"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Friday, February 01, 2008

For Marquette, the road awaits

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


Additional Previews


Anonymous said...

Great writeup. Worthwhile to point out that according to the JSOnline MU schedule, seven of the last 11 games are on national TV, including the Georgetown game on CBS. Solid opportunity to put the last month behind them and get back on everyone's radar.

Fortunately, only one of the last month's games (Louisville) was nationally televised (the DePaul game was on ESPNU, but does that really count?).

The pollsters and Selection Committee might forgive the January blunders if MU can gut out some key road victories down the stretch and possibly pull off an upset or two while on the national stage.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. The Louisville game starts the "Last 10 Games" of the season that the Selection Committee puts added weight to. (Well, almost--the Big East Tourney counts in there, too.)

Anonymous said...

There is not a team in the BE who has not faultered and 'let down' this year (with the exception of GT who has succesfully made some escapes) so the fact that we had a few bad games agaist good competition does not make me believe we are incapable of winning.

Someone posted earlier that it is the fan base that isw panicking right now - I think that is true.

Anonymous said...

No need to panic...ever. In the words of the inimitable David Puddy, "Gotta support your team."

Gene Frenkle said...

The one thing MU has going in its favor is the fact that we definitely aren't peaking too early. This was the case in the last two years where we limped (literally and figuratively) to the post season and were ousted quickly.

I think if the team can go 2-2 in the next four, it opens things up for at least 12 b.east wins. We'll see. Jerel needs to step up big time.