"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

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Texas Preview, 2023-24

Texas Longhorns

December 6, 2023, Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: Rodney Terry (22-8 at Texas, 185-165 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 13.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 15.3

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 13

Projected Starters: PG Tyrese Hunter (6'0" Jr), SG Max Abmas (6'0" 5th), SF Dillon Mitchell (6'8" So), PF Dylan Disu (6'9" 5th), C Kadin Shedrick (6'11" Sr)

Brock Cunningham is the last Shaka Smart recruit at Texas

Photo by Will Gallagher | Inside Texas

The Longhorns were 7-1 with a pair of massive wins over Gonzaga and Creighton before Chris Beard was suspended and later fired for domestic violence charges. Rodney Terry's tenure as interim coach had a rocky start, narrowly escaping a guarantee game loss when they beat Rice in overtime, but they rebounded nicely as the Longhorns went 12-6 in the Big 12, good for second in the league, won the Big 12 Tournament for the second time in their history, and made it to the Elite Eight before falling to Miami. Terry's interim status was removed and Texas moved forward with him as their head coach.

Tyrese Hunter is back to lead the offense, likely taking more of an on-ball role like he had at Iowa State. He's joined by Oral Roberts transfer Max Abmas, who has averaged over 20 ppg for three straight seasons in the Summit League and, with 2,561 points scored, has a good chance to become a 3,000 point scorer, finishing in the top-10 all-time. Dillon Mitchell and Dylan Disu both started every game they played for Texas and comprise an athletic, high-energy front court. Shedrick comes over from Virginia where he was an occasional starter the past two years and despite high efficiency couldn't establish himself in the lineup. Off the bench, expect to see Brock Cunningham, a versatile experienced wing, and fifth year transfer Ithiel Horton, most recently at UCF. Cunningham can guard 1-4 while Horton will likely be expected to provide reserve scoring.

Under Beard, Texas ran a heavy motion offense. Players would move constantly off the ball, passing around the perimeter until someone got free inside for an easy layup attempt. It requires everyone to have some guard skills, using cuts and screens to open up space and passing lanes inside. But now Beard and his offensive guru, Bob Donewald, are gone. So will Terry stick with the motion system, or go back to the slow-down, ball control style he employed at Fresno State and UTEP? Defensively, they will likely stick with the no-middle system that Beard helped popularize in the Big 12. Deny the middle of the court and prevent ball reversals. Challenge everything, pressure the ball, and lock down passing lanes.

Texas regrouped brilliantly last season, but their top three scorers are gone in Marcus Carr, SirJabari Rice, and Timmy Allen. Abmas fills a big scoring hole, but this is also a big step up for a guy who has historically struggled against top level competition. His surrounding cast should help, but this will likely be a team finding their way on offense early on. The biggest question, however, is Terry. He did an excellent job last year, but had he not been sitting on the sideline when Beard was fired, he likely would not have been in the mix for this job. On paper, this should be a top-25 team with the quality and depth to be a factor in the Big 12. But what Terry did last year was with Beard's roster and sustaining that will be a difficult task. Their trip to Milwaukee will be their first true road game on the season and is an excellent chance for Marquette to tally a quality win early on.

Marquette Connection: Let's address the elephant in the room, which is Texas taking on their recently-departed coach Shaka Smart. Smart spent 6 years in Austin, going to three NCAA Tournaments and winning the school's first Big 12 Tournament title in his final year there in 2021. However he failed to win a single NCAA Tournament game and when Marquette came calling, Texas didn't stop him from leaving. Suffice to say, it's been a wild two years since, with Marquette returning to the top of the Big East under Smart while Texas is on their second coach post-Smart but finally found winning ways in March under Terry. This will be one of the marquee games of the Big East-Big 12 Battle as much for the connections off the court as the talent on it.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

UW-Madison Preview, 2023-24

UW-Madison Badgers

December 2, 2023, Kohl Center

Head Coach: Greg Gard (164-94)

Three-Year NET Average: 42.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 37.3

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 30

Projected Starters: PG Chucky Hepburn (6'2" Jr), SG Max Klesmit (6'3" Sr), SF Connor Essegian (6'4" So), PF Tyler Wahl (6'9" 5th), C Steven Crowl (7'0" Sr)

Chucky Hepburn singed Marquette at Fiserv last season

Photo by John Fisher | Getty Images

The Badgers had an up and down season. Greg Gard kept up his 6-year streak of landing at least one win against a kenpom top-10 team when they beat Marquette at Fiserv, and they began the year 11-2 (3-0 Big 10) with the only losses by a single possession to Kansas and Wake Forest. They followed that up by losing 6 of 7, then mostly alternated wins and losses as they bounced around the NCAA bubble the rest of the year. In the end, they missed the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in Gard's tenure, and an NIT semifinal appearance is likely little consolation to a fanbase that has been lukewarm on Gard for most of his career.

All five starters are back for this team. Chucky Hepburn is a face Marquette fans will not forget as his 19 points that included 5/6 shooting from three dealt the Golden Eagles their only home loss of the season. He is joined in the back court by Max Klesmit, who as expected saw his usage drop from his time at Wofford but improved his ball-handling and three-point shooting to give Hepburn a competent partner. Connor Essegian is another reliable shooter that doesn't turn the ball over. Up front, Tyler Wahl didn't have the breakout year some (including Cracked Sidewalks) expected as he needs to rediscover his interior touch (43.8 2PFG% after being a career 54.7% coming in). Steven Crowl mans the middle and is able to not only score in the paint but stretch the floor and create for others. The wildcard for this time is likely A.J. Storr. The St. John's transfer started 17 games for the Red Storm and is likely the best player on the team at creating his own shot both inside the arc and out. He may carve out a starting role with his offensive skills and at 6'6" he has the length to be disruptive defensively. The other most likely bench contributors are Carter Gilmore, a former walk-on that earned 3 starts last year, and freshman Gus Yalden.

With Johnny Davis gone, Greg Gard returned to the slow pace UW-Madison is known for. Ball control, taking time to create shots, swinging the ball around until you find someone with less than 10 on the shot clock to get a look. They favor jump shots over driving and won't hammer the offensive glass, instead getting back on defense. Defensively, they will stick with a rigid man-to-man, keep the boards clean, and defend without fouling. They are exceptional on the defensive end at slowing teams down and forcing them into late shot clock situations as well which suits their tempo.

Bringing nearly everyone back from an NIT semifinalist, the NCAA Tournament has to be the goal for this Badger team. That said, running it back with the same general roster a year older doesn't always guarantee greater success. The biggest problem for the Badgers most of last year was not having the Chucky Hepburn Marquette fans saw at Fiserv. In that game, he was efficient the entire night and a closer when they needed him most. But in their last 5 regular season losses, they had a lead with less than 5 minutes to play. For the regular season, it was 8 games in total they lost while having a lead under 5:00. Repeatedly they needed someone to step up and came up short, which is what cost them the NCAA Tournament. Maybe it's Storr, maybe it's a more experienced Hepburn, maybe it's someone else, but if they want to make noise in March they need someone to prove they are willing and able to take and make tough shots when the game is on the line.

Marquette Connection: Last year at this time, Zaide Lowery and Gus Yalden were gearing up for their final season as high school players at the prep school La Lumiere in Indiana. LaLu, as it is affectionately known, is one of the premier prep schools in the country, claiming such players as Jordan Poole, Jaden Ivey, Jaren Jackson, and Tyger Campbell as alumni. Now they go from teammates to rivals, as Lowery is a freshman at Marquette and Yalden will be on the other side of the I-94 rivalry as a Badger (selecting Madison over Marquette on his final list).

Monday, September 18, 2023

Southern Preview, 2023-24

Southern Jaguars

November 28, 2023 at Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: Kevin Johnson (65-100 overall, 0-0 at Southern)

Three-Year NET Average: 257.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 267.7

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 347

Projected Starters: PG Tidjiane Dioumassi (6'5" Jr), SG Brandon Davis (6'1" Sr), SF Derrick Tezeno (6'5" Jr), PF Jaylen Reynolds (6'7" Sr), Festus Ndumanya (6'7" Sr)

Kevin Johnson is back as a head coach 18 years after leaving Centenary

Photo from SWAC.com

After a to-be-expected rough 4-9 non-conference slate, Southern started 8-1 in SWAC play. From there, they feel apart, finishing 3-7 over their last 10 and missing the NCAA Tournament. Head Coach Sean Woods was fired and their top-5 scorers all departed as well. Kevin Johnson takes over after 4 years as an assistant at Tulane and 18 years removed from his last head coaching job at Centenary.

