As we all know, senior point guard Dominic James will miss the remainder of the Marquette season with a broken fifth metatarsal in his foot. The loss comes comes at the worst of times and was a huge blow to any chance the Golden Eagles’ had at winning the Big East, but either way the season must go on and there will be no grace period against poor competition for Marquette go gain new chemistry with whoever is inserted into the starting lineup. I think it is important to see how the James loss is going to affect both players individually and the team as a whole.
The biggest affect this will have on anyone is Maurice Acker. For just the second time in his Marquette career, he will come into the starting lineup and be called upon to log major minutes. He has some experience at the position, starting all 28 games his freshman year at Ball State, but nothing like what he will face to end the year in Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse. I thought he did an excellent job distributing the ball against UConn and played pretty solid defense against a red-hot Husky back court. The one huge difference that James gave you that we will not see with Acker is the dribble-drive penetration. While he does not turn the ball over much and finds open shooters, he’s not going to make anything happen off the dribble. I would look for the same type of performance from him (6 points, 5 assists) from here on out. However, another guy that will need to somehow step up his performance once again is Jerel McNeal. In the second half of the Connecticut game, McNeal was on fire in every part of the game and it took all that to still lose by 11. He has averaged 6.6 assists per game his last five games and I look for him to bring the ball up the court on some possessions and get the offense going and, while James averaged only 11 points per game, those need to be made up somewhere and McNeal might have to do the trick. If McNeal is forced to take on that role, Wesley Matthews will need to step up on the offensive end. He has played very well as of late and will need to continue that play in the absence of James. Look for more Matthews shots and higher point totals if MU is going to stay competitive in the next three games. Lazar Hayward’s role and Dwight Burke’s role do not change much going forward except that Hayward will probably take more outside shots and, if Marquette goes with a big lineup that does not include Acker, Hayward will be asked to play the small forward position and more than likely will guard someone faster than him. Coming off the bench, play from Jimmy Butler will increase somewhat. I still look for him to rotate with Burke throughout the game but if a rotation starts with Acker, Butler will be asked to not only play more, but produce more as well. Another guard that will be in the rotation is David Cubillan. Cubillan will come in and, ironically enough, play an Acker-type role. Acker averaged 11.7 minutes before the UConn game (which made it jump to 12.5) and I’d look for Cubillan to get about half of that if Acker is not able to play 33 a game. Pat Hazel may see some minutes if Buzz Williams is REALLY forced to go to his bench in James’ absence.
The night of the UConn game, I was ready to throw in the towel with this team. As can be seen with my Dominic James blog, he was a huge part to this team’s success. But don’t sleep on Maurice Acker or any of the other Golden Eagles. Acker is a junior that has played with this team for two years, including Jerel McNeal since 5th grade. He played in the rotation and got the occasional big minute games, meaning that the team has faith in this guard. His role is drastically changing from defensive stopper to offensive court leader but I have faith that this team can still go far. Don’t forget McNeal, Matthews, and Hayward that have led this team from Day 1. McNeal and Matthews are playing some of their last games as Golden Eagles and I know they won’t let one injury, regardless of how big it was, ruin a whole season of hard work.
Forget the loss to Connecticut. Forget Jerel’s amazing second half. Jim Calhoun? Congratulations. But in the end, none of it really matters. Dominic James left last night’s loss to Connecticut in the first five minutes after telling Buzz Williams he needed to come out. The result was a broken foot, and as unbelievable as it may be to comprehend, Dominic James has put on a Marquette jersey for the last time. Not only was Dominic working on his best all-around performance at Marquette, but he was doing it ranked 10th in the nation with his co-seniors in Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews, and Dwight Burke. He did it with that unforgettable smile and the occasional swagger-and-smirk combination that everybody in the Bradley center knew and loved.
Say what you will about him, that his numbers decreased each year that he was at Marquette. Guess what? The point guard that started every game since he showed up on campus improved the team every year, and that says more about what a great point guard and even better leader is than anything in the box score. No one played with more fire and passion than James. Defensively, James was easily having his best year. Shutting down Cincinnati’s point guard Deonta Vaughn and West Virginia’s point guard Darryl Bryant to zero points each in two games, leading the team in steals and always impressing us with blocks that made us wonder how he could get as high as he did. Whether it was hiking up his shorts at half court to play shutdown defense, laughing and clapping after questionable foul calls, or getting the team fired up with a breakaway, two-handed slam, James did everything that was asked of him and so much more. Yes, Wesley and Jerel are currently having outstanding years due to the offense that Buzz Williams has implemented. But don’t think for one second that offensive transitions just happen at the snap of a Buzz Williams finger. James is the reason that this offense succeeded, with his laser passes or fast break drive-and-dishes. Sure, he fired the occasional three that hit nothing but air, but we’ll trade those for the NC State game any day. We’ll trade the occasional threaded pass into traffic for a perfect alley-oop pass 10 out of 10 times. We’ll take a missed dunk, a missed anything because Dominic, more than any player on that team, wowed us and made us remember just exactly what number 1 meant to us and why we watched him every game.
He might have taken a back seat this year to Wesley and Jerel in the boxscore, but make no mistake: this was Dominic’s team from Day 1 and he was never out of the spotlight, rather sharing it for the betterment of the team. A fifth metatarsal can put him on crutches, keep him out of the starting lineup, and ruin his run in trying to help Marquette go deep in March, but it does not ruin 127 games of the way Marquette basketball should be played: as a true Warrior.
My communications class being canceled this morning has allowed me to do a quick write-up on what will be Marquette’s biggest home game of the year. The Golden Eagles (23-4, 12-2) enter tonight’s contest 1/2 game behind the Connecticut Huskies (25-2, 13-2) in the Big East standings and will look to deny Jim Calhoun his 800th win in his storied career. Marquette is perfect at home at 16-0 while UConn is 9-0 on the road. Something has to give tonight between these two teams and it will be interesting to see whose tempo takes over this contest.
For Connecticut, it starts and ends with 7’3″ center Hasheem Thabeet. He averages 13.4 points and 10.5 rebounds per game to go along with a 64% field goal percentage. Defensively, he is second in the nation in blocks at 4.4 per game. To put that in perspective, Marquette as a team averages 3.3 blocks per game. Thabeet’s presence inside will be key on both ends of the court in an attempt to take advantage of Marquette’s height problems inside. In addition, Thabeet will keep Marquette out of the lane on drives and force them to alter shots, leading to poor percentage takes. But don’t think the Huskies stop with Thabeet. A.J. Price and Jeff Adrien round out UConn’s version of the “Big 3”. Adrien is about as physical of a 6’7″ player as you will find and will provide a very tough matchup for Lazar Hayward on the offensive end. A.J. Price provides excellent senior leadership at the point guard position but will face a tough matchup against Dominic James tonight. 6’9″ Stanley Robinson rounds out UConn’s front court and freshman Kemba Walker has stepped in nicely for the injured Jerome Dyson. UConn’s keys to the game tonight are to play the 2-3 zone better than they have all year. It would absolutely shock me to see them come out in a man-to-man look against a Marquette team that is quicker than them and clearly undersized. Thabeet will have to anchor the middle and stop drives inside, forcing Marquette to beat them with jumpshots. Offensively, Jeff Adrien could fly under the radar and have an excellent game for the Huskies. As has been the case all year when guarding them, Thabeet will be doubled on most possessions, leaving Adrien open on the weakside or Price and Walker open for outside jumpers. Marquette’s guards have the advantage over a slower UConn back court so look for a slowed down half-court offense that starts in the post for UConn. If UConn can find Thabeet and Adrien early, it will force Marquette to double down and change up their defense.
