Northwestern Wins: A College Hoops Blog

An ode to Verne Lundquist’s calls and everything college basketball

Archive for October 24th, 2008

Big East Preview: #5 Marquette

Posted by Zach on October 24, 2008

5. Marquette Golden Eagles– Coach: Buzz Williams (1st season)

PG- Dominic James (SR): After a debut season that culminated in Big East Rookie of the Year honors and a toe dip into the NBA Draft waters, James has yet to live up to the enormous expectations thrown on him after that electrifying first season in Milwaukee. His sophomore year saw a dip in production and an overall sense of disappointment. His junior year became riddled with wrist and ankle injuries while many saw James underachieving as a point guard, with opposing defenses daring him to shoot. James already has the athleticism, drive and man-to-man defensive skills to silence the critics. An improved jump shot from outside and continued progression setting up players like Hayward and Matthews in transition for easy baskets is the challenge this season for James. Whether James wants to play at the next level will largely depend on if scouts see definite improvement in those two facets of his game.

SG- Jerel McNeal (SR): While the Big Three for Marquette the last three years has been James-McNeal-Matthews, nobody of that group has really emerged as the true go-to player offensively. James is inconsistent and Matthews can be overly passive. McNeal decided late February he would vault himself from one of the most feared playmakers in the conference to one of the most feared playmakers in the nation heading into this season. Over Marquette’s last six games, McNeal exploded as the lights got brighter: 23 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 53% FG, 42% 3-PT, all well above his career averages. He came alive in the second round against Stanford, finishing with 30 points and keeping Marquette’s season alive with a series of circus threes. McNeal’s defense is slightly overrated in that he’s a risk-taker that either makes a highlight reel theft or gets burned, but overall his defense is excellent. Add the jump shot we saw late last year and you could have an All-America candidate.

SF- Wesley Matthews (SR): More than anything, Matthews needs to become more dependable offensively for Buzz Williams this season. Stolen from Wisconsin’s backyard in Madison, Matthews has shown glimpses of stardom during his college career, but his production tends to vary from game-to-game or half-to-half, often disappearing for long stretches in the offense. Williams knows Matthews has the body and the tools to be dominant, but whether he can maintain the proper aggressive mentality is the real question. He’ll need to use his 6’5 frame to help Hayward and Burke out with rebounding more this year, and it wouldn’t hurt if Matthews becomes the second scorer behind McNeal, taking pressure off James to make jumpers. Matthews totals in points, rebounds and assists all declined from his sophomore year to his junior year; that same decline cannot happen again if Marquette hopes to reclaim their Final Four glory from 2003.

PF- Lazar Hayward (JR): It wouldn’t shock me if Hayward morphs into the premiere player on this Marquette roster by March. The 6’6 junior does it all: he led Marquette in both rebounds per game and three-point shooting accuracy last season. He runs well in transition and can drain a variety of jump shots. He also shot free throws well (77%) for a big man who plays both the three and four. The strides Hayward made from his freshman to sophomore season were glaring and gives Buzz Williams plenty of hope that the cupboard won’t be left completely bare after this year. Like Matthews, Hayward will need to take on an increased rebounding role. He’ll also need to shore up his shoddy defense, even though it’s difficult when facing Big East power forwards with much more size.

C- Dwight Burke (SR): This is where Marquette could be vulnerable. They certain boast quite a trio on the perimeter, but the amount of frontcourt depth has to be giving Buzz Williams fits. Burke is a big-bodied senior who will likely start at the five this season. While Burke never hesitates to use all five of his fouls at his disposal and really has no offensive game to speak of, Williams just hopes Burke can take up space, rebound consistently and block some shots. Maybe he’ll replicate that stunning performance at Wisconsin last year on more than one occasion. If Marquette can receive any production on offense from Burke, it’s an added bonus. But they likely won’t need it.

Once again, the backcourt is not the problem here. David Cubillan is still recovering from two shoulder surgeries this offseason, yet will be ready by the bulk of Marquette’s schedule. His specialty, shooting threes, hit a rough patch last year as his PCT dipped from a team-leading 43% in 2006-07 to 34% in 2007-08. I expect a fully healthy Cubillan to be around 40% this season from deep. Maurice Acker really emerged with McNeal at the end of last season. His shooting has improved drastically and he’s certainly difficult to guard with his dynamic speed. He plays a lot like Dominic James on offense in terms of aggressiveness. Williams lured two JC players from his former recruiting backyard in Texas to Milwaukee this year: guard Jason Butler and forward Joe Fulce. Butler has a quality mid-range game and driving ability who will surely find some minutes. Fulce may emerge as their sixth man if he can show his worth on defense. He has a great nose around the rim both with scoring and rebounding.

