Preview & Prediction: By Raphielle Johnson
Fewer than forty-eight hours after having their 45-game home winning streak ended, #19 Notre Dame (12-6, 3-4 Big East) looks to start another run at the expense of #11/10 Marquette (17-2, 6-0). The Golden Eagles are one of two Big East teams that are undefeated in league play (Louisville), but some have called into question the legitimacy of that run. Wins over Villanova, West Virginia and Providence are solid, but they’ve also had their shot at Cincinnati, Rutgers and DePaul (combined conference record: 3-18). But have no doubt: head coach Buzz Williams has a solid team that’s a legitimate threat to make some noise come March.
The most obvious reasons: guards Jerel McNeal, Dominic James and Wesley Matthews. Last season it was McNeal who led the team in scoring and received the accolades; this year it’s the sometimes forgotten Matthews who leads the team with just over nineteen per game. James isn’t scoring in the same explosive fashion that made him such a hit in his early years at Marquette, but he’s doing whatever is needed of him when it comes to running the team. Many believe that guard play is what wins in college basketball, and this group gives Coach Williams a leg up on most teams they run into. But if there’s a guy outside of these three that opponents must pay attention to, that man is junior forward Lazar Hayward (16.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg). Hayward has improved his scoring, rebounding and overall field goal percentage numbers from a season ago, and his versatility (along with that of McNeal and Matthews) is what makes the Golden Eagles’ small lineup so effective.
Marquette has Dwight Burke and Patrick Hazel to help out up front, but neither has been called upon much in league play. With reigning Big East Player of the Year Luke Harangody awaiting at the Joyce Center Monday night, that may change. Harangody won his individual matchup with Connecticut’s Hasheem Thabeet on Saturday, going for twenty-five points and fourteen rebounds, but the lack of a second option did in the Fighting Irish. Guard Kyle McAlarney started off hot, making three three-pointers to begin the game, but cooled off to the tune of fifteen consecutive misses from the field. Both he and classmate Ryan Ayers will need to be present for forty minutes if Mike Brey’s team is to end their three-game skid. The Irish will also have to bring it on the defensive end; neither team is particularly good in regards to field goal percentage defense (Marquette is 12th in the Big East, Notre Dame 13th) but the Golden Eagles are much better in regards to the three-pointer.
Notre Dame is fifteenth in three-point percentage defense, and that bad news when a Marquette team that ranks third in three-point percentage rolls into town. And despite their relative lack of size the Golden Eagles are a better rebounding team than the Fighting Irish. Marquette has a rebounding margin of +4.9, while Notre Dame holds an edge of +2.7. Notre Dame should win the battle on the glass when you look at their comparative size, but they’ve got to be the tougher basketball team. Toughness is what got Coach Brey’s program that lengthy streak, and that’s what it’ll take to end their current three-game losing streak. And with Luke Harangody leading the way, look for a tougher Notre Dame team to show up. But will it be enough against a solid Marquette team? That remains to be seen.
Winner: Notre Dame Margin: 1-4 pts.
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About Raphielle Johnson
College sports has always been a source of excitement for Raphielle Johnson, be it through watching, writing, or taking a shot in the dark and walking onto a college football team just to live the life (Arizona Football, 2001). Raphielle is the assistant editor, providing his own work in addition to helping out with the site operations. When not writing for CHN, you can usually find him in front of a television set watching one of many pay-per-view sports packages that he owns. He can be followed at twitter.com/raphiellej.
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