For the Golden Eagles, the key to tonight’s game is Jerel McNeal. No, he won’t guard Thabeet or Adrien but the tempo of the game relies solely on what he does with the ball offensively. McNeal, Marquette’s leader throughout the year, will finally get the national spotlight that he has deserved all year and I look for him to succeed. Hayward, James, and Matthews are all excellent players and should be applauded for how they have each contributed to MU’s success this year, but tonight is McNeal’s time to shine. It is obvious that, unless we traded for DeJuan Blair this morning, guard play will be the key to winning this game. Marquette can beat the UConn guards off the dribble and get into the paint about as much as they want, especially in a 2-3 zone. Unfortunately, that’s the easy part. Waiting for the seniors will be a front court whose average height is 6’10” as well as one of the best shot blockers in the nation. I want Marquette to be as physical as they can with the front court, Thabeet especially. His gift is his curse and he will, at times, be too aggressive going for blocks and pick up fouls. He is at his best when guards shy away and try to float shots over him (ask Johnny Flynn) and Marquette will have no success doing this. I believe McNeal and Matthews are best suited to do this with their size, and it will be important to get to the lane. Another key to the game will be passing. Out of every game I have seen Marquette play this year, they pass better than their opponent each night. This doesn’t necessarily mean an assist, but the extra pass is always a crisp, line drive to the chest. Tonight, against the zone defense, this could be huge in looking for open jumpers. Sam Young was able to do this against the Huskies last week and even though we didn’t have a Blair to account for like Pitt did, McNeal and Matthews could be the equivalent to this when they drive. Because of this, I look for Lazar Hayward and Dominic James to be open on the perimeter. Lazar is free to shoot but what this will also do for James is make the zone out of position, and no one changes direction better than James. Marquette MUST use their speed tonight because they are faster than UConn. Transition offense will be key as well in keeping UConn out of their zone defense. Defensively, Dwight Burke needs to man up like he did last year against Roy Hibbert. He’s giving up size, strength, and athleticism, but he will need to find that extra boost of energy somewhere because he will be playing more than his average amount of minutes tonight. Using the Luke Harangody or Dante Cunningham approach tonight will not work. Thabeet is 7’3″ and a pure center. He isn’t going out farther than the free throw line and the only possible defenders are Burke, Hayward, maybe Matthews and potentially Hazel tonight. Help-side defense will obviously be important tonight, so look for Jimmy Butler and Lazar Hayward to step up on defense. Their guards do not scare me as long as we close out nicely. Against Pitt, A.J. had way too many open looks against a sluggish Pitt back court. There will not be a letdown from the senior guards tonight in that category, and if Marquette can force early turnovers it could change the whole pace of the game, and definitely the momentum.
I once viewed Connecticut as the most talented team this year, pre-Dyson injury. Thabeet and Adrien have stepped their game up in his absence, but I believe it has left their guards vulnerable on defense. What a perfect set-up for the Golden Eagles. The Bradley Center will be absolutely rocking tonight with an estimated 19,000+ in attendance. I will be waiting in line at 2:00 and already have chills just thinking about the statement the Golden Eagles could make tonight. Marquette must use their speed tonight but will have to work for every bucket against an excellent UConn defense. This game won’t get past the 70’s for either team so every bucket will be important. For weeks on end, I have been saying how Marquette can’t stay with UConn in any phase, but I am starting to lean the other way now. Look for McNeal to go crazy tonight and, on the other end, Adrien is going to put up monster numbers. All in all, UConn is an excellent squad with a lot of talent and as I play out scenarios in my head I can see this game going either way. I’m actually just typing more so I don’t have to think of a prediction for the outcome tonight.
In the end, better inside play beats better outside play and I just think UConn’s front court is too much for the Golden Eagles to handle. It will come down to the wire no question, but UConn slips by in the end to stay on top in the Big East.
Connecticut 80, Marquette 77
After disposing of the now NIT-bound Georgetown Hoyas, Marquette began preparing for arguably the toughest three game stretch for any team at any time this year. The road starts in Milwaukee, where the UConn Huskies come to town Wednesday. Then the Golden Eagles travel to Louisville and Pittsburgh for games two and three. Everyone knows about this crazy stretch of games, but one thing not a lot of people question is what to expect from these games. It’s true that with Villanova having just one “losable” game left at Notre Dame, that Marquette will have to go 3-1 to obtain a double-bye in the Big East Tournament. If Nova drops 1 game, Marquette can go 2-2, and so on. But even more simple than wins and losses, I want MU to prove they can play with the best proven teams in the country. Pitt, UConn, Louisville and Villanova have signature wins that have proved they can hang with anyone. Marquette does not. In their defense, they haven’t played a team worthy of that title (and no, Nova does not count). But this is what I am looking for in the next 2 weeks. It is necessary for them to win 1 of these next three games. Not in the sense of wins, losses, byes or rankings, but rather to show themselves that they are on the same level, or at least close, as a top team in the nation. They will be underdogs in each game and it really would not shock me to see them lose all three. I don’t think they will but it could happen. I’ll go out on a real big limb here and say they go 1-2, defeating Louisville. Back to the point, they need to stay competitive in each game and be able to play at their pace. As much as I love our guards, these three teams have the talent advantage on us. Experience and hustle will favor Marquette, and when they get on a run they are tough to stop. Here’s what I am looking for in each game that, in the long run, will say a lot about their ability to succeed on a higher level.
UConn: How does Marquette react to a zone defense that has shot blockers and outstanding post players? The closest thing thy have seen to this was Wisconsin and they looked very out of sync the whole game. Granted that a much different Marquette team, but it happened.
Louisville: How does Marquette play against a team similar to them? Will they get out-hustled like they did in the second Villanova game or be in control of the tempo like they did against Notre Dame and Georgetown?
Pittsburgh: After two exhausting games, how do they rebound from whatever happened in the first two games? Are they able to lock down Levance Fields and force turnovers against a team that does a great job handling the ball?
I hope that these questions are answered all in positive ways during this stretch run. Wins aren’t necessary against these three teams, and while one would be nice, it will say a lot more if they are able to answer questions like these going into March.
The time has come to rank all eight teams in the All Conferences Tournament. Remember, I am ranking these teams based on who is on each team. It has nothing to do with the conference itself, just the starters and 6th man that accompany them. I have also added coaches for each conference to spice the debate up a little but. So without further adieu, here are the rankings.
1. Big East, coached by Jim Boeheim
PG– Levance Fields, SG– Jerel McNeal, SF– Earl Clark, PF– Luke Harangody, C– Hasheem Thabeet, 6th– DeJuan Blair
Why?: This team is absolutely stacked and, cliche as it sounds, has everything. They’ve got great passing guards in Fields and McNeal, outside shooters in McNeal, Clark and Harangody, outstanding post players in Harangody, Thabeet and Blair, and about as quick of a defense as can be put together. This team will be able to run, but a slowed tempo may suit them better with Thabeet and Blair in the game to go along with spot shooters in McNeal and Clark that have the ability to drive.
