UPDATING THE GOLDEN EAGLES
Marquette beat Providence 87-66 in the first round of the Big East Tournament to essentially move off the NCAA Tournament bubble and past Villanova as the Big East’s 10th team in. The Eagles scored the first 17 points of the game and were never significantly challenged in advancing to the second round. Darius Johnson-Odom (6-2, 215 lbs.) and Jimmy Butler (6-7, 220 lbs.) scored 23 and 19 points, respectively. But it was the solid defense and uptempo play that paced head coach Buzz Williams’ team to one victory from 20 on the season. That’s something that will need to be considerably slowed by West Virginia, which lost its Big East opener at Marquette when it failed to force turnovers, slow transition points and gain rebounds – WVU finished with a 34 to 24 deficit on the boards. Forward Jae Crowder (6-6, 225 lbs.) somewhat surprisingly ripped the Mountaineers for 29 points in the first meeting, another statistical anomaly that can’t be repeated if WVU is to stay in New York.
The biggest match-up issue for West Virginia is the overall speed and athleticism of Marquette. Johnson-Odom averages 17 points and has the ability to get up and down the floor and put pressure on the rim. The two-guard is a solid shooter (almost half of his shots are threes), but nothing like some of the marksmen offered by Pitt, Notre Dame and Louisville. This is a slasher at heart, one who wants to attack the bucket, get to the line and create offense closer in. WVU must challenge his three-point shot (38 percent on the season) close to the line, but anything extremely deep would be better of allowed to lessen the risk of Johnson-Odom getting into the lane and creating higher percentage chances. Butler, the swingman, also hits for about 17 points with six rebounds a game. He, too, prefers to drive to the bucket, but does possess a nice midrange jumper. The senior has shot a whopping 128 free throws this season, making 103 (81 percent), and is extremely proficient at drawing contact. WVU cannot afford to allow Butler to get it into foul trouble. The transfer is also Williams’ best overall defender and one whose overall length alters shots well; Butler has a team-high 25 steals.
Crowder is another midsized player who can get to the bucket. The junior is shooting 47 percent, 34 from three, and is the best rebounder on the team at seven a game to go with about 12 points. Crowder got whatever he wanted in the first meeting between the teams; that must be lessened, as giving an already very-able scoring squad a third marquee point producer is a killer. West Virginia must play physically and put a body on Crowder in the rebounding game; putback points shouldn’t be a sizeable portion of Marquette’s scoring. Allowing these from a 6-6 player hurts. Center Chris Otule (6-11, 260 lbs.), five points and four rebounds a game, is the team’s shot block leader with 26. His wingspan is a nice addition, but Otule isn’t going to win a game on his own. He plays about 20 minutes and his game is all inside, where he shoots 47 percent. He’s average at the line, though he takes less than two free throws a game. This shouldn’t be a bad match-up for Deniz Kilcli.
Point guard Dwight Buycks (6-3, 190 lbs.), a Milwaukee native, is perhaps the best pure shooter on the team at 45 percent overall – and a very good 46 percent from three. The senior averages nine points to go with 61 assists against 43 turnovers. An opportunistic scorer, Buycks prefers to distribute first, then take his shots as they come within Marquette’s sets. Buycks doesn’t drive much and doesn’t get to the line. But he operates well in transition and distributes well in the open floor. One would assume this match-up would draw Truck Bryant, as Joe Mazzulla is likely to draw the offensively tougher Johnson-Odom; Head coach Bob Huggins could also be considering taking the much bigger John Flowers off Butler to guard Johnson-Odom, but that leaves size issues on defense.
|Wed. March 9
9 p.m. EST
Madison Square Garden
WVU 20-10, 11-7
MU 19-13, 10-9
WVU – 15
MU - 66
The Eagles typically use about four bench players, none of whom score more than 3.6 points with a couple rebounds. Guard Junior Cadougan (6-1, 205 lbs.) is more of a point player than a two-guard. The sophomore hits for the 3.6 points in about 20 minutes a game, but is at his best when dishing the ball as needed. He has 55 assists against just 49 shots, and he isn’t a three-point threat. Forward Joseph Fulce (6-7, 205 lbs.) also hits for 3.6 points in about nine minutes of playing time. The senior will take the three as available (40 percent 3pt.), but typically operates in the lane.
Reserve shooting guard Vander Blue (6-4, 190 lbs.), 2.7 points, 2.5 rebounds, has more turnovers than assists and has made just 28 percent from the field while missing all seven of his three-point tries. Forward Devante Gardner (6-8, 290 lbs.), like Blue a freshman, is good for a couple points and a rebound in six minutes. He can shoot it, but rarely does and is also able from the line. In all, this isn’t a great bench. It’s young, has production issues outside of Cadougan and doesn’t give much pop off the bench. This is one area West Virginia should be able to handle.
Marquette scores well in transition, has gotten increasingly better from three-point range and has made more free throws than its foes have shot. West Virginia must avoid foul trouble, shut down driving lanes for kickouts and be better on the boards after being beat by 10 in the first game. It would be surprising if the Mountaineers don’t defend better than it did in the league opener, when Crowder scored a career-best 29 points against a still-developing team. WVU allowed open threes, seemed ill-prepped for various screens and simply didn’t play the level of defense typically associated with a Huggins-coached team. Rebound, showcase the defensive improvement and shut down transition/easy points and good three-point looks. This game is much bigger for Marquette than it is West Virginia, but a Mountaineer win coupled with another top opponent in Louisville would do nothing but help in RPI and strength of schedule. More than a week is quite a bit of rest, so winning at least one game in the BET would seemingly keep WVU a bit fresher in playing routine as well.
WVU: F Kevin Noreen (Knee), Out for Season.
MU: F Jamil Wilson.
West Virginia, which won the Big East Tournament last year, has won 16 of its last 22 games at Madison Square Garden. WVU is 31-41 all-time at MSG, and has won 11 of its last 16 Big East Tournament games.
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Bob Huggins is 38-12 in conference tournament games as a head coach. He has won 10 titles in four different leagues. WVU has reached at least the Big East Tournament semifinals in all three of Huggins’ years with the Mountaineers.
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Truck Bryant needs 13 points to reach 1,000 for his career. John Flowers, who should have been named the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, is second in the Big East this season in blocked shots with 73.
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The Mountaineers have secured their seventh straight 20-win season. WVU, Georgetown and Syracuse are tied with 11 wins for the most in Big East Tournament play since 2005.
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WVU and Marquette are meeting for the 10th time. The teams have won every game on their respective home floors. This is the first neutral site game in series history.
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West Virginia, as the sixth seed, will play at 9 p.m. every game if it continues to advance.