Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Few Thoughts on Being Ranked in the Top 25

With Marquette being ranked 11th in the country at the moment, it seems like a good time to give a few thoughts on what that ranking actually means.  Rankings come out every week and tell the viewing public who the best teams are in college basketball.  But what do they really mean?  Should I feel good about seeing my team in the top 25, or is it a false sense of security?  And most importantly (as Yogi Berra might ask): if you're in the top 25, are you really in the top 25?

Let's start with how the rankings are done.  There are two main rankings these days, the Associated Press poll and the Coaches poll.  Each week, basketball writers for the AP rank who they feel are the top 25 teams in the country.  The same is done from a handful of coaches for their respective poll.  The polls usually come out around Monday at noon each week.  And of course, it is done to begin each season as well.

How do teams get voted into the top 25?  While there is no secret formula for the voting (and I suspect there is often a lack of care put into it since it's pretty much impossible to watch all 50-100 of the top teams regularly to see who should be in the top 25), I think there are two main factors that put a team in the top 25.

Number one: is the team good enough overall to merit being in the top 25?  I know this sounds vague so let me explain.  Being "good enough" to be in the top 25 is based on a few factors: talent, record, and strength of schedule.  Talent is easy to figure out.  Do they shoot a high percentage from the floor?  Do they play tough on defense?  Do they generate turnovers?  Do they play well as a team?  How efficient are they offensively and defensively?  This is usually determined through a team's stats as well as the all-important eye-test (did they look good when I watched them?).  Record helps take the grey area out of judging based on talent (sure they looked good when I watched them, but did they win the game?).  As the season progresses, teams can accumulate more losses and still be in the top 25, but usually teams with the best records will be in the top 25.  Scheduling gives teams a break that play really tough teams, so that a team isn't penalized too much if they lose to another tough team, or lose on the road.

Number two: how hot is this team right now?  Every season you'll see a handful of teams make their way into the top 25 for a couple weeks after winning 6 or 7 games in a row, only to drop out of the rankings after falling back to earth with a couple losses.  A lot of the time it happens with teams from mid-major or high-major conferences.  Harvard cracked the top 25 this season for the first time in school history and then lost to UConn, so we'll have to see if they end up getting back in the list or if it was just a fluke.  The reverse can also apply, with a team who should be in the top 25 being knocked out for a week or two because of a losing streak.

Connecticut.  The 2010-11 UConn Huskies provide a good example of both of these scenarios.  Preseason, UConn was unranked.  After storming through the Maui Invitational with wins over #2 Michigan State and #9 Kentucky, the huskies jumped to #7 in the AP Poll, and 9 in the Coaches Poll.  They stayed in the top 25 for the rest of the year, but limped into the Big East tournament going 4-7 down the stretch and finishing 9-9 in conference play.  UConn was ranked at the end of the regular season, but after being in the top 10 for most of the season, they had now fallen to 21 in the AP Poll, and 19 in the Coaches Poll.  Of course, the rest is history.  They rolled through the Big East Tournament with a 5-0 record, and won it all in the NCAA Tourney with a win over Butler in the championship.  Winning it all of course gets you a #1 ranking at the end of the post-season, as it should.

So which team did we see in 2010-11?  Was it a team that was good enough to merit being in the top 25?  Or was it just a team that got hot at the right times and did just enough to stay in the top 25 for most of the season?  Like it or not, the answer is both.  UConn started out on a hot stretch in the beginning of the season which got them in the top 25.  Throughout the season, they had wins over Texas, Villanova, Georgetown, and Marquette (I know, shameless plug putting MU into the "quality win" category), enough to keep them high in the rankings.  Once they slid at the end, their cold streak nearly knocked them out of the rankings, as one more loss probably would've taken away the number next to their name (they may had been knocked out anyways if a couple of their losses weren't quality losses).  Come tournament time, winning the BE tournament showed they were on a hot streak.  What we'd eventually see though is that they were playing their best basketball of the season at that point.  In the NCAA Tournament, it could be interpreted as an extension of the hot streak, but I think it was at this point the huskies were just playing better as a team, and no longer riding a streak of exceptionally good basketball.  Based on how the tournament is set up, whoever wins the championship will have to beat multiple styles of teams, and the huskies did just that.  Being able to beat different styles of teams (and very good teams at that) isn't just the mark of a good team, it's the mark of a great team.  That top 25 team was good enough all along to be in the list, it was just inconsistent at times, that's all.

Do these polls matter at all?  For a poll to matter, I think it should mean that it has some type of effect on a team's post-season.  And in this case, the answer is no.  In the case of college football, the polls matter greatly, as a team's ranking at the end of the regular season determines whether or not they make a BCS bowl game.

So what benefit is there to having the polls at all?  The benefit to having these polls is purely for the media and conversational purposes.  It gives people a sense of who is relevant during the season, and makes for water cooler talk at the office.  Have I missed seeing a number next to MU whenever they're on a schedule or a scoreboard or a bottom line on ESPN?  Absolutely.  Seeing that "Marq 11" on my tv lets me know that people besides myself think MU is relevant and that there will be an abundant amount of articles written about them for me to read throughout the season.  "Hey will there be highlights of the Marquette game on Sportscenter tonight?"  "I don't know, are they ranked?"  If the answer is yes, then you along with millions of other people will likely see the exposure the team is getting from the media.  And if not, only the die-hard college basketball fans will know what you've done on a weekly basis.

Let me finish by saying this.  Sure, worrying about whether or not your team is ranked is purely emotional.  But then again, isn't following your team, and sports in general, purely emotional anyways?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

5 Things We Learned about these Eagles in November

After a long hiatus, Stuck in 1977 is back for the season.  And on this gameday against evil Wisconsin, it's time to look back on what this team has shown us over the last 30 days.  So far we've seen flashes of greatness from this team, and proof of why they're ranked 16th in the country.  But every team has their faults, and MU is no different.  Enjoy.

1. This team is very fast and can score in bunches

Buzz's eagles have shown they are a team that loves to get out into transition and score quickly.  The transition game is lead by DJO, Junior Cadougan, and Vander Blue.  This team has struggled with the transition game in recent years, but that is no more.  And the numbers show.  Marquette has scored over 90 points in 4 of their 6 contests (88 against Jacksonville) and is averaging over 70 possessions per game.  Part of what makes this team so dangerous is that the transition game can turn a close game into a blowout.  Marquette was up by 9 points going into the half against Jacksonville, and after a couple 3-balls by Jae Crowder and a couple buckets in transition, they were up 20 points and never looked back.  This team is going to be a ton of fun to watch all season long.

2. Darius Johnson-Odom has answered the call of being this team's undisputed leader

A preseason All-Big East selection, DJO has shown in the first six games why he has deserved that honor.  So far he leads the team in nearly every offensive category: PPG (20), 3-pt FG made and % (14 and 47%), and free throws made and attempted (33 and 43).  Not to mention, he leads the team in one of the most important overall stats: minutes played (28 per game).  He also won the MVP of the Paradise Jam for his stellar play throughout the entire tournament  After Jimmy Butler's departure last year, there were concerns amongst the MU faithful about who would be the guy to step up and take over the team, no more.  The kid pretty much does everything you want out of a 2-guard: plays great in transition, can drive to the rack, shoots a high percentage from around the floor, and most importantly is the guy you want to feed the rock to when the game is on the line (see Marquette vs. Syracuse, circa 2011 of the NCAA Tournament).  Look for DJO to make a run at first team All-American if he takes the golden eagles deep into the post-season.

3. Jae Crowder has managed to get even better than he was last year

MU fans were pleasantly surprised to see JUCO transfer Jae Crowder's production last year.  He seemed to be everywhere on the floor, hitting threes, scoring in the post, and cleaning up on putback shots.  This year, he's added an important facet to his game: speed.  Yes, I mentioned DJO, Blue, and Cadougan as the leaders in transition offense, but who are they feeding the ball to?  If they're not taking it to the hole themselves, Crowder is often the guy with them on that end of the floor helping create mis-matches in numbers.  Crowder's offensive production is way up at this point compared to last year (partly due to Jimmy MF Butler's departure), but he's also putting himself in a position to score a lot more often.  Last year a 25-point performance from Crowder was a shocker and a marvel.  This year it'll be just another game for this kid.

