Fresh off an impressive road win over Seton Hall, Marquette (17-6, 7-5) returns home on Friday to host the gritty Pittsburgh Panthers (19-5, 7-4). Tipoff is scheduled for 8pm on ESPN.
Jamie Dixon, who should be the mid-season favorite for Big East coach of the year, has his Panthers riding high despite losing two key starters early in the season. Absent the talented duo of Levance Fields and Mike Cook, Dixon's crew has won three of their last four outings, including an 82-62 thrashing of Providence on Tuesday night.
Dixon will get half of that injured duo back on Friday - -point guard Levance "Don't Tase Me Bro" Fields will play against MU. That'll be an enormous boost to the Panthers who have resorted to playing senior sharpshooter Ronald Ramon at the point, which marginalized his effectiveness as one of the nation's top three-point threats. Fields has been out since breaking his foot on December 29 against Dayton. Fields missed more time for the foot injury than he did for punching an off-duty police officer, allegedly grabbing for the officer's weapon, and ultimately being tased in an incident outside a strip club last September.
In the absence of Cook, Sam Young is turning in an All-Big East caliber season. The 6'7" forward has blossomed in his junior campaign, pouring in 18 points and grabbing seven boards per outing. Young's offensive game is diverse as he is nailing 40% of this attempts from deep, yet leads the Panthers in free throws attempted. Lazar Hayward figures to draw the tough assignment to slow down Young.
As good as Young has been, MU's toughest matchup figures to be DeJuan Blair, the manchild on the frontline for the Panthers. Blair averages a double double in conference play, and the numbers below show how outstanding his performance this year has been. Led by Blair and Young, the Panthers are one of the best rebounding teams in the league.
With Fields back in the mix, MU will need to hit the floor with the same toughness and energy we saw in Newark earlier in the week. Marquette summoned up the moxie and energy that was missing for much of the Big East season as they silenced the chippy Pirates. The Golden Eagles dominated the Pirates on the glass, held them to just 38% shooting, and had an impressive 13 assists on just 30 made field goals.
Crean's squad played .500 ball during its recent four-game stretch which included three games on the road. Record aside, Marquette showed flashes of becoming the team which dominated Wisconsin and nearly topped Duke in both the Notre Dame loss and the Seton Hall win. In fact, some fans have made it back to Jonestown. If the Golden Eagles expect to make a charge for one of the four first-round byes in the Big East Tournament, a win over the Panthers -- who lead MU by 1/2 a game - - is a must.
MU will honor the 2003 Final Four team at Friday's game, with many former players and coaches expected to be in attendance. In addition, Converse will be filming a TV commercial at the 12-minute mark of the first half. Both activities, combined with a Friday night game, are sure to have the crowd in a raucous mood. Could there be a Dwyane Wade appearance to further pump up the rowdiness?
Here are the Top Five Numbers to Know about Pittsburgh. As always, information comes from Pomeroy's Scouting Report and Game Plan.
- 76% - Pomeroy predicts a 76% chance of victory for Marquette
- 14 - Pitt is the #14 team in the country at Offensive Efficiency
- Think Pitt is winning games with their defense? Their defense is #44 in the country, which is decent but not as strong as their offense.
- However, three of Pitt's last six opponents have been held to low Efficiencies
- Marquette is the #16 team in the country at Offensive Efficiency and the #17 team in the country at Defensive Efficiency. Will we be able to shut Pitt down?
- 8 - Pitt is the #8 team in the country at Offensive Rebounding Percentage (OR%)
- The Panthers secure 41.1% of all potential Offensive Rebounds to help bolster that offensive efficiency
- 265 - Pitt's national rank at Pace
- Pitt averages one of the slowest paces in the country for games at just under 65 possessions / game
- 45 - The jersey number of DeJuan Blair
- Blair is the fifth best Offensive Rebounder in the country. He grabs over 17% of all potential ORs.
- Blair is also #35 in the country at grabbing steals during games, at a steal on 4.6% of all possessions
- For comparison, McNeal is only at #50 in the country
As for Levance, well.....
- GoMarquette.com game notes/preview
- The Associated Press on Fields' return to action
- Rosiak on the return of the Final Four team
- Scout.com's game preview
- PittBlather is thrilled to have Fields back in action
- Big East Basketball Report with a great preview of the game.