Johnson's roster looks like a patchwork quilt. The only true point guard on the roster is Tidjiane Dioumassi, a JUCO transfer that averaged 10.3 ppg/5.0 apg for Lee College last year. He's joined in the back court by Brandon Davis and Derrick Tezeno, transfers from Texas State and Stephen F Austin respectively. Both were low-efficiency role-players at their previous stops and will hope to benefit in dropping down to a lower level. Up front, Jaylen Reynolds and Festus Ndumanya are the leading returning scorers for the Jaguars, though both averaged fewer than 15 mpg and will be taking big steps up in responsibility. Off the bench, expect to see Dre'Shawn Allen, a fifth year returning guard, and Tai'Reon Joseph, last seen at Radford two years ago spelling the back court while freshman Brentay Noel will be the most likely front court sub.

So what can we expect from Southern? It's hard to say. Johnson's best teams at Centenary tended to slow the pace and relied on threes and their ability to both get to and convert at the free throw line. Defensively, their strength was creating turnovers and chasing teams off the three-point line. Expect an active bunch that tries to get into passing lanes and disrupts the perimeter. Woods played a higher tempo, but his teams had similar defensive tendencies so don't be surprised to see that continue.

Last year, Arizona and Creighton played in the final in Maui. Both lost their first games back on the mainland. San Diego State and Arkansas played the Maui consolation game and both were trailing in buy games in the final minutes. It's tough rebounding from the long trip, and Marquette playing Southern in their first game post-Maui doesn't look like an accident. There's no sugar-coating it, this roster is terrible and Marquette should win this game very comfortably. Even if they show up flat, this is a game they should win by double-digits. Maybe by conference play the Jaguars will get it together, but T-Rank has them as the 10th best team in the 12-team SWAC and that is probably overestimating their ability. Quite simply, this is a game tailor-made to be the "get it together" game as the only contest in a 9 day stretch after Maui and before going to Madison. If you're going to have one absolute roll-over cupcake on the schedule, this is the spot to have it and this looks like the perfect team to batter into oblivion.

Marquette Connection: While this will be Kevin Johnson's first trip to Milwaukee with Southern, he did bring his Centenary team to the Bradley Center in the 2000-01 season for the Blue & Gold Classic. Led by Cordell Henry, Marquette raced out to an 18-0 lead before the Gentlemen scored their first point. Johnson's team did narrow the gap to just 30-28 early in the second half, but Henry scored the next 9 points in the game and Marquette cruised from there to a 66-47 victory. Tom Crean's team went on to defeat Cal State Northridge for the title the following night.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Tennessee/Syracuse Capsules, 2023-24

Tennessee Volunteers

November 22, 2023, Maui Invitational

Head Coach: Rick Barnes (175-92 at Tennessee, 779-406 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 10.0

Three-Year kenpom Average: 14.3

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 6

Projected Starters: PG Zakai Zeigler (5'9" Jr), SG Santiago Vescovi (6'3" 5th), SF Josiah-Jordan James (6'6" 5th), PF Dalton Knecht (6'6" 5th), C Jonas Aidoo (6'11" Jr)

Zakai Zeigler looks to spark some semblance of offense in Knoxville

Photo from Tennessee Athletics

The knock on Rick Barnes was his failure to escape the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament after just one Sweet 16 in the past 14 years. The team again reached the Sweet 16 in 2023, but some may be disappointed they fell to a lower seed in Florida Atlantic. Barnes has a ton of experience on this roster, though much of the defensive spine has moved on. Zakai Zeigler and Santiago Vescovi make up an experienced back court and are both capable of handling the ball. Josiah-Jordan James and Jonas Aidoo know the system well but will need to step up from supporting cast roles. Dalton Knecht joins from Northern Colorado where he averaged 20.2 ppg/7.2 rpg. If the step up is too big for Knecht, Barnes has options in veteran guards Jahmai Mashack and transfer Jordan Gainey, as well as promising sophomore bruiser Tobe Awaka.

Offensively, Barnes likes to work inside-out. The guards feed a big that can create offense in the post or kick it back out to shooters and drivers into the lane. That's the theory. The problem is if he doesn't have dynamic offensive players, they tend to be pretty mediocre. When he has inside-out NBA talents like T.J. Ford, Kevin Durant, D.J. Augustin, and Grant Williams, it goes great. When he has bigs that are more offensive role-players and guards that are more wings out of position, their attack can stagnate and games turn into low-scoring slogfests. Defensively, Tennessee is always tough as nails. Despite the losses of Julian Phillips and Olivier Nkamhoua, they still have James, who is an excellent wing defender. Aidoo provides the rim protection and this team will be well-drilled on sticking in front of their men, grinding down the defensive pace, and punishing teams that try to score. The keys for this team to reach the next level will be Zeigler's health and team running ability along with Aidoo's ability to become an offensive hub in the post. If they want to go from SEC contender to champion, they need to be better on offense. Last year, the strategy was basically to keep opponents in the 50s. When their defense held opponents below 60 points, they were 22-0. When opponents scored 60 or more, they were 3-11. That's enough to earn a decent NCAA seed and make a little tourney run, but you need to be able to put points on the board to turn a little run into a Final Four appearance.




Syracuse Orange

November 22, 2023, Maui Invitational

Head Coach: Adrian Autry (0-0)

Three-Year NET Average: 82.0

Three-Year kenpom Average: 76.3

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 140

Projected Starters: PG Judah Mintz (6'3" So), SG J.J. Starling (6'4" So), SF Chris Bell (6'7" So), PF Benny Williams (6'9" Jr), C Naheem McLeod (7'4" Jr)

Adrian Autry replaces Syracuse legend Jim Boeheim

Photo from Syracuse Athletics

Jim Boeheim's coaching career ended not with a bang, but a whimper. The Orange went 17-15 and missed the postseason for the second consecutive year. Syracuse grad Adrian "Red" Autry takes over after 12 years as an assistant to Boeheim. This is a monumental change, as Boeheim was at the helm for 47 years and has been a part of all but one NCAA Tournament appearance in Syracuse history as a player, assistant, or head coach. The biggest change is the anticipated move to man-to-man after decades of Boeheim's adherence to playing zone defense. The Orange are young, with zero seniors on the roster and just three of the thirteen scholarship players being juniors. Their sophomore back court of Judah Mintz and Notre Dame transfer J.J. Starling were both double-digit scorers last season. Up front, they have the expected Syracuse length, as both Chris Bell and Benny Williams are long, athletic forwards. Naheem McLeod is a monster shot-blocker who was a top-10 JUCO prospect who joins the Orange by way of Florida State. Their bench is led by Auburn transfer Chance Westry, who was a top-50 wing that never quite settled in with the Tigers. In terms of raw talent and recruiting rankings, this team seems to have a lot of promise, but none of them have actually produced wins at this level.

Expect the Orange to look more modern under Autry. They can put four shooters on the floor around McLeod and will likely let it fly more than they did last year. Defensively, they will probably still mix in some zone, but man-to-man will be the primary defense. They have the length and athleticism at every position to be a capable defensive bunch. The biggest question might be if McLeod is ready to be a full-time center. He averaged just 12.3 mpg in two years at FSU, but put up 16 points and 8 rebounds in 26 minutes against Syracuse. The biggest question is if he can be that guy every night or if Syracuse just fell in love with a guy who was productive against them. Analytics are low on this team, but if Autry can get them together, the talent is there to earn an NCAA bid. The youth at every position may hurt them in November, but if they can pull off an upset or two in non-con, they could be good enough by ACC play to make some noise come March.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Purdue/Gonzaga Capsules, 2023-24

Purdue Boilermakers

November 22, 2023, Maui Invitational

Head Coach: Matt Painter (438-203 overall, 413-198 at Purdue)

Three-Year NET Average: 15.3

Three-Year kenpom Average: 15.3

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 1

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

Zach Edey is the favorite to repeat as National Player of the Year

Photo by Alex Martin | Journal & Courier

Big 10 champs, Big 10 tourney champs, 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament, all of that was forgotten when Purdue fell in the first round to Fairleigh Dickinson. The Boilermakers return all 5 starters and while there will be some argument for Kansas or Duke atop the rankings, when a team is that good and brings everyone back, they deserve to be where T-Rank has them. In addition, they return two key bench players in Caleb Furst and Trey Kaufman-Renn, while also adding a fifth year guard in SIU transfer Lance Jones and a dynamic athletic freshman in Myles Colvin. Painter is arguably the best coach in college basketball who has yet to reach the Final Four and questions will abound until he makes it to the third weekend in March, but this is a loaded team that will likely be even better than that team that was so highly decorated before FDU happened.