4. The newbies are already showing there is room for growth

This season has a cast of 4 newcomers: Todd Mayo, Jamil Wilson (sat out last season due to transferring), Derrick Wilson, and Juan Anderson.  While the roster is top-heavy with experience from guys like DJO, Crowder, Cadougan, and Blue, these kids are still making an impact with the time they've had on the floor.  Todd Mayo has looked sloppy at times handling the ball on offense, but he can score in the transition game and plays good on-the-ball defense.  Jamil Wilson has shown he can do a bit of everything, from grabbing boards to making the two-point jumper to feeding the open man under the basket.  Even though Juan Anderson has so far only played in garbage time against Jacksonville, the kid was diving all over the floor for loose balls and didn't have the "Oh my God I have the ball I need to score to impress my coaches!" mentality.  The newcomers give this team added depth that could prove to be crucial down the stretch, as well as hope that this team will continue to be very talented in the future.

5. We STILL struggle against the 2-3 zone

AAAHHH!!!  What is it about the 2-3 zone that we can't figure out?  Did we forget about beating Syracuse twice last year?  This issue somehow has stuck around with the team since the Tom Crean days, likely due to lake of size in the paint.  In the championship in the Virgin Islands against Norfolk State (who we had beaten by 31 points the week before, by the way), MU quickly got up to a 16-point lead, and it looked as though the game was already in the bag.  6 minutes into the game, the spartans switched from man-to-man to a 2-3 zone, and the golden eagles just looked lost and confused against it.  There was virtually zero penetration in the paint, and no type of strategy on how to stop it.  Buzz also refused to call a timeout because he wanted to let his team figure it out on their own, and they struggled mightily because of it.  Eventually they began to feed the ball inside to Davante Gardner, but by that point in the second half the game was already so tight they couldn't get enough momentum to pull away.  MU managed to do just enough to win by 2 points, but the W certainly felt like a L.  Soon they'll realize that you need to play inside-out to attack this zone (feed it inside to Gardner or Otule, collapse the defense, and either go up for the bucket or kick it back out to an open man), and hopefully they'll learn soon.  MU better learn how to beat this zone quickly, because they'll certainly have to face a zone defense against Syracuse, Louisville, and West Virginia, and may have to face it at other points in the season too.

Marquette storms into Mad-town today with their perfect 6-0 record on the line in hopes of taking down the #7-ranked Badgers before they head to MSG to take on Washington.  Previews of the game can be found here:

Cracked Sidewalks
Anonymous Eagle
JS Online

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sorry for the Delay

Yes, I'm sure you've all figured out by now that the Marquette season is well underway.  After a close call over Norfolk State, MU is now 5-0 going into the long weekend.  Check back here next week for the "5 things we've learned so far" post about the 2011-12 squad.  Happy Holidays.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Offseason News and Notes

Since we're in the college basketball doldrums, aka summer, I figured it's time to put up some off-the-court news to help pass the time until early November.  Enjoy.

A look at the newcomers for 2011-12:

Juan Anderson - 4-star, 6'6 wing who can do just about everything.  Averaged 17 points, 7 boards and 3 assists per game this season.  He'll be playing behind Jae Crowder and Jamil Wilson next season, but should be able to make an impact in the limited playing time he'll get.  Look for him to break out his sophomore season.

Todd Mayo - 6'3 SG, with great basketball genes in the bloodline.  If we can get talent similar to brother O.J without the baggage, we'll have a dynamite player in Todd Mayo.

Derrick Wilson - 6"0 PG with good quickness.  Shouldn't be seeing much PT this season as he'll be behind Blue and Cadougan on the depth chart.

Jamil Wilson - Technically a newcomer since he had to red-shirt last season due to transferring from Oregon.  He's gotten a lot of hype since coming to MU.  Very athletic and versatile forward.  Likely to be a starter once the roster shakes out.

Jake Thomas - Walk-on transfer from South Dakota with good shooting range.  He'll be sitting out this season.

And the outgoers:

Eric Williams and Dave Singleton have both left the program.  Williams is transferring to Sam Houston State where he'll have 2 years of eligibility left.  Plenty to speculate about with this move (injuries, playing time, etc), but whatever the reason is it's too bad because it seems like Williams was maturing into the role of being either a starter or 6th man for this season.  The departure of Singleton should have little to no impact on the team going forward.

Steve Cottingham, the Athletic Director since 2007 is stepping down as well.  No replacement has been named yet.

Alumni Updates

Dwayne Wade has been his usual dominant self in the NBA this season, averaging 25 points, 6 boards and 5 assists per game, and his playoff numbers so far are slightly better than those averages.  Even with the addition of Lebron James and Chris Bosh to the line-up this season, Wade is still the leader of the team.  Even though the Heat fell short of winning the title this year (depending on which newspaper you read), Wade still had yet another fantastic season.

Wes Matthews has been earning every bit of that $34 million contract he signed with Portland, averaging 15.9 ppg (2nd on the team), 3 rpg, and 2 apg.  The Trailblazers made it to the playoffs but were knocked out by the eventual champs, the Mavs, in the first round in 6 games.

Lazar Hayward had a quiet rookie season, but nonetheless productive.  He played in 42 games and averaged 4 ppg while only playing 10 minutes per game.  The Timberwolves can't possibly get any worse (or can they?) which hopefully translates into more playing time for Lazar next season.

Doc Rivers led the Boston Celtics to the second round of the NBA playoffs before getting knocked out by Dwayne Wade and the Heat.  After the playoffs, he signed a 5-year, $35 million extension with the Celtics.  On a side note, his son Austin is ranked as the #1 player in this year's freshman class and is headed to none other than Duke.  Congrats Doc!

Jerel McNeal had a spectacular year in the NBA Development League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.  McNeal averaged 19 ppg during the regular season and 28, 7, and 6.5 in the playoffs.  The Vipers made it to the championship but fell to the Iowa Energy 2-1.  In the lone win over Iowa, Jerel had 37 points, 9 boards and 8 assists.  He also signed a 10-day contract with the New Orleans Hornets while Chris Paul was injured, but didn't see any playing time.  Hopefully his work from this season will get noticed by teams around the NBA.

Dominic James had a decent season with Lukoil Academik Sofia in Bulgaria, with 14 ppg, shooting 66% from inside the arc, and a season-high game of 25 points.  Lukoil ran the table during the regular season with an impressive 28-0 record and was knocked out in the quarterfinals by Krka in the EuroChallenge.

Steve Novak picked a bad time (ok, I guess he didn't "pick" it) to leave the Mavs for the Spurs.  Novak was traded mid-season to the Spurs but still spent most of his time riding the bench, playing just 9 minutes per game.  For those 9 minutes he was in each game, his shooting percentages were pretty impressive, shooting 57% from beyond the arc and 52% overall from the field.  Had he been nonexistent with the Mavs instead of the Spurs, he may have been the third MU alum in the last 5 years to get a championship under his belt.

Travis Diener had a solid year in the Italian League, Series A for Dinamo Sassari, averaging 13 points and 5 assists per game.  The club finished with a record of 13-15, 9th place in the league out of 16 teams.  Nice fo-hawk, Travis.

Maurice Acker is playing in the Premier Basketball League in Canada for the Quebec Kebs.  What is a Keb you ask?  Keb is short for Kebekwa which means Quebecker (real creative!).  Acker only averaged 8 ppg this season, but had an assist/turnover ratio above 2.  The Kebs went 15-8 in the regular season and finished second in their division.

Dwight Burke played in the Czech Republic for Ostrava for most of the season and ended with Evreux in France.  Burke had a productive season, averaging 13.5 ppg and 7.5 rpg despite being sidelined for 3 weeks with an ankle injury.

Brian Wardle, as you may know, finished up his first year of coaching for the UW-Green Bay Phoenix.  The team went 14-18 overall and was knocked out by Wright State in the first round of the Horizon League Championship.

Congrats to Jimmy Butler!  Butler was the 30th overall pick by the Chicago Bulls in this year's NBA draft.  Scores of articles have come out in the past week about the journey Jimmy's been on from being homeless, to faxing in his NLI from a McDonald's, to now making a 6-figure salary (and maybe more) right out of college.  This is now the second year in a row a MU player has been drafted in the first round.  Both Lazar Hayward and Jimmy Butler had impressive performances at pre-draft camps and the scouts took notice.  On a side note, I haven't worn a Bulls jersey since I had a black Jordan jersey in middle school 15 years ago.  This may be reason enough for me to get a new one.

