With just six Big East games left this season, MU remains in the thick of the NCAA tournament hunt. With an RPI hovering near 30, the Golden Eagles can strengthen their case with a late-season road victory this weekend. A win at the RAC would be MU's third conference road win of the season, potentially separating the Golden Eagles from the pack on Selection Sunday. A loss would put MU's NCAA tournament hopes in doubt,, particularly with tough games next week against Pittsburgh and Georgetown at the Bradley Center.
The Scarlet Knights are paced by the prolific Quincy Douby, the Big East's leading scorer at better than 24 points per game. Unfortunately for Rutgers, Douby is the only player on the roster averaging double figures although senior Marquis Webb averages nine points per contest, scoring in double figures in seven of his last eight outings. Webb, RU's best perimeter defender, will likely matchup with Novak.
Injuries have contributed to Rutgers' recent slide. Coach Gary Waters lost both J.R. Inman and Adrian Hill to injury within the last two weeks. Inman, a promising freshman post man, was averaging nearly nine points and five rebounds per game. The injury woes continued against Notre Dame on Wednesday when freshman point guard Anthony Farmer did not play because of an injured shoulder, and center Byron Jones left the game early due to a lingering toe injury. Farmer is expected to play on Sunday, while Jones' status remains very much in doubt. Rutgers' strategy for this game might be determined by the health of both Farmer and Jones. Against the Irish, Coach Waters tried to shorten the game by using most of the shot clock to protect his injury-depleted roster, but Notre Dame's depth and shooting ability thwarted that move.
With a depleted roster, to know Rutgers is to know one player: Douby. For MU fans of a more recent vintage, this RU squad is similar to the Larry Hughes-led SLU teams from the mid-1990s. Douby is a gifted scorer, and he'll get his shots. In fact, the last time Douby attempted fewer than fifteen shots in a game was on Decmember 15, and he's scored 20 or more points in 14 of the last 18 games. In each of the last three games, Douby has attempted at least 25 shots and averaged a mind-boggling 32ppg. With MU's deep backcourt, coach Tom Crean will be able to throw a number of different defensive looks at Douby. Jerel McNeal, Dan Fitzgerald, Joe Chapman and Wesley Matthews all figure to rotate into this tough assignment.
Marquette will look to rebound from a rough week of its own. The Golden Eagles blew a double-digit lead in the second half at Villanova, failing to claim what would have been a signature road win in conference play. Turnovers plagued the Golden Eagles as they coughed the ball up 25 times against the Wildcats . Remarkably, Dominic James and Jerel McNeal combined for eleven turnovers -- one less than the entire Villanova team.
Upon returning to Milwaukee after the game, coach Tom Crean revealed that both Jamil Lott (mononucleosis) and Mike Kinsella (emergency appendectomy) would be out indefinitely. Given Rutgers' own struggles in the paint this season, the loss of these two upper classmen should not limit the Golden Eagles' attack this weekend. On a positive note, the week off should aid Dominic James' recovery from an injury to his right shoulder and accelerate Wesley Matthews' re-acclimation to competitive hoops. Matthews, who played only nine minutes against Villanova in his second game back following a foot injury, could become a difference maker for MU down the stretch.
In a league where road wins are precious, the scheduling gods have presented MU with a golden opportunity this weekend. With a healthier James and Matthews to go along with one full week to prepare, the Golden Eagles can prove once again that good teams take advantage of opportunity, even on the road.
*Note: Article for MarquetteHoops.com by Tim Blair of Cracked Sidewalks.