SCOUTING THE GOLDEN EAGLES
MU, ranked 18th and 15th, is the most experienced, veteran-laden team in the Big East. First-year head coach Buzz Williams – the former Marquette and Texas A&M assistant who served for one year as head coach of UNO (University of New Orleans) – has his squad primed for another NCAA run after the Eagles went 25-10 last year and advanced to the second round of the tournament with a very similar roster. Williams starts four seniors and one junior and has four players averaging double figures in points. Led by NBA talent Dominic James, MU averages 81 points per game with red-hot shooting and great individual play. James, a 5-11, 185-pounder, possesses uncanny vertical ability and can create and finish around the hoop as well as any player his size. James has matured from a pure playmaker to an exceptional guard who can handle the ball and involve teammates. He has 81 assists against 32 turnovers, shoots 43 percent and has 29 steals. Arguably the best all-around point guard in the Big East, James should be drafted following this season.
Fellow guards Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews average 18 and 19 points per game, respectively, and combine for 10-plus boards per outing. McNeal, 6-3, 200 pounds, is sizzling from the floor, making 49.5 percent from the field and an incredible 46.3 percent from three-point range. He has a team-best 37 threes on the season, but can get into foul trouble and isn't as adept as the rest of the line-up in rebounding. Matthews, 6-5, 215 pounds, plays more inside and makes 53 percent of his shots. A good rebounder, Matthews averages 5.6 and uses his length to alter or block shots. A tough draw for an opposing offensive player, the Wisconsin native has started since his freshman season and is among the most experienced players in collegiate basketball.
Forward Dwight Burke is the tallest MU starter at 6-8. But the 205-pounder averages just 2.7 points and 3.8 rebounds in 20 minutes of action. Burke has taken just 19 field goals all year, none from three-point range, but does get to the line well and is on the floor to add some height and provide a board crasher to rebound and outlet quickly to James and others for transition points. West Virginia must get back on defense well, or risk being burned for multiple easy hoops. Lazar Hayward, the lone junior in the starting five, isn't only an interior threat despite being the thickest player at 6-6 and 225 pounds. Hayward hits for 16.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game on average and won't hesitate to shoot from anywhere on the floor. He leads the team with 135 rebounds, 47 of those offensive.
Off the bench, Williams plays as many as four backups for solid periods. Sophomore guard Jimmy Butler, 6-6, 215 pounds, plays the most of any sub at 16-plus minutes and averages four points. Maurice Acker, 5-8, 165 pounds, gives James a rest, but isn't anywhere near the shooter and lacks the quickness and raw ability of his counterpart. Patrick Hazel is the reserve forward. The 6-7, 220-pounder out of Queens averages three points and 2.5 rebounds in 13 minutes and is a purely inside player and no threat on the perimeter.
Marquette lacks the sheer size of Connecticut, and its drive-and-kick/finish style will be a complete flip from UConn's game plan. But the talent differential isn't that great, and Marquette's excellent execution at times could cause major problems. All of the players can take the ball to the rim, and this is one of the quicker teams in the Big East. Solid ball handling, decent shooting and continual hustle make this a tough out for the Mountaineers. Marquette doesn't have a great pure shooter like Nick Novak, who was the de facto three-point ace for the school for years. What it does possess is a series of players with the skillsets to shoot, or pump fake and drive to the rim or pull-up, so it's not as though WVU will be able to drop off the wings to protect inside.
|Sat. Jan. 10
WVU 11-3, 1-1
Marquette 14-3, 3-0
Big East Network
WVU - 19
Marquette - 23
This is a better pure match-up for West Virginia, but it must play great individually as well as as a team. Marquette has two players shooting better than 40 percent from three-point range and three over 48 percent from the floor. Four players have made at least 18 threes, and all who see major time other than Hayward have positive assist-to-turnover numbers. This is a squad that, to a man, creates solid shots via passing and off the dribble and can knock down buckets from anywhere on the floor. And, arguably, it's the toughest team to defend as a combination of individual and team play in the league. The game will be a test of WVU's man defense, and its ability to cut off driving lanes and checking offensive sets. Communication will be paramount, as will be limiting Marquette to a single shot.
The latter aspect will be easier than it was against UConn, when WVU had among its poorer efforts in blocking out and matching the physicality and rebounding intelligence of its foe. The pure height isn't there for the Eagles, but the length and athleticism allow MU to get to the rim for good putback chances. If there's a rebounding discrepancy that is even close to that of the last outing, the Mountaineers have no chance. The keys: cut down Marquette's individual playmaking, force the Golden Eagles to beat WVU as a team, make MU attempt the extra pass and cut off drives to the hoop. On offense: gain reasonable second chances, shoot at a better percentage and don't be intimidated by the active hands and good length of the foe. This is the challenge of the Big East, getting ready for an experienced, talented opponent that plays completely different than the one faced before. The coaches and players will earn their keep on this one, especially going on the road.
After years of freshmen bailing for the NBA and few college teams starting even a pair of seniors, West Virginia faces its second consecutive team starting at least three seniors. Connecticut started three seniors and two juniors. Marquette starts an amazing four seniors and one junior. The Mountaineers? They are competing well with one senior on the roster and an initial lineup featuring two freshmen, including one at point guard that essentially has no exact backup.
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With the WVU football team finishing in the rankings, the school's two major sports teams are once again simultaneously in the national top 25. In the last five years, both teams have been in the top 25 at the same time more than any other period in school history.
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More than half of Bob Huggins' 37 victories as head coach of West Virginia have come away from the WVU Coliseum. WVU is unbeaten at home against Marquette in four games; it has lost both contests played in Milwaukee.
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Marquette is 11-0 at home this season. The Eagles two losses were on neutral courts to Dayton and Tennessee. Head coach Buzz Williams, a former assistant under former MU head coach Tom Crean – now the head coach at Indiana – is in his first season at the school.
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Huggins has an extensive history facing Marquette. The 27th-year head coach is 21-11 in his career against MU, 20-11 while at Cincinnati and 1-0 at West Virginia. Williams has never faced West Virginia as a head coach.