NCAA Tournament Preview: Marquette

Daniel Novinson spoke at length with MarquetteHoops.com publisher John Dodds who broke down the Golden Eagles on the eve of today's 3:45 p.m. tip in the NCAA Tournament's second round game in Anaheim.

On the lineup:

The starting point guard is Dominic James, 5-11, from Richmond, Indiana. This year, he's the team's third-leading scorer with 13 points per game. He is very strong and a great leaper, so he plays more like a guard who is 6-3. He's a very inconsistent outside shooter, but when he hits, Marquette is tough to beat. He can get it off on just about anyone, but his forte is to get to the lane for a shot or a dump down pass.

Marquette has a three-guard threat, PG Dominic James and Jerel McNeal at the two guard. McNeal is probably the team's MVP over the last two years and the leading scorer this year, averaging 14.3 points per game. Last year, he was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year and is probably in the top two or three this year, behind Thabeet from UConn. McNeal is a slasher and a scorer rather than a shooter.

The third guard is Wes Mathews, a junior from Madison, Wisconsin. I think Wisconsin, Stanford and Marquette were his final three college choices. He's the glue guy who keeps the team together. He is 6-5, so he plays the bigger guards and forwards. He gets rebounds and gets out on break. A former soccer player, he sees the entire court. He's also very good defensively. Those three guards are the backbone of the team.

The power forward is soph Lazar Hayward. McNeal, James and Matthews are now all juniors, and MU recruited Hayward out of Buffalo, New York. At 6-6, he perfectly complements the weaknesses and the strengths of the junior three. He's probably the best outside shooter, with range from 25 feet. He also has post-up game inside on the blocks, but I don't know how effective it'll be against the Lopez twins. He's kind of a garbage man underneath, with a half hook in the lane and a power move on the blocks. He's also very good rebounder and shot blocker, and every now and then will surprise with a terrific highlight dunk on the fast break.

The center is Ousmane Barro. He's 6-10, from Senegal. Tom Crean said Barro has come the farthest of any player who he's had. [Ed: They said that about me in soccer too. It's a polite way of saying you're the worst one out there.] English is a second language to Ousmane. He lived with his coach in Illinois, and was ineligible to play in high school. He averages 5.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. His forte is running. He can run and run and run. He's a limited outside shooter and picks up a lot of garbage in the alleys on dump downs from McNeal and James, so he's more of a finisher, and not a creator down low. But when Marquette plays bigger centers, he is sprinting, trying to beat them down the court for layups. That's the starting lineup of the team.

On depth:

This might be Crean's deepest team at Marquette. They can bring six players off the bench who can play although five will play a lot. Their style is to run and push the ball. It's not frenetic, where it's run and gun, but more controlled, up-tempo style. They have the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the Big East, which says a lot for the guards as it is amazing for the pace they play at. Crean subs the guards to keep them fresh.

They have a 5-7 soph guard, Maurice Acker, a transfer from Ball State, whereas a freshman, he was the MAC Newcomer of the Year. He played for Tim Buckley, now an assistant coach at Marquette. Acker and McNeal were high school teammates at Hillcrest in Chicago. They have another point guard who's 5-10 soph, David Cubillan from Venezula, a member of their Olympic team last summer. Cubillan is one of the most intense defenders you'll ever see in college. Pound for pound the most physical player on the team. He can hit the three-point shot but has been slumping as of late. Crean will use Acker and Cubillan as subs for James and McNeal.

Dan Fitzgerald, a 6-9 senior from Minnesota, has been here three years after transferring from Tulane. The interesting thing about Fitz is that he's played all five positions for Marquette. When Marquette had issues at point guard, as a soph he backed up Dominic James. As a junior, he played two-guard and small forward and averaged 20 points per game in the final games in the Big East Tournament. As a senior, he has been slowed with nagging injuries and he has played the power forward position. He can be streaky from the outside.

Dwight Burke is a 6-8 junior center who is used as a more physical presence inside. He is not a scoring threat inside and has shot less than 50% from the free throw line although he has hit some big FTs at the end of games this year.

6-6 freshman PF Trevor Mbakwe hurt his knee in October practice, had surgery and missed four months of the season before returning in mid-February for the final ten games. He hasn't played more than five minutes at a time and is still working to return to top condition. He has a 7-2 reach and did a good job against Hibbert in the Georgetown game.

The final guy off the bench is Trend [Lawrence] Blackledge, a JC transfer. He's 6-8 and 185. They call him "SportsCenter" because he scored only 43 points during the year, but four times has been on SportsCenter Top Ten. He is the best shotblocker on the team.

Marquette can go deep, but Crean wants to play the starters as much as possible, especially the junior guards and Hayward. But players can come off the bench and they don't lose that much.

On weaknesses:

The weaknesses for Marquette are low post scoring and consistency and shooting from the outside. Marquette is extremely small, with the quick three guards and Lazar Hayward who is a smallish power forward. If they are not hitting from outside, teams tend to sag and clog up driving lanes on them. There's not a lot of post scoring. Stanford can shut down low post scoring but that's not a factor for Marquette. I'd be interested to see if Stanford spreads out the defense.

Marquette's worst matchup is when they face a dominant big man playing with a quick team. Louisville was their worst matchup and UConn is the second worst. Louisville, they're deep in bigs and the quickness of Marquette's guards were not enough to overcome that advantage. MU played surprisingly well against Georgetown and Notre Dame. But Louisville with Padgett who can pass inside out gave them problems. Marquette can pressure on the perimeter but doesn't do really well against teams with great posts down low who can pass. That looks like Stanford's m.o. Marquette can be very inconsistent from the free throw line. Yesterday, Wes Matthews hit eight in a row at the end.

On a season overview:

The team played well early – lost to Duke in Maui but played well and they battled back beating third seed and Big Ten champ Wisconsin in Madison. January was a tough month. When MU started the Big East, they lost at West Virginia and went through a slump where they lost to Louisville and UConn in early January, two teams they didn't matchup well with. They then struggled through the rest of January and then lost at Notre Dame on Feb. 9. But in last five minutes of that game, they made up a double-digit deficit and almost won it at the end. Ever since that point, the team's played at a high level and are confident.

The other key factor to the January inconsistencies was a wrist injury to Dominic James who was going in for a dunk against Seton Hall on Jan. 8, and he was undercut and landed on his right wrist. He wasn't able to shoot well after the injury and he was tweaking it throughout the year even though he played with a soft brace. Now healthy, James is playing his best basketball.

On a prediction:

It depends – it's a unique matchup and contrast in styles. The big timber of Stanford against the controlled racehorse guards of Marquette. If Stanford is more like Louisville and can match Marquette's quickness at the perimeter, it's going to be difficult for Marquette to win. However, if Stanford is more like Wisconsin, with big players Marquette can run past, and if the Stanford bigs get tired, anything can happen. I have to think Stanford has an edge, especially after watching the twins play so well over the last month. They are like watching two David Padgetts perform.

A high score is better for Marquette. The keys are three-point shooting percentage, free-throw shooting percentage and rebounding. Can Marquette pressure the perimeter passes and make it difficult for Stanford to throw in the post entry pass? Once the ball is inside, I don't know if they will have enough to stop the twins.


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