After thinking about what I witnessed during Marquette’s 102-84 loss at Villanova tonight, it occurred to me that maybe the high-flying, veteran-laced, fast-paced Golden Eagles are really just a flash in the pan. I didn’t see the new-and-improved, unselfish Dominic James that held Cincinnati’s Deonta Vaughn and West Virginia’s Darryl Bryant scoreless. Rather, I saw the man he guarded in Scottie Reynolds make a bid for the NBA’s 3 point shootout next week. I didn’t see former Big East Defensive Player of the Year Jerel McNeal, but rather a lazy guard who never found the flow of the game. And Lazar Hayward, despite coming back big on offense and probably the only bright spot of the game, needed a double team on Dante Cunningham all night which allowed Nova shooters to stand at the arc and seemingly wait their turn. The thing that kept Marquette in games all year long was not just the speed of transition offense and the quickness while in the set, but the exact same things on defense as well. Tonight, Marquette’s Swiss cheese trap failed to get back on defense which led to easy buckets, and whoever had weak-side help defense on Dante Cunningham waited a step too long (mostly Wes Matthews and Jimmy Butler), which in turn brought in 13 three pointers for the Wildcats.
Offensively, I thought Lazar Hayward played outstanding and really showed why he is one of the best face-up forwards in the Big East, if not the NCAA. He can do so much with the ball while facing the hoop and his 3-point shooting ability gives him an arsenal full of weapons that he will use at the next level as a 3/4 hybrid forward. Jerel McNeal once again did an excellent job distributing the ball (7 assists) but also took over when he needed to, hitting 4 of his last 6 shots. Wesley Matthews played a very efficient game but never seemed to take over during any stretch of the game like he has lately. The 4 turnovers apiece from McNeal and Matthews hurt and came at bad times for a Marquette team that needed every possession they could get tonight. I thought Dominic James played awesome and his court vision seems to get better every game as seen by his 9 assists to 2 turnovers. His jumpshot (2-3 from 3PT) was an added bonus, but the 0-4 free throw job really hurt, including a Ben Wallace-like air ball attempt in the the 1st half. Overall and offensively speaking, 84 points should get you a win on most nights.
The Golden Eagles really need to turn things around and right the ship before the big 5 game stretch to close the year (4 game if you don’t count the reeling Georgetown Hoyas). Luckily, games against St. John’s and Seton Hall should do the trick, but regardless of who you play, free throws and lazy defense are two things that do not change. The fact that Marquette has just one win over ranked teams isn’t going to help with the RPI rankings and at the same time leaves a lot of room for question on how good this team really is. You look at a team like Villanova and they have a win over Pittsburgh. Conneticut has beaten Lousville. Louisville beat Pittsburgh. You aren’t going to meet Providence, Rutgers and Wisconsin late in the big dance. Only time will tell if this team is the worst of the big boys in the Big East, or whether these speedy guards can carry the team on their shoulders to Detroit.
Also, a congratulations goes out to Jerel McNeal on breaking George Thompson’s 40-year-old scoring record at 1,776 points for his Marquette career.
Today’s entry will be in regards to the Marquette-Villanova game. Marquette comes into the game after suffering their first Big East road loss to South Florida last Friday. The #12 Golden Eagles (20-3, 9-1) will try to avoid losing two in a row for the first time all season and bounce back against a Villanova team (19-4, 7-3) that has won five straight, including wins over Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Last month Marquette defeated the Wildcats 79-72 at the Bradley Center to open up the Big East season. Marquette stands to face a much tougher test playing at The Pavilion, where Villanova has won 25 straight.
In tonight’s game, I like the Villanova Wildcats to come out firing at the Marquette Golden Eagles. Dante Cunningham will go up against a struggling Lazar Hayward, who has struggled the last few games, and force Marquette to play zone, leaving sharpshooters Scottie Reynolds (36% 3PT) and Corey Stokes (42% 3PT) open for jump shots. Cunningham had a very quiet 16 point, 8 rebound performance in the last meeting and I would look for him to take more advantage of Marquette’s weakness in the post tonight. In Nova’s loss to Marquette, the Wildcats shot just 6-20 from long distance, with Reynolds missing some easy looks in the last couple of minutes. Look for those shots to drop tonight if indeed Marquette has to move to a 2-3 zone look. While the zone may have worked vs. South Florida, Villanova is too quick to go along with the prescense of Cunningham inside.
As for Marquette, their offense begins and ends with Jerel McNeal. When he fouled out of Friday night’s loss to South Florida in the final minute, MU’s offense looked lost and confused, culminating in a wild layup by Wesley Matthews, that looked more like he was trying to draw a foul, and a desparate putback attempt by Lazar Hayward. McNeal is averaging 24 points per game in his last seven contests and will need to be on target if the Golden Eagles want to stay in this game. The veteran leadership of McNeal, Matthews, and James in the backcourt has been talked about all year, but it will be interesting to see how they step up under pressure, coming off their first loss. Unfortuantely, the wins over Notre Dame and Georgetown do not look as impressive as once thought as they are both out of the top 25, but a win tonight over a red hot Villanova team at The Pavillion could give the Golden Eagles their first spotlight win.
Vegas has this game at Villanova -5 which I think is a little too high. With these teams being so similar in their tempo and size, along with Marquette winning the first duel, this one could come down to who has the ball last. I like Villanova in the game but will gladly take the 5 points and Marquette.
Post-Game analysis to come later…