In that case, today may be just what the doctor ordered for the ‘Cuse. They travel to take on a Marquette team that is nationally ranked and fifth in the Big East standings despite losing its last three games. In fact, the Golden Eagles have not won after losing point guard Dominic James to a season ending injury a week and a half ago.
To top that off, this is a Marquette team that features a quick, guard-laden team that gives most teams matchup fits but also affords the opportunity for a team with solid big men to dominate the low post. And in Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson, SU has two such players that could wreak havoc today. Both have been a bit quiet of late, taking a back seat to Kristof Ongenaet as the Belgian's season winds down.
Expect Boeheim and his club to pounce on the opportunity today, much like it did to close out last season when it routed Marquette in the Carrier Dome 364 days ago. Syracuse has the athleticism and the athletes to keep up with Marquette's guards, as Johnny Flynn and Paul Harris should both provide some intriguing matchups. But most important will be the success of the 2-3 zone. When teams understand how to attack it, SU has a long day. But when they don't, SU has a field day.
No matter the result of this game, both teams should be tourney-bound and very dangerous. Both teams are similar in the fact they could cause matchup problems and other unique difficulties for opponents; however, both teams' max ceiling is probably capped in the Sweet 16 or possibly the Elite 8. Nevertheless, Marquette's tournament status is far more secure than SU's. The Orange need to realize this and close the deal with a victory today. Though some say the Orange is playing with house money, this would still be an important notch on the belt for SU and if the ‘Cuse treat this like it's a house money game, it could derail the great momentum it has going. And, for those of you who don't know, the momentum I'm referring to is three straight Big East victories by more than twenty points, the first time SU has achieved such a feat in school history. It has rolled over Saint John's, Cincinnati and Rutgers by an average of nearly 28 points, since it dropped its second decision to Villanova, on February 22.
So, this game will essentially feature a clash of momentum. Will SU keep rolling along (an object in motion keeps moving unless acted upon by another object) or will Marquette break their three-game losing streak before the conference tournament starts in Madison Square Garden (an object at rest remains at rest without a stimulus from an outside force)?
Six Keys To The Game / Pressing Questions
-Until this statement is no longer true, it's worth leading off the six points with it with every time: SU is unbeaten this season when Arinze Onuaku scores eleven or more points. The big man with the high field goal percentage should be able to go to work today, as Marquette lacks a physical presence in the low post. This bodes well for SU. It's also worth noting that SU is 12-2 when Johnny Flynn shoots fifty percent or better from the field and just 10-6 when he doesn't.
-This is more of a point of interest than anything else, but let's examine why Marquette is ten spots higher in the rankings than SU despite having an overall record that's just one game better and having lost three straight versus SU having won three straight (23-7 versus 22-8). First of all, it begins with the positioning of the losses. Marquette lost two early out-of-conference games to Dayton and Tennessee. SU on the other hand, had a miserable ten-game stretch where it went 3-7 and it occurred smack dab in the middle of January and February. Meanwhile, SU really has no notable wins in-conference, but racked up quite a few out-of-conference. However, Marquette's wins are more recent and more memorable (wins over Nova, West Virginia by 22, a season sweep of Georgetown and a road win over Providence). SU meanwhile, has, in essence, just beat the teams it needed to in conference play and has not been able to step up to get many big wins in the Big East. With a win Saturday, SU could flip flop these rankings however.
-Marquette is 16-1 at home this season with its lone loss coming to Connecticut, one of the nation's top five teams. However, they're 0-3 without Dominic James. Which streak breaks today?
-Marquette has a small team, which creates matchup problems both ways. To remedy theirs, Marquette often resorts to fouling. Their team averages eighteen personal fouls a game, which means SU could find itself at the free throw line, a place it has prospered at recently. The one part of the team that has never had luck there, though, are its big men A.O. and R.J. On the Golden Eagles' side, they have four of their main players that average between 2.3 and 2.9 personal fouls per game. The foul situation and how each team is able to shoot its ‘free' throws will say a lot about who wins this game. On the season, Marquette is seventy percent from the charity stripe, while SU shoots them at a bit worse clip (around 65%).
-SU absolutely needs to win the rebounding battle in this game. Marquette is a smaller team and a team that SU should dominate physically, even if SU uses the zone defense for much of the game (which can hinder boxing out, etc.). On that note, Syracuse cannot let Marquette's guards have all the real estate they want. The zone defense needs to stop penetration and force Marquette to become a jump shooting team (even though their top two scorers shoot over forty percent from distance. If the Golden Eagles get to the weak spot in the zone, right around the free throw line a lot, watch out because this one could get ugly. Marquette can go on quick scoring spurts with the best of ‘em.
-With the loss of James to injury, Marquette only has five players that have logged more than 500 minutes this season. This is a small team, but one that has not much depth whatsoever. Therefore, SU might want to get in an uptempo game with them and push the ball whenever possible. SU has had a few days to rest up for this and will have a few after before the grind of Big East tournament play starts. Expect a high-scoring game with end-to-end action between two teams that want this game equally.
Prediction: #25 Syracuse 85, #15 Marquette 79