Marquette takes center stage at the World's Most Famous Arena on Wednesday when they take on the St. John's Red Storm to cap the opening night of the 2007 Big East Tournament.
Tipoff is scheduled for roughly 8pm CST on ESPN. The Bracket Project currently lists MU as a solid six seed for the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Adding a road win in the BET (yes, for RPI purposes this is a road game) could help MU ratchet up a notch.
Marquette (23-8, 10-6), fresh off an impressive win over the Pittsburgh Panthers, is looking for its first conference tournament victory since the 2001-2002 season. Norm Roberts' Red Storm (16-14, 7-9) enter the tournament as the 11th seed after convincingly defeating Providence to end the regular season. Last year, the Johnnies failed to reach the Big East Tournament.
Both teams enter the game depleted by injury. Lamont Hamilton, SJU's leading scorer and rebounder, is out for the entire Big East Tournament after suffering a knee injury during the PC win. Marquette will likely hit the floor without the Big East's defensive player of the year, Jerel McNeal. While MU has not made an official announcement about McNeal's availability, head coach Tom Crean was not 'overly optimistic' about his sophomore guard's availability.
So, with each team missing vital cog who will step up? Maybe we'll see two freshmen emerge once again. With McNeal unable to suit up on Saturday night, freshman David Cubillan responded with a collegiate high 20 points, which included a host of key 3-pointers and a perfect night at the charity stripe. While Cubillan lacks McNeal's ability to attack the rim, he played to his strengths by controlling the tempo of the game and successfully managing MU's offense down the stretch.
For the Johnnies, perhaps 6'8" freshman Qa'rraan Calhoun will deliver once more. Calhoun will log more minutes for SJU after scoring 21 points off the bench on Saturday. He averaged six points and four rebounds during the regular season. The New York Daily News is reporting that Aaron Spears will start in Hamilton's place.
While McNeal's absence in a conference road game sets an ominous tone, the loss of Hamilton could hamstring the Johnnies even more. The Red Storm averaged a paltry 62 points per game this year, second-worst in the Big East. To make matters worse, SJU played to a rebound deficit for most of the season, and played to a negative turnover margin.
Anthony Mason Jr. figures to be SJU's first option on Wednesday. The 6'7" sophomore averaged 12ppg and 6 rpg this season. In MU's win over SJU last season, Mason delivered a double-double (14 pts, 11 boards). Junior guard Avery Patterson is the only other Johnnie averaging double figures (10 ppg).
Still, this is a conference road game for Marquette -- a nationally-televised, primetime road game. Let's get this one.
Time to FIRE UP MARQUETTE! I for one can't wait to cheer MU on in-person (finally).
- The Associated Press previews the MU/SJU game.
- Rosiak's blog.
- Marquette University BET schedule.
- MUScoop's information header for the game.
- The AP previews the entire BET.
- NY Daily News previews the tournament and notes that a rematch with Pitt "could be the best game of the tournament" -- well, lets get the SJU game first.
- Rosiak's JS preview built around McNeal's honor.
- John Keegan of the Marquette Tribune on MU's return to NYC.
- Steve Yanda of the Marquette Trib on the loss of McNeal.