Tuesday, December 28, 2010

MU/Vandy Preview

Marquette takes on Vanderbilt tomorrow in its final non-conference game of the season.  Tip-off is at 8:00 CST in Nashville.  So far MU has gone 0-3 against quality opponents, and has one last chance to make a statement before conference play begins.

Before I get in to the game preview, a different issue needs to be addressed.  In case you haven't heard yet, Reggie Smith has decided to transfer from Marquette.  Reggie suspiciously did not show up to campus on Christmas night, as all players were supposed to do.  He then missed the team's next practice, the first of a two-a-day on Sunday.  Buzz later reached out to Reggie and his stepfather to find out that Reggie wanted to transfer, and his wish was granted.  From what I've read and heard, this situation is very similar to that of Jeronne Maymon's last year, nothing more than a lack of playing time (Smith was averaging just under 10 minutes per game).  I haven't heard anything yet as to what Reggie's plans are regarding basketball outside of MU.  This is a blow to our depth, hopefully we'll be able to function with just 4 guards.

Now on to the preview of tomorrow night's game.  This test will be just as tough as any other Marquette has faced this year, as we don't match up very well against Vanderbilt.  There are a couple areas that favor the golden eagles, but the cards are stacked in Vandy's favor.

All of the stats below are courtesy of Ken Pomeroy, http://www.kenpom.com/

To start out, here are three stats where we're pretty evenly matched:

Offensive Efficiency111.7112.1
Effective Field Goal %53.60%55.40%

At a high level, it looks like the offenses are fairly similar, in that each team scores about 112 points for every 100 possessions, and when counting 3-pointers as 1.5 shots made, MU and Vanderbilt are pretty evenly matched.  They also average between 69 and 70 possessions per game, so neither team should be dominating the other in transition or on half-court offense.

First the good news, here are the statistical areas where Marquette has the advantage over Vanderbilt

Offensive Turnover %18.4%21.3%
Defensive Turnover %23.8%20.2%
Defensive FTA/FGA24.8%32.0%

The first two stats tell a pretty clear story: MU takes better care of the basketball than Vanderbilt.  Not only does Vanderbilt turn the ball over more often that Marquette, but the golden eagles also force turnovers on more possessions than the commodores.  Coupling these two stats together points to Marquette needing to exploit turnovers on both sides of the court.  The third stat is the ratio of free throws taken to field goals taken on the defensive side of the ball.  In Layman's terms, this stat shows that MU fouls less often than Vanderbilt.  Hopefully the added fouls for Vandy will put their key players on the bench and result in additional points for us.

And now the bad news.  Here are the areas where Vanderbilt has the edge:

                                            Marquette  Vandy
Defensive Efficiency                    92.9      87.9
Defensive Effective FG%           23.8%   20.2%
Offensive FTA/FGA                   24.8%   32.0%
3-point FGA/Total FGA           23.6%    40.1%

The first two are clear: Vanderbilt plays better defense than us.  Despite forcing less turnovers than we do, they play better overall defense and force opponents to take low-percentage shots.  Since offensive efficiency and effective field goal % are both a wash between these two teams, this means that Vanderbilt is overall more efficient due to the defensive advantage.  The FTA/FGA combats directly with our defensive advantage, so these two stats may cancel out at the end of the day, depending on how foul-happy MU gets.

I know, you're still wondering why I put the last statistic in bold.  I think this is the most important one because it poses as the most dangerous threat for Marquette.  This stat shows that Vanderbilt takes a lot more 3-pointers than we do.  No big deal, right?  Well, it is because Marquette does not defend the 3-ball well at all, as they're letting opponents shoot 37% from beyond the arc (258th in the country).  Vanderbilt can potentially have a field day with us from long range through good ball movement and collapsing defenders on dribble-drives.  If Vandy gets going in a hurry, they could shoot us right out of the gym by the end of the first half.

A couple other points to note:

- MU shoots 55% from 2-point range, Vandy allows 41.4% from 2-point rage.  Seems like a wash.
- Average MU height is 76.8".  Average Vandy height is 78.3".  Advantage: Vandy
- MU has 5 guys scoring in double-digits, Vandy only has 3.  Advantage: MU

Overall I think Vanderbilt has the upper hand on us.  They play better defense and take more 3-pointers against a team that defends the 3 poorly, and have 2 players that are shooting 40% or better from downtown in John Jenkins and Jeff Taylor.  Not to mention, Vanderbilt has only lost 6 times in the last 5 years in non-conference play (the floor is elevated and the benches are on the baseline which can throw off players).

Given the factors above, here are Marquette's keys to the game:

- Win the turnover battle
- Defend the 3-ball
- Stay out of foul trouble
- Play smart on offense

MU needs this win to show they're a threat in the Big East this year, let's hope they come home with a W.                                                          

Thursday, December 23, 2010

MU Puts up Triple Digits against the Delta Devils

Marquette scored over 100 points for the first time this season with a 102-77 victory over the Mississippi Valley State University Delta Devils (if that isn't the longest team name in sports, it's gotta be pretty close).  MVSU hung around in the first half of this game, but MU's offense proved to be too much.

Tuesday's beat-down on MVSU (forgive me for not typing out their entire name) turned out to be a monster shooting night for the golden eagles.  DJO broke out of his shooting slump by going 5-7 from long range; Jae Crowder went 3-4 from the perimeter as well.  Overall we shot 50% from the field and 84% from the charity stripe, very solid offensive night overall.  Marquette was evenly matched on the boards (35 for each team, 11 Off. boards for MVSU vs. MU's 10), but they won the turnover battle 15-11.  MU's players also kept MVSU out of the double bonus by only committing 15 fouls.

