March Madness has arrived.
Marquette fans experienced the ‘Madness' last season when the sixth-seeded Golden Eagles lost a second round overtime thriller on a last-second shot by Brook Lopez and third-seeded Stanford.
On Friday morning, No. 6 seed Marquette can find a cure for their postseason heartbreak when they face off against No. 11 seed Utah State in first round action. Tip off is set at approximately 11:30 AM CST.
"Overall, we are just excited to be in the tournament and to play again," said senior Wesley Matthews. "It is a fresh season and we are ready and itching to play."
The matchup between the Golden Eagles (24-9) and the Aggies (30-4) will be one of the most anticipated first round matchups due to the teams' opposing styles.
"It's definitely a contrast in style," said Marquette head coach Buzz Williams. "It's a distinct style of play that they have, and as I've told our guys, it's Georgetown and Northern Iowa combined. Utah State has a pattern, but it's not the same every possession."
"It's a unique style of play, but they're the fifth-winningest program since 2000 in the country. Obviously it's a very well-disciplined, yet successful style of play," Williams added.
Despite averaging 1.49 yrs of experience (228th in the country) according to kenpom.com, the Aggies average player age reaches over 21 years old.
Chalk that discrepancy up to some players taking a few years off from school for their Mormon Missions, but that nucleus of older players has helped Utah State run a very disciplines offense that shoots a Division I-best 49.8 percent on field goals. They also take care of the basketball, averaging just over 11 turnovers per game.
The Aggies enter the game as both the regular season and tournament champions of the Western Athletic Conference, and their 30 regular-season wins ranks second in the country.
The Aggies also have the WAC player of the year in 6-foot-9 forward Gary Wilkinson, a big body who can play inside and out.
Another key player has been junior-college transfer Jared Quayle, who transitioned to point guard midway though the season and he has been vital to their success.
"Without Jared Quayle, we're not sitting here today talking about the NCAA Tournament," said Utah State head coach Stew Morrill.
The Aggies' success has left no reason for Marquette to take them lightly.
"They are a good team," said Matthews. "They shoot the ball well. They have two solid 'bigs' and a solid point guard. They make plays. If they didn't, they would not be in this tournament. They are in it to win it just like we are."
"They have a real mature team, and very smart team," said McNeal. "We have to match up mentally and then try to overwhelm them with our physical abilities and athleticism."
Pressuring other teams' guards and getting out in to transition has been Marquette's forte the past two seasons, and it shouldn't be any different come Friday.
The Golden Eagles force a fair number of turnovers and will probably use some of their ‘fast break offense' off made baskets to try and keep opponents on their heels.
As most know, Marquette is without one of their key players, senior guard Dominic James who broke his foot in a game against February 25 against Connecticut. Since the injury, the Golden Eagles are 1-5.
Despite the poor record, there is reason for optimism, as three of the Golden Eagles losses came to teams who are now No. 1 seeds in the tournament.
I think in a lot of ways we've gotten better each of those six games," said Williams. "For every day that has passed, I think that they've gained confidence for what we've got to do to give ourselves a chance for success."
No. 6 Marquette Golden Eagles (24-9) vs. No. 11 Utah State Aggies (30-4)
Taco Bell Arena – Boise, Id.
Friday 11:30 a.m. CST
TV: CBS (Craig Bolerjack/Bob Wenzel with the call)
Probable Aggie Starters
G – Jared Quayle (6'1", 180 lbs.) --- (12.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 38% 3FG)
G – Tyler Newbold (6'4", 200 lbs.) --- (9.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 40% 3FG)
F – Pooh Williams (6'3", 200 lbs.) --- (6.0 ppg, 39% 3FG)
F – Tai Wesley (6'7", 240 lbs.) --- (11.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 59% FG)
F – Gary Wilkinson (6'9" 240 lbs.) --- (17.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 59% FG)
G – Stavon Williams (6'3" 180 lbs.) --- (6.2 ppg, 43% 3FG)
G – Matt Formisano (6'8" 235 lbs.) --- (3.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg)
Head Coach: Stew Morrill (267-90 11th season at Utah State, 485-228 23rd Overall)