Nice picture below of Jimmy and Buzz at the Berto Center.  To those who don't know, Jimmy picked 21 as a "tip of the cap" to Joe Fulce, who was his roommate this last season.

That's all for now.  Updates on Cottingham's replacement to follow soon.

Monday, April 25, 2011

MU Alumni White Sox Outing

Are you a MU alum?  Do you have at least a mild interest in baseball?  Do you like alcoholic beverages?  Would you like to combine all three of these aspects into one outing?  Then you're in luck!

On June 5, there's going to be a White Sox outing for MU alums.  Game is at 1:10 against Detroit.  $75 gets you a ticket in the lower reserved section and 2 hours (11:30-1:30) of all you can eat and drink (beer and wine, no hard stuff) in the patio section.  If you've already got a ticket to the game, you can also purchase just the patio portion for $42.  Discounted prices are available for those 60 and over and 13 and under as well.  There will also be a raffle for various MU and Sox prizes during the event.  Hope to see you there!

Click on the link below to get your application:

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Buzz Signs New Contract With MU

It's official, Buzz will be staying at MU, as he just agreed to a new contract with Marquette.  Todd Rosiak has a brief overview of it, but no terms have been disclosed yet.

I'd had about enough of those "Buzz to OU" rumors, glad this finally got taken care of.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Q&A With Todd Rosiak

After the 18-point loss to UNC in the Sweet 16, MU's season has come to an end.  While the regular season was a rocky one, the golden eagles put up an impressive performance in making it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, and made believers out of many fans still skeptical of Buzz.

To go along with this, it seems that MU has all but locked up Buzz into a new contract and quenched any rumors of him leaving.  And with a new crop of talent coming in, all appears to be well in Mil-town for now.

To give us some perspective on the season that was and what lies ahead, I gave a list of 10 questions (9 of them being serious) to Todd Rosiak from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.  You can follow him at JS Online or on Twitter.  Enjoy

1. When the NCAA Tournament began this year, what did you think was a realistic goal for MU?  How surprised were you that we made the Sweet 16, if at all?

I thought beating Xavier was a real possibility, as it was a good matchup for MU. I also thought the Syracuse game would be a close one, but one that MU wouldn't win. So, the team probably went a game further than I expected it to. Aside from 2003, I've come to expect the worst from MU when it comes to the NCAAs -- i.e. tough losses in the early rounds -- so from that standpoint, this season's performance has to be deemed a success from where I sit.

2. MU went 0-4 in meaningful OOC games, 9-9 in Big East play, 2-1 in the Big East Tournament, and of course went 2-1 in the NCAA Tournament.  When you add all of this up, how successful was this season?  Does the Sweet 16 appearance wipe out losses from earlier in the season?

I don't think there's any question the run in the NCAAs outweighs all the close losses in the regular season. How could it not? For whatever reason, MU lacked that "closer's mentality" in tight games for the most part, and that's something that has to be looked at moving forward. In my opinion, the team suffered from the lack of a strong, senior voice as well as a lack of that "go-to" guy that Lazar Hayward was the year before. Jimmy Butler and DJO had their moments, but too often they disappeared for long stretches and at crucial times. That can't happen.

3. What impressed you the most about the 2010-11 team?  What frustrated you the most?

I would say MU's resilience this year impressed me the most. It was kind of like last year in that regard -- tons of tough, frustrating losses, but somehow the team found a way to dig deep when it mattered most, and got into the Sweet 16. I would say the biggest downside to the season would be the team's inconsistency combined with the inability to seemingly learn from its mistakes. Seeing the same problems crop up game after game was head-scratching at times.

4. Chris Otule and Davante Gardner both made big strides this year.  Do you see one of them taking more of a lead role in the paint next season, or splitting time like this year?

I would anticipate a two-headed monster in the pivot just like it turned out this year. Both are developing nicely, and each player's strength seems to offset the other's weakness, which is obviously nice to have. Buzz can sub offense-defense when need be, or ride the hot hand on a given night also. Suddenly, the need for a big man doesn't seem so glaring.

5. Of the returning players for next year's campaign, who do you think will improve the most?  Why?

I would expect Vander Blue to take that next step. MU needs him to. No doubt about it, he was a disappointment this season -- especially on the offensive end. He still has plenty of ability, though, and if he's willing to put in the time in the gym over the summer to re-work that jump shot, he could turn into the player most people thought he'd become. Continued development from Jae Crowder and Chris Otule will also be a must.

6. Who do you think Marquette's starting 5 will be next January?  Or will it still be a work in progress at that point?

Buzz seems to settle on a core group of guys by January each season. Without having seen any of the incoming guys yet, it's hard to answer that question. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the starting lineup consist of all returning guys -- Cadougan, DJO, Wilson, Crowder and Otule.

7. After losing Jeronne Maymon and Reggie Smith in the last 2 years, MU clearly has had to deal with players leaving due to lack of playing time.  With a lot of talent returning and coming in next season, are you concerned we'll have, as Yogi Bera puts it, deja vu all over again?

I think transfers are going to continue to be an issue not only at MU, but just about everywhere. It's just part of the deal now. Kids are growing up in an instant-gratification society, and some aren't willing to wait their turn. From MU's standpoint, the team takes something of a PR hit when a guy like Maymon or Smith transfers out so quickly. But on the flip side, MU also isn't wasting any more of its time trying to develop someone that isn't in it for the long haul. Cut the losses and move on.

8. Of the new guys coming in (and Jamil Wilson), who do you think will have the greatest impact on the team next season?

I would expect Wilson to have the biggest impact, simply because he already has a year of Division I ball under his belt from his time at Oregon and another year under his belt practicing with the team at MU. Throw in his tremendous athleticism, and you could have a more talented Jimmy Butler -- i.e., a guy who can do all sorts of things and play at a number of different positions. Of the incoming guys, Juan Anderson and Todd Mayo intrigue me most -- Anderson for his versatility and Mayo for his ability to score, as well as his bloodlines.

9. Of the departing seniors, Jimmy Butler leaves the biggest shoes to fill (aside from Frozena's popularity).  Who do you think will fill that role?  Do we need multiple players to fill it?

As I mentioned before, I think this year's team lacked strong senior leadership. I don't see DJO having that kind of personality, either. That's going to put a lot of pressure on Crowder to step up and be vocal and lead the team. Cadougan strikes me as someone who could be a strong, positive personality in the locker room. Considering the position he plays, that would be a great thing for MU.

10. Rumor has it you once saved 10 children from a burning building while on your way to accepting the Pulitzer Prize for Beat Writing.  Any truth to that???

I'll settle for just surviving the upcoming Brewer season. The Pulitzer can wait.

Thanks again Todd!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Marquette and UNC Meet in the Tourney for the First Time Since 1977

With all the media attention MU has gotten about JUCO players, Buzz's antics, and a Sweet 16 being someone's birthday, it's time to get past all of that and focus on the task at hand: taking down North Carolina.  While Marquette has made an impressive run thus far as an 11-seed, it only gets tougher from here when they take on the #2-seed tar heels Friday night in Newark.

Since Larry Drew left the squad in December and Kendall Marshall took over at point guard, UNC has improved tremendously.  They're creating much better looks on offense and are turning over the ball at much lower clip than they had over the last 1.5 seasons.  They're probably the most improved team in college basketball over the last 3 months, and to use a couple cliches, they've gone from "pretender" to "contender."  After losing to Duke at Cameron in February, Carolina rattled off 9 straights wins, won the ACC regular season crown, and made it to the finals of the ACC Tournament before getting knocked off by Duke.  The tar heels beat Long Island University in the first round and narrowly escaped with a win over Washington in the second round.

Most media folks have Carolina winning this game because 1) Carolina's a 2-seed playing an 11-seed and 2) Carolina's a 2-seed playing an 11-seed.  Not a lot of writers have the stones to predict the upset, but Jon Rothstein does.

What you need to know about Carolina

They're deep.  The heels have 9 guys on their team that play at least 15 minutes a game.  Coach Roy Williams can constantly sub fresh legs in throughout the game to wear down the opposition.  Of these 9 guys, 5 of them are averaging at least 7 ppg, and three of those five are double-digit scorers.

