Joining us this week for the Thursday Q & A is Tim Blair from CrackedSidewalks.com .  CrackedSidewalks.com is one of the best sites out there when it comes to Marquette Basketball & I would go as far to say college hoops in general.  Tim gives a peek behind the curtain about how the site started, thoughts on the differences between Tom Crean & Buzz Williams and in- state rivalries.

Share with us how Cracked Sidewalks came to be & the story behind the name for it.

Cracked Sidewalks is an homage to the Patron Saint of Marquette Basketball, Al McGuire.  When we founded the site nearly six years ago we opted for a horribly generic name but thankfully came to our senses and re-branded.  The name captures the essence of MU’s basketball heritage, its urban location and its seminal basketball icon.

There still seems to be quite a bit of bitterness still with the way Tom Crean left Marquette. What are some differences between the way Crean ran the program and Buzz William’s philosophy?

First let’s look at the similarities because there are many.  To their credit both men have kept MU’s graduation rates among the best in the country, the team is visible and active in the community and with alums, and both coaches embrace and enjoy the glad-handing that comes with being an ambassador for the institution.

Regarding Tom Crean, any lingering bitterness is driven by a few factors that have nothing to do with philosophy. Some MU fans might still feel like a jilted lover but the truth is that he thrived in low pressure environments while at Marquette and he’d reached his ceiling with the program.  His uneven recruiting was a hindrance to building a more consistent program.

 Buzz Williams is very different than Crean.  Williams is far less concerned with his personal image than Crean seemed to be, and appears more grounded.  The fans have embraced this persona wholeheartedly. 

Marquette has had great success recruiting JUCO players (DJO, Jimmy Butler, Joe Fulce, Crowder, Dwight Buycks) the past couple of seasons. Why is  this working so well for Marquette when some other programs shy away from JUCO players?

Buzz went JUCO early in his tenure at Marquette out of necessity.  Buzz inherited a horribly unbalanced roster in terms of both skills and classes.  By adding three-year and two-year JUCO players Buzz was able to quickly re-balance the classes on the roster while simultaneously upgrading the talent and recruiting skills and positions ignored by Crean.  Buzz is in his third year at MU and even he admits that the team is just starting to resemble a Big East roster.

Still, Buzz likes JUCO players, he’s unapologetic about it and will go to that well regularly even as the talent evens out and upgrades. He likes bringing in players who have a chip on their shoulder, with something to prove.  The strategy of relying on JUCO players really cuts against the grain of traditional MU rosters but Buzz is making it work. Buzz has a different formula highlighted by finding guys with three years of eligibility rather than two (Fulce, Butler, Johnson-Odom), and frankly, by landing guys who can really play.  One other factor in Buzz’ early tenure at MU is his reliance on maturity — freshmen have yet to make a demonstrable impact in their inaugural season under Buzz, though Vander Blue should change that.

Wisconsin has a roster loaded with 6’10″ post players. Why can’t Marquette recruit big guys? 

The lack of productive, skilled big men at MU is embarrassing and inexplicable for a program playing at the level the Warriors have enjoyed for most of the past decade.  Still, the current roster has two promising young big men in Chris Otule and Davante Gardner, so perhaps the cycle of small is breaking.  In just a few years Buzz Williams has recast the MU roster into a taller, more athletic team — and players like Otule and Gardner can potentially fill the big man gap.  I’m hopeful.

Speaking of Wisconsin, just how nasty has the UW-MU rivalry become? How does it rank nationally? 

I don’t know that the rivalry is particularly nasty now, though I think it was getting to that point when Crean was at the helm.  Buzz takes the high road — oh and he took Vander Blue out of Madison last year.    In terms of national ranking for the rivalry, I don’t think this one rates on that scale but the match-up is entertaining, and for the sake of MU alums I hope the Warriors prevail later this month.  MU alums needs to own the water cooler conversation for the next 12 months.

What are your thoughts on creating an in-state college hoops tourney/showcase involving MU, UW, UW-M, and UW-GB?

It is not possible since UWGB and UWM are in the same conference (unless those teams agree to have that game count as a conference match-up, which is doubtful).

MU is struggling shooting from the 3-point line early this year. Do you foresee some lineup changes? Maybe some minutes for freshman Jamail Jones?

I think MU is still figuring out what its character is offensively this season. With an unsettled rotation Buzz is giving players plenty of rope to show what they can do.  As the season wears on I’d expect the team to settle into an 8 man rotation, maybe 9, and an offensive identity to emerge.  This year’s squad won’t be as reliant on the three-pointer (the skill-set on the roster can’t match the efficiency from last year) but this year’s team is very efficient at scoring from inside the arc.  I’d expect to see a healthy dose of Butler, Johnson-Odom, Crowder and Blue from here on out.

Jae Crowder comes to Marquette as the JUCO player of the year. Just how good is he?

Crowder is a player who gives consistent effort and productivity. I expect he’ll be a solid contributor all season long, particularly on the glass.  He’s been impressive and I’d expect him to improve week to week throughout the season (don’t forget he was not part of the off-season program at MU – Crowder made it to campus just in time to start classes).

Vander Blue is the most recent high profile recruiting battle between UW and Marquette. Who is next? JP Tokoto?

Perhaps though it seems that Tokoto is open to overtures from many other programs. I don’t expect him to decide between MU and UW alone.

With TCU poised to enter the Big East, what is the future of the Big East and how does Marquette figure into that future?

I am not a member of the Big East Doomsday Cult.  In the short-term the addition of TCU strengthens the Big East by ensuring the league’s AQ status for football heading into the upcoming cycle of negotiations.  The league has been masterful in reinventing itself despite the perceived challenge of geography before, so in many ways expansion plays to its core strength.  Other leagues will also look to expand or remix their institutions soon enough, so having the Big East go on offense is a positive development.

…and now for the lighting round.

Your all-time favorite Marquette player is:

Bo Ellis

Your favorite Marquette/Big East Basketball blog to read that is not named Cracked Sidewalks is:

Sometimes you need info straight from the source so we follow Mike Broeker on Twitter regularly.

If there was no Marquette basketball, you would have a blog about:

Single Malt Scotch

If you were a pro/college hoops player, your position would be:

Team manager

Should I ever run into you at a bar, I should buy you a ___________ for taking the time to answer these questions.

A dram of 21 year-old Balvenie

Thank you to Tim for taking the time to answer our questions this week.  For all your Marquette basketball info head over to CrackedSidewalks.com and also follow them on Twitter at @CrackedSidewlks

Would you like to be the guest for a PocketDoppler.com Thursday Q & A? Let us know!

 

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