Offensively, everything centered on Edey. If he wasn't taking the shot, he was getting the rebound and putting it back in. That bit them against FDU, where his supporting cast looked afraid to shoot. He is going to dominate the opposition. He was named kenpom's Game MVP 22 times, which is the second highest total ever in a single season. Even in losses he averaged 23.5/12.7. The key is trying to mitigate the damage Edey does and hope his cohorts don't kill you from deep. Last year, six different players took 80+ shots beyond the arc, but as a team they shot just 32.2% from deep. They also tend to turn it over in losses. Purdue lost the turnover battle in 5 of 6 losses last year. Defensively, Painter likes to have a monster in the middle to erase shots in the paint and his wings and guards are great at chasing teams off the line. They keep coming at you and rarely give second shots, so teams have to make the most of their opportunities. Purdue is also excellent at defending without fouling (#1 nationally last year) so beating them from the field is critical. Pressure the guards into mistakes on the defensive end, prevent the non-Edey players from turning into a Robin to his Batman, and be patient on offense while hitting open looks once you get them and this team can be beat. But it won't be easy. This is deservedly one of the best teams in the country and their expectations should again be claiming a Big 10 title, earning at worst a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and perhaps most important, making a deep run in March with the full capability of cutting down nets on the first Monday in April.




Gonzaga Bulldogs

November 22, 2023, Maui Invitational

Head Coach: Mark Few (689-135)

Three-Year NET Average: 2.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 3.3

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 15

Projected Starters: PG Ryan Nembhard (6'0" Jr), SG Nolan Hickman (6'2" Jr), SF Steele Venters (6'7" Sr), PF Anton Watson (6'8" 5th), C Graham Ike (6'9" RS Jr)

Gonzaga hopes Anton Watson will emerge from the shadow of Drew Timme

Photo by Kyle Terada | USA Today Sports

By Gonzaga's recent standards, earning a 3-seed and finishing 8th at kenpom is a disappointment, as they haven't been that low in either category since 2018. They did make it to the Elite 8 which kept intact their streak of making at least the second weekend every tournament since 2015. Drew Timme, Julian Strawther, and Rasir Bolton all departed, which leads to transition in Spokane. Anton Watson and Nolan Hickman return, but Ryan Nembhard, Steele Venters, and Graham Ike are all newcomers via the transfer portal. Nembhard should look familiar, not just because his brother played for Gonzaga but he also played for Creighton last year. Venters and Ike were both productive at lower level programs than Gonzaga. To sustain their excellence, either one of those players or someone like Ben Gregg, who was highly efficient in limited minutes, Jun Seok Yeo, a South Korean sophomore that averaged 25.6 ppg/10.6 rpg in a U-19 World Cup field that included Zach Edey, Chet Holmgren, and Victor Wenbanyama, or highly regarded freshmen like Dusty Stromer will need to emerge on the national stage over the course of the season.

Few's offense has evolved with the game. He adapts to his players and the evolution of basketball. The current result is a fast-paced offense that uses ball screens and motion. Few has often ran his offense through elite bigs. As a result, his teams dominate inside, ranking top-10 in 2PFG% seven straight years. They don't tend to take a ton of shots from deep, but are highly efficient when they do. When Few finds something that works, he will run it over and over and over until the opponent stops it. Don't be surprised to see the same exact play on two or three straight possessions if it's working. Gonzaga's defense isn't as highly regarded as the offense, and slipped to #73 last year per kenpom, their worst mark since 2007. The goal is to relentlessly chase teams off the line and force the opponent into isolation scenarios. They typically have the length and athleticism to win one-on-one battles. What was missing last year was the Chet Holmgren/Brandon Clarke type shot-blocker to erase drives when they lost those one-on-ones. Ike is decidedly not a shot-blocker, so expect their defense to be their Achilles' Heel this year. In terms of talent, Gonzaga should still be good. Considering their league, they will likely rack up a gaudy win total and find their way to an at-large bid. But unless someone emerges as an All-American candidate, there probably isn't enough here to be the truly elite level of team we've become accustomed to seeing from Spokane.

Saturday, September 09, 2023

Chaminade Preview, 2023-24

Chaminade Silverswords

November 21, 2023, Maui Invitational

Head Coach: Eric Bovaird (167-119 at Chaminade vs DII)

Projected Starters: PG Ross Reeves (6'4" So), SG Isaac Amaral-Artharee (6'2" Sr), SF Chris Bready (6'5" Jr), SF Scott Ator (6'7" Sr), C Jalen Brattain (6'7" Jr)

Milwaukee native Chris Bready aims to start for Chaminade this year

Photo from Chaminade Athletics

Chaminade posted a 14-15 record last season, which was their best mark since the COVID pandemic. They rallied to earn a place in the Pacific West Conference Championships, which was played on their home court, but they were drubbed 93-69 by the defending champions Academy of Art. They saw two starters play their final game as Braden Olson and Razheel Watkins both graduated.

The Silverswords do bring back three starters and have two ready-made replacements who appeared in every game last year. Ross Reeves was a dynamic scorer and playmaker as a freshman, averaging 15.6 ppg/2.9 apg. He can score inside and out with a 55.7 eFG% but is also a dangerous ballhawk, leading the team in steals. Isaac Amaral-Artharee led the team with 16.1 ppg and is a sniper from deep, averaging 39.1% from beyond the arc. Waukesha West's own Chris Bready steps up from the bench where his primary role was as a floor stretcher. Scott Ator provided a defensive presence off the bench, leading the team in blocks. He also boasts the highest returning three point percentage at 40% from deep, but that was only on 15 attempts. Jalen Brattain is the other returning starter, averaging 10.3 ppg/5.0 rpg last year. The Silverswords also return a pair of bench contributors in Dorian Harris and Jessiya Villa.

Offensively, Chaminade loves to push the pace and let it fly. They averaged 25.2 threes per game last season. In terms of playing fast, Marquette averaged 68.1 possessions per game last year; Chaminade was only under that number once last season. In 27 games in the Maui Invitational since Bovaird took over, Chaminade has been held below 68 possessions just twice, and averaged 73.5 possessions, a figure that would be top-15 in Division I any year of the past thirteen since Bovaird was hired. As a team, they shot 37.1% beyond the arc. Defensively, they are aggressive and excel at turning teams over. They need to be, because they aren't strong on the defensive glass.

In this Maui field, which is almost certainly the strongest MTE in NCAA history, Chaminade is likely to be little more than a speed bump for their opponents. Of the seven high-major teams, five are in the consensus top-11 coming in and both UCLA and Syracuse have legitmate NCAA expectations. With a large talent gap, Chaminade is further hindered by their high-paced tendency. The more possessions you play, the more likely the superior talent is to win out. If Marquette runs into the Silverswords, it will be disappointing as it almost certainly means they lost to UCLA, but this will be a game that is over by halftime.

Marquette Connection: Marquette's first ever game in the Maui Invitational was against Chaminade in 2007. Marquette generally controlled the first half, but Chaminade opened the second with a 6-0 run that cut the lead to 39-36. The Silverswords hung around, getting within a single possession two more times, most notably on a Rodrick Johnson jumper with 6:46 to play that made it 58-55. That's when Jerel McNeal took over. He tipped in a missed Lazar Hayward free throw to spark an 11-2 run that put Chaminade in the rear view. "We were very fortunate to win, I hate to use the word lucky, but I'm going to" said Marquette coach Tom Crean. "I wouldn't call it a wake-up call, we just need to do a better job of what we should be doing." Whatever he wanted to call it, the game did serve as a wake up call, as Marquette routed Oklahoma State 91-61 the following night. They came up just short in the final, falling to Duke 77-73.