The only real bad news of the night was that Reggie Smith and Junior Cadougan did not suit up for the golden eagles, as both have been ill.  Cadougan could have played but was kept out as a precautionary measure.  Smith, on the other hand, has had mono-like symptoms and is likely out until after the game against West Virginia.  Hopefully Junior will be ready to go against Vandy and Smith will be back for the other 17 conference games.  Luckily MU has added depth this year so this doesn't sting as bad as it would've last year, but it hurts us nonetheless.

Marquette's final non-conference match-up of the season is at Vanderbilt on Wednesday, December 29.  This is Marquette's final chance to win a statement game in non-conference play, a win here would be a huge confidence boost going into January.  Check back here early in the week for a preview of the game.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

MU Rolls Centenary

As expected, Marquette won big over the Centenary Gentlemen (great mascot, by the way) on Saturday at the Bradley Center in a 81-52 victory.  MU jumped out to a quick 8-0 lead and never looked back.  The golden eagles are now 8-3 on the year, and have two more games before conference play begins.

First the bad news, then the good news.  3-point shooting again was poor, 29% for the game.  Darius Johnson-Odom shot an "impressive" 1-5 from long range.  I'm not sure when he's going to turn his game around, but it's getting close to do-or-die at this point for him with the meat of the schedule beginning in less than two weeks.  Turnovers were also an issue, as they turned the ball over 15 times on 72 possessions (21%, which I believe is our highest % for the season so far).  Although turnovers are always an issue regardless of who the opponent is, I'm hoping it was more due to the fact they were playing a cupcake squad and let sloppy play sneak into the game.  Despite this, we still managed to win the turnover battle by 2.

And now for a few high points.  The one that stands out the most is rebounding, as Marquette out-rebounded Centenary 47-25 (19-7 on the offensive glass).  This has been a struggling point for us over the last couple weeks, but I feel like a lot of this has to do with the fact that Centenary is the 333rd tallest team in D-1 basketball.

Which reminds me, while we're on the subject of team height, MU is the 146th tallest team in the country.  That may not seem very impressive (I agree, it isn't), but compared to last year when we were the 341st tallest team in the country that's a major improvement.

Anyways, there were a couple individual performances worth noting from this game too.  The one that stands out the most goes to Jamail Jones, who had a career day going 3-4 from 3-point land (4-6 overall) and finishing with 11 points for the day.  Hopefully he can build upon this as we'll take all the depth we can get.  Despite the 3-pointers, DJO put up 16 points (14 in the second half ) and shot 75% from 2-point range.  Vander Blue also had a good shooting night, scoring 16 points on 8-10 shooting.  Keep up the good work boys.

Marquette's next matchup is against Mississippi Valley State on Tuesday at 7:00 at the BC.  Anyone think Jerry Rice will be in the house to watch his alma mater?  Me neither, but it's wishful thinking.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pictures from the MU/Wisconsin Weekend

Here are a few photos from last weekend's game against Bucky.  While the game result could have been better, it was still a fun weekend since it was basically sponsored by Volvo.

The Caffrey's scene on Friday night.  The crowd was a little light since finals were coming up, but a decent crowd nonetheless.  To those that haven't been to Caff's in a few years, they've completely redone the place.  It's a lot different from when I was there as a senior, but still a solid campus bar.

At Buck Bradley's before the game.  Since it's right across the street from the Bradley Center, it's usually the best option to go right before tip-off.

Driving the Volvo S60 around for the weekend.  Much different than I think of in terms of a Volvo.  Slick-looking, keyless entry, GPS console, this thing had all the bells and whistles.

Since the game was such a disappointment, I've decided against putting up any pictures from the game.  Hopefully I'll have some better news to post after today's game against Centenary.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

MU Falls to Rival Wisconsin, 69-64

What a frustrating loss this was, as MU is now 7-3 on the year after losing a close one at home to Bucky.  Marquette did more bad than good in this game, and had plenty of opportunities to get its first statement win.  Unfortunately, we'll have to wait until December 29 to see if we can get our first big win of the year when we play at Vandy.

Poor defense was apparent throughout the game for the golden eagles.  Although the final stats don't show it, Wisconsin torched us from behind the arc in the first half (but only 32% for the game).  On offense, Bucky was able to collapse the defenders on dribble-drives and kick the rock out to an open man waiting on the perimeter.  This has plagued us throughout the season so that's really nothing new.  The other first-half killer was the amount of scoring that came late in a series.  For the first 30 seconds, Marquette would play great, tenacious defense and keep the badgers high on the perimeter.  Once the shot clock began to wind down though, the badgers would make a late move to the bucket or hit a deep shot with the shot clock expiring.  It was almost as if we gave up on some of those defensive series.

In the second half, MU failed to pick up switches and play help-side defense, which lead to a lot of easy inside buckets and offensive boards for Wisconsin.  This worries me a little more, as this is a pretty fundamental key to playing good defense.  Hopefully it was just a fluke.  I feel like some of those boards could have gone MU's way with a little more hustle.

Offensively, Marquette had another good outing behind the perimeter (44% from 3-point land), but only took nine 3's.  DJO shot poorly from long range again, going 0-3.  In fact, DJO had a weak performance altogether, going 1-9 from the field.  Watching him yesterday reminded me of Jerel McNeal after Dominic James went down.  I think DJO is trying to do too much out there and play the hero every time he has the ball.  He had zero assists on the day, and I know a few of those eight misses he had could have been better served as passes to someone else.  Some of the shots he took on drives to the hoop were just plain dumb as they were completely contested; I'm sure Buzz will be working on that with him plenty this week.

