Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tuesday Morning Shootaround

Marquette and Notre Dame are two teams heading in opposite directions. The Golden Eagles are now 7-0 in the conference, but they hadn't really beaten anyone (save Villanova) in league play until last night. The Irish may be playing themselves right out of an NCAA tourney spot if they aren't careful. They have now lost four straight (to Louisville, Syracuse, UConn, and Marquette) and in their next four they have to play Pitt, UCLA, and Louisville again.

Marquette knocked off Notre Dame at the Joyce Center last night 71-64, handing the Irish their second straight loss at home after a 45 game winning streak. Notre Dame looked out of sync offensively the entire game. Marquette's guards did a fantastic job cutting off Kyle McAlarney, who did not get a good look for the first 30 minutes of the game, and by the time he started to, he was completely out of rhythm. Tory Jackson also played a somewhat sloppy game. He had a huge turnover late in the second half when ND was down by two. He over-penetrated, got stripped under the rim, and it led to a Wesley Matthews floater in transition.

Luke Harangody needs to stop playing as a jump shooter. First, it takes away really the only offensive rebounder the Irish have. Zack Hillesland gets some, so does Tory Jackson, but no one other than 'Gody can really get a board and go back up and finish. He also is the only guy that can draw fouls for the Irish.

But the biggest reason is that Notre Dame has enough shooters. K-Mac, Ryan Ayers, Luke Zeller - these guys are excellent shooters that really cannot do much else. Name me another player on ND that can score in the paint.

I'll wait.

Anyone? Exactly.

Without Harangody downlow, the Irish become a completely one-dimensional team, and much easier to defend. The proof is in the pudding. Last night, ND made a little come back and briefly took the lead and control of the game when they started to pound the ball inside to 'Gody in the second half. But after a few minutes, they got away from that and the big fella started firing up fade-aways again.

I'm not saying that he can't hit that shot. He can, and he does on a fairly consistent basis. But my issue is that it is a relatively low percentage shot, and with no offensive rebounders, you are 100% relying on Harangody to make that shot. From watching him the last four or five games, he is almost as likely to throw up an airball as he is to hit it. Not exactly what I would be looking for every time down if I'm Mike Brey.

On to Marquette, I am not sure exactly what to make of this team yet. Yes, they are undefeated in the league, but this is their first road win over a top tier team in the Big East (they beat 'Nova and West Virginia at home). But more than their ability, the problem I see with the Eagles is depth and balance. Take last night as an example. Outside of their big four (McNeal, Hayward, Matthews, and James), the rest of the Marquette players totaled 0 points, 2 shots, 1 assist, and 9 rebounds. They each also played more than 36 minutes. How much can you ride those four kids before they get tired and worn down, especially playing in a league like the Big East?

That's not to say they aren't excellent players. Jerel McNeal, in one man's opinion, is the best guard in the country, and in the race for Big East player of the year with 'Gody and Terrence Williams of Louisville. He proved it again last night. Not only did he score 27 points, but he also showed why he is one of the best defensive players in the country. He, along with James and Mo Acker, were the guys that completely flustered K-Mac, and he also had two big blocks, including one on a lay-up attempt by Jonathon Peoples that would have given ND a lead late in the 2nd half.

The biggest issue last night for the Eagles is something that Buzz Williams has stressed all year - getting paint touches. Marquette is a much better team when they are penetrating, whether it is to score or it is to pass. Early in the game, they were settling for quick three's, which is why ND had the early lead. Every time the Irish made a run, it was because Marquette stopped getting the ball to the lane (which is inexcusable when you have guys like James, McNeal and Matthews). A perfect example came late in the second half. ND had made their run, and Marquette was back in control, taking a 57-53 lead with five minutes left. On back-to-back possessions, the Eagles forced up tough three's - one by McNeal off the dribble, one by Acker with a hand in his face - early in the shot clock. Both times, the Irish scored on the other end as a result, tying up the game.

Marquette is going to be at a size disadvantage in just about every game they play. In order to contend with that, the Eagles need to be able to take good shots. If they do, they will continue to win a lot of games.

The other big game from last night was Oklahoma beating OK State 89-81 in the Bedlam Series. Blake Griffin had 26 points and 19 rebounds, his 10th game of 20 and 15 this season, which is already an NCAA record. With all due respect to Steph Curry, Luke Harangody, or Jodie Meeks, at this point in the season, I don't see any way that Griffin isn't the national player of the year. Not only does he put up the numbers (he also averages 2.5 apg, which is the most for anyone over 6'5" in the Big XII), but outside of maybe Curry, he is the guy that will get the most focus of any game plan during the season.

That may have to change in the near future with the way Austin Johnson and Willie Warren are playing. It was Johnson who went off last night, going for 20 points on 5-8 from deep (and when I say deep, I mean he hit three or four from 25 feet). I've been saying all season long that if Oklahoma wants to be a serious contender they need Johnson and Warren to not only be credible scoring threats, but to be capable three point shooters. In six Big XII games, Johnson is averaging 14.2 ppg and shooting 50% from deep.

Another key factor from last night's game was Juan Patillo. If you don't know the story, Patillo was injured at the start of the season, and it looked like Jeff Capel was going to redshirt him. But his play on the scout team, combined with OU's lack of depth, made Capel change his mind. It was a good decision as well. After struggling in his first two games, Patillo has scored 21 points and grabbed six boards in 37 minutes against Baylor and OK State. Last night, he had 12 points. He gives the Sooners something that no one else on their roster can, similar to what Stanley Robinson provides UConn. Patillo is a long, extremely athletic combo forward that can play the three or the four. He brings a ton of energy to the table, and has the ability to be a real x-factor for the Sooners.

Malcoln Kirkland is a moron. Early in the game, after a Cowboys basket, Kirkland smacked Blake Griffin in the back of the head, drawing a tech and sending him to the bench (where he got an earful from Travis Ford). He wouldn't sniff the court again until the last minute of the game, when he drew another flagrant foul for hitting Griffin with a shoulder in the back court. He was immediately sent to the bench, and I'm sure he will be there for a while.

OK State is a fun team to watch. They shoot a lot of three's, they run the floor, and they score in bunches. If they had any post presence on the inside, this could be a team to watch out for come March. As it is, anytime they go up against a team with a solid interior presence, they are going to struggle.

Two other games of note from last night:

  • Oregon State 65, Cal St.-Bakersfield 59
  • Siena 69, Iona 68

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