"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

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Marquette faces New Jersey road test

Marquette (13-2, 2-0) will look to extend its best-ever start in BIG EAST play on Wednesday when they travel to Rutgers (9-6, 0-2).

The game pits a pair of teams moving in opposite directions in the opening stages of conference play, with Rutgers stumbling to an 0-2 start after a disappointing out of conference performance that saw the Scarlet Knights lose to Binghampton, St. Bonaventure and Lehigh. Nevertheless, two of those three home losses occurred in November, and the Scarlet Knights did give the nation's top team all it could handle just a week ago before falling late. In addition, even with the early home losses Rutgers is a stronger defensive team at home allowing just 0.92 points per possession (vs 1.07 on the road).

On the court, Rutgers and Marquette have seemingly opposite strengths as well. Fred Hill's bunch has one of the conference's most productive frontlines led by impressive freshman Gregory Echinque who averages nine points, nine boards and nearly three blocks per game. Echinque's efficient play is complemented by one of the nation's best shot blockers, Hamady N'Diaye who blocks nearly four shots a night. Rutgers leads the conference in blocks, and is #12 in the country at defensive eFG%.

Meanwhile, MU should have a distinct advantage in the backcourt despite the presence of high-scoring freshman Mike Rosario (17ppg). The Scarlet Knights are more prone to turning the ball over than just about any team in the BIG EAST, and worse yet for coach Fred Hill, Rutgers is one of the least effective teams in the country at forcing turnovers. In the end, the Scarlet Knights are last in the conference in turnover margin and often struggle to score, averaging 66 points per game to Marquette's 81.

While road wins are tough to come by in the BIG EAST, the tilt at Rutgers is clearly a winnable game for Marquette. The Golden Eagles are surging after a pair of home wins where MU shot an insane 51% from 3-point territory and 50% overall. In particular, the performance against Cincy was off the charts. Led by BIG EAST player of the week Jerel McNeal, the Marquette backcourt is in high-gear already.

As impressive as McNeal was last week on offense, Dominic James' defensive performance was equally stunning. James pitched a shutout last weekend, keying a defense that held Cincinnati's Deonta Vaughn scoreless on Sunday. For the season, James also leads MU in steals and is clearly the team's top on-the-ball defender. Two years ago Jerel McNeal was the BIG EAST's top defender, but he's not even the premier backcourt defender on his own team today. James is clearly reaping the benefits of returning for his senior season.

Tonight's game marks MU's second road game of the season. Dominic James' game-winner keyed the Golden Eagles' win at North Carolina State last month.

Now let's look at the numbers. Although Pomeroy gives MU an 83% chance of winning, Rob's model calculates a more realistic view of 54% chance of victory. According to the model, here are the keys to the game.

1. Force Rutgers into a turnover rate of 27% or higher

  • This translates to 18 turnovers, which is three more than their average
  • At their season average, Rutgers wins (win percentage of 58%)
2. Achieve an eFG% of 41% or higher
  • This translates to 21 made field goals (including 7 three pointers), which is seven less than season average
  • At MU season average, MU win percentage is 90%
3. Hold Rutgers to an eFG% of 45% or less
  • This translates to 21 made field goals (including five 3-pointers)
  • At their season average, Rutgers wins (win percentage of 58%)
4. Limit Rutgers to OR% of 27% or less
  • This translates to 10 offensive rebounds, which is one less than their season average
  • At season average, Rutgers wins (win percentage of 52%)
In an average paced game (68 possessions), Marquette should win due to a significant advantage on turnover rate. Field goal percentage and offensive rebounding percentage will be essentially even, but Rutgers should have the advantage at getting to the free throw line. We're predicting a defensively oriented game, where Marquette squeaks out with the ugly win and gets out of town fast.

Tipoff is scheduled for 6:30pm CT. The game will be broadcast on the BIG EAST Network.

Media Updates
*Tim Blair and Rob Lowe contributed to this piece.

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