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Kansas Preview, 2023-24

Kansas Jayhawks

November 21, 2023, Maui Invitational

Head Coach: Bill Self (787-237, 580-132 at Kansas)

Three-Year NET Average: 9.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 13.0

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 2

Projected Starters: PG Dajuan Harris (6'2" RS Jr), SG Nick Timberlake (6'4" 5th), SF Kevin McCullar (6'6" 5th), PF K.J. Adams (6'7" So), C Hunter Dickinson (7'1" Sr)

On paper, Hunter Dickinson is perfect for Bill Self and Kansas

Photo by Aiden Droge | Kansas Athletics

Kansas had a fairly typical year under Bill Self. They started the year 16-1 and climbed as high as #2 in the AP rankings. A 3-game losing streak had fans asking questions, but they rebounded to win the Big 12 regular season title outright and earn a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament before bowing out in the second round. The Jayhawks then had one of the more interesting summers in college basketball. Gradey Dick and Jalen Wilson were drafted to the NBA, though they were bolstered by the return of Kevin McCullar, whom many thought would also have been drafted. They added All-American Michigan big man Hunter Dickinson, but saw promising young bigs Zuby Ejiofor and Ernest Udeh transfer out. Their transfer haul also saw Parker Braun and Nick Timberlake join along with stud freshman guard Elmarko Jackson. **Update: Texas transfer Arterio Morris was slated to join Kansas, but has been suspended from the team following rape allegations. His status is unknown but for the moment we do not expect him to be available.**

As indicated by the #2 T-Rank, Kansas is loaded. Harris has been a steady presence at point guard and only grown in confidence since running the show for the 2021 National Championship team. If anyone not named Tyler Kolek has a claim as being the best point guard in the country, he's probably that person. Timberlake joins from Towson and is an absolute sniper, averaging over 40% from three each of the past two years on more than 400 combined attempts. McCullar is a defensive ace and willing to do all the dirty work. Adams spent a lot of time in the middle last year but is probably better suited for the 4 than the 5. Dickinson put up monster numbers at Michigan and is perfect for Self's system. He's a gravitational force on offense, demanding attention, controlling the glass, and has developed into a reliable long-range shooter over his career. While Kansas had some losses to the portal, they still have a deep bench. Jackson is a projected first round pick with the potential to be the fifth starter if Timberlake isn't as effective at the high major level. Braun and Zack Clemence provide depth up front and give Self options.

With Dickinson in the fold, expect Self to return to his big man focused offense. He loves to run pin-downs, using players like Udoka Azubuike in the past to isolate in the lane and use their strength to score. Expect to see that with Dickinson as well. However in the past few years, with less traditional bigs, he has used a lot more dribble hand-off action. Kansas will cross their guards and wings constantly, dribbling around the top of the perimeter, until they can either get a back door cut or an open look. They run a lot, and the theory is if you just keep going, eventually something will open up. Defensively, Self is flexible and works well with his personnel. In recent years, he adopted some of Texas Tech's no-middle style, which aims to keep the ball on the sidelines and limit abilities to reverse the ball. They have also turned up their ball pressure. No matter how he tinkers, though, he has success. For 24 of the past 25 years from Tulsa to Illinois to Kansas, his teams have ranked in the top-25 in kenpom defense. They will be stalwart.

Kansas looks like an immediate national title threat as this is the kind of roster Self loves. He has a steadying hand in Harris, a dominant big in Dickinson, and a plethora of wings. This team will be the favorite to win the Big 12 and one of a handful of teams that gets early title buzz. As Self has never had worse than a 4-seed in Lawrence, expect this team to be elite and in the top-10 for the majority of the season. They will almost certainly defeat Chaminade and if Marquette beats UCLA, they are virtually guaranteed to see the Jayhawks in the second round. That said, Marquette will also deservedly open the season as a top-10 team. With so many transfers and newcomers, as well as so much pressure on Dickinson and Timberlake to fit in early, this could be an opportunity for Marquette to land a third top-10 November win in three seasons under Shaka Smart, having knocked off #10 Illinois and #6 Baylor in the past two seasons.

Marquette Memory: The Warriors have only defeated Kansas once, and it was indeed Warriors when Al McGuire led Marquette to their first Final Four appearance in 1974. The first half advantage went to Kansas as they held a 24-23 halftime lead, but Marquette stormed out of the locker room with a 12-5 run that propelled them to a lead they would not relinquish. Maurice Lucas led the way for Marquette with a mammoth 18 points, 14 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Kansas had no answers in the second half as Marquette ran away with a 64-51 victory and appearance in the 1974 title game.

Sunday, September 03, 2023

UCLA Preview, 2023-24

UCLA Bruins

November 20, 2023

Head Coach: Mick Cronin (462-206, 99-36 at UCLA)

Three-Year NET Average: 9.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 9.0

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 28

Projected Starters: PG Dylan Andrews (6'2" So), SG Sebastian Mack (6'4" Fr), SF Lazar Stefanovic (6'7" Jr), PF Adem Bona (6'10" So), C Aday Mara (7'3" Fr)

Adem Bona pulled out of the NBA Draft for another year at UCLA

Photo from UCLA Athletics

From November 23 through March 10, UCLA went 26-2 and were the #1 team in the country per T-Rank in that stretch. However they lost future NBA draft pick and lockdown defender Jaylen Clark and stud freshman big Adem Bona to injury in the Pac-12 Tournament. A promising season with real National Title potential was cut short in the Sweet 16 as UCLA just didn't quite have enough to get past Gonzaga, falling 79-76 in one of the best games of the Tournament. Clark was joined by Jaime Jaquez and Amari Bailey as NBA draft picks and Tyger Campbell called it a career, leaving Mick Cronin with an exceptionally young roster.

Dylan Andrews will likely get the keys to the offense. He was an adequate backup at both guard positions as a freshman but a lot more will be expected of him next year. Top-75 recruit Sebastian Mack is a combo guard best known for his ferocious defense. Lazar Stefanovic transferred from Utah. He is a capable scorer that can also create for others, but will likely have a bigger offensive load simply due to the lack of experience on this roster. Adem Bona is the only returning player who averaged more than 4 ppg. He considered the NBA but ultimately returned and along with Stefanovic will likely be an offensive focal point. Aday Mara is projected as a lottery pick with immense talent but will be making a major adjustment to the American game. Will McClendon and Kenneth Nwuba will compete for starting jobs and have the most experience in Cronin's system. The Bruins have a talented recruiting class, with Ilane Fibleuil, Sebastian Mack, Brandon Williams, and Devin Williams all being top-100 recruits and any of them might surprise and contribute to this year's team. Even foreign recruits Berke Buyuktuncel and Jan Vide have shown up in early NBA mock drafts, so Cronin has a wealth of options despite the inexperience.

Cronin has continued to play a slower pace at UCLA. His teams prefer to play in the half-court, making their living with ball-control, multiple shooters, and aggression on the offensive boards. Cronin's staff tracks turnovers and it is anathema to their philosophy. What he really wants to do is put five capable scorers on the floor that aren't going to give the ball away. It sounds simple, but it takes elite recruiting and development to keep that up consistently. Defensively, they have similarities to Marquette. UCLA also tracks deflections and awards the Deflections Bone to the team leader (the hungry dog gets the bone). They swarm to everything, trying to contest, steal, or block every shot that goes up. Last year they were truly elite defensively, ranking #2 in kenpom.

In terms of raw talent, UCLA is one of the most gifted teams in the country. Mara, Buyuktuncel, Bona, and Vide show up frequently in mock drafts. Per 247, they had the 13th ranked recruiting class in the country and that wasn't counting Mara and Buyuktuncel, who were late commits coming over from Europe. But in terms of experienced, this is one of the youngest teams in the country as well. Stefanovic and reserve big Nwuba are the only juniors or seniors expected to crack the rotation. For a team that puts so much offensive focus on not turning the ball over, this much youth will likely be a challenge for Cronin. Further, how well will this team fit together defensively when most of the rotation players are in their first year at Westwood? It will also be a challenge to get the most talented roster on the floor, as there is positional overlap between Bona and Mara, Andrews and Mack, and Stefanovic and Buyuktuncel. This feels like a team that will struggle out of the gate due to the youth and lack of familiarity, but if they put it all together could be a tough out come March. Thankfully for Marquette, they will be playing UCLA in November and this is a good chance to get a win over a team that should only get better as the year goes on.

Marquette Memory: With Marquette's 2019 win over Purdue and 2020 and 2021 losses to UCLA, there is no team in the country Marquette has played more often without earning a win than the Bruins. In 2020, Marquette came close, holding a 51-47 lead with 10 minutes to play at Pauley Pavilion, but UCLA went on a 14-3 run to take control of the game. Jaime Jaquez led the way for the Bruins with 18 points and 6 rebounds. D.J. Carton countered with 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists but it was not enough to hold the lead. Opening Maui against UCLA will give Marquette a chance to get the bear-shaped monkey off their back.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Illinois Preview, 2023-24

Illinois Fighting Illini

November 14, 2023, State Farm Center

Head Coach: Brad Underwood (223-106 overall, 114-79 at Illinois)

Three-Year NET Average: 17.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 13.7

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 29

Projected Starters: PG Marcus Domask (6'6" 5th), SG Justin Harmon (6'4" 5th), SF Terrence Shannon (6'6" 5th), PF Quincy Guerrier (6'8" 5th), C Coleman Hawkins (6'10" Sr)


Coleman Hawkins rocks the rim at Fiserv in 2021

Photo by Mitchell Layton | Getty Images

TRIVIA TIME! Before we begin, when was the last time Marquette defeated a high-major opponent on the road in November? We'll get to the answer shortly. Now back to your regularly scheduled preview...

