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.