Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.
-- As the non-conference season enters its last few weeks, a number of teams are still hoping to strengthen their case for an at-large bid, and two such teams will meet in Raleigh when #45 Marquette (9-2) faces #49 North Carolina State (7-1).
Marquette’s two losses have been fairly decisive, as Dayton and Tennessee both beat the Golden Eagles by double digits. Their only strong win came at home over Wisconsin, and it’s easily better than any win North Carolina St. has recorded. The Wolfpack’s only loss came against Davidson, as Stephen Curry led a strong Wildcats charge down the stretch to erase a halftime lead.
New Marquette head coach Buzz Williams has established a pretty fast pace for the Golden Eagles, and they’ve done well with it offensively, as they’ve shot over 50% from inside and avoided shot blocks. Their other strengths have also been inside, as they have gotten to the line very well and earned a lot of offensive rebounds. NC St. is, as it was last year, one of the weakest teams in the nation in forcing turnovers, so opponents tend to get a lot of shots up against it. Fortunately for the Wolfpack, less than 40% of those shots are going in, and they also give opponents very few chances at the free throw line. The lack of turnovers isn’t a huge problem for them, but in order to keep Marquette’s chances as few as possible they must play well on the defensive glass and keep the Eagles off the free throw line.
Like Marquette, NC St. tends to score best inside and rarely gets shots blocked, but their statistical numbers have been boosted by the weak opposition. The Wolfpack are a good ball-control team, picking up a lot of assists and committing few turnovers. They should be able to make some offensive progress against Marquette, as the Eagles’ defense hasn’t been particularly strong inside. Marquette’s best strength is defending the glass, and they may be able to use their play on the boards to build on the possession advantage they should gain with their offensive play.
Marquette primarily depend on four starters who play a good chunk of the team’s minutes, led by three senior guards in Jerel McNeal, Dominic James and Wesley Matthews. Matthews leads the team in scoring, as he’s managed to shoot nearly 50% from the field and gets to the line as well as any player in the country, where he is an 85% shooter. McNeal averages over 15 points a game, and shoots well from both inside and outside. James is a strong ball control guard, averaging over 5 assists a game and nearly at a 3:1 A/TO ratio. While the statistical profile of the Eagles looks like an inside-heavy team, there is only one forward who plays a lot of minutes in junior Lazar Hayward, who is very close to averaging a double-double, and has a strong inside scoring presence. Only two players over 6-6 get any significant playing time, Dwight Burke, who has started every game, but averages only one FG attempt a game and Patrick Hazel, who has been effective in his limited playing time, but is still somewhat raw. Patrick Henry, Jimmy Butler and David Cubillan all come off the bench in the backcourt, with the 6-6 Butler the most notable.
NC State’s main focus has been inside, as senior center Ben McCauley has led the team in both scoring and rebounding, shooting over 55% inside while committing only 10 turnovers on the season, and 6-9 Brandon Costner is second in both scoring and rebounding, though his shooting percentage is pretty ugly. Tracy Smith has also had some strong scoring performances off the bench, though he has not yet topped 15 minutes a game. Senior guard Courtney Fells recently returned from injury against Lipscomb, but played only 6 minutes, and its not clear how much time he’ll be able to play in this game. He’s been effective when he has played, breaking 50% from the field while shooting strongly from behind the arc as well. Starting in his place was Trevor Ferguson, and the junior put up a strong performance, also showing a good three point shooting touch. A major question comes at point guard, where injuries to both Farnold Degand and Javier Gonzalez have really depleted the depth there. Freshman Julius Mays came in and looked good against Lipscomb, but Marquette will be a different matter.
While Marquette hasn’t been that impressive, NC St.’s schedule has been very weak, and a difficult game like this one is not a great time to be depending on a freshman point guard in his second career start. While the Wolfpack will try to take advantage of Marquette’s lack of size, I’ll take the Eagles for a narrow road win.
Winner: Marquette Margin: 2-6