Not that this is a great excuse for why we lost, but the refs made plenty of poor calls against MU yesterday.  Two of them stick out in my mind.  The first being when Jimmy Butler drove up the weak side for a pull-up jumper and was hacked on his way going up.  He basically stopped playing because he knew how badly he was hacked, and the refs called traveling on him once he came back down.  The look on Jimmy's face said it all as he was running to the other side of the court.  The other was in the late seconds of the game.  To those that didn't get a chance to watch it, Marquette was down 5 points with 10 seconds to go when Jimmy Butler made a clutch 3-pointer from the baseline to pull us within 2.  After we immediately fouled Jordan Taylor on the inbounds pass, he made his first free throw and missed his second.  We got the defensive board and Dwight Buycks took the ball up the court with 7 seconds on the clock.  After he crossed half court, the ball was knocked loose by a Wisconsin defender and the refs gave the possession to Wisconsin.  MU had no choice but to foul immediately with 2 seconds left and Taylor made both of his free throws, game over.

From my view 16 rows behind Marquette's basket, I say there was no way the refs could have clearly seen that Buycks last touched the ball before it went out of bounds.  In a tight game like that, they directly affected the outcome and didn't give us a chance to tie the game on a call that was basically a toss-up.  On calls like that, you have to assume that the defender touched it last.  But I digress.

On an up note, thanks again to Volvo for the free ride, hotel room, and tickets to the game.  I have to say, the S60 was a pretty nice ride, and very different from what I typically think of as far as Volvos go.  I'll post some pictures from the weekend in the next couple of days.

Marquette's next matchup is against Centenary on Saturday.

Friday, December 10, 2010

MU/Wisconsin Preview

It's been a long 2 years, but the annual battle between Marquette and Wisconsin is back at the Bradley Center tomorrow afternoon.  This is also the game that Volvo is "sending me to" as part of the "Biggest Fan of the Big East" competition.  They've so generously given me a Volvo S60 totake up to Mil-town, given my lovely wife and I 2 tickets for the game (200s section, pretty good seats if you ask me), and are putting us up at the Hyatt Friday night (Volvo, if I haven't said it already, thanks again!).

5 things I'm looking forward to while I'm up in Brew City:

- Having a $7 beer at the Bradley Center, because we all know that beer tastes better when it costs more
- Going to Caffrey's Friday night.  As a student, Caffrey's was always my favorite campus bar (and still is, which means I like it more than one other bar, ugh).
- Watching the "Marquette through the years" timeline on the jumbotron.  It reminds me of the history and success the program has had since the 70s, also gets you juiced for the game too.
- Pre-game lunch at Sobelman's.  One of the best burgers I've ever had for sure, and the locals agree.  They make a pretty good bloody mary too.
- And of course, GOING TO THE GAME!  It's Marquette's biggest game each year, so how can you not get excited for it?

And now a preview of tomorrow's game.  Here are a few things you need to know about Wisconsin

- They're big and slow.  Nothing new here, as they always have the 6'10 farm-fed boys each year
- They're very efficient on offense and defense
- They defend the two-ball well.  The inside matchups should be interesting to watch.
- They're shotting 80% from the charity stripe.  If this game comes down to free throws, we could be in trouble
- They rarely turn the ball over, something we'll need to exploit if we're going to win

I like MU to win this one in close fashion, by 2 or 3 points.  Let's hope we make a statement tomorrow with a win over a legit team.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

MU Dominates Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Loses Fulce

Despite Dwight Buycks being out for the game with an ankle injury, Marquette looked spectacular against the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders and won 86-50.  MU outclassed them in every facet of the game, and after about 5 minutes of play, the score was no longer close.  This was a bittersweet victory, however, as Joe Fulce hit the floor after knocking knees with an Islander midway through the second half (and yes, it was the knee he already injured).  Fulce was writhing in pain after the collision and had to be helped into the locker room.  Signs of him returning anytime soon don't look good.

Now that the bitter part is out of the way, on to the sweet.

Marquette destroyed A&M-CC in turnover margin, winning that battle 22-8.  A lot of the turnovers were unforced by MU (5 were forced by Reggie Smith), as the Islanders looked very sloppy throughout the entire game.

It's a miracle!  We didn't blow from 3-point land!  The golden eagles went 4-8 from long range in the first half, 5-13 overall (39%).  2 of the 5 came from Jae Crowder at the top of the key.  Overall, MU shot an impressive 55% from the field, mainly due to the fact that they had over 50 points in the paint.

Vander Blue had a career night with 21 points, 3 steals and 2 blocks.  He scored from outside, inside, and, well pretty much any other side you can think of.  I think I'm at the point where I like watching him play defense just as much as I like watching him play offense.  He makes great passes and cares more about putting points on the board than making the highlight reels.  As expected, he's been a solid contributor so far.

Crowder had 15 points, and I feel like all of those came as garbage points.  The kid continues to always be in the right spot at the right time.  Jimmy Butler had a strong inside presence as well and chipped in 15 points.

As I said, Dwight Buycks was out due to an ankle injury which he incurred in practice, but is expected to play against Wisconsin on Saturday.  Although, he seemed to be walking fine when he was helping Fulce off the court.  Buzz did say though that his injury this time wasn't as bad as when he injured it a month ago.

Marquette takes on Wisconsin Saturday at 1:30 at the Bradley Center.  Check back here later in the week for a preview of the game.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hank Raymonds, Rest in Peace

For the second time this season, a Marquette icon has passed away.  Former Marquette assistant and head coach Hank Raymonds passed away on Monday from cancer.  He was 86 years old.
Todd Rosiak has a great article up about Coach Raymond's life, you can read it here: http://www.jsonline.com/sports/goldeneagles/111378344.html

Since Rosiak did such a wonderful job detailing out who Hank was as both a coach and a person, I'll leave you to read the article about him.  However, I'll say just one bit about Coach Raymond.  Hank is known in Marquette circles (most famously in my opinion) as being an assistant coach on the 1977 championship team (see, I told you I'm stuck in 1977).  What I think a lot of people don't realize is how much of a role Hank played in coaching the team.  During Al McGuire's tenure as head coach, he was more of an in-game coach than anything else, which meant that assistants like Hank, Rick Majerus, etc. handled the majority of recruiting responsibilities as well as running practices.  This shows just how important Hank was in Marquette winning the national championship, in that in many instances he played more of the role of a head coach than an assistant coach.  Al Mcguire gets most of the credit for coaching MU to the '77 title (as he should), but assistants like Hank deserve plenty of praise too.

