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Starting at Forward…Pat Hazel?

I promise I will talk about more than just the Golden Eagles on this blog, but one debate I know most Marquette fans have had from day one is that Pat Hazel needs to be in the starting lineup. Without looking at stats, my impulse says I agree. Yes, I do have more reasons other than being frustrated by the four or so times a game when every Marquette fan yells, “Dwight! What are you doing?!” I like Dwight Burke and think he plays a significant role as the “big guy” in Marquette’s lineup that takes on the team’s center every night. It’s a tough thing to ask for a 6’8” power forward that seemingly likes to foul every trip down the court. Offensively, he gets the job done playing with the Big 4 and is not really asked much, but that’s about it. So why fix something that’s not broken? I agree that Marquette’s last two losses stemmed from A) no rhythm on offense in the USF game and B) lights out shooting from the guards on Villanova. Neither of those have much to do with Burke and he didn’t mess up in either of the losses, going 3-3 from the field and pulling in 4 rebounds in the two games combined. But I think the debate starts when you bring up a guy like Pat Hazel. The 6’7” power forward from Queens averages 12.3 minutes per game, but has only seen 27 TOTAL minutes the last seven games, 3 of which he didn’t even play in. When he has received the nod and contributed minutes, he has stepped up and almost outplayed Burke. Whether this is just being fresh coming off the bench or if it actually says something about Hazel’s talent, the defensive production is there. To break down the Hazel/Burke debate, I tried to analyze a few elements of the game and see who came out on top.

I don’t think the statistic of FG% will help us here, since Burke is shooting 20-31 (64%) on the year and Hazel is 19-27 (70%). Anybody who watches Marquette knows that outside of the Rutgers game, any shot that Dwight Burke takes is either off an offensive rebound or an uncontested layup. The same could be said for Hazel, but I consider Hazel to be smoother down low in the post. That being said, he is 30 pounds lighter than Burke, but that can also play to Marquette’s strength at times going with the quickest lineup possible. Realistically the scoring element of both these guys is more of a push because of the little amount of shots they are asked to take in any offensive possession. Most of their buckets come off dribble drives where their defender has to help, leaving them open for an easy deuce.
ADVANTAGE: Slighty to Hazel

Despite what the statistics would suggest, Hazel’s ability to rebound is a lot closer to Burke’s then one would think. On the year, Burke is pulling down 3.6 boards per game with a 7.4 per-40-minute average. Compare that to Hazel’s 2.3 average with a 5.1 per-40-minute average and you would think Burke easily takes the cake. Not so fast. Hazel seems to have more energy and tenacity (which we will get to later) when fighting for boards, and his ability to pull down the offensive rebound seems to give him the edge. In the hands department it isn’t even close. Remember the aforementioned 4 times a game you yell those words at the TV screen that Father Wild really wouldn’t accept as living the Jesuit life? At least two of those come when Dwight attempts to haul in a board and I really believe if he had better hands that he could average closer to 5 rebounds a game. Still, the stats don’t lie and Dwight is clearly the better rebounder.

One of the easier categories to break down in my opinion. I would be lying to you if I said I could tell you how Pat Hazel’s passing is, and while I agree assist to turnover ratio is more for guards, Hazel’s 1 assist to 11 turnovers this year doesn’t help his cause. Burke actually gets the job done and I can recall two of his five assists off the top of my head. A nice no-look pass to Wesley against DePaul and a wrap around pass in the lane that was kicked out to Dominic for a 3 against Nova leads me to believe Dwight has it here. With only 14 turnovers on the year, he takes care of the ball better than Hazel does offensively. As we all know, big men passing in Marquette’s system is more running the offense than actually looking for a shooter for a shot. With three guys in James, McNeal and Matthews that can all run the point to some extent, guys like Burke and Hazel are more just an extra pass or an outlet when a guard is trapped.

Pat Hazel has become a legitimate defensive stopper in just his second year for the Golden Eagles

Pat Hazel has become a legitimate defensive stopper in just his second year for the Golden Eagles

Anyone standing in Hazel’s corner for who should start will use this as their main argument. Hazel is clearly the better defensive player and takes on the role of manning up on a forward much better. He always seems to be in the right spot, whether it’s rebounding or shot blocking. His per-40-minute averages are outstanding at 1.3 blocks and 1.3 steals a game. Those 1.3 blocks per game lead the team (per 40 minutes) and rightfully so. He is a great on the ball defender that moves his feet more than Burke and is a step quicker, leading to better defensive efficiency. I also find him to be much more physical than Burke but at the same time doesn’t foul at the rate Burke does…then again nobody does. This one is a no-brainer.

Speaking from a percentage standpoint, Hazel (59%) takes this category over Burke (50%) but Burke is getting to the line much more than Hazel, even when the numbers are evened out to per-40-minute averages (4.4 to 2.7 a game, respectively). Simple math says that as you take more attempts your percentage is going to go down, so Burke’s 50% mark isn’t terrible. Because the argument is whether or not 59% is better than 50% even though the better percentage takes less free throws is the reason that I am going to toss this one out.

Everyone always talks about intangibles and how to really measure them. What should go into determining who does the little things better? The way I broke it down was in three ways including: energy, experience and smarts. Looking at energy, it really isn’t close in that Hazel always comes into the game at the right time to give the team a spark on defense with a big stop. Sometimes, it seems as though Burke doesn’t even want to be out there. You don’t see the passion of a Hasheem Thabeet or a Luke Harangody. (ok, relax everyone…I realize they aren’t in the same solar system when comparing Burke to them) But my point is that a big man that can get the team going with a nice play inside or a block can be vital and I think Burke has lacked that all year. Experience and smarts go to Burke, though. I realize both of those categories go somewhat hand in hand but I consider Burke to have a little more court savvy to him and the experience speaks for itself. It helps to have a senior on the court and is almost a respect issue why Burke is out there. He has been playing with Wes, Jerel and Dominic for four years and the way those four and Lazar mesh together is undeniable. They look good out there and there is a chance Hazel would mess that up.

Looking back on this, it’s still a tough call for me. I think the spots where Hazel is most important (defense, offensive rebounding and the occasional score) are more important to what a team like Marquette needs compared to Burke’s. It’s a tough call and I really have no problem with Burke starting because I think Hazel and Butler spot him very well and give a different look to teams off the bench. Hazel’s energy off the bench is also huge and regardless of whether or not he should be starting, he needs to get more minutes and most likely will with teams like UConn (Thabeet), Louisville (Samuels) and Pittsburgh (Blair) coming up. You make the call…


February 12, 2009 - Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Marquette Golden Eagles | ,

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