Tuesday, February 10, 2009

#10 Marquette @ #13 Villanova Preview

#10 Marquette @ #13 Villanova Preview
Tuesday, February 10, 2009

7:30 PM at the Pavilion

TV: ESPN2


For other Villanova/Marquette previews, please check out the following sites - I highly recommend them:

Pete's Let's Go 'Nova site


I Bleed Blue and White site


VUHoops.com site


Villanova By the Numbers (VBTN)

'Nova News

And take a look at Cracked Sidewalks
for an outstanding Marquette site...

The Philadelphia Inquirer looks back to the game between Marquette and the Wildcats in 2006 - which also took place at the Pavilion - when the eventual Elite Eight Villanova squad was nearly upset by the Golden Eagles. The nucleus of the current Marquette team were freshmen at the time.

To the Wildcat faithful-

The #10 Marquette Golden Eagles visit the Pavilion on Tuesday night, in the highest-profile Pavilion visit since #4 Villanova's glorious 85-74 defeat of #5 Oklahoma back on December 3, 2005. Due to both teams being ranked, the atmosphere at 'Nova's intimate Pavilion will be very raucous. It's worth noting that due to Villanova's decision to shift many high-profile - and the occasional City Series - opponents to the Palestra and the South Philadelphia venues at various times over the last quarter-century, this will be only the 10th time - in the 24-year history of the Pavilion - that in a Pavilion contest, both Villanova and its opponent will be ranked entering the game. (And tonight's game will be the 264th in Pavilion history.) The most recent example was on January 6, 2008, when the 17th-ranked Wildcats edged the #13 ranked Pittsburgh Panthers, in a thrilling 64-63 contest. In these nine contests, Villanova has won seven - and interestingly, the lower-ranked team has won five of them.

#13 Villanova takes a record of 7-3 Big East, 19-4 overall, into the contest. Last Saturday's glorious blowout of then-#20 Syracuse, at the Wachovia Center, almost certainly cinched a NCAA berth (not that there was much doubt left, anyway). But the Wildcats could certainly cement it with a win over Marquette tonight. The Golden Eagles enter the game with a record of 9-1 Big East, 20-3 overall, and lead the current Big East standings. They also were undefeated in Big East play until last Friday, when they were upset @ South Florida. It is not a good omen that Marquette is coming off just its third loss - and it has not lost consecutive games this season.

All-time Series: 6-6

Despite being mid-sized Catholic basketball powers, the two teams did not meet regularly until Marquette joined the Big East. Prior to that, Villanova led the series 5-2. The most prominent, recent pre-Big East meeting was Marquette's thrashing of Villanova in Madison Square Garden, in the first game for the fabled incoming class of Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Curtis Sumpter, and Jason Fraser, in November 2002; superstar Dwyane Wade led the way for the Golden Eagles in that contest. Jay Wright is just 1-4 against Marquette in his career.

Villanova will be gunning for its 26th consecutive victory in the Pavilion: it extended the streak to 25, most recently, with the Super Bowl Sunday victory over the Cincinnati Bearcats at noon on February 1. The deliberately early tip-off was considerate on the part of ESPN+ and Villanova. As a result, there was fortunately plenty of time for the Pavilion faithful to get home to their house parties or Main Line establishments to enjoy Super Bowl XLIII between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals, a truly memorable Super Bowl in all respects).
In addition, Villanova will be trying to win its sixth consecutive contest, which it has not done since the 2006 season (when the Wildcats reeled off 11 consecutive triumphs).

Tonight's contest will be the regrettably-rare second meeting between two Big East conference rivals. With the expanded conference, VU plays only three teams twice yearly, and this year it happens to be Marquette. (Which worked out fine, given that even two losses to Marquette are great losses for RPI and seeding purposes.)

On January 1, 2009, the two teams met in Milwaukee. In that game, the Golden Eagles upset (yes, they did) then-#15 Villanova, 79-72. Marquette, at the time, was unranked in the AP poll and just #25 in the ESPN coaches' poll.

One of the considerable upsides of playing an opponent twice a year, is the fact that we can look at the first game to see patterns that may be replicated in the second meeting. (The Big East, as recently as the early '90s, had just ten teams, and everyone played everyone else twice.)

So let's look at the first game, using a very detailed AP recap:

Marquette was forced to commit 19 turnovers, matching their season high at the time. So how did they stay in it? They were able to overcome the notoriously stingy Villanova defense. Entering the game, according to the article, Villanova had been allowing just 57.6 points and just a 37.9% shooting average from the floor. In contrast, Marquette shot the lights out, hitting 46% of their shots - and a powerful 41.7% from beyond the arc. In a seven-point contest, that was all the difference needed. Marquette lost a lot of possessions due to turnovers, but when they held onto the ball they scored nearly half the time. In addition, probably due to halftime adjustments, their turnovers dropped markedly in the second half. They committed 13 turnovers in the first half, and less than half as many - half a dozen - miscues after play resumed.

