"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

Thursday, January 01, 2009

MU Grabs First BE Win over Villanova - 79-72

If nothing else, the start of the Big East season has been memorable for Marquette, with three lopsided games.

In 2006 it was Steve Novak's heroics that stunned UConn in MU's first Big East game ever.

In 2007, injuries to Jerel McNeal and Wes Matthews took their toll as MU was blown out by Providence.

In 2008, Marquette paid back PC, pasting them with a 29 point loss.

The 2009 season began unlike the previous three seasons--with a hard fought contest against two closely matched teams. In the end, Jerel McNeal scored 24 and Wesley Matthews posted 19 as MU held off #13 Villanova Wildcats on Thursday by a final of 79-72.

In a game that saw 10 ties, MU used back-to-back jumpers by Mathews and a 3 pointer by McNeal to pace an 11-2 late run that built a 71-61 lead. Matthews, McNeal and Lazar Hayward then combined for 13 of 14 from the line to seal the victory.

In most games, it is a given that MU has an strong edge in the backcourt. However, conventional wisdom going into the game today was that Villanova's own backcourt of Scottie Reynolds, Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher might be just as good as MU's--and the edge that Villanova had inside with Dante Cunningham over Dwight Burke might be the difference in the game.

Cue Pat Hazel and Jimmy Butler.

While MU's frontcourt reserves may not have posted a lockdown defense on Cunningham, they did keep Villanova from gaining a significant advantage in the paint, combining with Dwight Burke to hold VU's frontcourt to just 20 total points--Antonio Pena was scoreless, and reserve Shane Clark posted just 4 points on top of 16 from Cunningham. The most impressive stat: Butler posted 7 boards (5 offensive) in just fifteen minutes. For the game, Cunningham edged Butler by just one rebound--but he played 35 minutes to reach that milestone.

With the inside game in check, Matthews, McNeal, Hayward and James proceeded to do what they do best took what the VU defense gave them--which was not much dribble penetration. Instead, MU shot outstandingly well from the 3 point arc (10 of 24), handled Villanova's 2-3 zone without panicking, and looked like a Big East contender during the last eight minutes of the game.

While the strong play (if not stat-stuffing performance) from MU's frontcourt bench was good to see, the slow start and sloppy play by MU guards was not. Villanova raced off to a 6-0 lead, and MU turned the ball over 19 times for the game--13 in the first half.

To the team's credit, MU was solid in the final eight minutes, with just one turnover down the stretch.

If one was looking for a sign that Coach Buzz Williams had changed his view that Chris Otule and Joe Fulce had earned playing time, they wouldn't have seen it today--neither player saw action, despite both getting extended time against Presbyterian last Sunday.

The game was important for MU to gain advantage on the Wildcats in the Big East conference race. In their picks at start of the season, Big East coaches had MU and VU thisclose in projected standings, with VU slightly edging MU for 5th place.

With the win, Marquette looks to go 2-0 in Big East play for the first time since joining the league when they take on Cincinnati on Saturday. The Bearcats should be a bit rusty, not having played since their 60-45 loss to Memphis on Monday evening.

Here's the roundup of coverage:


Unknown said...

It will be the opponents strategy to get alot of touches for their bigs. We need Fulce and Otule. But Buzz seems to be doing the right thing in getting them back in the flow. They must not be been prepared yet to handle a quality team like Villanova. Maybe Cincinnati. In any regards I say the future looks bright for Marquette this season. Great game MU! I got a feeling this will be an exciting a season.

JohnPudner said...

With the win last night, Pomeroy (www.kenpom.com) has us finishing 21-8, with a 35% chance of upsetting UConn in the Bradley Center our only realistic chance of a 22nd win. However, two things still make me believe we have a higher ceiling. First, I also have Pomeroy's annual book, and based on who all 343 D1 teams have returning from last year's complete body of work, he has us going 13-5 in BE play to finish tied with Gtown and one game behind UConn and Louisville.

Second, last night was my first game in the Bradley Center, and in sitting on floor level behind the backboard, I was really impressed watching how physically Hazel, Burke, and when needed Hayward and Butler were fronting Cunningham away from the ball. I know we used up 9 fouls on the two bigs doing it, but just watching off ball for a whole half gave me some real hope that we may be able to contain some of the elite big men this year enough to win the game in the backcourt. It was great to have most of my children see a great MU win in their first trip to the Bradley Center. Maybe we can get a Alabama to Marquette pipeline going :-)

parentspark24 said...

why has this site started looking like a michael hunt-esque forum. realism, skepticism, and general bad thoughts about the team should not be the focus of a fan website - we all come here to get jacked up for the GEagles, not incessantly reminded of their weaknesses....quit trying to gain media cred and just do what you do best

Unknown said...

Just an FYI: All four of your links to coverage wind up taking you to the same AP story. Nice work, Journal-Sentinel, given that the game was in downtown Milwaukee, across the streets from the newspaper office.

TB said...

Patrick, we've updated the links...thanks for clicking through (also we updated the MJS link -- Rosiak filed for the paper).

ParentsPark24......We're a group of die-hards not Pollyannas. Thanks for reading.

Gene Frenkle said...

A solid, solid win. And, most people reading this site who are die-hards know the limitations of this team...as do the coaches. THey are undersized. We all know it. No need to harp on it all the time. But, we can all look for current guys improving and getting better.

The one thing that I noticed vs. 'nova is that Burke was venturing outside and demanding/calling for the ball. I haven't seen him do that ever. He looked like Otule in the last game. Maybe the coaches said something, maybe it was in the gameplan, but even though he had two points, he contributed more offensively just because he was involved more.

Bring on the natti!

JohnPudner said...

Kind of hard to hate an opposing coach who "loves" your team I guess. Actually rode the elevator up with him at the Hyatt Regency, and when I told him I'd come from Alabama to see MU, he said, "I can't believe how many states people have come from to root for Marquette tomorrow. I keep running into MU fans from different places." Obviously it will be easier to hate Hudgens next Saturday :-)