Villanova faces Marquette for third time in conference quarterfinals

Andrew Gordon

Opponent Overall

The men’s baksetball team (25-6, 13-5 Big East) will face a familiar foe in the Big East Quarterfinals as they head to Madison Square Garden to face off against the Marquette Golden Eagles (24-7, 12-6 Big East) today at 2 PM.

This is the third meeting between the two teams this season. The first two regular season games had each team winning once. The ‘Cats and Golden Eagles opened the Big East regular season as Villanova traveled to Wisconsin to fall short against a then underrated Marquette team 79-72 on New Year’s Day. The most recent contest showed the immense progress and preparation of the Wildcats as they prevailed in a 102-84 home victory.

Momentum seems to be in favor of a soaring Wildcat team as Marquette has lost its last four regular season games and six of its last nine regular season games. They have lacked the great vigor shown in the early part of their season as of late, likely due to the season-ending injury of playmaker senior guard Dominic James, who has played in a school record 128 games for the Golden Eagles.

Opponent Strengths

Marquette and Villanova are virtually mirror images of each other in their brand of players and style of play. Like the Wildcats, The Golden Eagles rely heavily on a core of seniors to provide ample leadership, strong guard play and solid shooting from beyond the arc.

With James out of the lineup, fellow seniors Dwight Burke, Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal will need to step up for the Golden Eagles. Matthews and McNeal have been focal points in the potent offensive attack for Marquette all year long but have particularly flourished with James’ absence. Leading the team in points all season, Matthews and McNeal have each scored in double figures in the four games since James’ devastating injury. McNeal has scored over 23 points in three of the last four games. Matthews is also a constant threat at the free throw line, almost always coming away with point when he drives to the basket, shooting 82 percent on the year.

Besides the senior guard trio of James, McNeal and Matthews, the Golden Eagles have a strong offensive presence in junior forward Lazar Hayward. Hayward averages 16.2 points per game and 8.5 rebounds per contest. He also maintains a 81.7 free throw percentage, proving his athleticism for a forward. With his ability to work under the boards, shoot from the perimeter and cut to the basket, Hayward could prove to be a problem for the Villanova defensive unit.

Opponent Weaknesses

One word can be used to describe the Marquette style of play: streaky. As per usual for teams who rely a great deal on three point shooting and transition offense, the Golden Eagles can either shoot the lights out and smother the opposing defense or struggle to create any consistent scoring opportunities.

Dominic James saw significant playing time over his four year tenure, endowing the Golden Eagles with a calm, confident court general throughout the season. Since his injury, junior guard Maurice Acker has stepped into the point guard spot and has been a glaring hole over the four game skid. He averages just 2.5 points per game and fewer than two assists per game.

With a roster comparable to that of Villanova, with no true big men, the Wildcats still have the clear advantage in their interior personnel with senior forwards Dwayne Anderson, Shane Clark and Dante Cunningham and redshirt sophomore forward Antonio Pena.

A huge difference between these two teams all season long has been the production off the bench. Unlike the Villanova Wildcats, Marquette has seen limited contributions from their bench corps. In 17 games this season, the Golden Eagle bench has scored fewer than 10 points. In a Feb. 26 contest at Notre Dame, the Marquette starting five tallied all 71 points for the team.

Who to Watch

The spark in the Marquette offense, McNeal has the potential to put on a scoring clinic if he heats up. Not only is he the third leading scorer in the Big East, averaging 20.1 points per contest, but he is also ranked fourth in steals with a 2.1 average.

Shooting nearly 41 percent from beyond the three point arc, McNeal has proven he can be clutch performer late in games. He hit a deep 3-pointer to send the slumping Golden Eagles to overtime in the last seconds of their game against Syracuse on March 7.

McNeal’s greatest feat this season included a 7-7 3 point shooting performance against Cincinnati on Jan. 4. The ‘Cats must extend their perimeter defense to contain such a talented shooting threat.

What to Watch For

A particularly intriguing matchup for Villanova will be the one between Anderson, Cunningham and Pena versus Marquette’s interior players, Hayward and Burke. In Villanova’s loss on New Year’s Day, they had a combined 28 fouls on the day, likely due to the athletic ability of Hayward and Burke to cut and drive to the basket more than typical big men can.

Anderson finished with four fouls, Cunningham fouled out, and Pena finished with three fouls in just 9 minutes of playing time. With both teams ranking near the top of the conference in free throw shooting, the number of fouls in this game, especially in the paint, could prove to be a pivotal part of this contest’s outcome.

Villanova 82, Marquette 77