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Date/Time: Jan 28, 2023, 1:00 pm
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Author Topic: Worldwide leader's Insider report on MU (long)  (Read 4037 times)

ZiggysFryBoy

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Worldwide leader's Insider report on MU (long)
« on: October 31, 2006, 10:00:20 AM »
Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

COACH AND PROGRAM

There are many times in the life of a program that isn't considered one of the nation's annual powerhouses that a great epoch comes along and then ends abruptly. A star player or a collection of special talents takes the lead and lifts the team to rarely reached heights.
After that upward cycle runs its course, however, it's tough to come close to it again. The resources aren't there. The recruiting base isn't sufficient. The tradition doesn't allow for the kind of recognition necessary. Injuries. Bad luck. Locusts. For whatever reason, the magical run is left to the memory, and its participants are forever lionized in the memories of fans and during halftime celebrations every five years.

That could have happened at Marquette, when Dwyane Wade led the Golden Eagles to the Final Four in 2003. It was an amazing accomplishment for a school that hadn't been to that level since the '77 team won it all. That's how it goes at Marquette. The relatively small (11,000 enrollment) Catholic school from Milwaukee had Al McGuire as its patron saint but not enough power and influence to be a mighty force on a regular basis. Wade's influence and talent were enough to lift the school near the mountaintop, but he left after the season, and Marquette was left to bask in the light of what he did.

Only that's not how it played out. Coach Tom Crean didn't get the Golden Eagles back to the Final Four, but Marquette didn't disappear, either. In the three years since Wade's departure, Crean's teams have won 58 games and kept the momentum going.

Were the school still a member of Conference USA, this would have been remarkable enough. But Marquette moved into the Big East last year, as part of the league's push to legitimize its football aggregation while pushing its hoop status to the top of the heap. It was a huge step, one many thought would require a long period of adjustment, especially after life in C-USA, which afforded several soft stops in between the slugfests with Cincinnati, Memphis and Louisville.

Instead, Marquette finished fourth last year, piling up 10 wins and leading the way for the Conference USA expatriates. Even more impressive was the Golden Eagle M.O. Marquette relied on a perimeter-based attack that had a 6-10 bomber as its fulcrum and a supporting cast that featured a freshman backcourt. No wonder many people were picking the Eagles for a spot in the second division.

The key has been that Marquette has been able to understand that depth is as important as talent. Teams that have a couple good players may be able to make a run in a lesser league, but in the Big East, there has to be more than that. That's a big reason last year was so good and why the Eagles can look at 2006-07 and see a real shot at contention for the conference title.

"The first couple recruiting classes when we had Dwyane here, we were recruiting backups for him," Crean said. "When he was ready to leave, we had personnel problems, because we didn't have people with the ability to produce in the Big East. It makes you realize you have to be two-deep at every position to challenge in this league."

Marquette can't point to a roster with 10 all-league candidates, but it does have that kind of depth on this year's roster. Of the 11 scholarship players (a 12th, Ball State transfer Maurice Acker is not eligible this year) 10 will be counted on for significant minutes, and the 11th has a shot to make his mark. Although the Golden Eagles need interior scoring and better rebounding (Marquette had a -0.1 margin last year), there are candidates for work and improvement. That's enough to make Crean think this year can be another highly productive one.

"I love our attitude," he said. "Our players are improving all the time. I look out there and it hits me how young we are. The guards are getting a lot of credit for what they did as freshmen and what people project them to do this year, but there have been a lot of peaks and valleys. We need people to assume more of a leadership role and more of a go-to role.

"If we have an unselfish team, and the three sophomores all play like point guards, and if the big guys rebound better, we'll have a good team."

Those "three sophomores" are big reasons people are paying attention to Marquette this season. Guards Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews all showed last year they have the talent to be versatile parts of the team equation, and each could become standouts in the Big East. Beginning a team with guards of that caliber helps anybody succeed. None is perfect, as Crean is quick to point out. But having last year's Big East Rookie of the Year (James), another guard who averaged 11.4 points and was an all-Rookie Team choice (McNeal) and a third who was starting before an injury and became an extremely valuable sixth man (Matthews) is a pretty good starting point.

Rebounding remains a concern. So does free-throw shooting. Not that Marquette had trouble at the line. Nope, the Eagles made 73.2 percent of their tries. It was getting to the line that was bothersome. Marquette shot only 17.7 free throws per game, ninth-best in the Big East. That has to improve, too.