Illinois fans must've felt like they were on a roller-coaster last year. They started the season 9-5 (0-3 Big 10) and Brad Underwood was questioning the team's leadership and effort in December. They found their form after star recruit Skyy Clark transferred in January. Illinois had a red hot finish to January, going 7-1 through the end of the month, but closed the season with a 4-7 stretch including losses in their final three games. They lost Matthew Mayer to graduation and point guard Jayden Epps to the portal, but returned Terrence Shannon and Coleman Hawkins, both of whom flirted with the NBA Draft. They also added a trio of fifth year seniors in Marcus Domask, Justin Harmon, and Quincy Guerrier.

Few teams will start the year with a lineup as experienced as the Illini can put on the floor. Both Domask and Harmon are high-usage scorers with a ton of experience, but neither have played in the NCAA Tournament. Shannon is a lock-down defender and has been a consistently efficient offensive threat. Up front, Guerrier looked like a burgeoning star at Syracuse, but struggled to really make his mark at Oregon the past two years. Hawkins on paper is a matchup nightmare as a 6'10" big that at his best is an excellent passer and floor spacer, but too often is invisible or ineffective. They do have solid depth off the bench with combo guard Sencire Harris, wings Luke Goode and Ty Rodgers, and big Dain Dainja all capable of providing reliable minutes. The problem is there's no true point guard on the roster. During their 7-1 stretch, they were top-50 in turnover rate. Their 9-5 start they were a woeful #308 and in the 4-7 finish they were #164. It isn't difficult to see that when they turn it over, they lose far more often. In addition, while Domask and Harmon add back court scoring, both are turnover prone and that will likely only be exacerbated by transferring to a higher level.

Offensively, Illinois runs a spread offense. They put Hawkins at the free throw line, a role that his passing is ideally suited for. The other four offensive players spread out around him, leaving the corners and baseline open to try to get looks from three or clear driving lanes. They utilize a number of cutting actions to create open shots. This article from Hooper University does a great job laying out how they create offense. Defensively, Underwood has a great understanding of the modern game. He transitioned from a high-pressure defense while at Illinois. It starts on the interior, where everyone challenges shots. 9 of 11 players last year had a block rate greater than 1.0, led by Dainja, Mayer, and Hawkins. Compare that to Marquette, where only 3 of 9 players had such a block rate (Ighodaro, Gold, and Joplin). Illinois is elite at 2PFG% defense, and they are also great at chasing teams off the three-point line thanks to high-activity defenders like Shannon. Teams shot much better against them from three, but at such a low rate (#16 nationally) that it didn't hurt their eFG% defense much. Expect them to fly around on the defensive end, and while they'll get whistled for some fouls, they have the depth to offset that.

This Illinois team is hard to peg down. The positives are they have a ton of length and experience. They should be a stout defensive team and have guys who have been through the wars. But many of those guys are the same ones that have been considered disappointing the past two years, and the leadership that Underwood questioned last year is the same leadership the team has now. While they've added a ton of experience, it comes from players who have either not played in the NCAA Tournament (Domask, Harmon) or played the last two years for underachieving teams (Guerrier at Oregon). They have the talent to be a top-half Big 10 team that makes it to the Tournament, but there are enough question marks around the ball-handling and leadership to question if they get there. On their best nights, they will be able to compete with top teams, but on their worst they will likely struggle even with lesser opposition. So how will this game go for Marquette? Going back to our trivia question, if you answered "St. John's on November 13, 2003" you are a winner. It's been 20 years since Marquette won a high-major road game in November, going 0-7 in that time. It was so long ago that Marquette got that win against a Big East school that they share a league with going on 19 years. Illinois will be looking for revenge after losing as a top-10 team at Fiserv two years ago and while Marquette will likely be favorites on paper, location alone might make this the toughest test of November for Marquette, which is really saying something considering the Maui field.

Marquette Connection: You don't have to go back too far to remember this one. Illinois was ranked #10 coming into Fiserv for the first marquee game with fans after the COVID pandemic shut college basketball down in 2020. Marquette played close to the favored Illini into the second half, but an 11-1 run pushed Illinois into the lead and a Coleman Hawkins three seemed to be the dagger as Illinois led 58-46 with just 10 minutes to play. Illinois then turned the ball over on three of their next four possessions as a 9-0 run got Marquette back into the game. The teams largely traded scores into the final minutes. With the score 66-65 Illinois, Marquette missed three straight chances to take the lead as Morsell missed two shots and Stevie Mitchell missed two free throws. With just seconds remaining, Illinois was trying to run out the clock as Darryl Morsell bodied up Illini guard Trent Frazier. When Morsell tried to force a steal, Frazier turned his dribble away but did not realize Tyler Kolek had snuck in from behind and was waiting to poke the ball free. Kolek made the clean steal and drove the length of the floor, scoring the winning points with 18 seconds left. Kur Kuath made one more steal on the final Illinois possession and Marquette escaped with a 67-66 upset win. Here's Kolek's game-clinching play:

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Getting excited for another season of Marquette hoops

I was on campus today as I needed to attend to something downtown.

I saw the Al McGuire Center and I was filled with excitement for Marquette hoops this season

Will they win the Big East again? They got a good chance with eight of nine rotational players including four starters coming back from last season’s championship team.

The standard has to be higher than winning the Big East and just making the NCAA Tournament.

Shaka Smart and the program need to snap their Sweet 16, Elite Eight, and Final Four drought. Hey, let’s also dream and hope Marquette basketball can win its first national championship since 1977.

Hopefully, Tyler Kolek will repeat as Big East Player of the Year. If he doesn’t, let’s hope it is because Kam Jones or Oso Ighodaro beat him out for the prize.

Oso is an NBA prospect but he needs to knock down some threes if he is to improve his draft stock. Hitting threes would bring an added element to his outstanding offensive game. It can also help make up for the loss of O-Max.

Chase Ross and freshman Tre Norman and Zaide Lowery need to fill the void on defense that Prosper’s departure left.

It will be interesting to see if Shaka plays a nine or 10-man role rotation.

If he does, which of the three freshmen will be the one on the outside looking in?

We still have some days left in summer so enjoy it. That does mean you cannot be excited for some MU hoops.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Rider Preview, 2023-24

Rider Broncs

November 10, 2023, Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: Kevin Baggett (177-166)

Three-Year NET Average: 245.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 248.7

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 239

Projected Starters: PG Allen Powell (6'2" 5th), SG T.J. Weeks (6'4" 5th), SF Tyriek Weeks (6'6" So), PF Mervin James (6'7" 5th), C Tariq Ingraham (6'9" Sr)

Kevin Baggett has a MAAC POY Candidate in Mervin James

Photo courtesy of Rider Athletics

The Broncs showed flashes of potential in non-conference play last year. They had a double-digit lead in the second half at Providence before falling 66-65 and were within one possession at Georgia in the final minutes of an eventual 78-72 defeat. They put it together in MAAC play, starting an 8-game winning streak with a victory over Rick Pitino and Iona. They went on to finish second in the league before being upset by St. Peter's in the MAAC Tournament. While leading scorer Dwight Murray is gone, they bring back an incredibly experienced roster that will likely challenge for the MAAC title, seeking Kevin Baggett's second overall title and first since 2018. The question will be if they can get him to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his career.

The first thing that jumps out about Rider is how old they are. This is a team with a ton of experience as four of five projected starters are seniors or fifth year players, as is the expected first man off the bench. Allen Powell is the leading returning player in terms of minutes. He can get hot and averaged double-digit scoring each of the past two years but has never had the scoring consistency Murray did. Expect a back court by committee, but Powell will likely get first crack at running the show. Massachusetts transfer T.J. Weeks will round out the back court and provides a reliable ball-handler and shooter. His brother Tyriek is a dark horse to start, but he posted 14.3 PPG/7.4 RPG for Miami-Dade College before transferring as a JUCO. The younger Weeks also shot 40.1% from three, something this team desperately needs. Up front, Mervin James is a MAAC Player of the Year candidate. He put up 12.9/6.8 last year with a 108.0 offensive rating. Wake Forest transfer Tariq Ingraham blossomed down the stretch in 2023, with a 62.7 eFG% in their last 11 games. Depth may be the only place the Broncs have questions. Corey McKeithan will likely be a spot starter after playing in every game last year and backing up the guard positions. JUCO J.T. Langston posted 15.0/7.2 for East Los Angeles Community College, but past that it's a number of unheralded freshmen that will round out the rotation, with D.J. Dudley, Ife West-Ingram, and Ruben Rodriguez looking like the most likely to contribute.