2. ACC, coached by Mike Krzyzewski
PG– Ty Lawson, SG– Jeff Teague, SF– Kyle Singler, PF– Tyler Hansbrough, C– Trevor Booker, 6th– Jack McClinton
Why? This team could make a strong case for the number one overall seed, but I do not think that they have the depth of the Big East team. Hansbrough and Booker make probably the best offensive connection in the front court, and Lawson and Singler are outstanding passers. Teague is the best outside shooter on the team and the best athlete. Just as the Big East team is, the ACC has a little bit of everything and will play a little more inside on offense.
3. Big 12, coached by Bill Self
PG– Sherron Collins, SG– James Anderson, SF– Damion Jones, PF– Blake Griffin, C– Cole Aldrich, 6th– Craig Brackins
Why? Another big team highlighted by their frontcourt in James, Griffin, and Aldrich. Griffin, the frontrunner for Player of the Year, highlights this team and I can only imagine what he could do with Sherron Collins passing to him. Damion Jones plays big as well at the 3 position and Cole Aldrich does not give up any room in the paint. James Anderson is the wildcard on this team, with outstanding range on offense and good size on defense.
4. Pac-10, coached by Ben Howland
PG– Darren Collison, SG– James Harden, SF– Chase Budinger, PF– Jordan Hill, C– John Brockman, 6th– Nic Wise
Why? While the talent level may not be there, the experience sure is. Highlighted by two seniors and three juniors, including the anchor in Darren Collison, make this team very tough especially on the defensive end. Other than Harden and Budinger, they may struggle to score but they will play some of the best defense in this tournament. Three Wildcats was surprising to see, but I really like their individual talent and they are currently riding a very hot streak.
5. All other Conferences, coached by Bob McKillop
PG– David Holston, SG– Stephen Curry, SF– Mike Rose, PF– Josh Heytvelt, C– John Bryant, 6th– Lester Hudson
I really thought that this team was going to be easy to put together, but it ended up being a lot tougher than I expected. There are a ton of outstanding players in other conferences, and looking at this team, they can score with anyone. Heytvelt gives them a good inside presence on defense, but this team shoots lights out with Curry, Holston, and Hudson. It will be interesting to see if they can hold their own on defense but they will be in the 80’s in every game during this tournament.
6. SEC, coached by Bruce Pearl
PG– Devan Downey, SG– Jodie Meeks, SF– Nick Calethes, PF– Patrick Patterson, C– Jarvis Varnado, 6th– Marcus Thornton
Why? I tried to determine these last three seeds and had a hard time doing so, but based on the fact that I think the SEC holds the best player out of the SEC, C-USA, and Big Ten gives them the nod at number 6. Thank Jodie Meeks. Devan Downey is a fantastic passer, and Nick Calethes is as close to a point guard that a small forward can get. This is going to get open looks for Jodie Meeks, and he does not need much to drain. Patterson and Varnado give a great front court defensively and aren’t too shabby on the offensive end. Look out for this team.
7. C-USA, coached by John Calipari
PG– Brock Young, SG– Jermaine Taylor, SF– Aubrey Coleman, PF– Robert Dozier, C– Jerome Jordan, 6th– Tyreke Evans
Why? I really like this team for their balance, much like the top teams in the bracket. Young leads the nation in assists and Jermaine Taylor averages 25 points per game. That’s a deadly combo if you ask me. Aubrey Coleman is another sleeper on the offensive end and Robert Dozier does a little bit of everything.
8. Big Ten, coached by Tom Izzo
PG– Kalin Lucas, SG– Manny Harris, SF– Evan Turner, PF– JuJaun Johnson, C– Goran Suton, 6th– Robbie Hummel
Why? Come back in a year or two and you’ll see this exact same team in the top 4 AT LEAST in the tournament. It’s not a knock to the Big Ten at all, but they are a year away. It’s the fact that this team has 5 sophomores with Goran Suton manning the middle. It’s tough to play with a team full of sophomores and have any long term success in a tournament. Lucas, Harris and Turner can score with the best of them but I don’t know if they are ready yet to play with the Big Boys.
Here’s part 2 of the All Conferences Tournament. Part 1 is linked at the bottom. The teams will be ranked 1-8 and start a tournament to determine a winner later on today.
All other Conferences
PG– David Holston, Chicago State- I got to watch Holston at Marquette this year, and he was well worth the price of admission. He had some of the most unbelievable range I had ever seen, hitting 7 threes against the Golden Eagles. He averages 4.5 treys a game and hands out 6 helpers a game as well.
SG– Stephen Curry, Davidson- Very easy pick here, as Curry leads the nation in scoring to go along with 6 assists a game. While he has played the point this year, I doubt he will have any trouble adjusting to the shooting guard role in this offense.
SF– Mike Rose, Eastern Kentucky- Rose is another senior leader that I really like. He averages 21 points per game and 6 rebounds, and is a speedy defender averaging 2 steals a game. He’s also shooting 49% from downtown and logs almost 37 minutes per game.
PF– Josh Heytvelt, Gonzaga- One of my favorite players to watch, Heytvelt is an exceptional senior leader for the Bulldogs, and while his stats do not jump off the page, his intangibles can not be taught and will be a good presence inside.
C– John Bryant, Santa Clara- Bryant averages 18 and 14 on the year and averages 2.6 per game. At 6’10”, 305 lbs. he is an absolute monster inside and is the foundation to a team that gives up just 62 points per game.
6th– Lester Hudson, UT Martin- The only reason he isn’t starting is because I love the backcourt right now. Still, Martin averages over 27 a game with 7.4 rebounds and 4 assists, all from the shooting guard position.
Apologies to: Johnathon Jones (Oakland), Eric Maynor (VCU)
PG– Kalin Lucas, Michigan State- Lucas is one of five sophomores to make the Big Ten squad. He averages 4.7 assists per game, but he is also an excellent shooter that is only going to get better as time goes on. On defense, he is small but quick.
SG– Manny Harris, Michigan- Harris is a solid shooting guard for the Wolverines that also averages 7 rebounds per game. He has struggled as of late but with good size (6’5”) and speed he deserves a spot on the team.
SF– Evan Turner, Ohio State- Turner is similar to Harris in most categories, but carries a little more height with him and plays better defense. He is shooting 52% from the field and logs over 35 minutes per game.
PF– JaJuan Johnson, Purdue- Johnson is a perfect fit for a Big Ten team. He is a big, inside post defender and a great shot blocker. He is still a little raw and can play out of control at times, but he reminds me of Tyrus Thomas in some ways.
C– Goran Suton, Michigan State- Sutan has always been one of my favorite Tom Izzo players to watch. He averages just 9.4 and 7.4, but is an outstanding defender and great team player. He also provides senior leadership for a very young Big Ten team.
6th– Robbie Hummel, Purdue- Hummel is a very efficient player for the Boilermakers that contributes in many ways. Injuries have slowed him down, but in a perfect world where he is healthy, he is one of the best players in the Big Ten.
Apologies to: Chester Frazier (Illinois), Talor Battle (Penn State), DeShawn Sims (Michigan)
PG– Darren Collison, UCLA- Collison is exactly what you ask for in a point guard. A/T ratio is 2.31, 4th year senior that has been to the Final Four his first three years, and an overall leader that rallies the troops.
SG– James Harden, Arizona State- The frontrunner for Pac-10 Player of the Year has to be on the squad, and Harden fits the bill. Harden is a 2/3 tweener but I like his athleticism and speed enough to put him here. He averages 21.3 a game and is a stout defender.
SF– Chase Budinger, Arizona- One word to define Budinger would be consistency. His points per game have increased every year and the other statistics have as well. I was skeptical of his game until I actually saw him play. What I saw was a fierce competitor and a great athlete.