Backcourt: A
Frontcourt: B-
Bench: B
Coaching: B-

Bottom Line: The James-McNeal-Matthews trio has yet to reach the heights most expected after their freshman season. Can newly minted coach Buzz Williams lead the way after the departure of Tom Crean to Indiana? Even with the coaching inexperience, this group of backcourt mainstays have plenty of experience to tout. They also have an immense amount of talent, drive and pride for their program. It’s not all that far-fetched to say that Lazar Hayward, who is not even mentioned with the Big Three, could be their most productive player. I expect them to reach the second weekend if they improve on their jump shooting, namely James overall and McNeal bringing some of that late-game magic from a season ago.

Key Non-Conference Games: 12/6 vs. Wisconsin, 12/16 @ Tennessee, 12/22 @ NC State
Key Conference Games: 1/31 vs. Georgetown, 2/25 vs. Connecticut, 3/1 @ Louisville, 3/3 @ Pittsburgh
Most Valuable Player: Jerel McNeal
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA (Sweet 16)

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Olson Tainting His Own Legacy

Posted by Zach on October 24, 2008

It’s a difficult task to question Lute Olson’s accomplishments during his coaching career at Arizona. A national title, numerous lottery picks, Sweet 16’s and Pac-10 titles galore. Trophies, pennants and shiny awards nobody in Tuscon could have ever dreamed of when Olson arrived from Iowa City in the mid-80s. Olson belongs in the conversation with Hall-of-Famers like Coach K, Boeheim, Calhoun, Pitino, Knight, Williams and Izzo in the discussion over the best NCAA basketball coach of the last 20 years. Nobody is denying that. Nobody is trying to deface his proud accomplishments.

Yet it’s hard to sit back and accept this next bizarre chapter in Lute Olson’s strange exit from Arizona as just another legend passing the torch. Much like other coaching greats who have departed under shady circumstances, namely Bob Knight (more than once) and Eddie Sutton, Olson seemingly leaves his program in a state of turmoil. His exit proved less than graceful. His decisions over the last two years have hurt the Arizona program rather than kept it on the winning track.

A brief timeline: Olson stunningly steps down as Arizona head coach prior to last season and names Kevin O’Neill his successor without guaranteeing a return, Olson announces prior to the Pac-10 Tournament that he will return to the sidelines next year, prompting an enormous distraction, O’Neill then angrily departs for the Grizzlies and his entire coaching staff needs to be replaced, Chase Budinger is convinced Olson is now in good health and decides to return because he wants to play for Lute another season, Olson ducks out of practice Monday, remarking he is “just sick,” ESPN learns mid-Thursday that Olson has retired without the players and prominent administration ever hearing of such news.

Now Arizona is left with an interim coach in Russ Pennell who most recently was an AAU coach in Phoenix and formerly worked for the Arizona State coaching staff before being let go. Quite a resume to be leading the Arizona Wildcats. Meanwhile, assistant Mike Dunlap, who was originally reported to be taking over for Olson, turned down the job because he wanted long-term security while Arizona looks to go after Gonzaga coach Mark Few or Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon. I have a hard time believing either of them will leave comfortable situations for what could end up being the next Indiana sans the major violations.

Rather than exiting gracefully from Tuscon with his head held high and the program in workable shape, Olson takes off with Arizona under a coach with no experience, a team completely confused and angry over their coach suddenly deciding to retire, and two top-50 recruits in Abdul Gaddy and Solomon Hill who will likely de-commit and look elsewhere. If Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill depart for the NBA early like we all expect next June, this program could be headed for a spell of turmoil and irrelevance.

Surely, Olson dealt with difficult family and health ordeals over the last 12-24 months. Leaving the Arizona program under the tutelege of O’Neill may not have gone over well with many Wildcat fans, but as long as Olson got his well-being taken care of in time for 2008-09, the problem would be solved. Now, with practice just beginning and Arizona looking to return to prominence in the Pac-10, their legendary coach, one that promised to return this season and lead the march to glory, has ducked out, replaced by an AAU coach from Phoenix and fired Arizona State assistant. If an Arizona fan is looking for the nearest bridge, I don’t necessarily blame them.

In an age where athletes and coaching legends just cannot quit, Olson has quit in the worst way possible. No private meeting telling his players the news and giving specifics on why he’s leaving, instead a leaked news report and word of recruits’ fathers receiving word prior to Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill. No organized departure this summer before practice and leaving the program plenty of time to recover for this season, just a stunning and sudden retirement with three weeks remaining before the season begins.

Whether or not Lute Olson accomplished the unthinkable at Arizona during his illustrious term at head coach, nobody can deny the last two tumultious years of his tenure have been more problematic than graceful.

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