Preview & Prediction: By Raphielle Johnson
Two of the better teams in the Big East face off on Tuesday night, with #10 Marquette (20-3, 9-1 Big East) looking to recover from a surprising loss at USF with a win over #13 Villanova (19-4, 7-3). Only one minor issue for the road team: the Wildcats have won their last twenty-five games in The Pavilion. Add to this the fact that Jay Wright’s team may be clicking at just the right time (five straight wins; two straight games of 90+ points) and you’ve got a treacherous road trip for Buzz Williams and company. The Golden Eagles (8th) and Wildcats (30th) are two of the nation’s most efficient offensive teams according to Ken Pomeroy’s system (kenpom.com), and this should be no surprise since both feature perimeter-heavy rotations littered with guys who can get to the basket.
But before getting to the backcourts, how about spending some time on a pair of forwards who have been among the Big East’s best? Senior Dante Cunningham (17.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg) leads the Wildcats in both scoring and rebounding this season, balancing a solid post game with the ability to step out and hit mid-range jumpers. Cunningham, who has seen his numbers increase every year on the Main Line, is also shooting 56.9% from the field. Marquette will counter with the versatile junior Lazar Hayward (15.7 ppg, 8.7 rpg), who like Cunningham has increased his output each year of his college career. Hayward has range out to the three-point line, and his ability to bang inside has allowed the Golden Eagles to get away with their smaller lineup in conference play.
The first meeting, won by Marquette 79-72 on New Year’s Day, essentially came down to the fact that the Golden Eagle backcourt was playing at a higher level than Villanova’s. The “big three” of Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews and Dominic James combined for sixty points on the afternoon. As for the Villanova quartet of Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes and Reggie Redding, they combined for fifty points but that’s not the only reason for the loss. The frontcourt outside of Cunningham needs to take advantage of its depth in the rematch, something the likes of Antonio Pena and Shane Clark did not do in the first meeting.
The key for Villanova in their current five-game win streak has been the improved play of Fisher and Reynolds. In his last five games Fisher has shot 55.5% from the field, a substantial increase given his season field goal percentage of 43.8%. When his shot selection is judicious this is a much better basketball team. The offensive balance of the Wildcats in recent games has also allowed Reynolds to lighten some of his own load, excluding the thirty-one point explosion at Providence. When everyone’s involved a solid offensive team becomes that much more prolific, making Villanova one of the Big East’s best scoring teams.
So, how did Marquette lose at USF on Friday night? Unlike Villanova they don’t have a surplus of bodies inside, which was exposed due to Hayward’s struggles on the offensive end (2-for-9, five points). But even if all four stars are on their game, either Dwight Burke or Patrick Hazel will need to step up if the Golden Eagles are to win in The Pavilion. These are also two of the nation’s most efficient teams on the defensive end of the floor, with Villanova (13th) grading out better than Marquette (49th). Look for this to be a close, entertaining game with the Wildcats pulling it out in the end.
Winner: Villanova Margin: 2-6 pts.
Editor's Early Preview
*Made on 02/06. Full preview by the GameNight staff coming soon!
Marquette has gotten off to a great start in Big East play, but they can't win em all, and a road trip to Philly is always tough. Scottie Reynolds, as usual, will have to come up clutch to lead the Cats to the home win.
Early Prediction: Villanova
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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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