Marquette was one of two teams to wait an extra 48 hours to learn their second round opponent in the NCAA Tournament. Now that the Golden Eagles know their opponent, the Brigham Young Cougars, they are ready, as a team, to hit the court running.
Head coach Buzz Williams spent last night watching the BYU-Iona contest with the coaching staff in a conference room at the team hotel. Jamil Wilson watched the whole game with the staff, while Jae Crowder and Junior Cadougan joined for the second half.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in all my life,” Williams said of BYU’s win. “I had never seen an NCAA Tournament game like that.”
The Cougars overcame a 25-point first half deficit, and outscored the Iona Gaels 38-17 in the second half for a 78-72 victory in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
With two relatively different styles of play to prepare for, in Iona and BYU, Williams told his team to watch the game and to be prepared to work on specific scouting on the winning team the following day.
Up to that point in the week, because of the unknown opponent, Williams had changed the team’s schedule and practice routine. Normally, two days before a game the team would watch film and scout the opposition.
“We didn’t know who we were playing, so we’ve been able to work on us, which I think is healthy,” Williams said. “And this morning we were able to clip out things we would typically show the day before a game. So we were able to work on some things, and some of that I had infiltrated through practice on Monday and Tuesday.”
Darius Johnson-Odom watched the game in his room, and noted the intensity with which both teams played.
“I thought it was at a high level. Both teams played with a lot of intensity,” Johnson-Odom said. “You’re going to get everybody’s best shot in the NCAA Tournament. I was excited to just see teams getting after each other on both ends of the court.”
Thursday afternoon’s contest will pit two good friends against each other. Williams and BYU head coach Dave Rose formed a relationship while Williams was an assistant at Colorado State and Rose was an assistant with the Cougars.
Williams said he and his wife, Corey, see Rose and his wife, Cheryl, every summer, and Rose said the two wives have become good friends.
“I have the utmost respect for who Dave is as a human being,” Williams said. “I think he’s got to be one of the top two or three most unheralded coaches in the country. I stand at attention for who he is as a person and as a professional.”
Rose shared the same sentiment when asked about his friendship with Williams.
“I cheer for Buzz all year long,” Rose said. “I’ve actually seen his team play quite a few times because I enjoy watching his team play. When it’s time to play each other, it’s a little different.”
Another commonality the two coaches share will be preparation for a talented forward on the other side of the ball.
Forwards Jae Crowder, the Big East Player of the Year, and Noah Hartsock, the Cougars’ leading scorer, will be the marquee matchup tomorrow afternoon.
The 6-foot-8 Hartsock contributed 23 points and five rebounds in the Cougars’ win over Iona. He has made over 57 percent of his field goals this season and over 84 percent of his free throws.
As an assistant at Colorado State, Williams recruited Hartsock, and praised the 24-year-old senior’s efficiency.
“If you were to look at his effectiveness, not in the paint and not behind the 3-point line, I haven’t seen a guy in a long time as effective as he is,” Williams said. “He’s not a post. He’s not a perimeter player. He’s a really good player. What he has meant to their team speaks for itself.”
Crowder said he is excited for the matchup between him and Hartsock.
“I think I will guard him, I would like to do that,” Crowder said. “I think if you take him out, they struggle. I’m willing to take on that challenge, but he’s a great player.”
The Cougars also know the key to shutting down Marquette’s high-powered offense starts with Crowder, a consensus first team All-Big East member.
“It’s going to take a lot to get him stopped,” Davies said. “We’re going to throw a lot at him and just make sure we give him our best effort to get him stopped.”
Much of the focus at both team’s press conferences Wednesday at the KFC Yum! Center focused on offense. The Cougars are the 13th highest scoring team in the country at 78.2 points, while Marquette is ranked 31st at 75.9 points per game.
Size will be an issue for Marquette, playing against the 21st tallest team in the country in BYU. But Crowder said the Golden Eagles feel confident they can keep up with the Cougars and battle in the paint, despite their size disparity.
“They do a lot of great things offensively,” Crowder said. “They can push the ball, they can play at a different pace like a lot of other teams. I think we match up with them fairly well other than the two post players.”
BYU forward Brock Zylstra, who finished Tuesday’s win with six points and four rebounds, described Marquette’s style as physical, tough and the type of team one pictures thinking about a Big East team.
Davies noted Marquette’s two stars, Crowder and Johnson-Odom, but also applauded the Golden Eagles’ depth.
“They’re a very talented team, but (have) a lot of great players. They have a lot of firepower,” Davies said. “It’s going to take our best effort t come out and play our best game to get a win.”
The Golden Eagles are ranked as a No. 3 seed for the first time since 2003, but Johnson-Odom was quick to relay Williams’ message to the team, that seeding disappears once the tournament begins.
“I don’t even know what’s the point of those numbers, to be honest with you, because everyone is a 1-seed in my eyes. Anybody can beat anybody on any given day,” Johnson-Odom said. “You’ve got to play to win.”