Think about it, though. Marquette has the potential to unleash a versatile crop of three guards, backed up by freshman bulldog David Cubillian, and a five-man frontcourt that has yet to emerge as a reliable group but has depth and potential, on a Big East that features several rebuilding teams.

The Golden Eagles can't be expecting another trip to the Final Four, but with the pieces they have on hand, continued success is almost guaranteed. Not bad for a school that's supposed to show up on the national radar only once in a while.



PLAYERS

PG Dominic James (5-11, 175 lbs., SO, #1, 15.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 5.4 apg, 1.7 spg, 32.5 mpg, .431 FG, .301 3PT, .641 FT, Richmond HS/Richmond, Ind.)
The Golden Eagles thought James would be good, but there was no way they could have forecast a debut like the one he authored.
Because Marquette needed a point man, James got the job from the minute he stepped onto campus.

He responded with an all-around performance that gave the team everything it needed. James scored. He distributed. He defended. Though he wasn't the most accurate long-range shooter, and his free throw marksmanship wasn't where a point guard's needed to be, Crean could find little to criticize. And as he enters his sophomore year, James is on everybody's radar screen as a star-in-waiting. Not that Crean doesn't have a to-do list for his young standout.

"What was most impressive was his ability to produce on the road in hostile environments," Crean said. "But some of those games weren't wins. Now, the question is, 'Can you produce and get the win?' He also needs to learn to make the simple play, along with the spectacular. He can find some guys on the court that you can't believe how he sees them. And he makes shots as calm as can be at the end of the game.

"But there is definitely room for him to take a lot of steps. He needs to work on his perimeter shooting. He has to make plays to his left and right on the pick and roll. He's an extremely energetic defender, but the best thing for him is that he has to face [Ball State transfer] Maurice Acker every day in practice. When you can go against somebody every day who goes after you, you get better." James was Big East Rookie of the Year, an All-Rookie team choice and averaged 16.4 points in league play. The six-time rookie of the week led the league's freshmen in assists with 167 and was third in the nation.

"He's got a lot of things you can't teach,'' Crean said. "especially that ability to make plays at the end of the game."

SG Jerel McNeal (6-3, 185 lbs., SO, #22, 11.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.7 apg, 2.1 spg, 27.5 mpg, .442 FG, .283 3PT, .750 FT, Hillcrest HS/Chicago, Ill.)
So many people devoted time to watching James last year that they may have missed McNeal, another first-team league all-rookie team selection and a big good bet to become an even more prolific scorer this season. The first thing he must do is improve his three-point shooting, which was shaky last year. He also needs to cut way back on his turnovers. McNeal averaged 3.8 per game last year, way too many for a guy who played 27.5 minutes-per-game.

McNeal may have struggled a bit on that side of the ball, but there was no questioning his defensive impact. He was able to take the ball away from opponents frequently and played good man-to-man defense. Of course, there's more to do.

"Jerel was the highest deflection guy we've had since Dwyane left," Crean said. "The next step for him is to become an incredible help-side defender."

McNeal had a good off-season shooting and improved his ball handling, too. If his decision-making is better, the Golden Eagles will be in great shape, because he has the ability to take people off the dribble and finish at the basket.

SG Wesley Matthews (6-5, 200 lbs., SO, #23, 9.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.3 spg, 24.9 mpg, .399 FG, .438 3PT, .788 FT, Madison Memorial HS/Madison, Wis.)
Things were going great through the non-conference schedule for Matthews. He was starting. Marquette was winning. Then came the stress fracture in his foot, and everything stopped.

Matthews missed eight games and came back to find the Golden Eagles clicking without him in the lineup. So he did something exceedingly selfless and assumed the sixth-man role, rather than rocking the boat.

"I'm so proud of him," Crean said. "He went from being a starter, which he had earned, to accepting 24- to 26 minutes per game off the bench. The energy he provided was huge. He's got the potential to be an exciting. He's extremely cerebral and intuitive as a guard, and he's as good an athlete as we have here."

Matthews didn't shoot all that accurately from the field, but he knocked threes and a solid clip. The key to his success is being able to be more careful with the ball and make better decisions about when to shoot. Should he take care of those two areas, Matthews will make big strides.