They're long   Of the 9 guys that play meaningful minutes, 5 of them are 6'7 or taller.  John Henson and Tyler Zeller are averaging 10 and 7 rpg, respectively.  Between these two, they're blocking 4.5 shots per game.  Henson doesn't look like a force to be reckoned with given his build at 6'10 and 210 lbs, but anyone who's watched him live knows that he can compete with just about anyone in the paint, including ACC foes Chris Singleton and the Plumlee brothers.  Carolina is the best rebounding team left in the dance with 46 rpg.

They're fast  The heels average 72 possessions a game, more than anyone else in the Sweet 16.  Roy has always coached his teams to play fast and score in transition, and this team is no different.  Kendall Marshall excels at having court vision in transition and can almost always find the open man down the floor.

They play great defense  Carolina is allowing 0.886 points per possession, 5th best in the Sweet 16.  Between blocking shots and good defensive rebounding they don't allow a lot of second-chance points.  They also limit their opponents in shooting free throws, as their FTA/FGA ratio is second in the country, only behind Ohio State.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Few Thoughts on 2 out of 11 Big East Teams Making the Sweet 16

Ok, clearly there's been a lot of ink spilled over the Big East in the last few days and the fact that "the best conference in the country" only got 2 teams into the Sweet 16 out of the 11 that made the dance.  While there are a few supporters out there, Gary Parrish is one of them, most writers are saying that the Big East shouldn't have deserved to clog up thr 68-team field with 11 of its own teams when only 2 could make the Sweet 16.

As an avid supporter of Big East basketball, I figured it's worth a shot to take an un-biased (maybe) look at each of the 11 teams to see if the haters are right, or if the Gary Parrishes of the world are right.  Let's go from the top down.  For future reference, when I say "first round" I'm referring to the field of 64 teams, not 68.

1. Pitt - Beat #16 UNC-Asheville in the first round, lost to #8 Butler in the second round by a point.  This game had arguably the wildest finish of the tournament thus far, with two questionable fouls being called with less than 5 seconds left in the game.  Nonetheless, Butler came out on top in this one.

2. Notre Dame - Beat #15 Akron in the first round, lost to #10 Florida State in the second round.  The fighting irish ran into a team that defends the three-ball better than any other team in the country.  As a result, ND had a poor shooting night and was down by double-digits for most of this game.

3. Connecticut - Defeated #14 Bucknell in the first round, beat #6 Cincy in the second round.  One of the two remaining teams in the tournament.

4. Syracuse - Beat #14 Indiana State in the first round, lost to #11 MU in the second round (!!!)

5. Louisville - Lost to #13 Morehead State in the first round.  The eagles made a clutch three-pointer and a key block at the end of the game to win by a point.

6. West Virginia - Beat #12 Clemson in the first round, lost to #4 Kentucky in the second round.  This one was pretty close for most of the way, but the wildcats made just enough shots down the stretch to advance.

7. Cincinnatti - Beat #11 Missouri in the first round, lost to #3 UConn in the second round.

8. St. John's - Lost to #11 Gonzaga in the first round.  The Johnnies were clearly the underdogs with their third-highest scorer in D.J Kennedy out for this game.

9. Georgetown - Lost to #11 VCU in the first round.  Same as St. John's, having Chris Wright back for the first time in three weeks certainly didn't help these guys.

10. Villanova - Lost to #8 George Mason in the first round.  The wildcats continued their end-of-season collapse with yet another loss, this one coming right down to the wire.

11. Marquette - Beat #6 Xavier in the first round, beat #3 Syracuse in the second round.  One of the two teams remaining in the tournament.

Right off the bat, the Big East could have at most 9 teams in the Sweet 16 since the second round featured two BE match-ups.  Allow me to play a little defense for the other 7 teams:

- Pitt took on a team that's very tournament-tested.  Even though Gordon Hayward is gone, the bulldogs still have Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard from last year's team that lost at the buzzer to Duke in the national championship.  Referee calls aside, taking down this team would've been no easy feat.

- Notre Dame drew a terrible match-up in Florida State.  Like I said, FSU is the best at defending the three-ball, which is a nightmare for a team like Notre Dame that wins big games by hitting three-pointers.  If Notre Dame can't shoot well, they can't win.

- Preston Knowles from Louisville got injured with 9 minutes left in the game and didn't return.  Up until then he had 9 points, 5 assists and 3 steals.  Think he could've made a 2-point difference in those 9 minutes?  Probably.

- West Virginia took on a very hot team at the moment in Kentucky.  The wildcats had a mediocre stretch in the middle of their season, but have been playing great basketball over the last month.

- St. John's played without D.J Kennedy, wh is not only 3rd in scoring on the team, but lead the Johnnies in rebounds and steals.  This is a quite a big hole to fill, no matter what team you are.

- Georgetown has a similar story.  Having Chris Wright (arguably the second-best player on the team behind Austin Freeman) back for the first time in three weeks was still a burden for the hoyas.  And he certainly didn't play like his old self, scoring only 6 points instead of his usual 13 and committing two more fouls than his average.  Not to mention, VCU absolutely destroyed Purdue on Sunday, so it's not like they lost to a garbage team.

- Villanova went down to the wire with George Mason, which is what's supposed to happen in a 8-9 match-up.  If these teams played 10 times, they'd probably split the series 5-5.

With all of these defensive points in mind, does this mean we should've gotten 9 teams into the Sweet 16?  Absolutely not.  But I do think a few of these merit a discussion.  Of the 7 teams that didn't make the Sweet 16, I feel that Pitt and West Virginia probably should've made it to the Sweet 16 too.  If Louisville and St. John's didn't have their injury issues, they probably would've been in the regionals too.  Nobody should've expected Villanova to make the Sweet 16 because they would've been drilled by Ohio State, and G-town is a toss-up.

Do the haters out there have a point?  Maybe.  Did the Big East deserve to get all of these teams in, even though they didn't all advance as far as they should have?  I think so.  The 37 at-large bids go to the 37 best teams, but does that mean you're not one of the best teams because of one game that you played and lost?  Every team in the tournament is just as hungry to win as the teams in the Big East.  Just because a team lost to an equal team or was upset by a worse team doesn't mean they didn't deserve to be there in the first place.  Given the pedigree, should the Big East have won more games this post-season?  Definitely.  But don't hate on the conference because it didn't pan out that way.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Clutch is Spelled D-J-O: MU Makes the Sweet 16 For The First Time Since 2003

I had a lot of conflicting emotions going into Sunday night's game against Syracuse.  For every positive thought a negative one went with it.  "We beat these guys before, we can beat 'em again, right?  These guys are a three-seed, isn't it time for us to bow out with the other double-digit seeds?  We looked great Friday night, if we keep that up we'll wins this one for sure, right?  'Cuse hasn't forgotten about our matchup in the regular season, they'll be looking for revenge against us."

I guess what it sums up as is I felt just as confident about this game as I do about any game in the Big East, which is not confident at all.  Sunday's contest turned out to be no different, as the golden eagles played an incredibly close game against 3-seed Syracuse in Cleveland.  A little recap:

Syracuse started out hot with a 7-0 run.  After MU scored 6 straight points, 'Cuse went on a 12-2 run and seemed to be firmly in control, up 19-9.  Marquette seemed lost on offense, and was putting up tough shots that weren't falling.  Syracuse was making just about everything on the other end.  But thanks to the toughness Buzz has instilled in his guys, Marquette fought back and figured out how to attack the 2-3 zone of Syracuse.  At one point DJO scored 8 straight points to put us back in the game at 21-21.  After that, we played a brilliant end to the half that ended with Jimmy Butler getting intentionally fouled on a steal and drive to the hoop, sinking both free throws, making a 2-point jumper on the ensuing possession, and sinking a 2-point jumper as the game clock expired to go up 34-31.  The shot reminded me a lot of the game-winners he hit last year at UConn and at St. John's.  Yeah, we were up at the half, but I could still feel that stomach ulcer developing.

Start the second half.  Syracuse goes on a 4-0 run, and with that a crushing blow was dealt to the orange.  On a drive to the rack, Brandon Triche collided with Junior Cadougan and landed hard on his tailbone.  It would ultimately be the end to his season, as he didn't return to the game.

Not that I was happy to see a player get knocked out because of injury, but I'll take every advantage I can get.

