The Marquette Golden Eagles, winners of three straight, will look to extend their win streak when the struggling Rutgers Scarlet Knights visit the Bradley Center this afternoon. After playing uninspired basketball for nearly a month, Marquette (19-6, 9-5) recaptured its early-season intensity and rhythm late in the loss at Notre Dame and promptly pounded their next three opponents, two of them on the road.
The Golden Eagles appear to be peaking at the right time, and much of the credit for the recent run goes to improved play of Dominic James. In the last four games, James has a gaudy A/TO ratio of seven to one. 7 to 1! Perhaps not so coincidentally, James has also seen a spike in minutes played, logging at least 31 minutes in each of the last four games - his longest stretch of consecutive 30+ minute games this season. For MU the equation is simple once more -- good things happen when James is healthy and taking charge on the floor.
With James playing well and Jerel McNeal turning in back-to-back solid performances, Marquette is a confident bunch. Contrast this with Rutgers, who come to town riding six-game losing streak. The Scarlet Knights played Notre Dame tough last week before falling 73-68 at the RAC. The Scarlet Knights are led by 6'9" JR Inman at 12ppg, though the bulk of the scoring from this group comes from the backcourt. Guards Corey Chandler, Anthony Farmer and Mike Coburn combine to average thirty points per game.
Regardless, points are tough to come by for RU. The Scarlet Knights are last in the Big East in field goal percentage (39%) and make just 65% of their free throw attempts. Still, shooting percentages aren't the only numbers that kept Fred Hill awake all night. Rutgers' Big East worst turnover margin and assist totals don't add up to success against a team with a veteran backcourt, particularly when Marquette is one of the best in league at both steals per game and turnover margin.
Marquette stands to be a hellish matchup for the Scarlet Knights.
With a 13-1 home record this season, MU has every reason to be confident on Saturday. Still, there are plenty of concerns for coach Tom Crean:
- Lazar Hayward: The sophomore has struggled in the last two outings, hampered by foul trouble and a lack of touches on offense. With Trevor Mbakwe in the mix and commanding more playing time, will there be a net loss of effectiveness in Hayward's offensive game?
- Ousmane Barro: The big fella remains an enigma. Barro followed up his 14 point, 12 rebound effort against Pitt with a 6 point, three rebound, five foul effort against St. John's. The Golden Eagles are 18-2 when Barro scores 10 points or more. With odds like that, Barro needs to deliver. Thankfully, it looks like the Great Dwight Burke Experiment is largely over, so Ooze should have a chance to contribute more down the stretch.
- Maurice Acker: The little fella has played himself out of the rotation, logging an average of just four minutes per game in MU's last four outings. Acker's disappearance only increases the pressure on David Cubillan to deliver quality minutes at the point. While Cubillan remains a legitimate three-point threat, his east-west tendencies when directing the offense run counter to MU's up and down strengths. Still, it's clear that Acker's minutes are flowing more to James than Cubillan -- and Crean is content to increase James' workload.