Despite its 15-4 overall record and 5-3 start in Big East play, the Marquette Golden Eagles find themselves in a tenuous situation over the next ten days. The Golden Eagles' uneven play in their last seven games has created agita up and down Wells Street as the team moves into its most difficult stretch of Big East games. Beginning with Saturday's game at Cincinnati, the Golden Eagles play three of the next four contests on the road against teams that are positively surging -- Cincinnati, Notre Dame, and Seton Hall. Marquette's only home cooking will come against Louisville, a team that pounded them just a few weeks ago.
First up for Marquette is a trip to the Shoe to play Mick Cronin's surprising Cincinnati Bearcats (10-11, 5-4). The Bearcats return home after blowing out West Virginia in Morgantown, 62-39. Cincy dominated WVU in all facets of the game, most notably on the boards where the Bearcats enjoyed a +15 margin, while holding the Mountaineers to 20% shooting from the field.
The Bearcats are led by sophomore point guard Deonta Vaughn. Vaughn is the only Bearcat averaging in double figures with 17 ppg (he nails 40% of his shots from deep). Former MU recruit John Williamson chips in at nine points per game and a team-leading six rebounds.
Despite the productive play from Vaughn, Cronin's bunch is last in the league in turnover margin and near the bottom of Big East in assist to turnover ratio. Meanwhile, MU leads the Big East in steals and is in the top quartile in turnover margin. This points to an opportunity for MU's backcourt to get back on track defensively, though it's been some time since Marquette asserted itself in this manner.
In addition, the Bearcats are one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the league, but will that be a factor on Saturday? The Golden Eagles have been out-rebounded in each of the last seven contests, the longest stretch of the Crean era. Toughness on the glass, a hallmark of Crean-era teams, has been lacking on the baseline since the conference opener against Providence.
For MU though, it is all about the guards. Simply put, the core of MU's attack has under-performed in conference tilts. Only Wesley Matthews, who has scored in double figures in seven of eight conference games, has elevated his play in the last month. In conference play, Dominic James is averaging 11ppg down from 13ppg in non-conference action. James, hampered by a stubborn wrist injury, is shooting just 58% from the line and 40% from the floor in Big East play. To his credit, James protects the ball exceptionally well as his 3.2/1 assist to turnover ratio in Big East action proves, and he's been an underrated on-the-ball defender all season. Jerel McNeal's play remains a great mystery, perhaps highlighted by his 33 minute, zero rebound effort at UConn. Offensively, McNeal is hitting just 36% of his shots in league play, including a frigid 18% from deep. Worse, McNeal has coughed the ball up 27 times in Big East play and appears to be out of synch offensively.
Tipoff is scheduled for 11am CST on Saturday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN Full Court.
It's time for the backcourt to emerge once again and for this team to sack up, embrace the Warriors Code and own the road.
You're the fighter you've got the fire
The spirit of a warrior, the champion's heart
You fight for your life because the fighter never quits
You make the most of the hand you're dealt
Because the quitter never wins
- GoMarquete preview
- Rosiak on McNeal - - time to spark MU again
- Dodds' preview
- Cincy Enquirer previews the game and the opportunity before UC