In one of its biggest regular season home games in years, Marquette (23-4, 12-2) will look to deliver an emphatic statement to the BIG EAST on Wednesday night when UConn pays a visit to the Bradley Center.
Already with four seasons of at least 10 wins in BIG EAST play, the Three Amigos have another milestone in sight: a conference title. With 43 career conference wins to date, James, Matthews and McNeal have put MU in position to claim that elusive crown. Of course, MU now faces its toughest stretch of the season -- each of the next three opponents are ranked in the top 10, and two of those three are on the road.
Against the backdrop of Marquette's first-ever midweek sellout at the Bradley Center the storylines here are both obvious and compelling:
- Two top 10 teams fighting for the BIG EAST title.
- A ginormous team against a bunch of mites.
- A home team with a 17 game winning streak against an opponent who is 9-0 on the road this year.
- The conference's highest scoring team (MU) faces the best defensive team in the league.
Last time out the previously top-ranked Huskies (25-2, 13-2) buried USF in Hartford 64-50. UConn is led by its bruising frontcourt where Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun has the BIG EAST's only teammates averaging double-doubles. 7'3" Hasheem Thabeet averages 13 points, 10 boards and 4.4 blocks per game while power forward Jeff Adrien is good for 13 points, 10 boards and one block per night.
While the Huskies have arguably the most intimidating front line in the nation, the loss of shoooting guard Jerome Dyson and his 13 points per outing could play right into Marquette's hands. AJ Price (12 points, 4.5 assists) runs the show for the Huskies, and they must now rely on senior Craig Austrie and freshman Kemba Walker to control the action against MU.
Tipoff is scheduled for 6pm Milwaukee time on ESPN. Dick Vitale will be in the house, so it's a great time to mute your television and use your DVR to sync with Homer and Jim McIlvaine on the Marquette Radio Network for the play by play.
Now let's look at the numbers. As always, this information comes from Pomeroy's scouting report.
1. Defensive Field Goal percentage – Connecticut is #2 in the country at defensive eFG% (41.9%). They're #4 at preventing two-point baskets and #20 at preventing threes. A lot of this is because they are #4 in the country at blocking shots. They block shots on almost one in five possessions... think about that.
2. Winning the free throw battle - UConn is #1 in the country at defensive free throw rate. Opponents only have a FTA / FGA rate of 17.8%. Plus, they're #10 in the country at offensive free throw rate. They get to the line at a percentage of 46.7%. Don't expect Marquette to make more free throws than our opponent attempts on Wed.
3. Offensive Rebounding – UConn is #13 in the country at offensive rebounding. They get 39.7% of all missed field goals.
4. Protecting the ball – UConn is #33 in the country at protecting the ball. They turn it over on only 18% of all possessions
1. Forcing turnovers – UConn only forces a turnover on 17.4% of all possessions (#324 in the country)
2. Nothing else
UConn is good at a lot of things. So how does Marquette beat them tomorrow night? Here are specific recommendations in order of importance:
- Stop Connecticut from making shots -- hold the Huskies to an eFG% of 48% or less, which is just under their average. At an eFG% of 53% (28 FGM), UConn wins.
- Make shots -- at an eFG% of 44% or higher. This is 21 FGM, which is six less than MU's average. At their season average, MU wins by 15. In other words, don't let UConn's defense completely melt down MU's offense.
- Protect the ball -- at a turnover rate of 15% or less. This is ten turnovers for MU (two less than season's average). At thirteen turnovers, MU loses.
- Force turnovers -- force a UConn turnover rate of 27% or higher. This is six more turnovers than their season average. At their average, UConn wins by three.
- Prevent offensive rebounds -- hold UConn OR% of 38% or less. This is three more offensive rebounds than their average -- UConn is a great rebounding team.
- Get offensive rebounds -- ensure an MU OR% of 33% or higher. This is right around Marquette’s average
Pomeroy only predicts a 42% chance of MU victory. However, our model expects Marquette to win by four points (66% chance of victory). Why do we think Marquette will win? A significant advantage on turnovers and that’s it. UConn is predicted to control each of the other three factors: field goal percentage, offensive rebounding, and free throw rate. Whatever can be done to keep the disparity relatively close on field goal percentage will be critical.
The need to have a pronounced turnover discrepancy highlights why Dyson's absence is potentially huge. Coming into tonight's game, UConn's turnover margin is basically flat, whereas MU enjoys a +4 advantage on assists to turnovers.
The last fifteen minutes of the Georgetown game were a great example of how important forcing turnovers are for Buzz Williams' guys. By limiting GU's field goal attempts and possessions down the stretch, MU created more opportunities for itself and mitigated many of the other factors that were potentially less favorable. The same holds true tonight.
In case you missed it, today's revealing New York Times feature story addresses Buzz Williams' focus on stats in game planning (among other interesting points).
Also, here's a fantastic feature in USA Today on Buzz......its a banner day for the MU athletic department's media relations team.
- Rosiak on Thabeet
- Rosiak on the high stakes for tonight's game
- Audio preview from the JS
- Journal Sentinel breaks down the matchups
- Jeff Goodman's video preview of the game
- Jerel McNeal makes the cut for the Naismith Award midseason list
- Here's the Hartford Courant's hoops blog--more to come there
- WISN and the AP team up on this preview
- Vote for MU signee Erik Williams here -- for POY in Houston
- MU game notes
- Hartford Courant game preview