SF Dan Fitzgerald (6-9, 200 lbs., JR, #5, 5.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.7 apg, 0.7 spg, 19.9 mpg, .479 FG, .405 3PT, .724 FT, Tulane/St. Thomas HS/St. Paul, Minn.)
It couldn't have been easy for Fitzgerald to sit out the year after he left Tulane to come to Marquette, but the time off was quite instructive for him. He came to Milwaukee a three man and learned how to play in the backcourt and at the power-forward spot during his year off. Now, he's able to handle four positions.

"Dan can roam the perimeter and can slash to the basket," Crean said. "He gives us a chance to be creative, because he can play three or four positions. We'll be playing four perimeter players at times, and he can fit in. The key with him is rebounding."

Fitzgerald has the size to hit the boards, but that was something he didn't do well last year. He'll need to grab a few more errant shots.

But don't worry about his offense. He's got plenty of ways to score points, not the least of which is deadly perimeter game. He won't be like Novak, because he won't get as many chances, but Fitzgerald gives Marquette a big man who can draw defenders outside.

Fitzgerald showed what he can do against DePaul, when he came off the bench to make six three-pointers and scored 18 points. He reached double figures in four other games, and showed off his versatility in his first game as a Golden Eagle. Fitzgerald nearly went for a triple double against Rice (nine points, eight boards, eight assists).

PF Ousmane Barro (6-10, 235 lbs., JR, #41, 4.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 0.4 apg, 0.6 spg, 13.5 mpg, .644 FG, .000 3PT, .724 FT, Julien HS/Chicago, Ill. and Carbondale HS/Carbondale, Ill.)
One of the first people Crean mentions when he talks about his team is Barro.

"He has to be a bona fide scorer for us," Crean said of the native of Dakar, Senegal.

That's true. With Novak, Chapman and Amoroso gone, the Golden Eagles need interior help. Fitzgerald will come around, but for pure, low-post scoring, it has to be Barro.

Barro started 14 times last year but never asserted himself inside to make good on his potential. He's a great athlete and fierce competitor who must become more confident and consistent. Marquette doesn't need him to be a huge scorer, but he must become an offensive weapon and a more aggressive rebounder.

"There are three things with Ousmane," Crean said. "The first is skill development. Second, he has to work to get the ball by getting good position. Third, we have to make it a focal point to get him the ball in the alley behind the basket or on the break. His season took off last year at the end. He was a momentum changer for us. He made some big plays for us and energized his teammates and the crowd."

Twice in the Golden Eagles' last three games, Barro scored a career-high 13 points, against Providence and Alabama in the NCAAs. He produced three other double-figure scoring games, but never grabbed more than six boards in game. He'll have to get more active on the glass this season.

F Jamile Lott (6-7, 225 lbs., SR, #51, 3.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.4 spg, 11.0 mpg, .527 FG, .640 FT, North Dakota School of Science/St. Paul, Minn.)
Lott had the opportunity to acclimate himself to Division I life last year, after two years of junior college. Now comes the time when he has to do more.

Lott is an athletic big man with a long (7-2) wingspan and the ability to track down rebounds just about anywhere. What he needs now is to become more confident with the ball and more consistent with his rebounding. Crean is counting on him to be one of the team's better rebounders, He points to Lott's strong sense of pride and competitiveness as reasons why he thinks the senior will make strides.

"He's a perfectionist," Crean said. "But he's also very athletic. He needs to find a couple consistent things down low to help him on offense."

G David Cubillian (6-0, 170 lbs., FR, #10, 13.8 ppg, 5.8 apg, .510 3PT, St. Benedict's HS/Newark, N.J.)
On a team with three great sophomore backcourt performers who happen to be great friends, it can't be easy to be the new guy. But the way Cubillian plays should make him pretty welcome.

"He comes in and puts his head in your chest and guards you," Crean said. "We feel like we need him to come in and give us quality minutes at both guard positions."

Cubillian can shoot the three and handle the ball. But Crean says his "greatest strength is toughness."

The native of Mara Caibo, Venezuela, knows how to win. Last season he helped St. Benedict's to 30 wins and the New Jersey Prep A state title.

C Mike Kinsella (7-0, 245 lbs., SR, #40, 1.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 5.4 apg, 1.7 spg, 32.5 mpg, .431 FG, .301 3PT, .641 FT, Richmond HS/Richmond, Ind.)
Even though Kinsella played in just 14 games last year, he made two starts and showed in practice that he had potential. Now, he must believe he can do it in a game.