Baggett's teams want to win the fight. Offensively, they will pound it inside and rely on the strength of guys like James and Ingraham to battle on the glass and get second chance points. But they aren't teams that will win shootouts. They barely take threes (#357 in attempt rate) and they only had three guys who shot over 30% last season, all of whom are gone. The Weeks brothers can both make shots from range, which is why both will likely be heavy in the rotation. Defensively, expect them to be just as physical, which is a positive and negative. Their interior physicality allows them to control the glass and limit 2PFG%, but they also foul a lot. That focus also opens up the perimeter and while they make teams work for shots, they allow a ton of attempts from beyond the arc (#330 in defensive three point attempt rate). Make your threes and free throws and Rider will struggle to keep up.

Rider has a solid core with Powell, James, and Ingraham. The Weeks brothers are biggest question for this team. If T.J. can return to the high efficiency scorer he was earlier in his UMass career and Tyriek can provide some reliability from three, the offense should stay near the top of the MAAC. Depth will be the biggest question, as some of the freshmen will likely have to contribute from the start, but if they stay healthy they have an excellent seven-man rotation. With Iona going through a coaching change and massive roster turnover, the Broncs should be one of the favorites to win the league and give Baggett a shot at his first NCAA bid. For a guarantee game, this is a tough out and another game with Quadrant 3 potential.

Marquette Connection: Stevie Mitchell's high school career ended on March 12, 2021 as his Wilson team lost 66-58 to Reading High in the Pennsylvania District 3 Championship Game. The player most responsible for that loss was Reading's then-sophomore star, Ruben Rodriguez, who led the Red Knights with 24 points. Mitchell had a game-high 30 points and 10 rebounds, but his shot fizzled down the stretch as he went 1/4 from the field in the fourth quarter. "We know Stevie's going to get to the basket, and he's gonna get buckets," Rodriguez said, "but we just try to contain him and do the best we could. He's a helluva player." Rodriguez is now a freshman for Rider and Stevie will have a chance to get revenge for that 2021 loss. Ruben Rodriguez also commented after the game, "We knew we couldn't send our seniors home without a championship." That was a championship denied to Mitchell, and he will finally get a chance to return the sting of defeat to Rodriguez on the court.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Northern Illinois Preview, 2023-24

Northern Illinois Huskies

November 6, 2023, Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: Rashon Burno (22-40)

Three-Year NET Average: 294.7

Three-Year kenpom Average: 294.7

Projected 2023-24 T-Rank: 221

Projected Starters: PG David Coit (5'11" Jr), SG Keshawn Williams (6'3" Sr), SF Zarique Nutter (6'6" Jr), PF Philmon Gebrewhit (6'7" 5th), C Harvin Ibarguen (6'9" Sr)

Keshawn Williams led all scorers with 17 points in Marquette's 2021 win over NIU
Photo by Larry Radloff | Associated Press

The last time we saw Northern Illinois was two years ago, when Marquette dispatched them 80-66 at Fiserv Forum. The Huskies made a big improvement in year two under Rashon Burno, finishing 9-9 in the MAC and winning 9 of their last 17 games. Their performance per T-Rank skyrocketed, ranking #328 through January 8th and climbing to #191 the rest of the way. This was largely fueled by massive shooting improvement. They went from a 47.2 eFG% (ranked 293) to a stellar 56.0 (ranked 13). Inside, credit the emergence of Harvin Ibarguen, who ranked 3rd nationally in 2PFG% at 74.5%. Outside, it was improvement from David Coit (34.9% to 41.9%) and the departed Darweshi Hunter (25.0% to 48.3%) from deep that drove that surge.

NIU improved their kenpom rank from #297 in 2021-22 to #250 in 2022-23 and return four starters. They will be led by Keshawn Williams, who led the team in scoring average at 17.9 PPG, but it's worth noting he only played in the first 13 games of the season and NIU's improvement began after Williams went down. David Coit will run in the back court with Williams and likely take over the lead ball handler duties. Along with Zarique Nutter, the Huskies have multiple players that can create offense on and off the ball. The familiar name here is Philmon Gebrewhit, who was a spot starter for DePaul the past two years and provides another capable wing scorer. Ibarguen was one of the big surprises last year, putting up monstrously efficient offense (125.3 Offensive Rating) albeit on low usage (12.4%). His minutes, efficiency, and 2PFG% all improved in conference play, and he could be in for a huge senior year. Two more names to watch are Quaran McPherson and Ethan Butler, a pair of high-major down-transfers from Nebraska and Oregon. This roster is experienced, deep, and talented.

Offensively, Northern Illinois wants to play fast, creating turnovers and transition opportunities to generate offense. However, that was more effective in conference play than in non-con. They also played smarter and more aggressive on offense as the season went on. The Huskies attacked the rim more, got to the line more often, and took a higher percentage of their shots from deep. With their improved accuracy coinciding with increased volume, it's no wonder the offense improved. On defense, they play a pressure defense, using their length and athleticism to generate turnovers. They also have a pair of aggressive shot-blockers on the bench in Oluwasegun Durosinmi and Yanic Konan Niederhauser, but both are more likely to foul than they are to block shots. That's particularly true for Durosinmi, who fouled out 6 times on the year and while he led the team with an 8.5% block rate, he had as many or more fouls than blocked shots in 27 of 29 appearances, and in 5 of the 6 times he fouled out he did it in fewer than 10 minutes played.

For the past few years, Toledo, Akron, and Kent State have been the class of the MAC. Next year, between those 3 teams, 8 of the top 9 scorers are gone. If ever there was a season for a team to challenge from the middle of the pack, this is it, and NIU looks positioned to be a team that could make that type of charge. It might be too soon to win the league, but this looks like a top-4 team in the MAC and could even be a Quadrant 3 game by the time March rolls around. The biggest X factor may be leading scorer Keshawn Williams. While he's a highly productive player, the team's improvement in shooting and overall play coincided with his season ending injury. He will need to prove he can fit in with and augment the roster that looked so much better from January 10th on. If he does, this could be a better team than most are expecting. On opening night with multiple championships being unveiled in the Fiserv rafters, Marquette should come away with the win, but if NIU rediscovers their hot shooting, don't be surprised if they keep it closer than most expect.

Marquette Connection: After a 24-year series hiatus, this will be the third time NIU has traveled to Milwaukee since 2017. NIU was once a thorn in Marquette's side, going 2-1 against Rick Majerus in the 1980s, and they were so once again on December 18, 2017. Coming out of halftime with a 6-point deficit, the Huskies' all-time leading scorer Eugene German led a 13-3 run that gave the visitors a 49-45 lead midway through the second half. The game played close until an 11-1 run led by Markus Howard and Sam Hauser put the game away. Even still, that game foreshadowed a Marquette team with both tremendous offensive capabilities and glaring defensive weaknesses as they escaped with a 79-70 victory.

Saturday, July 08, 2023

Marquette Gold


Get ready for a Ben Gold breakout season

Photo from Marquette Athletics

Every sports fan has that controversial sports hill they are willing to die on. For me, it's that Marquette Gold, had the university stuck to their guns in 2005, would've been a perfectly reasonable nickname that would've been more successful and popular in the long term than Golden Eagles. For everyone that asked "what's a Gold" let's remember that Blues, Heat, and Avalanche have all been perfectly suitable nicknames. But that's not the Marquette Gold I want to talk about today. We're here to talk about Marquette's Ben Gold.


Sean Paul was one of the first people I noticed stoking the Ben Gold hype train. He points out Gold's size, athleticism, and shooting ability in the attached video. Paul suggests Gold can be a double-digit scorer for Marquette, which would be in line with what David Joplin did for Marquette last year, averaging 9.2 ppg off the bench as he was named Big East Sixth Man of the Year.

