Sunday, October 26, 2008

Marquette Basketball Preview

The Marquette Men’s basketball team officially began their 2008-9 basketball season with a Midnight Madness over the weekend. I thought that this made it a good time for a preview of Marquette’s basketball team and season. The big news in the off-season was the departure of head basketball coach Tom Crean to Indiana. He has been replaced by the young Buzz Williams. Buzz was previously the director of recruiting under Crean and before that was an assistant coach for Billy Gillespie at Texas A&M.

Luckily for Buzz, he inherits one of the top backcourts in the country with Seniors Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, and Wesley Matthews. These three came in as one of the most highly regarding recruiting classes in Marquette history. Barring any serious injuries, all three will be 1000 pt career scorers at the end of the season (James and McNeal are already there).

James struggled down the stretch last season with a wrist injury, and hopes to return to the form that he exhibited during his Freshman year. If his teammates can continue to rise in offensive production, James can probably excel as the team’s #2 option, while focusing a bit more on distribution of the basketball as he did as a Freshman playing with Steve Novak.

James’ struggles allowed McNeal to step into the role as the team leader on both ends of the court. He has always exhibited strong defensive skills (Big East Defensive Player of the Year, two years ago) which helped a team that last year relied heavily on its defense, holding opponents to just 93.8 points/100 possessions, which was 10th best in the country when adjusted for strength of schedule. McNeal’s improvement on offense will help the team to have reliable scoring options.

At the power forward position, Marquette returns Junior Lazar Hayward. Hayward is on the small end (6’6) for a power forward. He generally plays as more of a fourth guard rather than providing a post presence, leading the team in effective field goal %(eFG%, which weights field goal % to account for the 3-point shot). However, he also led the team in defensive rebounding %.

Marquette’s biggest weakness has been, and continues to be, its lack of a viable post presence. Marquette has not had a national-caliber big man since Robert Jackson helped (with Wade) to lead the team to the Final Four in 2003. Last season, the center position only provided 14.3% of Marquette’s scoring, ranking it 311th out of 341 Div. I teams. Marquette returns half of a starter though, in Dwight Burke. Burke played about 1/3 of the minutes at center last year, and replaces the graduated Ousmane Barro, who only played about ½ of the minutes at the position. When in the game, Burke provided similar production to Barro in terms of rebounding and Offensive rating.

The bench provides many question marks going into the season. Key backcourt reserve David Cubillan, is recovering from double shoulder surgery to repair both rotator cuffs. It is unknown how his recovery will progress and if he will return to the impressive shooting behind the arc that he exhibited two years ago. The other returning backcourt player is Mo Acker, who last year distributed the ball well, and was able to knock down shots when he was open; however, listed at 5’8”, he is simply too small for the college game and opponents were able to take advantage of him defensively.

The departure of Crean led to the decimation of Marquette’s 2008 recruiting class. Buzz filled out this class by signing Juco transfers Joe Fulce and Jimmy Butler and freshman Chris O’Toole. At 6’10/245, O’Toole is a big body, but by many accounts is pretty raw in skills and therefore it is unknown if he will be able to provide a meaningful contribution at the center/forward positions.

In 2008, Marquette will likely play a similar style of basketball, relying upon tough man-to-man defense to cause turnovers that key offensive production. Defending against good post players will continue to be a weakness and Buzz must find a strategy to minimize the impact of some of the dominant big men that play in the Big East. However, with the change in coaching, expect Marquette to add some wrinkles to its strategy. Early reports from practices have indicated that Buzz intends on running more of a motion offense, rather than the play-based offense employed by Crean. I think that this is a good move, allowing Marquette’s talented guards to dictate more of the matchups. Often last year, the team seemed too robotic in its dependence on set plays and unable to adjust when stopped by the opposing defense. However, a motion offense requires a large degree of comfort between players and the large number of new/inexperienced reserves may cause some growing pains as the players adjust to a new offense.

With the return of their core from a team that was a last second shot away from the Sweet 16, Marquette will look to improve on that result in the tournament. However, the Big East is also greatly improved, and therefore it will be difficult to improve beyond their 4th place finish of a year ago. Season highlights will include the yearly matchup with Wisconsin, and non-conference games against NC State and Tennessee. In Big East play, Marquette plays Georgetown home and away, but unfortunately due to the Big East’s unbalanced schedule, plays conference foes Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame only on the road. Marquette finishes the season with a home game against Syracuse.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's a damn shame they can't find any big men willing to play at Marquette.

NY Warrior said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Any of you guys have season tickets? You Noonans are Wisconsin guys, right?

NY Warrior said...

nice preview......and yes, it is borderline criminal that one of the greatest collection of guards in the history of MU basketball never played with an even serviceable big man.

E.S.K. said...

I went to Marquette but I'm honestly more of a Badger fan. I generally fly home when the two play.

DannyNoonan said...

I'll try to get to a few games. I don't have any connection to the school, but they're Milwaukee's team to some extent. Paul did law school at Marquette.

tracker said...

Last year's final play is a microcosm of what will plague the team this year. Their guards are fringe NBA potential and in order to prove their value, you'll see more plays like McNeal's junk 30-footer that ended their season. Better options existed for Marquette. Mc Neal's best option was to nail a 30-footer that would win the game in the national spotlight, so he took it. They just have one too many good college guards, one too few basketballs. They'll crush bad teams. They'll lose heartbreakers to good teams.

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