When Marquette and Kentucky renew acquaintances on Thursday in Anaheim, the Golden Eagles will look to earn their first NCAA tournament win since the magical run to the 2003 Final Four - - a run that included a memorable win over the then top-seeded Wildcats.
Five years later, the roles are reversed and the pressure is squarely on the Golden Eagles. Despite making its third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, the Marquette fanbase is desperate for a win in March, and as a healthy, higher-seeded team, expectations are understandably high in Warrior Nation.
Against a thin Kentucky squad that goes only six or seven deep, look for the Golden Eagles to commit to a faster pace -- and to drive and dish more than usual. As we saw last week in New York, MU will push the ball off of both makes and misses -- secondary fast break baskets are a vital part of the arsenal -- to create a decidedly up-tempo game that minimizes halfcourt sets.
Of course, we also saw the Ghost of Offensive Despair in the Big East Tournament when MU endured a 13 minute stretch without a made field goal against Pitt .......a bitter reminder of MU's abominable offensive effort against Michigan State in last season's NCAA tournament.
Absent effective shooters, Marquette has struggled against teams that lock down the paint -- much like the Wildcats have done this season. Since January when facing teams that defend the interior exceptionally well -- Louisville, UConn and Georgetown -- Marquette went a combined 0-5 and shot roughly 31% in those games. Realize that UK has a similar defensive profile, but the Wildcats turn the ball over more than just about anybody you'd expect to see in the NCAA tournament. Therein lies a key to the game.
We've already run detailed numbers previews for Kentucky and Marquette -- and now it is finally time for our favorite time of year, Basketball Christmas season. Moreover, Hilltopper says MU won't lose on his birthday. Ah, it really is the most wonderful time of the year (if MU wins on Thursday). Anyway, here is the boiled down version for the game. As always, information comes from Pomeroy's Scouting Report and Game Plan.
Top Five Numbers to Know about Marquette v. Kentucky
- 80% - Pomeroy predicts an 80% chance of Marquette victory
- 291 - Kentucky's rank at protecting the ball
- Kentucky turns the ball over on almost one out of every four possessions
- Marquette is #48 in the country at forcing turnovers
- 25 - Kentucky's rank at getting to the Free Throw line
- They get to the line 30% of the time that they take a shot
- Marquette is #264 in the country at preventing our opponents from shooting free throws
- 63.9 - Average number of possessions for Kentucky
- This is one of the slowest paces in the country (#281)
- Tempo will play a huge role in the game
- 6 - The rank of Marquette's defense according to Pomeroy
- This is anchored by our tough perimeter defense at getting steals (#5 in the nation) and preventing three-pointers (#3 in the nation)
- Be confident that we have an elite defense
- Don't forget to join the Cracked Sidewalks/MUScoop pick'em contest -- just for fun.
- The Journal-Sentinel has a cool widget that breaks down the individual matchups for the game here.
- Rosiak blogged overnight -- good info on UK and more.
- Kentucky Sports Radio (ESPN Radio in Louisville's blog) previews the game. Nice work Matt!
- Yahoo! on the Blue Collar Cats.
- Nick Williams was named Alabama 6A Player of the Year (Tip: John Pudner) by the Alabama Sports Writers Association. Congratulations, Nick, and we're excited to have you join the team next year. By the way, don't forget to check out Nick Williams' wiki page.
- The Omaha World-Herald has a great story about the fight between Bernard Toone and Al McGuire in 1977 (Tip: Ben), which helped kick-start MU's run to the National Championship. Great story, although I think that such events would receive decidedly less favorable coverage in 2008.
- The SportsLifer wonders if there is a Cinderella to be had this year (he figures MU was one in 2003).
- Rosiak says MU wants to avoid the slow starts that have plagued them in the NCAAs.
- Lunardi picks MU to win by 15 in the opening round.
- CBS Sportsline gives MU the nod too over UK as well.
- Seth Davis -- well, he picks MU to fall short against the Wildcats. However, Wisconsin native Luke Winn sees MU flying into the Sweet 16. Nice.
- Chicago Tribune on UK - - happy to be back in the tourney.
- Buzz Williams talks up his old boss, Billy Gillispie.
- The Louisville Courier-Journal talks about the impact of the 2003 MU win over UK on the recruiting trail.