PF– Jordan Hill, Arizona- Hill has transformed into an outstanding forward for the Wildcats, averaging 18 and 11 and blocking 2 shots per game. He is a fantastic post presence and is 235 pounds of muscle.
C– John Brockman, Washington- Brockman’s numbers are not outstanding, at 14 points and 11 rebounds per game, but his senior leadership has been outstanding this year and while Brockman is more of a power forward, Hill can play center if needed.
6th– Nic Wise, Arizona- Wise brings a little bit of everything to the table for the Wildcats and is a good 6th man for the Pac-10 squad. He has good percentages and is a fast point guard that runs the break well which will be a good compliment for Collison’s half court game.
Apologies to: Josh Shipp (UCLA), Taj Gibson (USC), Jerome Randle (California)
PG– Brock Young, East Carolina- I haven’t seen him play, but the stats don’t lie. Young averages 7.8 assists per game in just his second year to go with 1.5 steals per game.
SG– Jermaine Taylor, UCF- Taylor is averaging over 25 points per game on the year, all while shooting 49% from the field. The senior guard has good size and can score from anywhere on the court.
SF– Aubrey Coleman, Houston- A little bit of a cheat here, putting Coleman as the small forward despite being a pure shooting guard, but he averages 20 points per game and hits the boards well (8 per game).
PF– Robert Dozier, Memphis- Dozier got lost in the crowd last year at Memphis, but is making up for it this year and then some. The senior has Memphis undefeated in C-USA (what else is new?) and is averaging 12 and 7 on the year. He plays outstanding defense as well, averaging over a block and a steal per game.
C– Jerome Jordan, Tulsa-
6th– Tyreke Evans, Memphis- I have seen him play a couple of times and he is excellent. The diaper dandy averages 17 points per game, 5 rebounds per game and almost 4 assists. He also averages two steals a game and plays lockdown defense with outstanding size (6’6”). He could easily be starting on this team.
Apologies to: Stephon Jackson (UTEP), Lawrence Kinnard (UAB), Robert Vaden (UAB)
The Marquette Golden Eagles (22-4, 11-2) come in to today’s game on a 2 game win streak following wins over the lowly St. John’s Red Storm and Seton Hall Pirates. However, they have also lost two in a row away from the Bradley Center, and the going does not get any easier when they visit the Georgetown Hoyas today (14-10, 5-8). Georgetown is on the bubble of the tourney, but with wins over Memphis, Connecticut and Syracuse, a victory over the Golden Eagles could go a long way into getting them an at-large bid.
In the first meeting between these two teams, the Golden Eagles won in a shootout, 94-82. Wesley Matthews had 19 second half points and Jerel McNeal finished with 26 points and 11 assists. The key to the game was Marquette’s ability to dribble drive and dish to open shooters. Also, drives led to free throw attempts as seen by Marquette going 30-38 from the line in the game. Georgetown shot just 13, hitting 8. If Marquette wants to win, they will need to continue to get to the line and penetrate on a young Georgetown defense.
I have watched Georgetown three times this year, and they have been on three different levels each time. The first time, against UConn, I saw a team that had the swagger of a team that knew they were going to win, and the production to back it up. The second time was against Marquette, and I saw a team that had lost 4 in a row and looked lost on defense. The last time was against Syracuse, where I watched a team against the ropes needing a win and, despite them not pulling off the comeback, they looked hungry. It seems to start with their firestarter in Greg Monroe. While DaJuan Summers and Austin Freeman are bigger names and have more experience, when the freshman is on, this team is tough to stop. In the UConn game, his stat line wasn’t huge but his impact was. He played great defense all night, holding Hasheem Thabeet to just 4 points, and even hit 2 threes on the offensive end. Against Marquette, he looked out of sync, turning the ball over 5 times and getting beat off the dribble by Lazar Hayward. The fire he seemed to lack against Marquette he definitely had back in the Syracuse game, offensively at least. He was MUCH more aggressive going to the bucket, and was tenacious on the glass with 5 offensive rebounds. he seemed to struggle on defense, as I remember Syracuse’s “big man” Arinze Onuaku with some thunderous dunks. He could be the key in this matchup tomorrow and he definitely has me worried.
For Marquette, the two guys I am looking at are Dominic James and Jerel McNeal. While Marquette’s defense has stepped up as of late and I can see both team’s point totals going much lower than last time, continuing to drive the ball on offense will be important for these two guys. McNeal has handed out 7 helpers in each of his last three games and is starting to become a complete player now that teams are focusing much of their attention on him. For James, he has 7.6 assists over his last three games and has improved his passing all year, especially on the fast break. Despite being on the road, Marquette needs to play their game by keeping the tempo up and pushing the ball to the hoop. Lazar Hayward and Wesley Matthews should be open for jumpers, and I hope Lazar looks like he did in the Villanova game, not the Seton Hall game.
This one scares me a lot. While Marquette has a shot to win their first Big East title, there is more on the line for Georgetown in today’s game. The Hoyas being at home makes it that much bigger for them and I can see them coming out firing against a Marquette team that is gearing up for the toughest stretch run in the Big East. I don’t know if Georgetown can keep up with Marquette’s run-n’-gun style, but if the game slows down into half court sets this one could get interesting. One of the biggest keys to the game will be Marquette keeping the tempo up because in the Marquette and Syracuse games, Johnny Flynn and Jerel McNeal beat Georgetown with speed and they had no answer. If Marquette can get this game into the high 70’s or low 80’s, it should be a W. If it goes under that, buckle up for a fantastic finish.
Marquette 77, Georgetown 70
(Updated Tuesday, May 25th)
*****I decided to begin another blog that will focus entirely on sports outside of Milwaukee and Green Bay, www.ohyeahbytheway.wordpress.com. Strotty’s Blog will now focus on the Packers, Marquette Golden Eagles, Bucks, and Brewers. Check out the other Web site for articles and opinions on other sports.*****
I’ve got some big updates for all of you fans out there regarding my work. I surpassed the 200,000 read total this month and currently have 143,779 reads on Bleacher Report and 67,638 reads on Strotty’s Blog. Those numbers are pretty crazy and it’s been such an honor to have so many people look at my work.
Examiner.com has chosen me to be their official fantasy basketball expert, so keep on the lookout for all my work there and post comments or questions you have regarding fantasy basketball!
I have been working with Marquette.Scout.com, an affiliate of FoxSports.com, during Marquette’s roller coaster of a season and that has been unbelievable stuff. To be able to sit courtside and write about my favorite college basketball team is something I could have only dreamed of a year ago. Marquette made the NCAA Tournament and I was able to cover them in New York at the Big East Tournament and in San Jose for their loss to the Washington Huskies.
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I don’t really feel like writing out a big blog for this one, but there were some things that I saw in the Seton Hall game that I liked and others that I didn’t. They are listed below in no particular order.
– Dominic James is becoming one of the best passers in the nation. Others may lead him in assists, but he threads the needle perfectly and has court vision that not a lot of PG’s have. His defense (7 steals, 4 blocks) was outstanding last night, especially when he was the lone defender on the 3 on 1 break, blocking the lay-up attempt. 4-4 from the line was a nice present as well.
– Dwight Burke was great last night despite the little 17 minutes he played (after Garcia fouled out there wasn’t much need for him). It gives me hope for the Golden Eagles for defending Thabeet. Burke’s only foul of the game came after his missed offensive rebound put-back as a cheap reach-in frustration type foul.
