However, the most talented player on the Friars' roster is sophomore Geoff McDermott. The 6'7" forward is match-up nightmare because he is extremely quick and athletic, with superb leaping ability, but he's also extremely strong. MU doesn't really have anyone who can match up with him. He is too strong for Fitzgerald and too quick and athletic for Lott. Hayward might be Marquette's best option, but his inexperience may hurt him, especially since he hasn't guarded anyone as versatile as McDermott so far in his career. McDermott is averaging a double-double (11.1 ppg and 10.3 rpg) and incredible accomplishment for a power forward. He has recorded double-figure rebound totals in eight of 13 games. He's even extended his range to become a threat from behind the arc as his three-point shooting percentage of 40.9 illustrates. However, the area in which McDermott has improved the most is in his playmaking ability as he is averaging 5.4 apg. His assist/turnover ratio is an impressive 1.6/1.0. Add to all that the fact that McDermott is a solid defender who has averaged 2.0 steals per game. McDermott is well on his way to all-conference honors at the end of the season.
As much improvement as Hill and McDermott have shown this season compared to last year, the most improved player is guard Weyinmi Efejuku. The 6'5" sophomore is averaging 15.3 ppg and 4.3 rpg. He has become a much better shooter as his field goal percentage of 53.1% illustrates. He's hitting 46% (23 of 50) from three-point range, a significant improvement over last season. He's also hitting 78% of his free throws, so he's not a good man to foul. According to reports, Efejuku's progress has been predicated on a better feel/understanding of the game. He is seeing the court more clearly and making better decisions. If the award for Most Improved Player in the conference were given at this point, Efejuku would probably be among the top three contenders.
The Friars have been basically a four-player team this year, but MU will almost certainly not have to face exciting point guard Sharaud Curry, who has had as fine a non-conference season as any point guard in the league. Presently serving a suspension for an unspecified breach of team rules, Curry was averaging 17.3 ppg and 5.6 apg and had a solid assist/turnover ratio of 1.8/1.0. The problem for Providence extends beyond Curry's stats, however. He is a true point guard who knows how to get his teammates involved, and without him the Friars' offense was out of sync against Florida State.
Freshman Dwain Williams took over at point the last two games. He's a decent ball handler, but he's more of a combo guard than a true point. In fact, he may be Providence's best outside shooter as he's hitting 48.3% of three-pointers. However, he's been streaky. He made 4 of 5 treys in one game and 5 of 6 in another. However, the last two games he's made only 2 of 9 treys. There's also no one to play back-up point off the bench, which means that if Williams gets in foul trouble, Efejuku will probably take over the point, a position in which he's not very comfortable.
The Friars' primary reserve in the frontcourt is another sophomore, Jonathan Kale. He's been effective in his 15.2 mpg, averaging 6.9 ppg and 3.8 rpg. He's a physical player, who likes to bang under the hoop.
Providence has been a solid offensive team as they are fourth in the conference in scoring at 80.5 ppg, but they are 15th in scoring defense, allowing just under 70 ppg. They are second in the league in field goal percentage (50.5%) but 14th in field goal percentage defense (43.5%). The are fourth in three-point field goal percentage at 38.7%, but are 13th in three-point field goal percentage defense (35.9%).
The Friars are strong on the boards as they are third in the conference in rebound margin at +9.5. They also rank high in blocked shots (fourth at 4.9 blocks per game). Furthermore, they are fourth in assists at 17.8 apg, but their assist/turnover ratio is only 1.1/1.0. Without Curry, they will probably have fewer assists than normal and probably more turnovers.
The key to the game may well be whether or not Marquette can hit a decent percentage of its outside shots. On defense, the Friars play primarily zone, but they have been having trouble with their rotations when the ball is reversed, so their opponents have been getting some open looks at the hoop. If Fitzgerald, Cubillan, James, and hopefully Matthews and McNeal can knock down a decent percentage of treys, Providence could be in trouble. If MU suffers one of its well-chronicled dry spells from the perimeter, it will be extremely difficult to win because the Friars do such a solid job on the defensive boards.
Even without Curry, Providence is not a team to be taken lightly. They are definitely better than they were last year, and they present match-up problems for MU at at least two positions. Still, if McNeal and Matthews are healthy, the Warriors have a good chance of coming away with a win. Without one or both of them, it could be a long night.
**Eric Silver is a prominent poster at MarquetteHoops.com under the name "Silver Warrior". He is also a contributing writer for CHN - College Hoops Network.