Notre Dame (12-6, 3-4) and Marquette (17-2, 6-0) is a matchup of a pair of squads headed in opposite directions. As the Irish have dropped three straight, the Golden Eagles have ripped off nine wins in a row and looking to improve on their league-best undefeated Big East record.
The Golden Eagles are coming off of their 79-70 defeat of DePaul on Saturday, while Notre Dame will try to erase the memory of its 69-61 loss against Connecticut, marking the first home loss the Irish have suffered dating back to 2006. The contest will display a pair of two of the highest-scoring offenses, as Marquette ranks 10th in scoring in the nation with 81.6 points per game, while the Irish rank 13th with 81.2.
Golden Eagles first-year coach Buzz Williams has his squad firing on all cylinders thanks in part to its guard play. Marquette typically starts three guards, all of which score in double figures. Senior shooting guard Wesley Matthews is averaging career highs in points, assists and rebounds with 19.2, 2.6 and 5.5 respectively.
Fellow classmate Jerel McNeal is also a potent scoring threat, ranking second-best on the Golden Eagles with 18.9 points per contest. The senior has displayed a knack for knocking down long-range shots and is converting on 46.4 percent of his three-point field goals this season. McNeal is also averaging 4.6 rebounds per game to go along with his 3.4 assists.
The floor general leading Marquette's operation is point guard Dominic James, who feeds his teammates with the ball through excellent court vision. Although the senior's point production has steadily declined since his freshman year, James is averaging 5.4 assists per game, and had a season-high nine against DePaul Saturday. Besides his ability to distribute the ball, James also is capable of putting points on the board, and has shown that skill this season, netting up to 19 points in a November loss to Dayton. This season, he is averaging 11.4 points per game, good enough for fourth on the squad.
In addition to the dynamic guard trio, forward Lazar Hayward is part of the four-headed scoring monster, averaging 16.5 points per game, giving Marquette four players who score in double figures.
Marquette's reliance on its guard play comes at a price, however. Hayward, at 6-foot-6 is the team's leading rebounder with 8.8 boards per contest. Other than the junior, there is not another legitimate threat when it comes to crashing the boards, or a low-post defensive presence. The Golden Eagles rank 12th in the Big East in rebounding with 36.7 boards per contest. Notre Dame, by comparison, is fourth in the conference in rebounding with 40.4 per game.
Come Monday night, Irish power forward Luke Harangody should have his opportunity to excel in the paint with the lack of size that Marquette features. The reigning Big East Player of the Year is averaging a team-high 24.8 points and 13.1 rebounds per game. To neutralize the junior's efficiency, Marquette will most likely place the responsibility of guarding Harangody on the shoulders of forward Dwight Burke, who serves as the most physical low-post presence on the squad.
Another interesting matchup to watch for Monday night will be the duel between James, and Irish point guard Tory Jackson. Both players are adept at setting the tempo in transition, and can penetrate through defenses, often times finding an open teammate for a better shot.
One change that could become evident come Monday for the Irish is an increase in the role of Notre Dame's bench players, or perhaps a change in the starting lineup. After the loss to Connecticut, coach Mike Brey hinted that there could be an array of new looks that the squad could give in future games. With his solid play towards the end of the contest, one of these changes could possibly be an increase in Carleton Scott and Tyrone Nash's minutes.
"I'd like to get them in there a little bit more, at least one of them, maybe in the first half," Brey said. "Certainly Nash and Scott were guys, we've looked at them all week." Regardless of the appearance of Notre Dame's squad Monday night, Brey ensured one thing in his post-game press conference after the Connecticut loss — his team will be prepared.
"Monday comes and we will be ready," Brey said. "You lose three in a row and you have to start searching. Our goal is to win 14 league games and that is going to be really hard."