Marquette was leading by just a single point, with only 5:39 to play, but they launched a run that Villanova could not overcome. The Golden Eagles - although shaky at the foul line at that time, according to the AP article - then secured the victory by nailing an outstanding 13 of 14 shots from the line in the last 2:40. Prior to this game, Villanova had effectively contained all of its opponents to just 68 points or less; on New Year's Day, in what hopefully was not a bad omen for the rest of 2009, they yielded 79 points.

Looking at the box score:

Only seven Wildcats saw significant time (20 minutes or more); Antonio Pena had seven minutes. Corey Fisher scored 21 points, just two short of his career-high, plus hauling down five rebounds. (Noteworthy: in Fisher's four previous games up to that point, he had totalled just 17 points. So expect to see a lot of him tonight.)

Three other Wildcats reached double figures: Dante Cunningham (16 points/8 rebounds), Scottie Reynolds (15 points), and Corey Stokes (10 points). The Golden Eagles also had four players in double figures. Jerel McNeal had an outstanding performance (24 points, four rebounds, seven assists) to lead all scorers. Wesley Matthews had 19 points, including 8-10 from the line, much of it down the stretch as Marquette retained its lead. Domenic James had 17 points and six rebounds, while Lazar Hayward had 15 points and five rebounds. He also shot well from the line (6-7).

This is a good segue to look back at the team numbers. Marquette enjoyed a substantial edge in points from the line. Villanova made an outstanding 85.7% of its free throws (18-21), but Marquette got to the line more often (albeit shooting a lower percentage). The Golden Eagles were 23-31 (74.2%), and those extra five points were a big difference in a seven-point game.

Marquette outrebounded Villanova, 32-30. Two significant trouble spots were in the box score: Villanova shot just 30% from beyond the arc (6-20) and also had many players in foul trouble. The two stars, Cunningham and Reynolds, both fouled out. Dwayne Anderson and Reggie Redding finished with four fouls, while Corey Fisher and Pena ended up with three. (Or put it this way - of the eight Wildcats who saw action, all finished with at least two fouls, and four of them either fouled out or were one short of doing so.) Villanova ended up with 28 fouls in comparison to Marquette's 18. Accordingly, staying out of foul trouble is of the utmost importance for the Wildcats this evening.

Marquette would likely use a seven-man rotation, based on this box score, but McNeal, Hayward, James and Matthews play the bulk of the minutes. Three other Golden Eagles round out the rotation - Jimmy Butler and Dwight Burke with 15 minutes, and Patrick Hazel with 21 minutes. McNeal has an outside chance of becoming Marquette's all-time leading scorer; he is just 20 shy of the current record-holder (although the team would undoubtedly prefer that he break the record at a home game, they would not likely let a desire to keep him to a maximum of 19 points factor into their game plan.)

A Concise Summary of Marquette History
, from a Villanovan's perspective:

This might be of particular interest to Marquette fans reading this preview:

The Viewpoint on the Marquette Golden Eagles

Series History


Given the distance between the schools, it is not surprising that they have only met a dozen times, with the results a perfectly even split. The teams played annually for much of the 1960s, with Villanova winning @ Marquette in the first contest, 75-70, on New Year's Eve, 1960.

After 1967, there had been only two meetings, prior to Marquette's inclusion in the Big East, which began during the 2005-06 season. The first came in the 1980 NCAA tournament, when coach Roland V. Massimino's Wildcats defeated the then-Marquette Warriors, 77-59, in the first round. The series then lay dormant, until the most recent meeting in the opening game of the 2002-03 season, on November 15, 2002. This game featured the much-anticipated debut of the class of 2006 (Curtis Sumpter, Jason Fraser, Allan Ray, and Randy Foye), generally regarded as one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. However, in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Madison Square Garden, a Marquette squad which would eventually reach the Final Four, destroyed Villanova, 73-61.

In Big East play, Marquette leads the series, 3-1. Villanova's only victory came in 2006, when the nucleus of the 2009 team had just arrived as freshmen, and Marquette nearly pulled an upset at the Pavilion, losing 72-67 while leading for most of the game. This is Marquette's first visit to the Pavilion since then, and just second all-time. Of the other three Big East games, Marquette came to the Wachovia Center last year, and in 2007, the single game was in Milwaukee at the Bradley Center. Marquette's third win also came at the Bradley Center, on New Year's Day of this year.

Coach and Context


In April 2008, Brent "Buzz" Williams succeeded Tom Crean, who spent nine years at the helm in Milwaukee. Crean accepted the job at Indiana, where he is currently mired in a 6-15 mess and - I speculate - wishing he were back with the top-10 Golden Eagles.

Crean - who had never previously served as a Division I head coach - took Marquette back to its previous glories in 2003, as he guided the Golden Eagles back to the Final Four, for the first time since Marquette's golden age, under the late Al McGuire, in the 1970s. Before being named Marquette's 15th head coach on March 30, 1999, Crean had been an assistant at Western Kentucky, Pittsburgh, and Michigan State.

Crean was the recruiting assistant in Lansing, and played an important role in constructing Michigan State's 2000 NCAA championship team, under head coach Tom Izzo. Of particular importance was his success in recruiting Mateen Cleaves, the team's catalyst, who would eventually win two Big Ten Player of the Year awards. (Although unfortunately for Crean, he wasn't in Lansing to savor the success, since he was then coaching his inaugural season at Marquette.)

Marquette has a very rich and storied history, comparable to Villanova's past. The school has made 26 NCAA tournaments (with 32 NCAA victories) and 15 trips to the NIT, and served as a pit stop for Rick Majerus, among others (although he only had a trio of NIT trips in the 1980s, during his three seasons there). Along with Villanova, it is one of the few schools that can boast of both a NCAA title and a NIT championship, both courtesy of McGuire during his tenure in Milwaukee, from 1964-1977. In 13 seasons, McGuire made 11 postseason appearances, and posted a record of 295-80.

Marquette sank into mediocrity for a decade, however, after reaching the NCAAs in 1983 (ironically, after the NCAA became far easier to enter, when it was expanded in the miraculous year of 1985). The school went an entire decade between NCAA appearances, before Kevin O'Neill got them back in 1993. Things began looking up again. Including 1993, Marquette has made six NCAA appearances, including the 2003 Final Four, and qualified for five NITs. In only two years, has it missed postseason play entirely (1999 and 2001). Of those five NIT appearances, it also has gone deep into three of them. The Golden Eagles reached the NIT final in 1995, a team chiefly memorable because its sixth man, William Gates, was one of the two players documented in one of the greatest sports films ever made, Hoop Dreams. (In that game, Marquette lost in OT to Virginia Tech, 65-64.)

McGuire eschewed a NCAA bid in 1970 and instead won the NIT, in one of the last meaningful ones, before the NCAA's expanded field eventually reduced the NIT, to a consolation tournament; that Marquette team finished with a 28-1 record.

In 1974, McGuire took Marquette to the Final Four, losing in the title game to North Carolina State. But in 1977, he won it all, topping Dean Smith's North Carolina team, and then stepped down.

In 1997, two decades later, Marquette won a Conference USA tournament. And in 2003, they returned to the Final Four for the first time since the McGuire era, winning the C-USA regular season championship as well.

In 2004-05, Marquette had a decent season, which it finished with a 19-11 record. However, the team fell in the opening round of the C-USA tournament, to TCU in overtime. This fact, coupled with a 7-9 record in conference play, meant that the Golden Eagles really didn't have much of a chance at a NCAA bid. And so the season went into the record books, without the magic number of 20 wins, since it ended with a 12th loss, in the first round of the NIT (by double-digits, at home) to Western Michigan, in which the Golden Eagles scored only 40 points.

After the outstanding success of the 2003 team, Crean was being courted intensively by many other schools, particularly those in conferences of higher prestige than Conference USA, and those state schools with the money to presumably outbid Marquette in its bid to retain Crean for the long term.

To their credit, Marquette simply decided to shell out whatever it would take to keep him – in contrast to what usually happens at less wealthy private schools, namely, once they get a decent coach, they immediately lose him to higher powers in the college basketball firmament. They shrewdly calculated the math, figuring that if they wanted to keep a Big Ten school from taking Crean, the best solution would be simply to outbid his richer suitors, regardless of what it would cost to do so. And so Crean was locked up with a long-term deal, and has remained in Milwaukee.

Marquette had dropped a bit, however, since then, missing the NCAA tournament in both 2004 and 2005. However, Crean recovered well from the setbacks, guiding the Golden Eagles to the tournament in each of his last three seasons (2006-08). The Golden Eagles lost in the first round in 2006 and 2007, and the second round in 2008.

Full recap after the game.

Go Wildcats!


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4 comments:

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Anonymous said...

Nice to have another perspective!

Go NOVA!!!