. But virtually that entire roster is gone and with such a talent deficient roster, it's hard to know what will be successful for the Sharks. It seems likely they'll try to slow the pace to keep games close and likely use zone to make up for the talent gap, at least until Strickland can rebuild the roster.

Looking at this roster, then looking at the lack of coaching experience, the lack of scoring, and the void of talent, the T-Rank projection of #347 might be considered rather optimistic. Granted, that's a woeful number, but it's just hard to believe there will be 15 teams worse than this one in Division I. Had Kellogg returned with his team, LIU might've had a case for being a top-200 team and NEC contender. This is not that. They will almost certainly be positively awful and anything other than a thorough drubbing in Marquette's favor would have to be considered a huge disappointment.

What We've Learned: LIU has only played one official game, getting drubbed 89-48 at Utah. Maurice Commander hasn't suited up yet for the Sharks and it's not yet known if he'll be back for Thursday. We've removed him from the starting lineup. The Sharks posted a miserable 34.7 eFG% and were battered on the glass on both ends. Strickland made two changes to the starting lineup in a game against D3 Mount St. Vincent. He still seems to be figuring out the rotation, so don't be surprised to see some changes on Thursday. The early line has this at -23.5 in favor of Marquette, and while Cracked Sidewalks isn't a gambling site, that number seems to be factoring in LIU being a top-275 team each of the past 5 years under Derek Kellogg and the roster he left behind rather than the train wreck this team looks to be now. Utah blew past their -25 spread and Marquette will be in position to do the same, particularly with the bad taste of squandering a lead late at Purdue in their mouths.

Marquette Connection: Older Marquette fans should be forgiven if they shudder when they hear Rod Strickland's name. In 1986, Rick Majerus managed to defeat a Strickland-led DePaul team at the MECCA, escaping with a 70-65 win. That was the last time Marquette would defeat Strickland, who proceeded to lead DePaul to five straight wins over Marquette.

Monday, October 17, 2022

Purdue Preview, 2022-23

Purdue Boilermakers

November 15, 2022, Mackey Arena

Head Coach: Matt Painter (409-197, 384-192 at Purdue)

Three-Year NET Average: 24.3

Three-Year kenpom Average: 21.0

Projected 2022-23 T-Rank: 28

Projected Starters: PG Ethan Morton (6'7" Jr), SG Braden Smith (6'0" Fr), SF Fletcher Loyer (6'4" Fr), PF Mason Gillis (6'6" Jr), C Zach Edey (7'4" Jr)

Zach Edey is a tough matchup for most any opponent

Photo from Getty Images

A month into the 2021-22 season, Purdue looked like a team on a mission to end Matt Painter's streak as arguably the best coach to never make a Final Four. After powering past North Carolina and Villanova, teams that would eventually reach the Final Four, the Boilermakers climbed to the #1 spot in the AP Poll, but then they started a trend that would follow them the entire season long of losing to teams that on paper they shouldn't lose to. First it was Rutgers, then Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin again. While all of them played in the NCAA Tournament, half were double-digit seeds and only Wisconsin managed a top-4 seed, largely because of those wins over Purdue. In the Big Ten Tournament final, Iowa upset Purdue despite the Boilers completing the regular season sweep. When they crashed out of the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16 to St. Peter's, the team found themselves missing out on the Big Ten regular season title, Big Ten Tournament title, and the elusive Final Four. The team was left with more questions as four of the top-five scorers, including top-5 NBA pick Jaden Ivey, departed for a mix of professional and collegiate opportunities.

The biggest questions will be about how the lineup shakes out. Ethan Morton is more of a natural wing, but backed up Ivey at the point last year and will most likely get first crack at the position. David Jenkins, Jr joins the Boilermakers from Purdue after previous stops at UNLV and South Dakota State. He is a reliable shooter, but definitely looks to score first and his productivity has declined as the level of competition he's faced has improved. Gillis mostly played the four last year but will likely need to be both more assertive offensively and play down to make room for Caleb Furst. The talented sophomore adds another proven shooter (everyone at the 1-4 shot over 39% from deep last year) but will need to improve his perimeter defense, or he could simply be relegated to Edey's backup. Edey is the lone returning double-digit scorer and provides a massive post presence that is high usage, high efficiency, dominant on the glass, and a constant shot-blocking threat. Off the bench, Painter has a number of talented but unproven options, with junior guard Brandon Newman and former top-50 recruit and redshirt freshman Trey Kaufman-Renn the most likely options to provide extra minutes or crack the starting lineup.

