Preview & Prediction: By Raphielle Johnson
#10 Marquette’s (23-5, 12-3 Big East) trip to #6 Louisville (22-5, 13-2) will be one of national interest for a variety of reasons. First, both teams still have a shot at winning the Big East title (or at least a share). Second, both teams can claim a very high seed in the NCAA Tournament depending on how they finish. Lastly, fans and experts alike are anxious to see how the Golden Eagles fare in their first full game without senior point guard Dominic James (11.4 ppg, 5.1 apg).
Even with a scoring average below what he’d produced in his first three seasons at Marquette, conventional wisdom is that James was playing the best basketball of his career in his final campaign. He’d completed the transformation from “scoring guard” to “floor general”, a development that also led to the growth of key contributors such as Jerel McNeal (20.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.2 apg), Wesley Matthews (18.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Lazar Hayward (15.9 ppg, 8.5 rpg).
With James out, those three will have to up their production even more if Buzz Williams’ team wants to make a deep run in March. But those three have shown time and again that they can handle the bright lights and responsibilities that come with being team leaders. The question is how junior point guard Maurice Acker will adjust to his expanded role; Louisville’s pressure defense should provide the first argument. Acker averages just over twelve minutes per game this season, but he played thirty-three in their 93-82 loss to Connecticut Wednesday night.
He tallied just six points and four assists, but more importantly didn’t have a turnover. Throughout his time in Milwaukee Acker has been sound with the basketball; with the likes of McNeal, Matthews and Hayward that’s all they really need him to do. If Acker is secure in his game and doesn’t try to replace James by playing like James the Golden Eagles should be fine. According to Ken Pomeroy’s statistics the Golden Eagles are one of the nation’s most efficient offensive teams, ranking 9th in raw efficiency and 8th in adjusted. Louisville has actually improved in that category over the last month, but they still sit behind Marquette with ranks of 83rd (raw) and 46th (adjusted).
The Cardinals are a middle of the pack team when it comes to Big East shooting percentages, ranking eighth (44.7%) in field goal and sixth (35.6%) in three-point percentage. Their most versatile offensive players happen to be a pair of forwards: senior Terrence Williams (12.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 4.8 apg) and junior Earl Clark (13.3 ppg, 8.7, 3.3 apg). Freshman Samardo Samuels (12.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg) is Rick Pitino’s low-post banger, but he needs to attempt more than the nine field goals he’s put up in their last two games combined against a Marquette squad that lacks interior bulk.
The question for Louisville, regarding a Big East title run as well as their NCAA Tournament prospects, regards their backcourt. Is this four-man rotation (Edgar Sosa, Jerry Smith, Preston Knowles and Andre McGee) consistent enough to make such a run? They’ve played much better in recent weeks, helping lead the Cards to an 8-2 record in their last ten games. In fact, Louisville ranks sixth in the Big East in assist-to-turnover ratio (seventh in conference games). With Marquette ranking third in that category, Coach Pitino needs his guys to value the basketball in order to take full advantage of James’ absence. Look for them to do just that in Freedom Hall, but don’t expect them to make short work of the Golden Eagles either. Although Louisville has won six of the last seven meetings, since playing regularly as conference foes (Conference USA, then Big East) the series is tied at twelve wins apiece.
Winner: Louisville Margin: 5-9 pts.
Editor's Early Preview
*Made on 02/06. Full preview by the GameNight staff coming soon!
Louisville is a hard team to figure out. So much talent, but often times it just doesn't come together. You'd think Samardo Samuels could make a major difference against Marquette's lesser big men, but you never know.
Early Prediction: Louisville