After struggling through Seton Hall yesterday, the Golden Eagles (23-8, 11-7) earned their shot to face the third-seeded Irish who rested with a first-round bye. In the first contest this season on Jan. 12, Marquette embarrassed Notre Dame (24-6, 14-4) in Milwaukee by the score of 92-66. The 26-point defeat marked the worst Irish loss under head coach Mike Brey's tenure. In the lopsided game, Jerel McNeal led all Golden Eagles scorers with 18. It was a collective effort, however, as seen by five Marquette players reaching double figures on the day.
Sophomore Luke Harangody tied his then-career high point total with 29 and pulled down 14 rebounds on the day. Unfortunately for the Irish, the Big East Player of the Year didn't get much else to work with that day. Kyle McAlarney finished with only eight points and point guard Tory Jackson finished with six, fouling out with over seven minutes in the contest. The one glaring stat that did the Irish in was a season-high total of 24 turnovers. Overall, Notre Dame played sloppy basketball, and coupled with a poor shooting day, Marquette blew them out of the water.
The stinging defeat was fresh in Irish minds only a month later when the Golden Eagles came into the Joyce Center looking for a repeat. Lucky for those in attendance, Notre Dame wasn't having any of it. Harangody led Irish scoring and rebound once again with 18 and 11 respectively in the 86-83 win. However, the Irish let the Golden Eagles back in the contest in the second half. Within the final six minutes, Notre Dame didn't score a single field goal allowing Marquette to close the gap. One weapon that allowed the Irish to pull out the win was the free-throw line — Notre Dame went 10-for10 down the stretch to keep the Golden Eagles just out of striking distance. Notre Dame repaid its conference rivals with five players in double figures in scoring of their own in the contest.
Look for tonight's match up to feature two squads that are very familiar with each other play physically aggressive basketball. When Notre Dame has the ball, a great deal of touches will almost certainly come Harangody's way. In both games against Marquette this season, the sophomore power forward looked comfortable in the low post primarily against Ousmane Baro. The Irish will look to get their leading scorer started early, and then turn to their perimeter shooting later in the contest to create distance.
One Notre Dame player to watch for is Kyle McAlarney. Although the junior guard didn't have his best performances in either game against the Golden Eagles, it seems as though every time McAlarney is making a homecoming to the New York area, he excels and hits his shots. Marquette is known for its speedy and tenacious guards, so open shots along the perimeter shouldn't be common. Watch for McAlarney to move along the perimeter without the ball, and come off screens to get his looks.
A match up that should be interesting to watch is that of Tory Jackson against Dominic James. Both point guards play very similar styles of basketball, using their speed to penetrate and often times dish the ball to open teammates. In the second game between both squads, James had his way with Jackson late in the game driving past the sophomore on several occasions. To Jackson's defense, he had been plagued with foul trouble the entire game, and his team couldn't afford him to sit out the final minutes.
On the defensive side of the ball, Notre Dame must defend the perimeter, and limit the four-headed monster of James, McNeal, Lazar Hayward and Wesley Matthews. The dangerous tandem accounts for almost 70 percent of the Golden Eagle scoring. In addition to the Jackson-James match up, Zach Hillesland will have his hands full guarding McNeal when the Irish are in man-to-man defense. However, once Brey switches to his 1-2-2 zone, the two players at the high post will need to make quick decisions to neutralize Golden Eagle opportunities along the wings.
The equation is simple. The winner lives another day, while the loser goes home. You can rest assured that this game will be an intense match up of two well-known foes. The stage of the Big East Tournament could cause this game to be an excellent addition to an already storied 88-year old rivalry. May the best man win.