Thanks for the memories Hank, you'll be greatly missed.

MU Blows Out Longwood 96-65

As expected, Marquette took care of business against the Longwood Lancers with a 31-point victory.  Not too much exciting about this victory, as Longwood was down big for most of the game.  MU jumped out to a big lead early and never really looked back.  The golden eagles made a few too may turnovers early on which kept Longwood hanging around, but they never got within 4, and Marquette ran away with it and never looked back.

Chris Otule wins the Player of the Game award, scoring a career-high 19 points (more than he scored in all of last year or the year before that) on 9-9 shooting and had 3 blocks in only 19 minutes.  DJO and Vander Blue had 14 and 12 points, respectively.

Free throw shooting was solid, as Butler, Blue, and Cadougan all went 4-4 from the charity stripe, 77% overall for the team.  However, 3-point shooting once again was atrocious, as Marquette went 3-14 (21%) from downtown.  I can't stress enough how much that needs to change in the next month.

Marquette takes on Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Tuesday at 8pm.  This is another team that shouldn't be taken lightly, as they've made some noise in the NCAA tourney in recent years.

November Recap

The month of November is officially in the books for the 2010-2011 campaign, with Marquette compiling a record of 5-2.  Typically there isn't much to take to heart at this point as the season is still very young, and the majority of teams MU typically plays at this time of the year are cupcakes.  With this in mind, there are still a few things to note.

Marquette has started slow out of the gate.  Sure, they've beaten the teams they were supposed to beat, but couldn't come up with wins against their two quality opponents, those being Duke and Gonzaga.  Buzz Williams even mentioned this after the loss to Gonzaga, talking about how coming close to beating a good team but ultimately losing isn't good enough.  A "pat on the back" is certainly not as good as a win.  Knocking off one of those two would've put us closer to the conversation of being a legit team this year, especially with a win over Duke.  After the loss to Gonzaga, MU needed a spectacular run and a 29-point performance by Darius Johnson-Odom to beat UWM by 3, a team that is a perennial doormat for us.  Along with that win, Bucknell also gave us a very good run for our money.

While 3-point shooting was our bread and butter last year, Marquette has nose-dived from that status.  For the month of November they shot 30% from beyond the arc.  Dwight Buycks was the only guard to shoot above 30%, which is pathetic as far as Marquette standards goes (I'm sure Buzz agrees).  Conversely, they allowed opponents to shoot an astounding 40% from long range in November.  For us to have any kind of a shot at a double-bye in the BE tourney, both of these stats have to reverse by January.

Size and depth have improved dramatically.  Lazar Hayward's inside presence has been replaced by Jae Crowder, Davante Gardner, and a healthy Chris Otule.  Ken Pomeroy doesn't have stats posted yet on where we rank in the country in terms of height, but I'll be sure to post that here once it's up on his site.  Marquette could only run about 7-8 deep last year, but now we're running at about 9-10 deep each game.  This added depth not only helps us down the stretch late in games (might not have come back against UWM and Bucknell if last year's squad was in the same hole), but allows us to play more aggressively on defense.

All in all, I can't be too displeased with how the season is going.  While I would've liked to have one more win in November and have our two close wins be a little more convincing, this team has plenty of room for immediate improvement.  Scoring in the paint will be crucial once conference play begins, and Marquette has already shown they're capable of that.  They've also made a few too many turnovers along the way, especially against Duke, but this will improve as the team matures throughout the season.

Marquette has two statement games coming up in December, those being at home against in-state rival Wisconsin and at Vanderbilt.  While I think one loss in December is the realistic outcome, a perfect record in the month before conference play begins would show us as a serious threat in the Big East.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving Week Recap

First of all, my apologies for not putting up these posts sooner.  I was out of town for the weekend and didn't get a chance to do any writing on MU basketball (you know how it is with the holiday season and all).  Anyways, after losing a close one to Duke, Marquette lost in typical fashion to Gonzaga, and then won in typical fashion over crosstown rival UW Milwaukee.  Here's a review of both games:


Shooting and rebounding were what killed MU in this game, as the golden eagles again fell short, losing 66-63.  As a team, they shot 29% from the field and a pathetic 29% from beyond the arc.  DJO's shooting woes continued, going 4-12 from the field.  The Zags out-rebounded us 42-26, and had 11 more offensive boards than we did.  If you look at last year's stats (according to Buzz), we shot a lot better on second-chance field goals than we did on first-chance field goals.  Assuming that this still holds true, we're shooting ourselves in the foot by not getting these offensive boards (you think Buzz might work on boxing out in the next week?  Absolutely).

Jimmy Butler was his usual spectacular self, playing nearly the entire game at 38 minutes and scoring 22 points.  Jae Crowder put up 10 points and an astounding 5 blocks.  Even though Cadougan and Crowder both came off the bench, they each played for 25 and 32 minutes, respectively (basically says that starting vs. coming off the bench doesn't mean much to Buzz). 

One positive note for the team was on turnovers.  MU won the turnover battle 16-10 and only turned the ball over on 15% of their offensive possessions.  Baby steps, guys.  Baby steps.

I had predicted this would've been a Marquette victory, but ended up on the short end of the stick.  Gonzaga's a good team, but to show you're a good team you have to beat other good teams, losing by 3 doesn't help your cause.