– Wesley Matthews could be the “quietest” scorers I’ve ever seen in a game. A lot of it stems from his ability to get to the free throw line, but he is somewhat forgotten at times. He was the star of the game last night and if Marquette wants to beat any of the “Big 3” in the Big East, they will need games like that from him, similar to the Georgetown second half. Great overall game from the senior.
– Speaking of defense, Jimmy Butler and Lazar Hayward played great help defense on the big men. When Garcia or Mitchell would be fronted by one defender, help defense got great positioning with their hands up, forcing adjusted shots. Mitchell and Garcia shot a combined 3-12 in the game.
– Jerel McNeal seemed out of sync the whole game and it was a little frustrating that he never got into the game like he usually does. He seemed out of control and never got his jump shot going, and the 8 turnovers were not a good side. Luckily, his off night came against Seton Hall, so let’s hope he’s back on track by Saturday.
– Lazar Hayward wasn’t really on either, but I liked that they looked for him in the post early and often. Marquette really wanted to get the Pirates’ big men into trouble, unfortunately the shots weren’t dropping.
– I was surprised to see Wesley Matthews on Jeremy Hazell after the first possession of the game, but I guess the size difference was enough to do the job. I thought Wesley did a nice job, and his stat-line was a little tainted because he played the whole game and had some cheap buckets down the stretch.
– Jimmy Butler is getting better every game and is really fitting into his role nicely. He didn’t take that 3 pointer that he couldn’t have been more wide open on, but his confidence is rising and his defensive game is stepping up. He drew a nice charge after his layup and I can’t remember him getting beat on defense. He added a nice steal when Seton Hall was in transition and got absolutely robbed of a block.
– The officiating crew was terrible last night I know Bobby Gonzalez and his players talk to officials more than any other team in the nation (seems that way) but the crew was inconsistent, ticky-tacky and at times made some calls that made you scratch your head. I’m not one to knock officiating, as anyone that knows me can attest to, but last night was really bad.
– Congrats to Rob Frozena for being all over that layup and then all over Sportscenter. He has earned the praise from Buzz and his team mates, and it said a lot about the team’s chemistry this year as seen by the bench erupting on his layup. Keep working hard and congrats again, Rob.
– Jimmy Butler can fly.
The NFL Combine starts tomorrow and over the course of the next week, many things will change. Players will rise, players will fall and others will stay put. Here is the first completed mock draft of 2009. Enjoy!
1. Detroit Lions- Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia– Stafford is the most complete quarterback in the draft as well as having the strongest arm. His accuracy and release are good as well and has decent size for a quarterback (6’2”, 235 lbs.) Look no further than the Atlanta Falcons last year for why this is the pick. As well as Calvin Johnson played last year, I can’t even imagine what an arm like Stafford throwing to him will produce. Some say it is too big of a risk/reward to take a quarterback and taking a franchise LT might be a safer bet, but having the 20th pick in the draft as well gives the Lions hope that one of them will fall to that pick.
2. St. Louis Rams- Eugene Monroe, LT, Virginia– Monroe, a second team All-American is an outstanding prospect and probably the fastest left tackle in this year’s draft. He has ideal quickness and excels especially in the pass blocking game. Orlando Pace is on the trading block and the Rams are looking to get younger on the offensive line and will do so with this pick.
3. Kansas City Chiefs- Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest– One of the easier picks in the first round is Curry going to the Chiefs. He is arguably the best defensive prospect in this year’s draft, and at 6’2”, 247 lbs. has ideal height and weight to play at the next level. After shoring up both lines last year, new GM Scott Pioli will look to find the next versatile playmaker for his team, and Curry fits that mold. Kansas City’s defense has struggled for a while but this pick could be a large step and a quick step in the right direction.
4. Seattle Seahawks- Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech– Personally, my favorite player in this year’s draft and quite possibly the best wide receiver talent that we have seen since Larry Fitzgerald. The name of the game with Crabtree is production. In 2 years, Crabtree scored 39 touchdowns and won the Biletnikoff Trophy twice, given to college’s best wide receiver. Don’t think that he was just a product of Texas Tech’s pass happy offense, either. While he doesn’t have the size or speed of a Calvin Johnson, he is an excellent playmaker, which is something the Seahawks need desperately as seen by some of the wideouts they played with last year.
5. Cleveland Browns- Everette Brown, OLB, Florida State– Watching film on Everette Brown truly wowed me. If you have time to go on Youtube and watch I would recommend it. He is unbelievably fast for his size (6’3”, 252 lbs.) and his instinct to jump the snap is awesome. His spin move is the fastest I’ve seen, although he gets out of control at some points and misses tackles. Cleveland accumulated just 18 sacks last year, and Brown will come in and help that right away. I can’t say enough about his speed and the type of player he could become. DeMarcus Ware anyone?
6. Cincinnati Bengals- Jason Smith, LT, Baylor- Smith is one of the most interesting prospects in the draft. He is a tight end turned left tackle and because of it excels with his footwork. Because he lacks experience at the position his form isn’t perfect, but he makes up for it with his size and long arms. Cincinnati needs an upgrade at the position with the oft-injured Levi Jones and Smith fits the bill here.
7. Oakland Raiders- B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College– Call him this year’s Cedrick Ellis, but Raji’s performance during the Senior Bowl practice week shot his stock way up. He has great speed for his size (6’1”, 334) and is an absolute wall in the middle. The Raiders’ 3-4 defense has lacked a stud defensive tackle and, while it isn’t the flashy pick, Al Davis can’t deny that Raji’s presence in the middle will do wonders for the defense.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars- Andre Smith, LT, Alabama– Smith is an interesting prospect and could go anywhere from 1st overall to this pick. Still, I think he slides due to his size concerns. Don’t get me wrong. He’s HUGE but his size has hurt him in the past. He isn’t as fast as he could be but if he could drop some weight before the combine his stock could increase. He may go earlier than this, but I put him down here because I’d rather have the athletic tackles then him. Khalif Barnes is not the answer at left tackle and Smith could end up being a steal here.
9. Green Bay Packers- Malcom Jenkins, CB, Ohio State– Typical Ted Thompson says that this pick will be traded, but if he does stay here then the pick will be Jenkins. He is the best player available and is an absolute playmaker. While he didn’t play the type of man-to-man that he will in Green Bay, he has great game speed and gets an excellent read on the ball. With Al Harris and Charles Woodson closing in on the end of their careers, Tramon Williams, Pat Lee and Jenkins could make the transition a lot easier.
10. San Fransisco 49er’s- Mark Sanchez, QB, USC– Sanchez is another interesting prospect, because he could go at number 3 to the Chiefs and there is a chance that someone trades up in round one to get him before he gets to the Niners. Despite his inexperience, Sanchez has a quick release and a good enough arm to make it in the pros as long as his accuracy stays on target. San Francisco busted on Alex Smith back in 2005 but can’t pass up this value here.
11. Buffalo Bills- Brian Orakpo, DE/OLB, Texas– Orakpo is an absolute freak in the weight room (check that one out on Youtube also) and even better on the field. His size and speed work well together for a pass rushing end. While he is still raw and stands up too tall, I believe he can succeed for a Buffalo Bills team that needs to get to the quarterback more and improve their aging defense. Orakpo should do the trick.