The game was neck-and-neck the rest of the way, with no team going up by more than 5 down the stretch.  Every basket made seemed to be traded for a basket on the other end.  Syracuse knocked down a high percentage of their jump shots, but MU was able to penetrate the seams of the zone and score inside buckets.  This game was shaping up to be a photo finish.

Fast forward to 3 minutes left in the game.  Rick Jackson gets a feed in the post and puts up a nice hook shot off the glass to put Syracuse up 59-56.  I had a pretty uneasy feeling at this point.  We've all seen it before.  The close games down the stretch, the inevitable missed shot or turnover (or call by Jim Burr) that gives Marquette a L for the game.  Something told me this game was shaping up to be more of same.

MU took the ball up the court knowing they needed a big score to stay in this game, and they got just that.  Jae Crowder went from the left wing, down under the hoop, and out to the right wing and caught a pass from DJO after drawing a double-team.  Crowder caught the pass and put up a 3-pointer in stride.  Good.  Tie ball game at 59.

2 possessions later with the game still tied at 59, Syracuse inbounded the ball to Scoop Jardine who caught the ball on the Syracuse side but stepped over the half court line.  MU ball.

This game has already taken 6 months off of my life.

And now the most crucial possession of the game.  With 55 seconds on the clock, the golden eagles had a chance to go up and control the rest of the game.  At first, they didn't show much on offense and just seemed to run down the clock, but here's how it went down:

Marquette passes it around the horn.  DJO has the ball, Butler sets a screen to free up Buycks.  DJO dishes it to Buycks.  Buycks has an open look but shakes it off.  Buycks passes it to Jimmy Butler at the top of the key.  Butler drives and draws the double-team, kicks it out to DJO.  DJO for three and...


Jardine heaved up a desperation three-pointer on the other end which clanged off the rim and into the hands of Junior Cadougan.  Cadougan calmly drained both of his free throws, and after trading a 'Cuse basket for two free throws from Jae Crowder, it was all but over. 'Cuse made a free throw on the other end and rebounded the miss on the second free throw, but Dwight Buycks snatched it away from Rick Jackson.  Ball Game.

Three goggles were being thrown up everywhere.  Syracuse was stunned by what they just witnessed.  Buzz Williams remained calm for about 30 seconds before he embraced his wife and kids and then high-fived everyone within arms length.

A couple points to note about the game

- No question the player of the game was Darius Johnson-Odom. 17 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, and 3 steals.  Did I mention he hit the go-ahead three-pointer with 25 seconds left?
- Solid interior play from Otule and Gardner.  They held Rick Jackson, who averages 13 ppg, to just 7 points
- I thought Buzz made great use of his time-outs in the second half.  He used them to stop every run Syracuse had, and called his guys to the bench during crucial offensive series.  Great work Buzz
- 4 more rebounds and 4 less turnovers for our guys.  Those are your two deciding stats
- Love watching Cadougan play aggressive on offense.  Gives me good hope for next season
- What made the MU victory even sweeter?  The fact that Gus Johnson was doing the play-by-play
- I've watched DJO hit that go-ahead three-pointer at least a dozen times now.  Still haven't gotten tired of it, and probably never will.

A final thought about tonight's win.  What does this do for our overall season?  Can we forget about everything bad that has happened and just focus on our last two wins?  I'll say this: take all of the close losses we've had and weigh them against yesterday's W.  Think of teams like Louisville and St. John's who had solid regular seasons but got knocked out in the first round.  Which would you rather have, victories in the regular season over Duke, Gonzaga, Vanderbilt, and Louisville but get knocked out in the first round, or losses against those 4 teams and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen?  The answer is clearly your own opinion, but in my opinion I'll take the latter everytime.

Marquette heads to Newark to take on North Carolina on Friday at 6:15 pm.  Check back here later in the week for a preview of the game.

To relive DJO's three again and again and again, you can watch it here

Sunday, March 20, 2011

MU Knocks Off The X-Men, Earns Another Date With Syracuse

Marquette shocked much of the college basketball world Friday night with a dominating 66-55 victory over the Xavier Musketeers.  Most people (including myself) thought this one would come right down to the wire, but the golden eagles proved us wrong by jumping out to an early lead and never looking back.  While most of the stats from this game were pretty even, the main difference was overall shooting, in that MU had a fantastic day from the field while Xavier was mediocre on 2-point and 3-point jumpers.

Let's look at our keys to the game and see how they panned out:

1. Stop Tu Holloway.  CHECK.  Marquette clearly figured out that to stand a chance against these guys we needed to stop their best performer in Tu Holloway.  While Holloway averages 20 ppg, we held him to single-digit scoring for just the third time this season, only 5 points.  Kudos to Jimmy Butler who gave Holloway fits all night and kept him from finding any rhythm in the back court.

2. Stay out of foul trouble.  Semi-Check.  While the X-Men had 1 more foul than MU (19-18), Otule did foul out of the game.  With just 2 boards and no points though, it was a pretty quiet night for Chris anyways, so there was no real harm done with knocking him out of the game.  No one else on the team had more than 3 fouls.

3. Speed up the tempo.  Negative.  Friday's contest with 63 possessions was actually a slower pace than both teams play, as MU and X average 67.5 and 66 possessions, respectively.  Marquette has been a better half-court team than a transition team all year, so this may have played to their advantage.

4. Beat them on the boards.  Semi-check.  Xavier did have 2 more boards in this game, but we had four more offensive boards than they did, which allowed us to get those ever-crucial second chance points.  Crowder, Butler, and Gardner had 6, 5, and 5 boards, respectively.

Like I said, aside from the keys above, overall shooting was the main difference in this game.  MU shot 42% from beyond the arc, 53% overall, while the musketeers were 15% and 41% from those categories.  Marquette took a lot of smart jump shots from all over the floor, created by open looks through transition and high ball screens.  Jimmy Butler had a couple nice drives in the paint that he dumped off to Crowder for the easy deuce (one of them being a three-point play).

Top performances go to Jimmy Butler and DJO.  DJO put up 19 points and went 4-6 from 3-point land.  Rarely did he put up a shot that just made you scratch your head.  Jimmy had the best overall performance with 15 points, 5 boards, 4 assists, and 3 steals.  He clearly was not ready to end his career in a Marquette jersey that night.

MU takes on Syracuse Sunday evening at 6:30.  As you probably know, we took down the orange during their 4-game skid in conference play, so we know we're capable of beating these guys.  If we play on Sunday the way we did on Friday, I like our chances to make the Sweet 16.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Marquette vs. Xavier: The Battle For Jesuit Supremacy

Now that Selection Sunday has come and gone, it's time to fret over MU's next matchup.  The golden eagles drew an 11-seed in the East region and take on 6-seed Xavier in Cleveland at 6:30 CST on Friday.

This is a tough contest for both teams, as these two squads match up pretty well with each other.  Let's get into the pros and cons of the 2010-11 X-Men.

What they do well

- Get to the free throw line.  The musketeers are taking 24 free throws per game and their FTA/FGA ratio is 45%, 32nd in the country.  Tu Holloway alone gets to the free throw line almost 9 times a game and is shooting 87% from the charity stripe.
- Score inside.  Big man Kenny Frease is their inside presence, scoring 12 ppg.  At 265 lbs he's got muscle to throw around in the low post and can give an under-sized 4- or 5-man fits.
- Win basketball games (props to Charlie Sheen).  These guys have only lost twice since conference play began.  They've got a ton of confidence right now, and with all of the tournament experience they have (3 consecutive trips to the Sweet 16) they certainly won't be rattled by the big stage.
- Defend the two-ball.  Opponents are shooting under 44% from inside the arc against them.  They'll switch between zone and man-to-man defense on you which can either force you to take outside shots or bad two-pointers.

What they don't do well

- Force turnovers.  Xavier only forces their opponent to turn the ball over on 19% of defensive possessions, 246th in the country.
- Shoot three-pointers.  As prolific of a scorer as Tu Holloway is, he only shoots about 35% from beyond the arc, and he's the best on the team.
- Pass the rock.  Of the 7 guys that play meaningful minutes, only 3 of them have an assist/turnover ratio over 1.