UW Milwaukee

This game was waaaaay to close for comfort, as MU pulled out a 75-72 victory and is now 38-0 all-time against the panthers.  Rebounding plagued this team again, especially offensively, with 2 offensive boards (no, that's not a typo) vs. UWM's 11 and 21 overall vs. UWM's 31.  Other than a 19% turnover rate, there really weren't any other sore spots for this game.  This does show though how crucial rebounds can be.  Let's hope we figure this out quickly before those farm-fed boys from Madison roll into town.

The bright spot for this game?  None other than Darius Johnson-Odom.  DJO finally came out of his shell and put up a career-high 29 points and shot an impressive 71% from downtown (5-7).

MU has the week off before taking on Longwood on Saturday.  Ken Pomeroy has us projected to win by 31, so let's hope we can use this game to fine-tune our weak spots (ahem, rebounding, ahem).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

MU Falls to Duke 82-77

Marquette's first real test of the season came against the Duke Blue Devils, the number one team in the land.  The game wasn't as close as the final score might imply, as Duke lead by double-digits for 8 of the last 10 minutes.

MU showed flashes of how good it can be.  For the first 10 minutes of the second half, they erased the 9-point halftime deficit and tied the game up.  As I had noted would be a key to the game, they won the interior battle, forcing turnovers and scoring points in the paint.  As the game wore on though, so did Marquette and the Plumlee brothers torched us inside by simply outhustling us.  All of a sudden Duke was up by 11 points, and the game appeared to be slipping away.  Marquette chipped away at the lead, but it was too late to stage a comeback.  The golden eagles suffered their first loss of the season and are now 4-1.  They will play Gonzaga in the consolation game tonight.

Jimmy Butler had a career night with 22 points.  Jae Crowder had his usual stud performance with 15 points and 4 steals.  Davante Gardner showed some signs of pain on the court after separating his shoulder against South Dakota, but managed to stick out the game.  Fulce was in street clothes, as he also injured himself against South Dakota and is expected to return in 2 weeks.

As far as stats go, 3-point FG% stunk at 20%, and while MU forced an impressive 19 turnovers, they turned the ball over on 17% of their possessions.  Although 17% isn't terribly high, every turnover seemed to have a huge impact.  A lot of Marquette's turnovers seemed to be self-inflicted, a sign that this team is still young and has to get used to playing together.

The one play that absolutely killed me to watch was the three-on-one breakaway they had that ended in a charge.  DJO took the ball down the court against Kyle Singler with 2 options to pass to, yet elected to take the ball himself.  Singler took the charge - Duke basketball (Aaaahhhh!!!!).  What really hurts is that it was DJO who made the charge, a guy who's got a year of D-1 experience under his belt and can beat just about anybody in a one-on-one matchup.  That has to be fixed.

All in all, despite Marquette's woes tonight, they managed to hang in there with Duke for most of the way.  Remember, this is a team that doesn't get blown out, which means on any given night we're capable of beating anyone.  I didn't expect us to win this game, but can't really complain about losing by 5 points to the defending champs and #1 team in the land.

MU plays Gonzaga tonight in the battle for Jesuit supremacy at 6:45.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

MU takes Care of Business Before the Date with Duke

Marquette is now 4-0 after defeating Brian Wardle's UWGB Phoenix and South Dakota.  I'll do a few bullet points on each game and then get to the Duke preview.

- MU dominated the first half of this game, and was up by 20 points at the half.  They played tenacious defense, forced a ton of turnovers, and shot an impressive 53% and 50% from the field and beyond the arc, respectively.  The second half was flat, and Marquette won by a final score of 89-69.  Aside from the first 3-4 minutes, this game was never close.
- Solid performances from the first-year players.  Vander Blue chipped in 14 points, with 2 of those coming from him forcing a steal and taking the ball coast-to-coast for a layup.  Jae Crowder, WOW.  I'm pretty sure this guy can do just about anything on the basketball court.  He positioned himself well in the paint for put-back points, made good passes in the post, and even knocked in a 3-ball from the baseline.  He ended the night with 17 points, 9 boards, 2 steals and a block.  Davante Gardner once again proved to be an effective player in the late stages of the game, putting up all 11 of his points in the second half.
- 3-point defense and turnover % were poor.  The Phoenix shot 47% from long range, which was lower than Marquette's, but they also took 9 more 3's than we did.  MU also turned the ball over on 17% of its possessions, which I'm sure is higher than Buzz wants to see (in case you're wondering how I figured out total possessions, I'll be getting into that as well as other stats later on in the season).
- Solid points distribution amongst the team, as 6 players scored in double-figures.

South Dakota
- This game was a little closer than Wednesday's, but Marquette controlled this won for the majority of the game, and won 82-69.
- Jimmy Butler had the type of performance that people were expecting of him as the unofficial leader of the team with 20 points, 9 boards and 3 steals.  Keep up the good work Jimmy.
- MU was HORRENDOUS from long range, going 1-9 on 3-pointers.  Who had the lone three you ask?  None other than jack-of-all-trades Jae Crowder.  Aside from that, he had a quiet night with just 7 points (a pretty good sign when a "quiet" night is scoring 7 points in your fourth game in D-1 basketball)
- The Golden Eagles turned the ball over 16 times on 85 possessions, or 19% of the time.  Not good boys, that needs to change quickly.

MU/Duke Preview

MU takes on Duke Monday in Kansas City in the CBE (College Basketball Experience) tournament.  The last time these two met in the CBE, Marquette shocked the world and defeated Duke in the championship game.  Here's to hoping history repeats itself.