12. Denver Broncos- Rey Maualuga, LB, USC– Maualuga is the first of what should be all three Trojan linebackers going in the first round. At 6’2”, 254 lbs., he is the next Ray Lewis. He is what every defense needs emotionally, physically and intangibly. Denver has been absolutely atrocious the last couple of years and not only will he help the run game, but he will fire up everyone around him and make them better.
13. Washington Redskins- Michael Oher, LT, Mississippi– This might be a little early for Oher to go, but not for the Redskins. Oher has started 34 consecutive games and can play either tackle positions at the next level. He has a solid frame that excels in the run game but can be a little stiff at times and doesn’t have the best footwork or speed. The Redskins need an upgrade for Jon Jansen and over time Oher could move to LT.
14. New Orleans Saints- Vontae Davis, CB, Illinois– As many yards as Drew Brees passed for last year, the Saints gave up just as many. Jason David is pitiful and Randall Gay hardly gets the job done. Davis did a great job improving every year at Illinois and became a premier cornerback in the Big Ten. At 6’0”, 204 lbs. has great size and has a lot of muscle to go with his quick frame.
15. Houston Texans- Aaron Maybin, DE, Penn State– Aside from Mario Williams, the rest of the team had 13 sacks as a unit last year. They are desperate for a pass rusher and Maybin will give them that. He has room to add weight and must do that if he wants to be a 4-3 rusher (just 245 lbs.) but if he can, he has the most speed of any DL not named Everette Brown and will start from day 1.
16. San Diego Chargers- Chris Wells, RB, Ohio State– If the Ladanian Tomlinson bickering falls through and he comes back next year and Sproles re-signs, then clearly this pick will change. But for now, Wells is the best back on the board and the Chargers can’t pass on that. He would create a nice Lendale White/Chris Johnson combination with Sproles if indeed LT is gone. The last I will talk about Youtube, but there is a video dedicated JUST to stiff arms from this guy. He has great size and runs like Adrian Peterson. He explodes through the hole and can change direction on a dime. Good combo if you ask me.
17. New York Jets- Jeremey Maclin, WR, Missouri– With Brett Favre leaving after this season, the Jets once again face questions at the quarterback position, but I haven’t given up on Kellen Clemens yet. The year behind Favre might have helped him and I think they go for the next need, a playmaker on offense. While Maclin needs to work on separation, he always seems to come up with the big play and has great speed in the open field.
18. Chicago Bears- Percy Harvin, WR, Florida– I don’t know how many different times Jerry Angelo can just fail to address this position. With a guy like Harvin that allows teams to do anything, you can’t pass on him. Harvin will be able to play out of the slot, run the Wildcat as well as go deep. If he can stay healthy, something that might scare teams off, his talent is unbelievable and his ceiling is through the roof. Think Steve Smith.
19. Tampa Bay Bucaneers- Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State– Rumors are circulating about the Bucs wanting Freeman, but take rumors in February with a large grain of salt. Still, it would fit with Tampa Bay starting over in some senses. Freeman has all the tools to be a great player one day, measuring 6’5” and having one of the best arms in the draft.
20. Detroit Lions- D.J. Moore, CB, Vanderbilt– I don’t think the Lions would take any of the available tackles at this spot so they address their second biggest need (they have a lot). Moore does not have the ideal speed for a cornerback, but his production speaks for itself with his 13 career interceptions. His ability to play offense shows his athleticism, and on D he gets a great jump on the ball.
21. Philadelphia Eagles- Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia– I could see the Eagles going with an offensive lineman here, but I think they will be happy to see that Moreno has dropped. Brian Westbrook’s best years are clearly behind him and Correll Buckhalter, despite being a solid backup, is just that…a solid backup. Moreno is capable of being a dual-threat back, as seen by his Capitol One Bowl performance.
22. Minnesota Vikings- Ebon Britton, LT, Arizona– Britton is a MAJOR sleeper in this year’s draft class due to the big 4 tackles that most likely will be taken before in. At 6’5”, 310 lbs, he has some of the best speed from any of the tackles and will join a Vikings team in need of an upgrade at the tackle position.
23. New England Patriots- Clay Matthews, LB, USC– A typical Bill Belichek guy here that is very versatile with his measurements and speed combination. Matthews has great field vision and, despite getting pushed around by offensive lineman at times, has great speed and instincts on the field. Matthews will be a good replacement for an aging linebacker corps.
24. Atlana- Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State- More options for Matt Ryan to play with next year is never a bad option, and Pettigrew fits the bill here. While he won’t break away in the open field or make defenders miss, he gets good separation and rarely misses a catchable ball. He is also one of the better blockers in the draft at the TE position, something Atlanta missed last year.
25. Miami- Derrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland– Despite the fact that wideouts usually drop on Draft Day, the 4 taken in the first round are all playmakers for teams that desperately need them. The Dolphins did a nice job with their offensive line last year so they can address the skill positions this year. Heyward-Bey has all the tools to be a great wideout with speed, height, bulk and moves after the catch. If he can turn those characteristics and use them all at once, he could be a star.
26. Baltimore- Larry English, OLB, Northern Illinois– Baltimore loves their linebackers, and with the aging Ray Lewis and the free agent situations of Bart Scott and Terrell Suggs looming, they take a linebacker here in the first. English is quickly rising up the draft charts with his size and speed. He plays the pass very well and is explosive when running to the ball, taking great angles and rarely missing tackles.
27. Indianapolis- Peria Jerry, DT, Ole Miss– They take a hard look at Duke Robinson, but in the end I think Jerry is too good to pass up. Jerry consistently made plays last year, especially in the run game and will be a good stopgap for a Colts team that could use it. Don’t be surprised to see this pick traded, however.
28. Philadelphia- Louis Delmas, FS, Western Michigan– It’s come time to replace Brian Dawkins and Delmas can take his spot. Delmas excels in pass coverage and can start from Day 1. It should be noted that there is a very good chance Philadelphia trades these first round draft picks if they really like a tackle or if one drops to the 8 or 9 spot.
29. New York Giants- James Laurianitis, LB, Ohio State– The Giants think about taking a wide receiver here, but decide to go with the proven linebacker here. Laurianitis has great instincts and does everything solid, from run stopping to covering the ball to leading a team. New York is starting to age on defense at the linebacker spot, and Laurianitis will provide excellent youth and leadership to an already solid defense.
30. Tennessee- Kenny Britt, WR, Rutgers– It seems that the Titans are projected to take a wide receiver every year, but this year it is warranted. Think of Britt as a poor man’s Calvin Johnson. He has great size (6’4”, 215 lbs.) and while he doesn’t have top of the line speed, he is able to break away from defenders and will go up high to get the ball. He is a strong runner that will break tackles, but don’t expect many jukes.
31. Arizona- Lesean McCoy, RB, Pittsburgh– McCoy will be the lightning to Tim Hightower’s thunder. While Hightower came in and did an excellent job last year, the hole left by Edgerrin James’ almost certain departure needs to be filled. McCoy is a fast back that breaks into the open field just as fast as anyone in the draft and will play back-up to Hightower in the 2 man rushing attack.
32. Pittsburgh- Duke Robinson, OG, Oklahoma– Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl last year despite their awful offensive line play. The majority of it came from interior line play, and at this spot Robinson is the best option. Robinson excels in the run game and can get better at pass blocking and with his massive size, still manages to move his feet and stay in front of defenders.
The Pirates of Seton Hall visit the Bradley Center to face the Golden Eagles in what will be the 6th meeting between the 2 teams since Marquette moved to the Big East. Marquette is 5-0 and will be favored tonight to move that mark up a game in the win column.
