The Golden Eagles return home to the Bradley Center to take on No. 25/22 West Virginia (11-3, 1-1) on Saturday.
The Mountaineers hope to get back on track after a tough loss at home to No. 5/5 Connecticut on Tuesday. No. 18/15 Marquette (14-2, 3-0) will look to continue their six-game winning streak, including three straight against Big East opponents. Marquette has the opportunity to start conference play at 4-0 for the first time since the 1993-1994 season.
A key advantage for the Mountaineers will be their depth, with ability to score off the bench. West Virginia boasts seven players who average more than 5.5 points-per-game, while Marquette has only four.
A key matchup at point guard will pit Marquette's Dominic James against West Virginia's Darryl Bryant. Bryant, a true freshman, took over for the injured Joe Mazzulla and has only started 7 games this season. James, the four-year starter, has been playing exceptionally well this year and has a real opportunity to exploit Bryant's inexperience. James is coming off a 15-point, six-assist performance at Rutgers Wednesday night.
The Mountaineers biggest offensive threat is shooting guard Alex Ruoff. He leads the team in scoring with 16.8 points-per-game and is a serious threat from 3-point range. West Virginia also has an offensive minded big man in Da'Sean Butler, who is averaging 15.6 points-per-game. At 6'7", Butler could cause matchup problems for the Golden Eagles on defense.
Meanwhile, Wesley Matthews has the hot hand for Marquette, having shot a perfect 10-for-10 from the floor and 3-for-6 from the foul line in a 23-point effort Wednesday night in Piscataway, N.J.. The senior is leading the team in scoring with 19.3 points-per-game this season, thanks in large part to his ability to drive the lane. Matthews frequent play in the paint contributes to high-percentage shots (53.9 percent FG), and has earned the 6'5" forward a team-leading 137 free-throw attempts, where he is shooting 82.5 percent.
Marquette will face a serious height-disadvantage on Saturday, as the Mountaineers start three players 6'7" or taller. Along with Butler, the 6'7" Wellington Smith is also a threat from outside. The biggest challenge for the Golden Eagles, however, may be the inside presence of 6'9" Devin Ebanks, who is pulling down 6.4 rebounds-per-game.
Marquette's speed should compensate somewhat for their lack of height defensively. The Golden Eagles will rely on their closing speed to defend against kick outs from the post to Ruoff. And their speed at the guard positions has caused turnovers all season – James is third in the Big East in steals while McNeal is tied for sixth. The key to victory for Marquette might just be their ability to cause Mountaineer turnovers and convert them into points.
Tip off from the Bradley Center is set for 11:00 AM CST. The game will be available on ESPN Full Court.
Mike Adleman is a freshman on the Marquette Radio sports staff.