For the fans that regularly watch college basketball each year, Duke is an easy team to scout.  They are televised just about every week, so by default you'll end up watching them play at least 6 times each year.  In case you haven't gotten a chance to watch Duke recently, here's what you need to know:

- The Blue Devils have great shooters.  Year-in and year-out Duke always has good 3-point shooters (JJ Redick, Jon Scheyer, Demarcus Nelson, etc.), and can quickly change the momentum in a game with a couple quick 3s.  Through their first three games, they have 5 players that are shooting .500 or better from downtown.  Those numbers will come down as the season wears on, but just for frame of reference, they had 4 guys on the team last year that shot 38% or better on 3-pointers.
- They run a motion offense.  This directly compliments their great shooting, in that they are constantly creating open looks from the perimeter.  Defending this requires a lot of discipline in that players need to constantly and quickly shift matchups to prevent the open looks.
- They share the basketball.  There are currently 5 guys on the team that are averaging 12 points or more, including Seth Curry, the Liberty transfer and younger brother of former Davidson star Stephen Curry.  It's very difficult to shut these guys down offensively.
- They play great defense.  Last year they allowed 86 points for every 100 defensive possessions, 4th best in the country.
- Did I mention they have a hall-of-fame coach in Mike Krzyzewski?  Having a coach with 4 national titles and a plethora of Final Four appearances isn't a bad thing to have on the sidelines.

As I had noted before, I don't have a ton of confidence in us beating these guys (and it's not just because there's a #1 next to their name), and everyone at Cracked Sidewalks agreed in their preseason predictions as well.  There's a lot of talent and experience on this Duke team that MU lacks.  According to Ken Pomeroy, we have about a 12% chance of beating these guys.  I'll say we have about a 20% chance of winning, since it's a neutral court and there's more room for big upsets at the beginning of a season.  The keys to MU winning are playing good field goal defense, winning the turnover battle, and winning the battle in the paint with points and rebounds.  This is Marquette's first true test of the season, we'll see what they're made of Monday night.  Tip-off is at 6:30 CST.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

MU is 2-0 After a Rollercoaster Weekend

Is it just me or does it feel like those nail-biting conference games have already started?

Marquette started out the regular season on a high note, dominating the Prairie View A&M Panthers and winning 97-58.  Jimmy Butler lead the way with 18 points, 6 boards, 3 blocks and 2 steals.  To my surprise (and maybe the surprise of others) Davante Gardner put up 17 points in only 13 minutes.  Sure, the majority of these points came during garbage time, but points are points nonetheless.  This was great news to hear given what Buzz told me a month ago about his attitude and skill set.  Eric Williams chipped in 12 points, 3 boards and a steal, which is leaps and bounds above what his typical production was during last year's campaign.  FG% was good (60%), 3-point shooting and free throws could've been better (30% and 63%, respectively)

All in all a good start for Marquette.  Which meant Sunday's game against Bucknell would be a cake walk, right?  Think again.

MU struggled early in the game, and was down 8 points at the half (was anyone else ready to jump off a ledge at that point?)  Bucknell was hot from the perimeter all day, going 9-19 (47%).  In the second half, Marquette went on a miraculous 24-0 run that put them ahead for good.  The Bison wore down as the game went on and MU capitalized, winning by a final score of 72-61.  Dwight Buycks was the stud performer with 17 points while going 3-3 from beyond the arc.  Once again Davante Gardner had a solid performance with 11 points and 7 boards (please don't let this be a fluke).

On a side note, Jimmy Butler played for 38 of the 40 minutes.  Give the guy some rest Buzz!

So the question is, what do we take away from this weekend?  How much weight do we put on the first game vs. the second game?  Which game is a better representation of who this team is?

First of all, realize that you have nothing to worry about after the scare Bucknell put into us.  I tweeted before the game that I would just be happy with a win over the Bison.  Two reasons for this: One, Bucknell puts together a decent squad every couple years.  Remember, they knocked off Kansas in the 2005 tourney, and even cracked the top-25 a few years ago (I think it was 2006-07, but don't quote me on that).  The second reason is that Villanova only beat them by 16 points at home a couple days before.  Villanova is an elite program that's well-coached, and for them to only win by 16 tells me that Bucknell at least gave them a run for their money.

I think both games are representative of us in that they show we're having growing pains.  There's a lot of talent on this team and when they click, they really click.  But given their lack of collegiate experience, games like Sunday are going to happen along the way.  Although a blowout win over Bucknell would've been great, I'm pleased with how the first two games have panned out (for whatever that's worth).

Next game is Wednesday against UW-Green Bay, who is coached by former MU great Brian Wardle.  Let's hope this team grows up a lot more after that game, as we'll take all the help we can get with Duke looming on the schedule for next week.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Preseason Predictions

After a dominating victory over a D-III team, MU is ready to begin the season this Friday against Prairie View A&M.  I'm going to skip the pre-game preview for this and move on to the more important parts of the upcoming season.  Before I do, a couple pre-season predictions:

- Jae Crowder will, at some point, be a starter on the team this season.  Everything I have read and heard about this kid is nothing but positive, and it seems like he'll have an early impact.  He certainly did on Saturday in the exhibition game against SJU with 15 points and 5 boards.  Not a bad start to the season.  Plus, the fact that he has JUCO experience gives him a leg-up on the other freshmen.  Fulce and Otule started on Saturday, but I'm looking for Crowder to replace one of those guys in the next few months.

- Total conference wins for the season will be 10-14.  Marquette doesn't have any brutal stretches like in recent years (see 2008), but the one that stands out in my mind is the two-week stretch from late January to mid February, where they have to play Syracuse at home, at Villanova, at South Florida (who plays pretty well against us for some reason), and at Georgetown.  I see us losing 3 of those 4 realistically, but we've played G-town and 'Cuse pretty tough recently, so maybe we go 2-2 or 3-1.  All in all, if Crowder, Blue, and Cadougan truly step up this year, we'll have a dynamite team.  We already know what we have in Jimmy Butler, and DJO and Dwight Buycks have plenty of room to improve on what were solid seasons last year.  Having one more shooting threat as well as some much-needed size inside will give MU all the tools it needs for a double-bye in the Big East tourney.  If this team doesn't gel though by January, 10 wins is more likely.

