The surging Marquette Golden Eagles will face the struggling Rutgers Scarlet Knights at the Bradley Center on Wednesday night.
While Marquette has taken the Big East by storm, amassing an 11-3 conference record, Rutgers has been unable to find success against Big East opponents, going only 4-11.
Though they have a losing record, the Scarlet Knights have proven that they can compete in big games this season. Earlier this year, Rutgers hosted both Florida and UConn and came out victorious. More recently, Rutgers fell to Georgetown by only two points and was able to keep pace with Syracuse until the very end.
The Scarlet Knights' troubles this season are due, in part, to their lack of experience. Of the six Rutgers players who average more than 20 minutes per game, one is a junior, two are sophomores, and three are freshmen. To make matters worse, Rutgers is in the middle of the toughest stretch of their schedule, as Marquette will be their fourth ranked opponent in five games.
The Golden Eagles, on the other hand, have won 10 of their last 11 contests with their lone setback coming to a hot Notre Dame team in South Bend. Marquette rebounded from that loss by playing some of their best basketball all season, winning their next three games by a combined margin of 45 points.
Though the Golden Eagles have only faced one opponent in the last seven days, Jae Crowder was named Big East player of the week for his 29 point, 12 rebound performance against UConn. Crowder has really caught his stride lately, scoring over 20 points in four of Marquette's last six contests. He has made his presence felt defensively as well, as he leads the Golden Eagles with 63 steals this season and is second on the team with 25 blocks.
Crowder's defensive tenacity, when coupled with Jamil Wilson's athleticism and length, more than makes up for Marquette's lack of a true big man. Ever since Davante Gardner went down with a knee injury in late January, the Golden Eagles have been forced to find new ways to deal with opposing post players.
Marquette has responded by doubling the ball whenever it gets passed down low with both Crowder and Wilson. Look for Marquette's forwards to harass the young Rutgers big men into turnovers in the low post.
The Scarlet Knights will look to their backcourt tandem of Eli Carter and Myles Mack to create offense, as the two freshman guards are only players who average at least 10 points per game for Rutgers this season. Standing six-foot-two and five-foot-nine respectively, Carter and Mack rely on their quickness, rather than size, to thrive offensively.
The Golden Eagles have won each of their last five matchups with Rutgers, but if they want to extend that streak to six, Marquette will need to take the Scarlet Knights seriously. If Marquette allows them to hang around all game, Rutgers could very easily cause some serious problems down the stretch. Look for the Golden Eagles to come out working hard for an early lead to remove all hope.
Tipoff at the Bradley Center is set for 7 pm CST.
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