Seton Hall (14-10,5-7) will try to get back to their winning ways as they won 5 in a row before a 62-54 defeat from UConn on Saturday. Despite the loss, you can bet Seton Hall will be coming in feeling confident that they can play with anyone in the country, especially when the Big East’s second leading scorer, Jeremy Hazell, is on the mark. Hazell averages just under 23 points per game with 3.6 rebounds and 1.7 steals.
For Marquette (21-4,9-2), tonight’s game will mark the last contest before their brutal 5 game stretch to end the year, and head coach Buzz Williams’ squad would like to go in with some momentum. They regained some of it on Saturday, beating St. John’s 73-59 at home after a 2 game losing streak, with both losses coming on the road to South Florida and Villanova, respectively. In the win over the Red Storm, Jerel McNeal contributed 20 points, giving him 20 or more in the last 9 games and Lazar Hayward added 17. The Golden Eagles forced 24 turnovers in the game and looked more like the team that started 9-0 but still need to build on that if they want to compete the next couple of weeks.
Let’s break this one down tonight. The first thing I will say is look out for Lazar Hayward and Wesley Matthews tonight. Seton Hall ranks dead last in rebound defense (meaning they give up the most) and are 15th in pulling boards in themselves. Something Marquette has struggled with all year due to the size they give up shouldn’t affect them as much tonight. Seton Hall takes the same approach as Marquette, opting to go with a 3 guard-2 forward lineup, with the Pirates’ forwards standing 6’6″ and 6’9″. I look for Jerel McNeal to shut down Hazell tonight, forcing him to take jumpshots and not get beat off the dribble. Seton Hall will look for John Garcia and Robert Mitchell on the offensive end, but I am confident Marquette’s speed will be to much for the big fella. Don’t be fooled by Garcia’s 22 and 13 performance vs. Connecticut. He got worked on defense and it was just the second time he had scored in double figures during Big East play. Marquette will need to take care of the ball on offense as Seton Hall ranks second in the Big East with 8 steals per game.
Keys to the Game
1. Get Lazar Hayward going, whether that be on the glass or getting to the perimeter for jump shots. Mitchell and Garcia are above average defenders, but Marquette can outrun this team and Hayward will be key all night. He is usually giving up size to power forwards, but tonight he isn’t. I will look for him on the boards all night long.
2. Jerel McNeal shutting down Jeremy Hazell will be key. Hazell is an outstanding player and will get his 20 points, but it will be important for Jerel to make sure he doesn’t control the game. Staying up-tempo on offense will do the trick.
3. Win the boards. Marquette gives teams too many second chance points and Seton Hall has struggled all year getting offensive rebounds. Something has to give and I look for Lazar Hayward to make sure it goes Marquette’s way.
Marquette 84, Seton Hall 71
I would like to start this blog off by saying I do think the 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine, starting this week, is a little overrated. I do not think that 40 yards of Lucas Oil Stadium soil can determine whether or not an offensive lineman is going to block Julius Peppers better than someone else. But I do think it holds some credibility when speaking of the skill position players. Looking over numbers today, a particular position jumped out at me as important in regards to the 40 yard dash. That position would be running back, so hear me out on it.
I started back in 2004 going forward and took a look at who ran the fastest 40 yard dash times from each draft class.
1. Tatum Bell
2. Kevin Jones
3. Willie Parker
4. Steven Jackson
5. DeJuan Green
Notables from the 2004 NFL draft that failed to crack the top 5 include Michael Turner, Julius Jones, and (because I am feeling generous) Mewelde Moore. You could make the argument that Turner is the best running back from this draft class but after that it easily goes Steven Jackson and Willie Parker. Julius Jones is next on the list followed by Tatum Bell and Kevin Jones. So, 4 of the fastest runners at the combine are in the top 6 running backs currently.
1. J.J. Arrington
2. Ronnie Brown
3. Ryan Grant
4. Cadillac Williams
5. Ryan Moats
6. Darren Sproles
Notables from the 2005 Draft include Cedric Benson (4th overall pick), Frank Gore, Marion Barber III, and Brandon Jacobs. OK, not the best showing of talent here as the list probably goes Gore, Barber, Jacobs, Ronnie Brown, Ryan Grant, Darren Sproles. Still, in 2005 3 of the top 6 fastest times were able to finish in the top 6 and Cadillac Williams is still showing promise if he can stay healthy.
1. Reggie Bush
2. Maurice Jones-Drew
3. Jerious Norwood
4. Joseph Addai
5. Andre Hall
6. Leon Washington
Notables from the 2006 Draft include Laurence Maroney, Deangelo Williams (who did not run at the Combine) and LenDale White (also did not run). Now we’re talking. In what was a top-heavy running back class, the speedsters did not disappoint. My current list today would go Jones-Drew, Deangelo Williams, Bush, Addai, Lendale White and Laurence Maroney. However, a good note here is that Jerious Norwood and Leon Washington are two of the biggest “home run hitters” in the league. Might need speed to do that, no? In all, 3 of the top 6 fastest combines show up in the top 4 current running backs from this draft class.
1. Adrian Peterson
2. Antonio Pittman
3. Chris Henry
4. Kenny Irons
5. Lorenzo Booker
6. Marshawn Lynch
Other notables from this draft include Brandon Jackson, Ahmad Bradshaw, Michael Bush and Selvin Young. There should be an asterisk around this draft and the 2008 draft because some would argue it is too soon to determine who the top running backs of this class are. The obvious top 2 are Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch, so that would be 2 for 2 right away. Selvin Young has recieved the most playing time and is in a system that makes running backs look great but would still be next on the list. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jackson come next. The verdict is out on Chris Henry and Lorenzo Booker, but with the success of Peterson and Lynch, I like this class.
1. Chris Johnson
2. Darren McFadden
3. Jamaal Charles
4. Chad Simpson
5. Kevin Smith
6. Ray Rice
7. Rashard Mendenhall
8. Matt Forte
9. Felix Jones
10. Jonathon Stewart
11. Steve Slaton
I put so many in this draft because the difference in time from Kevin Smith to Steve Slaton was 4.43 to 4.49. This was such a great running back class and they showed it off by all running very fast times, as 11 ran under 4.50.
The point I am trying to make here is not that this is foolproof and whoever runs faster will have the better career. If that were the case, teams would be assigned players because there would be no other factor involved. However, there are tens of different factors that go into a selection on draft day. My point is simply that at the running back position, being able to burst out of a stance and having vertical speed turns out to be somewhat important, so don’t throw out the 40 yard dash by saying “when, in a game does a player ever run 40 yards in a straight line?” Not much, but if they do in a game, I’ll take the faster one.
I haven’t been more excited about a 1-on-1 matchup this year than I am about Hasheem Thabeet and DeJuan Blair. Thabeet, the 7’3″ junior from Tanzania, had a career high 25 points and 20 rebounds vs. Seton Hall on Saturday. In addition, he swatted 9 shots and when that ISN’T a career high for someone you can start to understand how good he is. Thabeet missed his second triple-double in the last month by the one block, but I doubt he or Jim Calhoun is complaining. He ranks second in the nation in field goal percentage and blocks and has been the leader of the #1 ranked Huskies. Not only does Thabeet get the blocks but he alters every possession. ESPN has started to pick up on this even though I will go to the grave saying that I observed and started talking about this first. Anyways, during his game vs. Syracuse, he blocked 7 shots and altered 9 more and pulled down 16 boards. Forget about the offensive end for anyone dumb enough to knock Thabeet. While his 13.5 points a game don’t compare to a Luke Harangody or a Tyler Hansbrough, you’d be a fool to sell him short on O. He compliments Jeff Adrien (the UConn version of Wes Matthews in terms of value and lack of spotlight) and A.J. Price perfectly and is the main reason the Huskies are looking down on not only the Big East, but the nation as well.
