Tom Crean's squad returns home after consecutive road losses against Villanova and Rutgers. MU held a double-digit lead midway through the second half against the Wildcats, only to succumb to turnovers and second chance points late in the game. Against Rutgers, MU's lackluster defense led to a 52-point second half outburst by the Scarlet Knights. As for Georgetown, the Hoyas' seven-game winning streak was snapped over the weekend by the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Less than two weeks ago, Marquette was riding high after a 6-3 start in conference play, but begin the final stretch of the season in search of a victory to put them back inside the bubble. The Golden Eagles close with three of their last five at home, including Georgetown and Pittsburgh this week. In order to keep their surprising NCAA tournament hopes alive, MU needs to draw at least a split this weekend - - a tall order against two of the Big East's best programs.
Coach John Thompson directs the Big East's most balanced offensive team, six Hoyas average between 9ppg and 12ppg. While not particularly deep, the Hoyas are the most efficient offensive team in the league, leading the Big East in field goal percentage while turning the ball over just 11 times per game. The Hoyas are paced by the talented forward combo of sophomore Jeff Green and senior Brandon Bowman. Green played his best basketball in the Hoyas' recent hot streak, averaging better than 16ppg during the last seven outings. Brandon Bowman scored a season-high 23 points in the Hoyas' upset of Duke last month, and has been in double figures in eight of the last 10 games. Green and Bowman, along with 7'2" Roy Hibbert will present matchup problems for Marquette, particularly in man to man situations. MU simply does not matchup well with the Hoyas in the frontcourt. Green and Bowman, both talented enough to create off the dribble while facing the basket, consistently will force MU into help defense situations on the wings.
In the backcourt, the Hoyas are led by the steady Ashanti Cook and Jon Wallace. Both shoot the ball very well (each at nearly 44% from 3-point territory), and if their shots are falling the Hoyas' advantage inside will be more pronounced. After surrendering 32 points to Rutgers' Quincy Douby on 50% shooting, one would expect the Golden Eagles to defend the perimeter more effectively on Thursday night.. In addition, look for the Golden Eagles to change defenses regularly, and to play more matchup zone than we've seen of late.
While Georgetown undoubtedly carries an advantage up front, the backcourt edge should be in MU's favor. A key for Marquette will be Dominic James and Jerel McNeal's ability to penetrate and create opportunities for teammates freed up by rotating defenders, particularly Steve Novak and Joe Chapman. Brandon Bowman will likely draw the task of defending Novak, who will look to return to form after a 5-15 performance against Rutgers. The Hoyas' backcourt of Cook and Wallace can struggle to contain dribble penetration, as they did against West Virginia where J.D. Collins handed out seven assists, nearly double his season average.
The game could come down to whether or not MU's backcourt can outperform the Georgetown frontcourt. If the MU guards can disrupt the Hoyas' offensive flow, MU could create a higher tempo game than the Hoyas normally prefer, which could negate the advantage Hibbert brings to the floor. With James, McNeal, Fitzgerald, Chapman and Matthews perhaps coach Tom Crean will extend the defensive pressure against a Hoyas team that prefers a more deliberate pace.
**Note: Article for MarquetteHoops.com by Tim Blair (http://marquettebasketball.blogspot.com)