SCOUTING THE EAGLES
This is arguably head coach Buzz Williams' best team during his Marquette tenure. The Eagles are extremely exploitative, taking advantage of run-outs, turnovers and defensive pressure to rachet game intensity. It isn't Arkansas' 40 Minutes of Hell under Nolan Richardson, but the Eagles are by far the fastest playing game in a blue-collar, often-slow down conference, and they've managed to utilize that style to rip off 23 wins in 28 tries overall, including 11 of 12 – the lone loss coming at a Notre Dame team that blew out West Virginia just two days ago.
The short turnaround for a team with already wilting psyche and legs could prove difficult, especially stacked against Marquette's experience level. Williams starts three seniors, led by guard-forward combo Darius Johnson-Odom (6-2, 215 lbs.) and Jae Crowder (6-6, 235 lbs.). Johnson-Odom averages a team-best 18.7 points per game, shooting a sizzling 45 percent from the floor and 40 from 3-point range (63 of 156). He can score a myriad of ways and from nearly anywhere on the floor, and also finishes in transition well. His athleticism pushes his play over the top, and he typically has a heady floor presence and understands the game. Crowder, who also plays about 32 minutes on average, is extremely affective on the interior, and is making more than half his shots. Second on the team with 51 offensive rebounds, Crowder hits for 17 points and almost eight boards per game. He can switch to guard every slot on the floor, and his quickness is perhaps his best asset.
Point guard Junior Cadougan (6-1, 205 lbs.), at seven points a game, isn't a major scoring threat. The junior doesn't shoot well from 3-point range and , despite being able to drive, plays better as a distribution-style guard. His 151 assists are 65 more than anybody else on the team, and hesees the floor well. He will turn the ball over, however, and West Virginia should have a good match-up, even with playing a freshman when it runs man. Vander Blue (6-4, 200 lbs.) would be considered the swingman in Wiliams' offense, but that terms could apply to three positions in Marquette's running approach. Blue, 8.5 points, 4.3 rebounds per game, puts pressure on the rim and gets to the line effectively. Like any role player, Blue understands his more limited role. He takes a few too many shots per game, but otherwise has fit well and has a ton of time logged for a second-year player.
Forward Jamil Wilson (6-7, 220 lbs.) adds seven points and four boards per game and is among the more underrated defenders in the Big East. The sophomore leads Marquette with 35 blocks, and shows great intensity in going after rebounds, especially on the defensive end. Like much of the Eagle line-up, he is often matched against a taller offensive player, and continues to hold is own in a physical league. Back-ups Davtante Garder (6-8, 290 lbs.) and Todd Mayo (6-3, 190 lbs.) some size and depth for MU, which typically only goes a legit seven deep. Gardner is a bullish type down low, so keep an eye on the battle between him and Deniz Kilicli, a combined 550 pounds of force stretched over 13 feet, five inches. Mayo, a Huntington, W.Va. native, is still settling in his first collegiate season. He can shoot it decently and adds solid play, but might try to overplay in his first game in his home state.
This is what makes the Big East as difficult a conference as it is. Not only do you have a vast contrast in playing styles between Notre Dame and Marquette, you've got excellent talent on a pair of top 20 ranked teams with a 48-hour turnaround following a road trip. There have been tougher stretches, but combine all the factors and this is as difficult a two-game window as can be recalled in recent history. Again, West Virginia's issues with transition defense could be exploited in a major way. The Eagles will run and pound the ball downcourt as fast as any foe WVU has played this season. Loafing by anybody, let alone guards who are already in position to stop such attacks, will be killer.
WVU 17-11, 7-8
MU 23-5, 12-3
WVU - 44
MU - 8
Second, WVU must crash the boards. This is a team that's smaller, on paper, than many others. Marquette has length, but lacks height across-the-board and does allow some offensive rebounding. Get on the boards, get second chances, and if there's nothing solid available, kick back out and grind the game down with more offense. If West Virginia has its way, this won't be a pretty showcase on national TV, but a slugfest, perhaps a yawner for all but the most interested basketball fan. That's fine. West Virginia, tonight, isn't in the business of ratings. Third and fourth, probably interchangeably, is all about fouls and the line. Make free throws. Stay out of foul trouble. Kilicli, for all his struggles at times, must remain on the floor as a physical, down-low player. He might be the embodiment of what the Mountaineers desire to be tonight: Plodding, methodical, tough … and, hopefully, finishers.
It's tough to argue that the season comes down to tonight's outcome. Even if West Virginia loses, it has quite winnable games versus DePaul and South Florida to end the regular season. Win those, and get one in the Big East Tournament that the Mountaineers have the 20-win mark that would make it quite difficult to leave them out of the NCAAs. Certainly, a victory becomes an instant booster and a "marquee" win on the slate. But to assuredly state that this is it, be-all or end-all, doesn't seem correct in this instance.
Marquette has never won in the Coliseum. West Virginia is 4-0 at home – but 0-6 on the road and at neutral sites in the series. The Eagles have won two in a row and three of four in series play.
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Bob Huggins goes for his ninth win over top 10 teams during his tenure at WVU. The Mountaineers have defeated ranked teams 20 times under Huggins.
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West Virginia is pressing a bit to avoid ending a streak of consecutive seasons finishing higher than the preseason Big East ranking. The Mountaineers were predicted seven, and in eight of the last nine seasons the team has finished better than its prediction. WVU is currently ninth and will likely need to win out to end the regular season and get some help to break even with a seventh place finish.
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Huggins is just 1-3 versus Williams, while Williams is 3-1 versus West Virginia. Huggins is 22-14 against MU all-time, 20-11 while at Cincinnati.
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Marquette, as good as they have been at home and at neutral sites, is just 5-4 on the road this season.