A goal for any coach is to have their team peaking at the right time. For college basketball, that means March.
Where is Marquette? The Golden Eagles began the season 10-0 but then lost four of six. The problem in those games? Defense. To begin that stretch of losses Marquette gave up more than a point per possession in four of five games.
After they dominated St. Johns in early January they seemed to right the ship and tighten up the defense. Over the next 16 games (leading up to the NCAA tourney) the Golden Eagles only surrendered more than a point per possession 6 times.
Then came the real test – the NCAA tournament.
In the opening round Marquette held BYU to 68 points in a 79 possession game. On a per-possession basis, that matched BYU’s 2nd worst offensive game of the season. If you only pay attention to the final scores, 68 points seems like a reasonable amount. But keep in mind that the BYU vs Marquette game featured 20% more possessions than the typical college game. Of course they’re going to score more points. Since each team gets the ball the same number of times, what matters is how much each team scores per possession. In this case, it was 0.86 points for BYU.
Then in the round of 32 Marquette completely smothered Murray State, giving up only 53 points in 72 possessions. Not only was this Murray State’s worst offensive game since December, 2008, but it was the 3rd most dominating performance by any Marquette defense against a decent team in the past decade.
That’s pretty good. But does a solid 16 games to end the season and then two great games to begin the tournament make a trend?
On Thursday, Marquette gets Florida. As I discussed last night, the Gators have the 3rd best offense in the nation. So this should be a true test of the Marquette defense. Are they really playing inspired hoops right now, or has it been a fluke?
With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.
Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.
“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”
Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.
As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.
Duke is coming off of a national championship but the roster will look almost completely different for the 2015-16 season. That means last season’s approach to things on the offensive and defensive end will have to change and head coach Mike Krzyzewski mentioned to reporters on Friday how the Blue Devils are still figuring some things out.
“We’re putting in a different offensive system, to personalize it for these guys,” Krzyzewski said to reporters. “And a different defensive system so that we can max out on the talents that they have.
“We’re really proud of our team. I think we’re going to be a really good team.”
Without Jahlil Okafor in the middle, Duke’s offense could shift to a mostly perimeter-oriented team, as the wing and guard depth is superior for this year’s group. Coach K and his staff making adjustments to schemes to fit personnel is a nice move from the Hall of Famer, as he’s done a better job in recent years of making adjustments like this after his stint with USA Basketball.
As the program moves on from Okafor, Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Quinn Cook, it’ll be intriguing to see who emerges as a potential go-to offensive player early in the season and how Duke’s offense potentially evolves as the season wears on.