Non-Conference Road Ahead

Looking at the schedule from now until New Years, there are clearly 4 games worth noting: Duke in the semis of the CBE, the winner/loser of Gonzaga and K-State depending on what we do against Duke, home to Wisconsin, and at Vanderbilt.  What worries me is that MU could potentially lose all of these games as they're against solid opponents, and only one of these games is at the Bradley Center.  Ideally I'd like to see us go 2-2 against this field.

I'm predicting we'll lose to Duke in the CBE (sorry, Duke wasn't nearly as good when we beat them in the CBE in 2006) and bounce back to beat Gonzaga.  All in all, not a bad start.  For the third time in four years, Marquette will take down in-state rival Wisconsin in a close game.  I'm really hoping that this is the year Wisconsin finally doesn't surprise everyone, something tells me I'll be wrong since they disprove everybody during the regular season year-in and year-out.  Lastly, I don't feel good about going down to Nashville to play Vanderbilt.  Vandy has the ability to take us down given that their home court is a tough place to play (they've only lost 6 times at home in the last 3 years) and they can hang with us in a shootout.  Luckily their star big man A.J Ogilvy is gone, which gives us a nice break in the paint.

Four days until MU's season tips off.  This team has loads of potential and I'm hoping it gets realized very soon.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Maurice Lucas, Rest in Peace

In case you haven't heard yet, Maurice Lucas passed away on Sunday from cancer; he was only 58 years old.  Lucas was a forward for Marquette from 1973-1974 and then went on to a successful career in the NBA.  He played a crucial role on a team that made it to the national championship in 1974, and played during what is now the greatest decade in the history of MU basketball.

So just how good was Lucas?  To those who are big into basketball stats or the history of Marquette basketball (or in my case, both), John Pudner published a book called "Ultimate Hoops Guide: Marquette University" which is a fantastic book that aims to compile a complete statistical listing of all things MU basketball since 1917.  While some of the stats from the 20s, 30s, and 40s were estimated due to the lack of stats kept at that time, it provides a great history of Marquette basketball nonetheless.  Pudner evaluates every player using the following methods:

- Dominance.  Pudner estimates this based on the opinion of basketball experts (coaches, scouts, media, etc.) as well as the player's NBA career.  Players are scored from 1 to 15, with 15 being one of the most dominant players of all time.  Since Lucas was a second-team All American in 1974, was drafted in the first round and scored more than 12,000 points in his NBA career (did I mention he won a championship with Portland in 1977?), he was given a score of 15.  Only 4 other players in Marquette history were given a dominance score of 15: Jim Chones, Don Kojis, Butch Lee, and of course Dwayne Wade.  Not bad company to be a part of.

- Impact on the program.  This rates both how good a player was as well as how good the team was that they played on during their career, with 1 being little to no impact and 10 being a tremendous impact.  The statistic just looks at their best year as opposed to their career, since guys may leave early for the NBA or not get to play their first year (back in the day, freshmen couldn't play on the team).  There are some exceptions to this if a player did have an exceptional career.  Lucas is one of 7 guys to have an impact score of 9 or higher.  He was clearly the best player on the 1974 team (led the team in both points and rebounds) which merits a score of 9.  Had he played for more than two years on the team, he might've gotten a 10.

- Statistical Rating.  This stat, in my opinion is Pudner's "bread and butter." It attempts to take all of a player's statistics (points scored, rebounds, assists, etc.) and combine them into one statistic to show how many wins could be credited to their efforts.  In short, you take a player's points, rebounds, assists, (multiply steals and blocks by 2) and look at the sum as a percent of total team stats, then multiply by the team's wins for the season to get their "win credits."  After you calculate the win credits, you multiply it out to show the statistical rating, which shows how many wins a player would be responsible for if he had played in 100 games.  Obviously I just gave you an abridged version of it.  To get the full explanation, you can buy Pudner's book at www. collegeprowler.com.  Anyways, this stat is calculated similar to the impact rating in that it only looks at one year rather than an entire career due to the reasons I mentioned above.  While Dwayne Wade leads the way with the highest statistical score in Marquette history of 29.1 in 2003 (and the 6th highest with 24.1 in 2002), Lucas has the 11th highest statistical rating with 22.7.  Again, everybody in the top 10 list is a "Marquette" household name.

Summing up all 3 of these gives Maurice Lucas an overall score of 48 (Pudner adjusted up the Statistical Rating by a point for subjective reasons) which makes him the 7th best player in the history of Marquette basketball.  Looking at these facts and figures shows just how special of a player Lucas was, both in college and the pros.  Thanks for the great memories Maurice; you'll forever be an icon in the Marquette community.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Vote for Me to be the Biggest Fan of the BE

As a part of Volvo being the official car of the Big East this season, they've put together a website, http://www.mybigeastvolvo.com/ .  Here you'll see the bios of myself and the other 15 people Volvo picked as part of their ad campaign to go to BE Media Day and a home game of their alma mater.  There's also a video on the home page showcasing each person.  I'm not exactly thrilled that they put in the DePaul guy's favorite BE memory being when they beat MU last year, but I can't do much about it.

After you click on the link for my bio, you can vote for me to be the "Biggest Fan of the Big East."  At the end of the year, the amount of votes I get is factored into Volvo's decision on which individual gets a trip to the BE championship, courtesy of Volvo of course.  I can't help but think some of the other contestants will spend a good chunk of their time voting for themselves over and over again for the next 5 months, and since I'm not about to do that, I need your help!  Thanks for your support, and check back here in a week for some preseason predictions.