If Hasheem Thabeet is the definition of the proverbial “immovable object”, then DeJuan Blair is the NCAA’s “unstoppable force”. Don’t think for one second that the 8 inches Blair will give up tonight will stop him. Blair’s thick build and tenacious drive has brought him to the top of the leaderboard in offensive rebounds, averaging an astonishing 5.8 a night. He averages 15.4 points a game and hauls in 12.3 boards a game as well. It may be cliché, but it’s true that Blair’s fire and intensity gets the team going every night. Blair also has his sidekicks in Sam Young and Levance Fields and I think there is a good chance we are looking at a preview of the Big East Championship Game tonight in Hartford. Possibly a Final Four matchup as well.
I like Connecticut to continue their 12 game winning streak tonight because A) I believe they have the most talent in the nation, Jerome Dyson or not, and B) they are at home.
Thabeet will get his boards and Sporscenter Top 10 blocks, but I think Blair has a monster game. Look for UConn’s defense on Fields to be a difference maker in what should be the best game of the year to date.
Projected Stat Lines:
Hasheem Thabeet: 7-12 FG, 16 points, 14 rebounds (4 offensive), 4 blocks, 1 steal
DeJuan Blair: 6-9 FG, 15 points, 11 rebounds (3 offensive), 1 block, 1 steal
UConn 81, Pitt 75
Yesterday, commissioner David Stern announced that, starting this year, the NBA Finals MVP will be renamed the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player in honor of the
If Russell didn’t define what a winner was, nobody did. The only pleasure I ever had to watch Russell and the dynasty he created was on Saturday mornings on ESPN classic. I can remember watching him in epic battles against Jerry West and the Lakers, day in and day out. But Russell was so much more than Saturday morning re-run entertainment. What made Russell one of the greatest players of our time was his ability to win at any level. Before he personally hung 11 banners in The Garden, Russell won two national championships with the University of San Fransisco in 1955 and 1956, and during his time there won multiple events in the high jump, including the Central California AAU meet, the Pacific AAU meet, and the West Coast Relays.
After dominating college, Russell went to the Olympics for part of the 1956 season before joining the Boston Celtics. There, his team won the gold medal in basketball in one of the most dominating Olympic teams of all time, winning games by an average of 55 points.
As for his time in Boston, all Russell did was win 11 titles in 13 seasons and 5 NBA MVPS, as well as being elected to 12 all star games, winning the MVP of the game once. His number was retired just 3 years after he retired, and was elected to the Hall of Fame 3 years after that.
The real crime is that the NBA Finals MVP did not come out until the last year of Russell’s storied career. In that year, the Celtics won their last title with Russell, but the MVP went to Jerry West of the Lakers in what would be the only time a player on a losing team won the award. It’s a shame that Russell wasn’t able to add a few more pieces of hardware to his trophy collection, but the honor bestowed to him all but makes up for it. Everyone knew how good Russell was, and now his legacy will continue to live on.
Villanova’s loss to West Virginia tonight may have opened the door up for Marquette to snatch one of the highly coveted top 4 seeds in the Big East tournament. The way the tournament breaks down is that the top 4 seeds going into it get two straight byes and advance to the “Elite 8”, if you will. The 5-8 seeds get one bye and advance a round. Teams 9-16 play each other and then those winners play seeds 5-8, with the winners of those games playing seeds 1-4. Basically, getting that top 4 spot is huge, not only for the automatic wins but for rest as well. Going into the game tonight, Villanova was just one game back on Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Marquette. A win would have had them just 1/2 game out of the top 4 seeds, and with Marquette’s schedule to close the year, most thought that Nova would jump into that last spot. After that defeat, they lost ground to the tune of a whole game on Pitt, ‘Ville and Marquette. That could be big going down the stretch in a conference where every game matters when going for the top 4 seeds. I took a look at everyone’s schedule and played out the year to see who can grab those top spots.
1. Connecticut, 11-1
Wins: @ Seton Hall, vs. Pittsburgh, vs. South Florida, @ Marquette, vs. Notre Dame
Losses: @ Pittsburgh
Projected Finish: 16-2
Outlook: UConn will run the table in the Big East standings and have the 1 seed when it’s all said and done, even if they end up losing two games from here on out.
2. Pittsburgh, 9-2, 1 1/2 GB
Wins: vs. Cincinnati, vs. Depaul, @ Providence, @ Seton Hall, vs. Marquette, vs. Pittsburgh
Losses: @ Connecticut
Projected Finish: 15-3
Outlook: Pretty much the same thing here for Pitt with an easy schedule and room for one bump in the road.
3. Marquette, 9-2, 1 1/2 GB
Wins: vs. St. John’s, vs. Seton Hall, @ Georgetown, vs. Syracuse
Losses: vs. Connecticut, @ Louisville, @ Pittsburgh
Projected Finish: 13-5
Outlook: If they don’t stub their toe versus St. John’s or Seton Hall and can magically pull the upset on one of the big three, they have a very good shot to nab one of the top four spots.
4. Louisville, 9-2, 1 1/2 GB
Wins: vs. Depaul, vs. Providence, @ Cincinnati, vs. Marquette, vs. Seton Hall, @ West Virginia
Losses: @ Georgetown
Projected Finish: 15-3
Outlook: With one of the easiest finishes in the conference, Louisville should have no problem wrapping up a top 4 spot and they have a decent shot at winning out.
5. Villanova, 8-4, 2 1/2 GB
Wins: vs. Rutgers, @ Depaul, vs. Georgetown, vs. Providence
Losses: @ Syracuse, @ Notre Dame
Projected Finish: 12-6
Outlook: If this goes according to plan, Nova will miss out by one game on the Golden Eagles and have to play on Day 2.
The tie-breaking system is extremely complicated but I’ll leave you a link to read about it. Basically what it says is that if Nova and Marquette tie for 4th place, whoever fared better versus the 6th place team during the year would win the tiebreaker. That team will be either Syracuse (Marquette is projected to be 1-0 against them, Villanova 1-1), Providence (Marquette is 1-0, Villanova projected to be 2-0), or Cincinnati (Marquette is 1-0, Villanova is 1-0). Amazingly, and this is about to get a lot more confusing, if Villanova beats Syracuse to make them a projected 13-5 and ties Marquette, they would have to keep going to the next team after these three because the rule states if there is an uneven amount of games, you add 1 potential game and if Marquette could tie Villanova with a win over Syracuse (which they could to make them 2-0) then you keep going. The same goes for Providence. So, if we keep going down the line the next team is projected to be West Virginia, and with the loss last night to them, Villanova now loses out on that tiebreaker. This loss to West Virginia was huge!
I realize that was probably very confusing, but remember that if Marquette loses to a team like Seton Hall or Villanova loses to Syracuse or Providence, then the tiebreaker is less confusing and would just stop at whichever team MU/NOVA lost to. It should be very interesting, but it now looks like Marquette needs just 4 wins to grab the top spot instead of 5. Thanks, West Virginia.