So why do I think Gold can have a similar or even bigger breakout? It started when I was looking at his kenpom page. One of the things Pomeroy does is break down full season stats, then include conference-only stats below them. What struck me was that virtually every significant number for Gold was better in conference play than it was for the full season. I then used T-Rank to compare the numbers for Gold in the first 11 non-conference games and compare them to what he did in the 20 Big East games. His improvement was absolutely absurd. Look at the comparisons:

Gold was better finishing inside, outside, and at the line. He was more efficient, a better rebounder, turned the ball over less, and got to the line more. He did this while maintaining roughly the same number of minutes played and usage rate. Typically, as the level of competition goes up, player performance tends to go down. For Gold, his level of performance skyrocketed as Marquette faced tougher opponents.

So why aren't we talking more about Gold? It's not because of who he played against, but rather who he played behind last year. The depth chart at the 4/5 positions included NBA wing Olivier-Maxence Prosper, all-conference big man Oso Ighodaro, and Big East Sixth Man of the Year David Joplin. Those players combined for 79.2 minutes per game, most of them at the 4/5 positions Gold plays. But with Prosper gone, that leaves 29.1 minutes that need to be filled. Joplin will presumably take some of those, but he was already at 19.0 mpg so most of Prosper's minutes will likely go to Gold.

Gold's size and shooting make him perfect in Marquette's system

Photo from Marquette Athletics

In addition, we have already seen what year two development looks like for this staff. We've seen the jumps made by Justin Lewis and Oso Ighodaro from their freshman to sophomore years, and the leaps taken by Kam Jones, Stevie Mitchell, David Joplin, Tyler Kolek, and Prosper in their second years in the program. In terms of a path to minutes, proof of concept with Gold's 2023 Big East play, and the track record of this staff, Ben Gold is in pole position to blow up in 2023-24.

With four of five starters and the Big East Sixth Man of the Year returning, the core of the upcoming season's rotation is likely set. But like last year, there's room for someone who can carve out significant minutes off the bench. Last year, it was David Joplin in the front court and Chase Ross in the backcourt. Ross will likely reprise that role, but Gold is the best bet to play the Joplin role and can provide the scoring skillset Joplin has, the wing handling and driving of Prosper, and the shooting to be a stretch five, something that has most closely been approximated in how Ighodaro handles and distributes from the top of the key. If you're looking for an early Big East Sixth Man of the Year future, Ben Gold is the player to put your chips on.

Friday, July 07, 2023

Travis Diener talks Diener vs Wade, Literacy, and 2003 memories

Well have we got a summer treat for #mubb fans. Mr. Miller Lite himself joins the Scrambled Eggs pod to talk about the upcoming charity event to support literacy in Milwaukee as well as chat a little about his time at Marquette and the Final Four reunion. Come for the good cause, stay for the trash talk. Enjoy! Event Tickets: WWW.WADEVSDIENER.GIVESMART.COM Contest Entry: WWW.GO.CAUZEO.COM/GOLF https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/7psuz2/Diener_070623.mp3

Friday, June 23, 2023

Summer catch-up for #mubb

It's time to catch up on #mubb for the summer to date. We jump into the NBA draft where the next MU NBA player, OMax Prosper was drafted ultimately by the Dallas Mavericks. We talk how this happened, where we see OMax's career going, and what it means for MU. We then talk roster, schedule, and pretty significant expectations for Marquette going into next season. Whatever your summer plans, hope you have time for this pod and enjoy! https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/4vj48e/ScrambledEggs_Editted_062323.mp3

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Olivier-Maxence Prosper's decision should come down to this one thing

Olivier-Maxence Prosper's draft stock has risen considerably after a great NBA Draft Combine performance.

O-Max impressed scouts with his measurables and his production during the scrimmages. He walked away from Chicago as one of the biggest winners.

He now has to make a decision to keep his name in the draft by the end of May and forfeit his remaining college eligibility. 

At the bare minimum, O-Max has done enough to get a two-way contract. 

I have seen mock drafts have him possibly going late in the second round. He is in that area where he could get picked because he fits the NBA three-and-D player mold. O-Max could also go undrafted as NBA teams picking late in the second may go with a European player with higher upside that they can bring over at a later time.

Prosper has to assess if he wants to risk going undrafted and the limbo of being on a two-way contract—they are not guaranteed deals (although he can always earn one).

Speaking of limbo, that is sort of the financial situation he will be in. Since he is from Canada, O-Max's NIL prospects are limited.

He can return to Marquette and be part of a possible Final Four team, but not cash in on his name, image, and likeness like he might in say playing in the G-League. He can kick start his NBA dream and at a minimum earn money on a two-way deal.

Prosper really just needs to assess one thing when making his decision--does he want to bet on himself to possibly get picked in the first round next year?

The projected area he is set to go in right now means he will have to roll the dice on himself. Being a willing defender with his size and ability screams rotational player in the NBA. That might be his ceiling so teams might prefer to get him in the undrafted free agent market like Wesley Matthews.

He just has to determine when his pro career should start and how it should start. If he wants to improve his draft stock, then he should return to Marquette. Otherwise, if Prosper thinks he can do nothing more than move up a bit higher in the second round, then he should start his pro career this year.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

This hurts, but we gotta talk about it

This isn't the #mubb pod we wanted to talk about but it's the pod we have to have. We talk about the disappointing finish to an otherwise spectacular season and how we process our feelings. We also look toward the offseason and the next season which has the potential to break the #ScrambledEggs optimism scale. Tough but as always enjoy! https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/s6kceg/ScrambledEggs_Editted_032223.mp3

Sunday, March 19, 2023

What is at stake today when Marquette plays Michigan State today

A spot in the Sweet 16 is the most obvious thing on the line when Marquette takes on Michigan State. Here are some other things at stake…

Marquette has never beaten Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament. MSU beat MU in the 1959 regional semifinals and the 2007 first round.

The Golden Eagles have never beaten Tom Izzo. Marquette has played the legendary coach twice. The aforementioned first-round victory in 2007 was a teacher vs. student showdown. Izzo easily defeated his former assistant, Tom Crean, 61-49. Although, Marquette did not have Jerel McNeal available. Marquette also lost in the 2014 Orlando Classic to the Izzo-led Spartans.

This Golden Eagles team has a chance to be the first squad in program history to win 30 games.

Shaka Smart has only won one second-round game. That victory came when he guided VCU to the Final Four in 2011. He led the Rams to three more appearances in the second round from 2012-2014.

If Marquette wins today, it would be the most wins in a season Shaka has had.

Marquette has never beaten a seven seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Tyler Kolek needs 10 more assists to break Tony Miller’s single season record of 274. 

Friday, March 17, 2023

The biggest demon has been exorcised and we gotta react

#mubb has won when it matters for the first time in a decade, you bet your bottom dollar we're gonna react to it. We talk the game, the bracket, vibes, and the fighting Joey Hausers. Enjoy! https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/7p3siq/ScrambledEggs_Editted_031723.mp3

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Why not us and why not now??!?

Join us while we splash around in the good vibes pool for #mubb. We talk record seeding in NCAA tournament for MU as well as first round match up against Vermont. We also revisit the joy of MSG and talk about the sliding doors that got us here. Last we talk overall bracket and try to wrap our heads around "is this really a chance to go F4 and beyond?" Enjoy! https://mcdn.podbean.com/mf/web/k8gcuv/ScrambledEggs_Editted_031323.mp3

Sunday, March 12, 2023

2023 Bracketology Final

Selection Sunday is here, and so is our final S-Curve and bracket projection. Very few changes this week, including for the team most of our readers take interest in. A few final thoughts:

  • Gonzaga and Marquette remain on the 3-line behind Baylor. While I do feel Baylor might not be as deserving of that spot, the Selection Committee voted the top two lines on Wednesday and historically they don't make changes on Saturday night regardless of results. I would be happy to be wrong and see Marquette (or even the Zags) land on the 2-line, but if I'm making a projection based on their history, I don't think it will change.
  • Tennessee/UConn for the last 3/first 4 and Florida Atlantic/Arkansas for the last 7/first 8 were some of the most difficult decisions. I stuck with Tennessee because of the trend mentioned above. I went with FAU over Arkansas because last year I underestimated Murray State's seed, and FAU is basically Murray State with a better NET. While my number has them lower, there is historical precedent that I'm working off of.
  • The bubble came down to four teams for two spots. NC State, Pittsburgh, Nevada, and Oklahoma State were the last teams truly considered. I went with both of the ACC teams. The Wolfpack have the metrics and no real disqualifying factors. Pitt has some great wins, including away from home which the Selection Committee showed a preference for. If I were making the call, I would have Nevada in, but I have overestimated the Mountain West in the past and their bad losses have mounted recently. Oklahoma State at 18-15 simply doesn't have enough good. They went 0-8 against the protected seeds in the Big 12 and no team has got in with 15 losses that didn't also have at least 19 wins. Just not enough there.
  • If there are any surprise inclusions, it might be Clemson, who has a nice top of the resume but a ton of bad losses (like last year's first team out, Dayton) or New Mexico, who has great top-end wins but just took too many hits down the stretch. I don't expect any of the top-44 teams to miss. Maybe a Providence or Utah State falls to Dayton, but I strongly expect them to be in the field.
  • Finally, regarding Marquette, sticking with them to Columbus as my expectation. If they do get up to the 2-line, Des Moines is still possible, but Columbus has felt most likely. If nothing else, this team thrives on feeling slighted, so being a line lower than fans expect might continue to fuel their "F*** 'em" attitude.

