Preview & Prediction: By Raphielle Johnson
Two of the four teams still in the running for a Big East championship take center stage Wednesday night, with #2 Connecticut (25-2, 13-2 Big East) visiting #10 Marquette (23-4, 12-2). Styles make fights, and these two teams are nationally known for vastly different reasons. The Huskies, despite having some solid backcourt players (led by PG A.J. Price), have a pair of big men averaging double-doubles on the season. Senior forward Jeff Adrien (13.8 ppg, 10.2 rpg) and junior center Hasheem Thabeet (13.2 ppg, 10.5 rpg) are the top scorers and rebounders for the Huskies, and head coach Jim Calhoun is happiest when these two are impacting the game on both end of the floor (who wouldn’t?). With the glaring exception of their loss to Pittsburgh, this tandem is most effective when allowed to stay inside and bang away.
But the Golden Eagles, led by a potent senior backcourt, will offer a contrast that the Huskies have struggled with at times. Marquette doesn’t have a true center, essentially playing four out (forward Lazar Hayward (16.0 ppg, 8.6 rpg) is more than capable on the perimeter) while rotating that fifth position between Dwight Burke and Patrick Hazel. Thabeet has struggled when faced with interior players who won’t resort to staying in the lane with him; although he had twenty-one points and nine rebounds against USF Saturday he had issues guarding Augustus Gilchrist. The same scenario played out in games against Gonzaga and Georgetown, but those two teams featured big men (Josh Heytvelt and Greg Monroe) who are comfortable on the perimeter with the ball in their hands. Hayward will most likely be the responsibility of Adrien so Hasheem shouldn’t have to worry about that.
Marquette, thanks to that backcourt featuring seniors Jerel McNeal (20.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg), Wesley Matthews (18.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Dominic James (11.7 ppg, 5.3 apg), leads the Big East in points per game (80.0) and ranks fifth in both field goal (47.0%) and three-point (35.0%) percentage. But if you think that Buzz Williams’ team uses their lack of height as an excuse to stay outside of the paint then you’d be mistaken. Only one-third of their shots come from behind the arc, and according to Ken Pomeroy (kenpom.com) the Golden Eagles have the nation’s tenth-most efficient offense. That’s a better number than a Husky offense (ranked 19th in offensive efficiency) that is better equipped (in regards to size) to get points in the paint. Connecticut must make those three (and Hayward) one-dimensional if they’re to win in the Bradley Center.
But for all of the top players who will be on the floor Wednesday night, whether or not UConn wins may come down to what they can get from the bench. Gavin Edwards has seen his minutes decrease in recent weeks, and Coach Calhoun’s immediate solution for the loss of Jerome Dyson has essentially been to shrink the guard rotation to three (Price, Craig Austrie and Kemba Walker). Stanley Robinson has been inconsistent since his mid-season return, and a game like this may require something from Donnell Beverly and/or Scottie Haralson. Neither has played much this season; due to the team’s struggles with USF those two didn’t get extended minutes on Saturday. Jimmy Butler and Maurice Acker have seen minutes for Marquette all year, which makes them more prepared should one of their backcourt stars encounter foul trouble.
That experience is one of the reasons why the Golden Eagles rank second in the Big East in turnover margin and third in assist-to-turnover ratio; the Huskies are in the middle of the pack but make up for it with their shot-blocking (Big East-leading 7.6 bpg and 37.2% FG defense). But Connecticut could be the team best equipped to hand Marquette their first home loss of the season. The Huskies are undefeated on the road, a sign of their experience. Don’t look for them to run into a buzz saw like that first-ever meeting (Steve Novak’s 41 points gave Marquette a 94-79 win in their first game as a Big East member), but they’re definitely going to have their hands full.
Winner: Marquette Margin: 1-4 pts.
Editor's Early Preview
*Made on 02/06. Full preview by the GameNight staff coming soon!
Both of these teams featue some big-time names in the backcourt, but the talent imbalance in the frontcourt is huge. As good as Marquette has been playing, they won't be able to match the toughness of Adrien & Thabeet up front.
Early Prediction: UCONN
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