Offensively, Painter has been a genius at adapting to his personnel. For the past two years, much of his offense ran through the Trevion Williams, maybe the best passing big man since Draymond Green (and now appropriately joining Green with the Golden State Warriors). The combination of two dominant bigs sharing time and ultra-talented guard Jaden Ivey gave Purdue a brilliantly balanced attack. Painter excels at teaching both post and perimeter skills, a motion offense, and the secondary break. While his teams tend to play slow, they are still attack-minded and can be rapidly lethal when they have a guard that can attack like Ivey. Expect the pace to stay similar this year, but with so many shooters, Purdue will likely be less break heavy and more perimeter focused. They don't use much pick-and-roll, instead running motion off the ball and reversing their passes to create open looks and a wealth of catch-and-shoot opportunities at the arc. Expect a lot of four-out around Edey, with shooters everywhere and Edey working to clean the offensive glass (he was #1 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, nearly two full percentage points ahead of Oscar Tshiebwe). Where they may struggle is against pressure. With few proven ballhandlers, it may take time for Purdue to sort out their back court rotation. Defensively, Painter's teams typically are effective at shutting down the paint and chasing teams off the three point line. However last year it was their #93rd ranked defense that proved their Achilles' Heel too often as they struggled to get key stops. This is where losing Ivey, who was at best defensively inconsistent, could help Purdue. Aside from Jenkins, they are able to put a lot of length at every position and the majority of the roster has been in they system for a couple years now so this should be a much improved unit that focuses on getting back quickly and manning up once opponents get across half court.

Painter's teams have been top-30 in kenpom seven straight years and thirteen of the last sixteen. It feels safe to say that even a relatively inexperienced team like this one will figure it out as the season goes on and comfortably find their way into the NCAA field. However guard play is certainly something to worry about. Jenkins is the only proven guard on the roster, and he's a ball-dominant scoring guard. The rest of the team is made up of wings and bigs, which will lead to some interesting lineup combinations. As talented as guys like Furst and Kaufman-Renn are, will they be able to get on the court if Painter puts his trust in the juniors? Aside from Edey, no one here has served as more than a role-player, so is someone ready to step into that massive alpha role left behind by the likes of Ivey and Williams? In terms of coaches that have earned trust, Painter is near the top, but while he's a consistent Big 10 winner, inexperienced Purdue teams tend to struggle in non-con play. Since kenpom has been recording Minutes Consistency in 2008, Painter's teams have ranked in the top-100 on 6 occasions. Those teams have lost just 7 non-con games (1.2 on average), never more than 2 in a single season. The average rank they lost to was 16.9, none worse than #47 Western Kentucky in 2017-18. Painter's teams have ranked outside the top-100 on 9 occasions, losing 33 times (3.7 on average), never fewer than 2 in a single season. The average rank they lost to was 74.6, including more than half the losses (18) to teams outside the top-50. Quite simply, when Painter has an experienced team, they tend to run over their non-con opponents, but when he doesn't, they are very beatable. This team will not be experienced. While Marquette has only ever beat Purdue once (the Koby McEwen game in 2019-20) this is a team that just hasn't played enough together to be trusted one week into the season. Particularly without much experienced ball-handling against Shaka's high-pressure Violence defense. This will be the first big test for this Marquette team, but in terms of opponent and timing, they couldn't be better situated to pull off what would be an early season upset.

What We've Learned: Edey has largely been as advertised, averaging 21 ppg/14 rpg with two double-doubles in their first two outings. He posted career highs in rebounds (17) and blocks (6) in their opener and followed that up with a career high in points (30) in their second game.As unstoppable as he can be when isolated in the low post, he does sometimes struggle with double teams (as UW-Milwaukee demonstrated) and is a liability on defense due to getting exposed in pick and roll and having trouble with opposing bigs that can put the ball on the floor. They are starting two freshman guards, Braden Smith and Fletcher Loyer. Smith forced 7 steals against Milwaukee but turned it over 7 times himself in their first two games. Loyer didn't have as many turnovers and is the more prolific scorer, but he demonstrated a loose handle and had a number of times where he nearly lost his dribble against Austin Peay. One other thing that stood out in both of their first two games is Purdue is deep, with at least 9 players logging double-digit minutes in both games. Whether that's Painter trying to keep his guys fresh or just not being set on who his best options are remains to be seen.

Marquette Connection: This will be the third time Purdue has taken on Marquette in the Gavitt Games. Considering this is Purdue's fourth and Marquette's sixth appearances in the Games, these teams have seen quite a bit of each other. When last we previewed this tilt before the 2019-20 season, Purdue held a gaudy 9-0 all-time record against Marquette. After the Boilermakers started on a 9-0 run before doubling that lead to 38-20 later in the first half, it looked like another Purdue laugher as Marquette trailed by 13 at halftime. Then Koby McEwen took over. He scored 18 second half points, outscoring Purdue ALL BY HIMSELF as Marquette used a 40-17 second half domination to turn an 18-point deficit into a relatively comfortable 65-55 victory.