Here is the final S-Curve and bracket. We don't expect any changes regardless of the results in the American and Big 10 Tournaments.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

The Eve of Madness

Marquette's celebration is underway as UConn falls at the Garden

Photo by John Minchillo | AP Photo

With Selection Sunday just one day away, it's time to look at what the field looks like a day before the official bracket comes out, and covering a few discussion points.

Marquette in the Big East Final

For the first time in quite awhile, Marquette has taken over as the presumptive Big East Champion. While Marquette fans will certainly hope this means ascension to the 2-line, I'm still pessimistic on that. The 1's and 2's were voted on by the Selection Committee on Wednesday. In order to change that, 7/12 voters would have to agree to rescrub one of the last 2-seeds. Arizona is still alive, so they aren't likely going anywhere, and if a team were scrubbed off the 2-line, it would probably be Baylor. But then we get to metrics and knowing that all of the WCC games mattered. If anyone moves up to the 2-line, it would more likely be Gonzaga.

Bid Thieves and the Bubble

Right now, we feel pretty good about everyone through Rutgers at #44. Nevada and Pitt are both in position to be knocked out by a team like UAB, Vanderbilt, or Ohio State. We added Vandy to the Still Considering list, but they feel a lot like Texas A&M last year, whose SEC Tourney run was too little, too late. If there's any team not on here that might sneak in, New Mexico is a team with some awesome Q1A wins that the Committee might surprise us with. If any bid thieves do make it in, expect them to show up on the 11-line (like Virginia Tech last year) with Providence and USC most likely to fall to Dayton.

Autobid Rescrub

We did a deep dive into the 12-16 lines again with most of the automatic bids awarded. If there are unexpected winners, most likely the underdog would go to the same seed as the current favorite. The 16-seeds felt very secure. The toughest decisions were the last 15 (Kennesaw, Colgate, UCSB considered) and the last 13 (Furman and Louisiana). If there are unexpected winners here or if UAB is a bid thief, don't be surprised to see Charleston pushed up to the 11 line if that becomes necessary.

Here's the updated S-Curve:

Friday, March 10, 2023

Dreaming of a Marquette March

The good news, we know Marquette will be in the NCAA Tournament, and they look to have solidly locked up a 3-seed. With that in mind, we're going to dig into the teams Marquette might see the first weekend and see who would give the staff nightmares and which teams they are dreaming of playing. Let's dig in:

 Greg Williams traded his St. John's gear for nearly identical Louisiana gear

Photo by Benjamin Massey | Louisiana Athletics


Nightmare: Louisiana

Marquette has six losses all year long, and four of those came to teams ranked in the top-30 of Offensive Rebounding Rate. This isn't just a team that does damage inside, though, the Ragin' Cajuns are top-50 in 3PFG%. They are also anchored by down-transfers. Big man Jordan Brown came from Arizona, wing Terence Lewis from North Texas, and guard Greg Williams came from St. John's, where he once scored 17 points in a win over Marquette. Don't be mistaken, if this game happens, this is still a game where Marquette will be favored, but Louisiana has some high-major talent and their strengths are areas where they can take advantage.

Dream: Vermont

The Catamounts are always an upset darling, but they haven't played a top-100 kenpom team since December and went 0-5 against such opposition, losing by an average of 18 points. They are terrible on the offensive glass and the worst defensive team in the mix for a 14-seed. Vermont has stayed close to NCAA opponents in recent years, but John Becker is 0-4 in Thursday/Friday NCAA games and this doesn't look like the year he breaks that streak.

Buzz Williams' intensity level hasn't diminished since leaving Marquette

Photo by Christopher Hanewinckel | USA Today Sports


Nightmare: Texas A&M

If nothing else, Marquette fans would be terrified just of the idea of facing Buzz again. As sweet as the victory would be, it would be equally crushing to see a season end to the man who brought Marquette to three consecutive second weekend trips a decade ago. On the court, it would be a tough matchup. A&M is top-10 in offensive rebounding and has a wealth of physical bigs they could throw at Oso Ighodaro. They aren't a great shooting team, but they out-physical teams on the glass to create second chances. Defensively, they will challenge you inside and dare you to beat them at the arc. This is a tough matchup physically for Marquette and psychologically for Marquette fans.

Dream: TCU

Honestly, I'm not sure there is a dream 6-seed, but the team that Marquette matches up best with is the Horned Frogs. Offensively, they don't rebound as well as the others on that line, they are a poor three-point shooting team, and their health questions could make them vulnerable. Defensively, they aren't great at stopping teams inside the arc, so Marquette's bread and butter offense takes advantage of their weakness. How the Big 12 teams will be seeded will be interesting, but if the choice is Duke's wealth of offensive rebounders or Oscar Tshiebwe, TCU seems like the most attractive option.

Nevada big man Will Baker once played for Shaka Smart at Texas
Photo from Nevada Athletics


Nightmare: Pittsburgh

The team best built to outscore their opponents on the 11-line are the Pitt Panthers. They can put four shooters around their rim-protecting big and can beat you in multiple ways. They are comfortable playing through either of their two point guards, Jamarius Burton or Nelly Cummings, run a tight, established rotation, and know their roles. In addition, no Marquette fan wants to send fan favorite Greg Elliott home. Pitt is prone to the occasional blowout loss and it's certainly a team Marquette would be favored against. However, they have played 10 games decided by 4 points or less, so this is a team that knows how to keep it tight down the stretch and have the ability to make for a nervy final few minutes for any team they come up against.

Dream: Nevada

The Wolfpack is fine, but not great in any regard. They have good size across the board, but don't take advantage on the offensive glass and aren't an outstanding shooting team. Defensively, they slow the pace but again don't have a calling card. They're just kind of okay at everything. But where they aren't okay is away from home. Per T-Rank, Marquette is the 7th best team in the country in road/neutral games while Nevada is 64th. It seems unlikely they would last to even play a 3-seed, but if they did, don't expect this to be a Sweet 16 team no matter who they face.

A few notes on where we stand. The 1's and 2's were voted on Wednesday. It is very unlikely those will change, which is why we feel confident about the placing of Purdue on the 1-line and keeping Gonzaga and Marquette on the 3-line. Most of the seeding feels set, but we are still looking at the last 4-seed (Virginia, San Diego State, Miami, Iowa State all considered), the last 6-seed (Texas A&M, Northwestern, Creighton), and whether Florida Atlantic can win Conference USA and move up to the 7-line.

On the bubble, it came down to 6 teams for the final three spots. We looked at Rutgers, Nevada, Pittsburgh, Clemson, NC State, and Oklahoma State. Teams like Wisconsin and Michigan largely played themselves out of contention, which opened the door for Rutgers. Nevada stayed in despite their loss because of the overall body of work. Oklahoma State was knocked out because they simply didn't have enough wins to offset their 15 losses (no team with 15 losses has ever got in with fewer than 19 wins). That left one spot for the three ACC teams. Each of them had positives. Clemson was 4-0 against NC State and Pitt, but their #333 NCSOS is simply awful. NC State had a slightly better NCSOS, but we couldn't justify putting them in over a Clemson team that beat them three times. That left Pitt, who had mediocre metrics, but 4 Q1 wins (more than NC State) and only 2 losses outside Q1+2 (to Clemson's 4). Pitt was the least offensive of the three. That said, keep an eye out for bid thieves, because a surprise win in Conference USA, the American, or any of the high-major conferences could shrink the field and knock those last four in to the other side of the bubble.

Apologies for no bracket today, but the snow day in Milwaukee means it's hard enough getting this out with two kids here that were supposed to be in school. Here's the current S-Curve: