Sunday, February 18, 2007

Villanova @ #12 Marquette Preview, Big Monday, February 19, 2007

The Wildcats will face the #12 Marquette Golden Eagles on Monday, February 19, 2007, at 7 PM (Big Monday) at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. A comprehensive preview…

The Viewpoint on the #12 Marquette Golden Eagles

Coach: Tom Crean - 8th season at Marquette, 163-83 career record.

2006-07 Season Analysis - 8-5 Big East, 21-7 overall, RPI rank #. They were ranked #12 prior to Monday’s poll.

Nonconference Schedule

The Golden Eagles played a passable non-Big East schedule. There were three games against significant opponents:

1) a stunning,11-point win over then-#9 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, back on November 21, 2006;
2) a 15-point victory over Bob Knight’s odious Texas Tech squad, back on November 20,2006.
3) a narrow, four-point home loss to in-state rival, then #11 (now-#2) Wisconsin on December 9, 2006.

Outside of those three games, the Golden Eagles routed a series of weak opponents, but also managed to lose to one of them at the Bradley Center: they fell to unheralded North Dakota State on December 2, 2006, 64-60. They did have the courage to go to tiny Valparaiso, a one-time giant-killer in the NCAA tournament, and defeated the Crusaders, 65-62.

Big East Schedule

Marquette began Big East play on January 4, 2007, and has remained in conference play since then. The Golden Eagles crashed in their first two games, losing by double-digits @ Providence and vs Syracuse at home. However, they went on a torrid tear for three weeks, winning eight Big East games in a row (just as Georgetown had done, entering Saturday’s game @ Villanova, aftet which the Hoyas extended their streak to nine). During that span, they defeated three ranked opponents (@ then-#6 Pittsburgh, vs. then-#21 West Virginia by 18 points, and @ then-#24 Connecticut). They also won @ Louisville, a difficult home court. After crushing Rutgers by 20,on Wednesday, February 7, 2007, Marquette had a glittering 8-2 Big East record, and seemed poised to challenge Pittsburgh for the regular-season Big East title.

However, the Golden Eagles have once again descended to earth, suffering defeat in each of their last three games. At then-#22 Georgetown, the Hoyas thumped them by 18 points; when they went to DePaul, the Blue Demons upset them. Finally, the Cardinals avenged the Freedom Hall defeat on Saturday, February 17, 2007, topping the Golden Eagles at the Bradley Center, 61-59. The game ended on a buzzer-beater by Louisville’s Jerry Smith, a triple which erased Marquette’s 59-58 lead at the buzzer. After over two minutes reviewing the play on the monitor, the officials verified that Smith had launched the buzzer-beater just before time expired.

Which brings us to Monday, February 19, 2007, and their hosting of Villanova.

Marquette’s concern now is no longer winning the regular-season championship but just finishing in the top four, in order to get a bye in New York City in March. Short of this losing streak continuing throughout February, the Golden Eagles are pretty much a lock for the NCAA tournament. Even if they lost their last three, they’d still be 8-8 in conference play. In addition, all three opponents are strong in RPI terms (the other two games are @ Notre Dame and a home rematch with Pitt): none would hurt Marquette’s tourney profile.

That having been said, down-the-stretch play is an issue with NCAA seeding. Marquette certainly needs to finish over .500 in Big East play to draw a decent seed, and avoiding having to play on the first day in New York greatly enhances the Golden Eagles’ chances of a deep BE tournament run.

Marquette Starters/Rotation


#1 Dominic James - 5-11 - Sophomore - Guard - 15.1 points/2.9 rebounds/4.6 assists/2.6 TOs/2.0 steals/33.0 minutes/ per game (Richmond, IN)

James is the engine that drives the Marquette offense – he leads the team in scoring and assists.

#22 Jerel McNeal - 6-3 - Sophomore - Guard - 14.6 points/4.7 rebounds/3.9 assists/4.1 turnovers/2.7 steals/30.2 min/per game (Chicago, IL)

McNeal has tremendous difficulty in avoiding foul trouble, as his 3.4 fouls per game indicate.

#23 Wesley Matthews - 6-5- Sophomore - Guard - 11.9 points/5.2 rebounds/2.1 assists/2.4 turnovers/1.5 steals/31.3 min/per game (Madison, WI)

Matthews nearly had a double-double in the loss @ DePaul, finishing with 14 points and nine rebounds.

#41 Ouswane Barro - 6-10 - Junior - Forward - 8.7 points/7.0 rebounds/1.0 blocks/27.6 min per game (Dakar, Senegal)

Entering the loss to Louisville on Saturday, Barro had been rebounding very effectively, averaging over 10 rebounds per game in the Golden Eagles’ three previous contests.

#32 Lazar Hayward - 6-6 - Freshman - Forward - 6.0 points/3.6 rebounds/14.6 min per game (Buffalo, NY)

Hayward has made only 10 starts, as his low minutes indicate. He started against Louisville on Saturday, February 17, 2007, and I assume he will start against Villanova. He tied his career-high with 14 points in the loss @ Georgetown.

Off the Bench

#5 Dan Fitzgerald - 6-9 - Junior - Forward - 7.0 points/3.8 rebounds/20.8 min per game (St. Paul, MN, via Tulane University)

Fitzgerald has started seven games this year. He tied his season-high in the recent loss @ DePaul, finishing with 16 points.

#10 David Cubillan - 6-0 - Freshman - Guard - 4.6 points/1.8 rebounds/1.5 assists/20.1 min/per game (Mara Caibo, Venezuela)

#51 Jamil Lott - 6-7 - Senior - Forward - 2.5 points/2.1 rebounds/11.2 mins/per game (St. Paul, MN, via North Dakota State College of Science)

Series History

Marquette did not begin facing Villanova regularly, until it joined the Big East for the 2005-06 season. Ironically, the Golden Eagles were the first opponent faced by the heralded quartet of freshmen (Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Curtis Sumpter, and Jason Fraser), when they took on the Golden Eagles at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2002 (all four are from the metropolitan New York area). But Marquette and Dwyane Wade made easy work of the Wildcats, 73-61. In retrospect, the loss set the tone for a very disappointing season by the 2002-03 Wildcats, who went to their fourth straight NIT despite adding the Fab Four to a strong nucleus from the previous year. It would be 2005 before the class would play in the NCAA tournament. (Note: Sumpter is still around, due to taking a medical redshirt during the 2005-06 season; he’s a fifth-year senior.)

Villanova leads the short series, 6-3, and 1-0 as members of the Big East.

Last season, the teams met at the Pavilion. Villanova, in its most successful season since 1985, emerged with a very difficult victory over the NCAA-bound Golden Eagles, on February 4, 2006. The Wildcats, ranked #4 at the time, had to rally to overcome Marquette, 72-67, behind 28 points from Allan Ray and 24 from Randy Foye. Marquette led by seven points with just 3:30 to go, before Villanova sparked its rally. The key to Marquette’s defeat were the 22 turnovers it committed against the Villanova defense. Of some note was the poor performance of Mike Nardi, who shot only 1-8 from the floor, including missing all half-dozen of his three-point attempts. However, the perspective from last year’s game is difficult, as the majority of Villanova players who participated significantly in last year’s contest are gone. Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark, both sophomores, combined for just 24 minutes, but are now significant members of the rotation. Four Golden Eagles reached double figures, led by the now-departed Steve Novak, who had 18 points. Of that quartet of scorers, James and McNeal are still around, and they both shot well against the ‘Nova defense.

Note: The #8 seed Wildcats faced #9 seed Mississippi at the Bradley Center, in the opening round of the 1999 NCAA tournament. Ole Miss hung on to win, when the team led by Howard Brown, John Celestand, and Malik Allen had three chances to tie the game on the final possession, but could not get a tying shot to drop. Although nobody expected it at the time, it would be six years before the Wildcats would return to the NCAA tournament, in 2005. From 2000-2004, ‘Nova was consigned to five consecutive NITs (the first two under Steve Lappas and the back three under Jay Wright).

What to Expect

Marquette is a very young team. There is just one senior in the rotation, and the five starters include three sophomores and a freshman. They had a very successful season last year, finishing in the top four and escaping the first round in New York (although they did quickly exit in the quarterfinals to Georgetown). The Golden Eagles ended up qualifying for the NCAA tournament as a #7 seed, falling to #10 seed Alabama, 90-85, in the first round in San Diego. The game was delayed for 70 minutes due to a bomb scare in Cox Arena, the San Diego State venue hosting the event. It was Marquette’s 24th NCAA tournament appearance, and their storied history includes a national title under Al McGuire. The first-round exit was a disappointing end for Marquette, which was making its first NCAA trip, since the Dwyane Wade team reached the Final Four back in 2003.

This is one of the rare, critically important games for both teams. Neither has absolutely secured a NCAA bid as of yet, although both are likely to go, and the team that wins Monday night will have taken a giant step toward being safe on Selection Sunday. Villanova probably needs it more, with an inferior conference record, but Marquette is coming off three straight losses, including the painful buzzer-beater to Louisville on Saturday. They also have more difficult games the rest of the way.

Villanova Update

The Wildcats (6-6 Big East, 18-8 overall) are coming off a disappointing 58-55 loss to #14 Georgetown, at the Wachovia Center on Saturday. While the Hoyas entered the game red-hot, Villanova should have hung on to win, failing to hold an 11-point first-half lead and also losing control in the waning minutes. The Wildcats took a 55-51 lead and then permitted Georgetown to score the final seven points. The Hoyas triumphed despite the complete shutdown of star center Roy Hibbert, who was nearly shut out entirely in both contests with Villanova this season (the Wildcats won @ Georgetown on January 8, 2006).

‘Nova has a very strong RPI, and if the Wildcats can reach 8-8 in Big East play, it would be almost impossible to keep them out of the NCAA tournament. Villanova has one easy game left (Rutgers at the Pavilion) and three difficult ones (@ Marquette, @ an increasingly desperate Connecticut, and Syracuse at the Wachovia Center). Winning two of the four should do it, but two victories are far from certain.

I’ll have a full recap after the game.

Questions? Comments? Information? You can e-mail publisher@villa

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