Keys to the Game

- Stop Tu Holloway.  This guy is far and away the best player on Xavier.  He averages 20 ppg, 5.5 apg, and 5 rpg, all while playing about 38-39 minutes a game.  Game plan for this guy is a little different than playing a one-man show like Providence, because while you can focus on Holloway, you can't take your eyes off Frease.  MU will need to play good man-to-man defense to keep the X-Men off balance.
- Stay out of foul trouble.  Xavier draws a lot of contact from the opposition, so guys like Crowder and Otule will need to keep their hands off to prevent putting them on the foul line and putting ourselves on the bench.
- Speed up the tempo.  Marquette averages about 1.5 possessions more per game than Xavier.  If we can press on defense and score in transition, we can throw the musketeers of their game plan.
- Beat them on the boards.  These teams match up pretty evenly in rebounding, but MU's offensive boards as a % of total is much higher than Xavier's (36% vs. 33%).  If we can keep them off the glass, we can score put-back shots on offense and score in transition off of defensive boards.  We match up pretty evenly with these guys as far as size goes, so Crowder, Otule, and Gardner will have to win the position battle in the paint against these guys.

Ken Pomeroy is predicting a one point victory for the golden eagles.  Regardless of how confident that makes you feel, any game decided by a point will be an absolute dogfight until the end.  While Xavier is a tournament-tested team, we're a Big East-tested team who knows how to play those close games against tough competition.  When it's all said and done I think this will feel more like an 8-9 matchup than 6-11.  Let's just hope we can come out with a win and another date with Syracuse.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Big East Tourney Recap

Marquette's run in the Big East Tournament came to an end on Thursday after getting blown out by Louisville.  I'm still thinking/hoping we'll be a 10-seed for the Dance, but with factors such as in-conference matchups and surprise wins in the conference tournaments, we could be moved up or down a seed.

A few thoughts from each game in the BE Tourney:


- Pretty simple formula for beating these guys.  Stop Marshon Brooks, stop Providence (and ultimately stop Keno Davis from having a job
- Didn't like how we defended the three-ball, especially at the end of the first half.  Jimmy Butler was the main victim on the MU side, as Vincent Council had a stretch where he just couldn't miss from beyond the arc.
- Transition offense was much improved over the last few games.  Looking to see more of that next week

West Virginia

- Junior Cadougan.  WOW.  The kid played like an absolute beast, making great passes off the dribble, scoring in transition.  This is the guy we've been waiting to see coming out of his shell.  With Dwight Buycks gone next year, I've got high hopes for him when he takes over as the starting point guard.
- Defense looked great.  The mountaineers didn't have much of answer to what we were doing, which was key in us coming back from a 10-0 deficit
- Only 4 points for Jae Crowder, be he also had 9 boards, 3 steals, and 2 blocks.  Just goes to show you don't have to score 20 points to have a big night


- Whatever

The brackets come out tonight at 5pm central.  Check back here in the middle of the week for a preview of MU's matchup as well as some advice for filling out your bracket.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I've Changed My Mind Already

With last night's win over West Virginia, I say that puts us firmly at a 10 seed.  No telling how far we can go in the Big East Tournament, but if we continue to play the way we did in the second half last night, we should be in the championship game.

I'll provide a recap of MU's Big East tourney run once it ends, and will follow that up with a preview of our game in the NCAA Tournament (!!!!!)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Where Should Marquette be Seeded?

First of all, congrats are in order for DJO making Second Team All Big East and Jimmy Butler getting an Honorable mention.  Well done guys, if I had it my way you'd both be on the First Team.

Now onto the important stuff.  To those of you that follow Cracked Sidewalks, you've probably seen this already but there's a website called The 2011 Bracket Matrix, which you can see here.  This is a pretty neat site, in that it compiles bracket projections from all different types of websites, from the big guys like ESPN and CBS to other sites like Bracketography that do nothing but predict the 64-team field.  All of the seedings are summed up and averaged so you can see the consensus seed for each team.

This site was last updated this morning so it's about as recent as we're gonna get.  With that in mind, believe it or not, MU is currently a 10-seed on it.  Of the 81 brackets on the site, here's our breakdown in terms of seed projection:
Seed# of Brackets% of Total

Not bad.  5% have us out of the dance, and 85% have us as an 11-seed or higher.  However, if you go to the site, you'll see one major caveat, which is that not all of the brackets are updated as of 3/7, some are about a week old.  Here's a table showing the "As of" dates:

Date# of Brackets% of Total

Could be better, but it looks like about 70% of the brackets are completely up to date, 30% are missing the loss to Seton Hall, and about 15% don't include the loss to Cincy.  There's some decent information coming from this site, but take it with a grain of salt until at least all of these brackets are updated through 3/7.

With that in mind, let's take a look at a few other factors the Committee is going to look at:

Record: 18-12
Conference Record: 9-9
Record over last 10 games: 5-5
RPI: 68
Strength of Schedule Rank: 31
Record against Top 25 RPI: 4-6
Record against Top 50 RPI: 4-11
Record against RPI 50-100: 3-2
Record against RPI over 100: 11-0
Out of Conference RPI: 122

Pretty mixed bag of figures here.  Here's the way I see it:

- Record against Top 25 RPI.  Going just under .500 against the cream of the crop looks very good, and those 4 quality wins against West Virginia, Notre Dame, Syracuse, and UConn will look very favorable in front of the Committee.  They want to see that we're both capable of winning big games and winning on the road, and we've done both of those with this stat.
- Strength of Schedule.  31st toughest schedule will show that we're tournament tested and won't be intimidated by anyone we'll face if we make the dance.  Heck, the Big East Tournament is practically a NCAA Tournament with 16 teams and a ton of talent.
- Record against RPI over 100.  No bad losses is good news for MU.  Seton Hall's RPI is 91 so we just snuck in there with an unblemished record against bad teams.

- Record against Top 50 RPI.  Compare this to the record against the top 25, and it basically says we've gone 0-5 against the 26-50 in the RPI.  These teams are the complete cream of the crop, but they're pretty close.  Hopefully the Commitee puts more weight on the top 25 than the top 50.
- Record over last 10 games.  The Committee likes to see who's on a hot streak, and at this point we're anything but.  Had we beaten St. John's, Cincy, and Seton Hall we'd be in a different boat, but at this point we just look flat, if not worse.
- Out of Conference RPI.  The Comittee, especially over the last few years, has put extra emphasis on the entire body of work, from mid-November to mid-March.  Our weak RPI from November to December won't look very good to the Committee, and this could be the difference between a 12-seed and NIT.

Enough with the numbers Dan, what seed are we getting, if any???

Tough to say at this point, as the Big East Tournament is a big factor in deciding our future.  At this point, I'm assuming we beat Providence, and fall to West Virginia in the second round.  Between our quality wins and tough schedule, I think the Committee will look favorable on us.  Along with this, there's the "soft bubble" that the media has been talking about.  What this means is that the Butlers and Gonzagas of the world aren't as good as they've been in recent years which means they won't get high seeds and push power conference teams to higher seeds, as well as other power conference teams out of the tournament.  This means there's more room for the bubble teams like ourselves (and yes, that's a good thing).  With this in mind, I think when it's all said and done we'll have done enough in the Committee's mind to come out with an eleven seed.  I'll readily admit I've been wrong before (just look at my pre-season predictions), but that's my prediction-du-jour and I'm sticking to it until I decide to change my mind.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

MU Finishes Regular Season With An Embarrassing Loss to Seton Hall

No recap of the game today, but to those that didn't see, MU had a terrible performance in Newark with a 13-point loss.  The game was over after the tip, and we never pulled within 8 points of the pirates after the first 5 minutes.  MU finished 9-9 in conference play and takes on Providence Tuesday night at 8 pm in the BE tourney.

Here are a couple recaps of the game:

Cracked Sidewalks: The last time we lost to Seton Hall, gas cost 23 cents a gallon
Todd Rosiak: MU turns in its worst performance of the season

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Jimmy Butler Scores 30 as Marquette falls to Cincy on Senior Night

With a bid to the NCAA Tournament still on the line, MU had a crucial home match-up against Cincinnati Wednesday night.  With a win, we would've been on pace to finish 11-7 in conference play and secure a bye in the Big East Tournament.  Cincy, on the other hand, had a different plan in mind, and simply outplayed us and won 67-60.  With the loss, we're now 9-8 in conference play and desperately need a win at Seton Hall on Saturday.