Friday, October 22, 2010

BE Media Day Recap

Got back from Big East Media Day Wednesday night with plenty to talk about.  For guys like me who just do writing on the side, this type of event was a great experience, as I got to meet several Big East coaches and hear their thoughts on the upcoming season.  A few other familiar faces were there as well, including Jay Williams, Gene Keady, and Bill Raftery.  Before I get into the MU discussion, a few other points to note:

- Every coach, whether or not this was scripted, was very high on Steve Lavin.  I got the opinion of a few of the coaches on his plan to recruit nationally instead of locally, and each said they had no doubt he will do a great job recruiting at St. John's.  Sure it sounds scripted, but I have to think there's some weight to it.  Plenty of Big East coaches already recruit the NYC Metro area very heavily, so I think Lavin is trying to go a different route and get players to come to the big stage rather than stay in the big stage.  Should be interesting to see how the program progresses, I have no doubts they'll be much better in 2-3 years.

- Pittsburgh is going to be DANGEROUS.  Every coach talked about how great they are and how they're the team to beat.  They've got solid talent up and down the roster and a coach who's on his way to being in the hall of fame some day.  Just what I needed to hear.

- Bob Huggins was the best dressed, sporting a black pinstripe, three piece double-breasted suit.  Sorry Jay Wright, even Jack Nicklaus took second place once in a while.

Now onto the important stuff.  I got to talk to Buzz for about an hour and learned quite a bit about the upcoming season.  Some of the bullet points below were for questions I asked, some from other reporters, but here's what I gathered about the season at hand:

- Defense across the board needs to improve.  In particular, field goal defense.  Buzz noted that while MU had great defense on the first field goal attempted of an opponent's possession, they were poor on second and third field goal defensive attempts.  To me that sounds like a size issue, in that we're not getting enough defensive boards.  Hopefully our added size inside this year will help solve that.

- I asked how he prepares the team mentally for all the close games (I think they had about 263 games decided by 5 points or less last season.  Maybe it was 264).  He said that everything they do from October on prepares the team for those games.  The intensity of practices, repetition, everything.

- Vander Blue has looked great so far.  He comes ready to work hard every practice, plays great defense, and wants to improve his game.  Nothing to complain about there.

- Main strength and weakness:  Weakness was defense as noted above.  Buzz said he's hoping their strength is their depth.  I'm hoping he's right.

- Otule looks as good as he ever has.  That isn't saying much given the injury woes of last season, but it's promising.

- Davante Gardner still looks and acts like a freshman.  OK, so he can get used to life in college basketball this year.  We'll check back next year for real improvement.

- I asked if the increased size as a team would affect their mix of zone and man-to-man plays on defense.  Buzz said not really, but it might lead to one or two more zone looks per game.

- The biggest surprise to him since he started coaching in the Big East has been the lack of margin for error.  He said that in the 41 games he's coached in the Big East, total game margin has been 3.9 points.

- The toughest places to play in the Big East are West Virginia (because the fans talk like him) and Syracuse.

- I asked about shot selection and if MU would take as many 3's as they have in the last couple years.  He said the key is to force rotation on the defense which creates open shots.  Whether it's a 3 or a 2-pointer doesn't matter.  Agreed.  Enough said.

- On the topic of what he's learned to do differently in the last 2 years, he said to take better care of himself.  Given his intensity and devotion as a coach, he's going to need a lot of luck with that.

- Jay Williams asked him how Marquette manages to fly under the radar year in and year out and surprise everyone.  Buzz's response: "Without sounding conceited, that's just how we roll."  Nice Buzz.

- 2 more stats.  Since Buzz is big on stats, I asked what stats in particular he's looking for the team to improve on this year.  He said getting 2 or 3 more defensive stops per game.  Again, hoping the added size in the roster will force a couple more defensive boards and blocked shots to fuel that.  He also said that in his first year of coaching there were 18 total years of Marquette playing experience on the roster.  His second year there were 12 years.  This year there are 9 years.  Let's hope we grow up fast.

- When asked what the hardest part about being a D-1 coach is, he said "Trying to be the husband and father God intended me to be."  Good answer Buzz.  I hope Corey was listening.

Buzz was Joined by Robert Frozena, Dwight Buycks, and Joe Fulce at the table.  I didn't talk much basketball with them, but I asked who they thought had the best mindset of the newcomers on the team.  The unanimous vote was for Jae Crowder.  Good to hear, especially since I think he'll have a starting roll very quickly on this squad.

Again, many thanks to Volvo for sending me out there.  Got to meet a few of the Volvo reps at the event and they're very excited about being the official car of the Big East.  After hearing everything Buzz had to say, I'm feeling pretty good about the upcoming season.  The coaches picked MU to finish 8th in the conference this year, but I'm looking forward to us finishing much better than that.  Get excited everyone, we're only two weeks away from another season of college basketball.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Big East Media Day

On Wednesday I'll be heading to the Big East Media Day (compliments of Volvo) which officially kicks off the college basketball season for the toughest conference in the land.  While there's much to discuss, there are three main points of interest for me:

- Anything and everything Buzz Williams has to say
- Thoughts on the upcoming season for head coaches new to the BE scene, those being Mike Rice at Rutgers, Kevin Willard at Seton Hall, Oliver Prunell at DePaul, and Steve Lavin at St. John's
- Jim Calhoun's latest rant when the topic of recruiting violations is brought up

I'll be sending out Facebook updates and Tweets from the event, and will have a full recap here shortly after it's over.  If this media day is like the recent ones, MU will be picked to finish 9th or 10th in the conference.  They were picked to finish 12th last year, and look how that prediction turned out...