When MU (22-8, 9-6) and Pitt (25-5, 12-3) renew their budding rivalry on Saturday night, they will do so with much at stake.
On Senior Night with a 10-win conference season within their grasp, the 1977 National Champions in the house, and Selection Sunday looming, the Marquette Golden Eagles have plenty of incentive this weekend. And don't forget - - with a win on Saturday, the Panthers will earn at least a share of the 2006-2007 Big East title. Oh, and this is a national TV game.
MU beat the Panthers in overtime 77-74 earlier this season, part of the team's fast start in the Big East. Yet since their sensational 6-2 start in conference play the Golden Eagles have been grounded for much of the second half of the season, losing four of their last five outings. Slumps can happen when you play one of the two toughest intra-conference schedules. Its time for good ol' Uncle Mo' to visit this young, talented team once again.
The team's inconsistency in conference play is personified by Dominic James. James has been both magic (see MU's win at Pitt) and tragic (see MU's loss at Georgetown) this year. The sophomore PG has only scored in double figures in three of his last seven games, and hasn't shot 50% from the field in a game since MU's win over Seton Hall back in January -- which happens to be the only game in which James made half his shots since early December. Its been a tough sophomore season in the Big East for Dominic James -- yet he is still playing a solid floor game as evidenced by his 1.8/1 A/TO ratio.
Still, James matches up well with the Panthers. In three career games against Pitt, James is averaging 18.3ppg, 4.6 apg, and 4 rpg. In MU's win at Pitt earlier this season, the Panthers' Levance Fields was overmatched against James, fouling out after scoring just two points.
MU's greatest advantage on Saturday night is its quick, athletic, fast backcourt -- the Panthers just don't have the same caliber of athlete at the guard positions. Of course, Pitt has that same physical advantage on the baseline with Aaron Gray, Levon Kendall, Sam Young, Tyrell Biggs and company. Although according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Pitt starting forward Levon Kendall did not go through a full practice yesterday because of a nagging turf toe injury, and his backup Sam Young is struggling with tendonitis in his knees. Both are expected to play tomorrow night against Marquette."
In his Q/A with Rosiak earlier this week, Crean noted that improved post defense begins with more appreciable backcourt pressure. TC's had plenty of time to focus on that and other gaps in his team's game. After a tough slog through the Big East, Crean's squad enjoyed a full week to prepare for the physical Panthers, time that bodes well for MU IMHO. The extra practice time came at an ideal time for a team that failed to slow down the inside game against teams with similar inside presence (Notre Dame and Georgetown).
Tipoff is scheduled for 8pm CST on ESPN.
- John Keegan of the Marquette Tribune previews the season finale.
- The AP on Pitt's fight for a share of the Big East title.
- Here's the MUScoop info header for the game.
- Mike Bennett of the Richmond Palladium-Item delivers a column on James and MU.
- Panthers' beat reporter Ray Fittipaldo has an informative Q/A today.
- Rosiak blogs on MU's seniors as they prepare for Senior Night. Ouch. Worse, he ignores Craig Kuphall in his blog -- bogus! Craig is putting in just as much time and effort as the scholarship players and deserves the attention and appreciation as well. THANK YOU CRAIG KUPHALL!
- Marquette Hoops goes in-depth to preview the MU/Pitt rematch.
- PittLive with a profile of Panther's PF Tyrell Biggs.