The calling card of the bearcats is their defense, and this was very apparent last night.  Cincy played a 2-3 zone against us that we just couldn't seem to figure out.  We had a tough time finding guys to get open which lead to costly turnovers.  Their full-court press seemed to stifle us too, as if we'd never seen a press before.  Junior Cadougan made a few foolish passes across the key that turned into easy buckets for the bearcats and killed any momentum we had.  Along with the turnovers, we had a poor shooting night (39% from the field, 20% from the three) which kept us from gaining any traction against the bearcats.

At the half, MU was down by 6 and had a pathetic 3 assists matched with 9 turnovers.  In the second half, Cincy played good enough on defense (or maybe we played poor enough on offense) that we never were able to get within 5 points down the stretch.  With a minute to go and a 5-point deficit, Marquette had a phenomenal chance to get back in the game with two open 3-point opportunities (I believe DJO and Buycks had the open looks) but hesitated on both which ultimately resulted in a missed shot, a Cincy rebound,and 20 crucial seconds burned off the clock.  At that point, we were down too much to stage a comeback through fouling and the bearcats held on to win by 7.

After turning the ball over 11 times on 57 possessions against Cincy, this is now the second game in a row where we've turned over the ball on at least 19% of our possessions (AAAHHHH!!!).  Once may be a fluke, but twice is a trend, and if the trend continues, then we picked the absolute worst time to up our turnovers.  The question is: what's causing this?  Is it the fact that we're still a young team?  Is Cadougan trying to do too much in the point guard role?  Did the pressure of winning a game on senior night for the first time in three years prove to be too much?  Whatever it is, Buzz has 3 days to fix it on the road and 2 more days to prep for the Big East Tournament.  Maybe... I don't know... work on beating the press???  But I digress...

A couple bright spots despite the loss.  As usual, we won the foul situation, 22-10.  Unfortunately Cincy runs 9 deep each game so there was never an opportunity to get their guys in serious foul trouble.  The other, and more important, point of the night was Jimmy Butler's performance in his last home game in a gold uniform.  I'm sure his back was killing him after the game, because he absolutely carried us for 40 minutes.  Every time we had nothing going on offense, Butler took the game in his hands and made a spectacular cut to the rim to both draw contact and put points on the board.  Butler finished the game with 30 points, 6 boards, and 3 steals (did I mention he went 15-17 from the charity stripe?).  Well done Jimmy, we're going to miss you.

Nothing major to take away from the Senior Night speeches.  Rob Frozena by far got the most applause when it was his turn to talk.  Speaking of Frozena, you've gotta give this guy tons of credit.  He worked just as hard as everybody else on the team and got virtually no playing time to show for it (18 career points, 12 less than Jimmy Butler scored last night).  Congrats to Rob on being the first ever four-year walk-on to play for Marquette.  There's a lot to be said for what you've done as a student athlete.

Oh, and one more thing...  Dear Students: Please show up to the MU home games next year.  If I can make the 90-mile drive, you can make the 12-block walk.  Thank you.

Monday, February 28, 2011

More on the Tiebreaker Situation

John Pudner from Cracked Sidewalks has put up an explanation of MU's tiebreaker situation here.  It's very well-detailed and is just as good, if not better, than I could explain it.  Whatever way you look at it though, we need to win our next 2 games to rise to the top of the 5-team logjam.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

MU Takes Care of Business Against Providence

After a crucial victory on the road against UConn, the golden eagles returned home and beat up on a helpless Friars squad in a 86-62 victory.  Marquette finished the week 2-0 and has 2 games remaining before the Big East Tournament in New York.  With the win, we're 9-7 in conference play and in a 5-way tie in the BE standings.

Marquette started out on a 10-0 run in this game and never seemed to look back.  Between cold shooting from Providence and solid defense and rebounding from MU, the friars never had a chance.  While Providence would go on a 5 or 7-point run at a couple points in the game, we always had an answer with a run of our own.

Given the final score, there's mostly positives to take away from this game.  5 guys scored in double figures: Butler, Otule, Cadougan, DJO, and Crowder.  As usual, Crowder was a beast on the inside grabbing boards and causing havoc in the paint on defense.  Junior Cadougan had a career night with 10 points, 10 assists, and 6 boards.  He made some great passes to the interior that translated into easy points.

The defense was also much improved, as they only allowed 0.78 points per defensive possession today.  We did a much better job of rotating on defense which seemed to frustrate the friars throughout the game.  Part of their poor shooting percentage (32%) was due to them taking long-range contested shots that they should never be taking in the first place.  Combine that with being out-rebounded 37-15 in their end of the floor and it made for a long afternoon for Providence.

The main negative today was turnovers, as MU turned the ball over on 22% of their possessions.  Most of these were head-scratching passes that lead to fast break points on the other end for Providence.  At one point in the second half when the friars began to press, we inexplicably turned the ball over twice before crossing the timeline which gave Providence 4 easy points.  This is probably a one-off scenario given the fact that we only turn the ball over 18% of the time on offense, but nonetheless this was something you never want to see again.

On a side note, fans got a serious scare from DJO when he hit the floor hard after making a drive to the rim in transition in the second half.  He landed on his right elbow and didn't get off the floor for a few seconds.  The first thing that went through my head was "Great... Travis Diener, Jerel McNeal, Dominic James, and now DJO is next in line to get seriously injured at the end of the season."  Thankfully, he was just out for a couple minutes and came back in and played like he hadn't missed a beat.  Definitely didn't need to say that during a blowout victory on a Sunday afternoon.

Big East Standings

As of now, here's where the Big East stands from top to bottom, courtesy of the Big East's website:
StandingsConferencePct.PFPAOverallPct.PFPAHomeAwayNeutralLast 10Streak
Pittsburgh 13-3.81370.161.325-4.86274.861.216-16-23-17-3L 1
Notre Dame 12-4.75070.466.623-5.82175.165.216-04-43-19-1W 2
Louisville 11-5.68869.265.622-7.75975.064.218-24-50-07-3W 3
St. John's 11-5.68866.965.619-9.67970.165.811-35-63-08-2W 6
Syracuse 11-6.64768.765.524-6.80072.462.715-36-33-06-4W 4
Georgetown 10-7.58865.965.021-8.72472.265.610-47-44-07-3L 2
Cincinnati 9-7.56364.462.722-7.75969.058.514-37-41-06-4L 1
Connecticut 9-7.56368.767.421-7.75073.265.913-35-43-05-5W 1
Villanova 9-7.56371.268.221-8.72473.764.713-47-31-14-6L 2
West Virginia 9-7.56365.462.618-10.64369.964.110-25-63-25-5W 1
Marquette 9-7.56374.170.118-11.62177.468.614-34-60-25-5W 3
Seton Hall 5-11.31362.866.211-17.39366.265.06-74-71-33-7L 3
Rutgers 4-12.25064.169.313-15.46465.865.210-62-71-22-8L 4
Providence 3-13.18873.179.814-15.48376.774.613-50-91-13-7L 6
USF 3-13.18863.169.69-20.31062.365.67-81-111-12-8W 1
DePaul 1-15.06364.977.97-21.25068.275.26-101-80-31-9L 3

Like I said, we're in a 5-way tie (which Buzz had predicted before the season started would be the result at the end of the season) with Cincinnati, 'Nova, West Virginia, and UConn.  If the golden eagles can take care of business against Cincinnati and Seton Hall, that would put as at 11-7 and should give us a bye in the first round of the Big East Tournament.  As you can see, things have gotten pretty hairy.  To check out how tie-breakers work, you can read it here.  Basically, if we're in a tie with at least 2 other teams, those teams are turned into a "mini-conference" and the records of each team against those other teams in the tie-breaker are stacked up.  So for instance, if we're in a tie with UConn and West Virginia, we'd be 2-1 in that "mini-conference" and that record would get stacked against the records of UConn and West Virginia.  2-team tie-breaker rules would apply if UConn or West Va. also went 2-1 in the mini-conference.

Given the schedules the other teams still have ('Nova plays ND and Pitt, UConn and West Va play each other, WVU also plays ND), and if we beat Cincy that of course knocks them out of the equation, we have a good shot at passing all of these teams and getting at least a 7-seed in the tournament.  There's still a lot of basketball yet to be played, but right now we're looking a lot better than we were 10 days ago.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

MU Downs the Huskies in Overtime!

Finally, the golden eagles came up with a signature win to bolster their tournament resume with a 74-67 victory in overtime against UConn in Hartford.  With the win, Marquette improved to 17-11 and 8-7 in conference play.