An example: Marquette keeps track of all statistics during practice, and in January, Kinsella had just two blocks. Against Notre Dame that month, he blocked three shots.

"He has to bring it to practice every day," Crean said.

Kinsella has been slowed by injuries throughout his career and missed time last season, because of an emergency appendectomy. He can hit the 15-17 footer and is a good pick-and-pop player who has the potential to help out the offense at times.

F Lazar Hayward (6-6, 205 lbs., FR, #24, 18.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg, .420 3PT, .860 FT, Notre Dame Prep/Fitchburg, Mass. and Buffalo, N.Y.)
Hayward could be called a "project," but the Golden Eagles would like something from him this season from the wing and down low. He may be a ways from showing consistency, but Crean says any shortcomings he has won't be for lack of effort.

"We knew when we signed him that he is nowhere near scratching the surface," Crean said. "This guy's work ethic is like Dwyane Wade's, Travis Diener's or Steve Novak's. He's in the gym all the time. We need him to rebound, score in the point and shoot from the perimeter. He has excellent range on his shot and can play good perimeter defense."


F Dwight Burke (6-8, 240 lbs., SO, #12, 0.8 ppg, 0.8 rpg, 0.1 apg, 0.1 spg, 5.3 mpg, .417 FG, .000 3PT, .667 FT, St. Benedict's (N.J.) Prep/Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Burke played in 20 games last year and showed an ability to score a little bit around the basket. Burke is a solid athlete who is developing but has a ways to go.

"He wants to take a step, but it's a matter of conditioning," Crean said. "He needs to get more consistent and get a little more nastiness on the floor. You need that in this league."



G Lawrence Blackledge (6-8, 185 lbs., JR, #21, 10.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.2 bpg, .560 FG, Carbondale HS/Carbondale, Ill. and Southwestern Illinois College)
If he stands sideways, Blackledge doesn't completely disappear, but at 6-8, 185, he isn't exactly the stoutest player on the Marquette roster. Because of that, and in spite of the fact that Blackledge has already played two years of junior-college ball, Crean might redshirt him.
"We want open-minded players," Crean said. "He's open-minded to the potential of a red-shirt. We thought he was extremely undervalued when we recruited him. He had to pass 15 hours of classes over the summer to get here, so he's willing to work hard."

Blackledge is a skilled wing man who can shoot the ball but needs the strength necessary to get open against physical defenders and to drive the ball in traffic. Barring injury, it wouldn't be surprising to see Blackledge red-shirt with the goal of gaining 15 pounds and developing his strength.



BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: A-
BENCH/DEPTH: B
FRONTCOURT: B-
INTANGIBLES: A-

The Golden Eagles have had three solid seasons in the post-Wade era, with last year's trip to the NCAA Tournament the best of the bunch. Now, it's time for them to build another big winner, the better to establish themselves further in the rugged Big East.

There is no better way to do that than with three excellent guards. James received most of the accolades last year, but he had plenty of help from McNeal and Matthews, each of whom are special in their own right. The threesome can all play different positions and will be fortified by Cubillian, a rugged newcomer with many skills.

Marquette's ultimate success will be determined by the big people. Barro must assert himself more. Fitzgerald needs to become a more aggressive offensive player. Lott has to rebound the way he can, and Hayward must make an impact on the backboards. If they and Kinsella all contribute to their potential and do so consistently, Marquette will be a player in the Big East race. If Crean doesn't know what he's getting up front from night to night, the Golden Eagles will be good but not championship timber.

This is a big season for the Eagles, who have a chance to prove themselves as the lead dog among the C-USA alumni. Another year near the top of the league will have a big effect in recruiting and help Marquette stay on course for sustained success.

 

LastWarrior

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Re: Worldwide leader's Insider report on MU (long)
« Reply #1 on: October 31, 2006, 10:23:09 AM »
Zig - that's actually the Blue Ribbon Report... and I posted last Friday.   ;D

Needless to say, pretty high praise for MU.
"The Lord is a Warrior" - Exodus 15:3

ZiggysFryBoy

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Re: Worldwide leader's Insider report on MU (long)
« Reply #2 on: October 31, 2006, 10:45:08 AM »
ah, ESPN is using that as their Insider report.   ???

 

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