The huskies got out to a quick 11-3 lead, but MU stormed back through solid zone defense and interior scoring.  With a 3-point lead, Dwight Buycks was fouled making a 3-pointer and converted the 4-point play to put the golden eagles up 7.  UConn also had a poor 20 minutes of shooting which MU was able to capitalize on.  At the end of the half, Jimmy Butler made a tough 20-footer to put Marquette up by 11 at the half, and things were looking great.

But we've all seen this before, and just like the other times, we coughed up the lead and let UConn right back in the game.  The huskies dominated the glass in the second half and Kemba Walker began to take over the game and simply couldn't miss.  The same shooting woes that UConn had in the first half transferred to Marquette in the second half, and the golden eagles didn't score a field goal until the 8th minute in the half when Dwight Buycks drained a three.  Surprisingly, Vander Blue was one of our only sources of offense during those 8 minutes as he managed to draw contact on a couple drives and knock down his free throws.  Jae Crowder made a couple dumb fouls early on in the second half and played with 4 fouls most of the way.  Things weren't looking good down the stretch in Hartford.

With the final minutes winding down, the game became incredibly tight, and missed rebounds caused Marquette to blow its chance to put the game away in regulation.  Down 2 with 35 seconds, UConn took the ball up the floor, and after a clutch steal, shot fake, and layup by Darius Johnson-Odom, the golden eagles had tied the game at 59 apiece.  UConn couldn't convert in the final seconds which took the game to overtime.

From there, MU put up an impressive performance in its first overtime game of the year and was in control the whole way.  Where Kemba Walker left off, DJO picked up and had 9 of his 17 points in OT.  Marquette made its free throws down the stretch and UConn turned the ball over too many times to put up a fight.

Tonight was not our most impressive night offensively.  The golden eagles average 1.16 points per possession, and tonight they had just 1 point per possession.  20% from 3-point range (0-7 for DJO) and 37% overall from the field.  Although Jimmy Butler had his usual performance with 16 points, he was cold at times from the floor too, going 6-16 overall.  Some of the shots he took were ones he'd normally pass away, and even missed a few easy layups.  But since he played for 44 of the 45 minutes you still gotta give him props.

Like I said before, UConn dominated the golden eagles on the boards.  Tally at the end was 52-39 UConn.  The most frustrating part about this was a lot of those boards could've or did go Marquette's way, but they just seemed to cough the ball up to UConn before we had clear possession of it.  The huskies are one of the tallest teams in the country, so I guess I can live with this.

The real difference maker for MU was turnovers, as we dominated on this front 17-8.  Despite DJO's shooting woes during regulation, he came up with four steals during the game, including the one that eventually put the game into overtime.  Teams like us that are offensively lop-sided need to win this battle to have a fighting chance against the top-tier teams.

From a defensive standpoint, I think we did a poor job of defending jump shots.  Between fighting off ball screens and rotating on double-teams to the open man, MU left too many huskies open for three-pointers on the perimeter.  While those shots didn't fall for UConn in the first half, they definitely began to fall in the second half.  What was especially troubling about this was it wasn't just one player, it was Buycks, DJO, Butler, etc.  This leads me to believe it's a coaching issue, and something Buzz needs to fix asap so that Marshon Brooks doesn't put up 52 points against us this Sunday.

On a side note, Buzz went hoarse from yelling during the first half and couldn't even speak to the team at halftime.  Gotta love it.

This win will do some good for us in terms of RPI.  UConn's currently 13th in the RPI, and our road win over them will certainly move us up a few pegs.  Don't ask me why, but the NCAA tournament committee practically lives and dies by the RPI.  It's a good measuring stick for a team, but it leaves out the all-important "eye test."

A side note on Jim Calhoun not coaching tonight.  Say what you want about us beating a "Calhoun-less" team, it's still a quality win.  The RPI doesn't say "Oh, this win isn't as good because Jim Calhoun wasn't coaching."  The UConn players clearly weren't lost without him, otherwise they wouldn't have fought back in the second half to regain the lead.  Kemba Walker was still Kemba Walker tonight regardless of who was coaching on the sidelines, UConn just happened to get beaten by a team who was desperate for a road win.  And was today George Blaney's first day ever coaching a team, or even coaching UConn?  Of course not.  Yeah, there may be some bias in saying all of this, but I hope you get my point.

Marquette returns to Mil-town to take on Providence this Sunday.

Answer to the Trivia Question: Jerel McNeal is MU's all-time leader in steals with 287.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Marquette Dominates the Boards En Route to a 73-64 Victory Over Seton Hall

After St. John's handed the golden eagles their first double-digit loss of the season, they bounced back with a 9-point win over the Seton Hall Pirates at the Bradley Center on Saturday.  MU is now 16-11 on the season and 7-7 in conference play.

The first half was pretty evenly matched, with MU winning the battle on the glass, but coughing up turnovers to keep Seton Hall in the game.  In the second half, MU exerted its home court dominance in several key areas to pull away from Seton Hall for good.

Here's what went well for MU:

- Rebounds.  Marquette out-rebounded Seton Hall 39-21 (12-6 on offensive boards).  The Marquette bigs did a great job of boxing out on missed shots, which resulted in a lot of boards.  A few of them, including one from Joe Fulce, were simply jump balls that Marquette came up with due to better hustle.  Because of this, Seton Hall never went on more than a 5 or 6-point run, which kept them from gaining any momentum.

- Fouls.  We all know this is part of MU's bread-and-butter this season, and last night's contest was no different.  Not only did Marquette take 15 more shots from the foul line than Seton Hall, but two of Seton Hall's big men, Herb Pope and Patrik Auda, fouled out with key minutes remaining.  Chris Otule can be credited with drawing most of the contact from these guys.  Keeping these two bigs on the bench opened up the paint for MU to make back-door cuts and create passing lanes on the strong side of the rack.

- MU's Big Men.  Despite getting into foul trouble, Chris Otule had a monster night for the time he was on the floor.  In just 20 minutes, Otule put up 10 points, 8 boards, and a block.  He was well-positioned under the hoop for the easy putback shots which kept MU in the game during their cold shooting streaks in the first half.  Davante Gardner also had another efficient game, with 7 points and 6 boards in just 11 minutes.  With every game I'm seeing both of these guys get better and better, and it makes me feel a lot better about how good our front-court is going to be next season.  If Gardner can drop about 15-20 pounds over this summer, he's going to be incredibly dangerous next year.

And now what didn't go so well for the golden eagles:

Turnovers.  Marquette lost the turnover battle last night 14-9 on 66 possessions.  At a rate of 21%, this was clearly a poor night for taking care of the basketball.  The frustrating part wasn't that Seton Hall played phenomenal defense to force those turnovers, but that Marquette beat themselves to cough up the ball.  Drives into traffic by Cadougan and Blue with no outlet lead to Seton Hall possessions which kept us from creating any kind of sizable lead in the first half.  This is a team that has to dominate on offense to beat the great teams, and stats like turnovers absolutely kill an offense.

Vander Blue.  While I have great hopes for him in the coming years, he's a serious liability on offense.  8 times out of 10 he'll drive to the hoop without looking for the open man which results in Seton Hall getting the basketball (Blue had 3 of the 14 MU turnovers).  While he does play great on-the-ball defense, he'll need to step up his game on the other end of the floor to take a leadership role with this team.  2-pointers, assists, free throws, I don't care what it is, just not turnovers.

And the mediocre stat of the night?

Free throws.  The woes from the charity stripe continued in the first half as MU shot an "impressive" 2-10 from the line.  The second half was much much better, as they shot 14-16 on free throws.  The overall result?  62%.  I at least felt "ok" about our free throws after that second half.

Enough about the game, Dan.  Are we going to make the tournament?

I think there are two scenarios that guarantee us a bid to The Dance.  The first scenario: win out in the regular season.  An 11-7 conference record with a road win over UConn would give us the resume we need to get in.  The second scenario: lose at UConn, win the other 3 conference games, and win 2 games in the Big East Tournament.  A 10-win record in Big East play and 21 overall wins (I think we need 21 wins instead of 20 given our woes on the road) will also get us in the dance.  While I'd love to see the first scenario play out, the second is more realistic. Maybe 20 wins puts us in the dance, but with the amount of teams vying for bids from the Big East, and the fact that we can't win on the road, I don't think we're guaranteed a ticket with 20 wins.