After a short stay in Milwaukee, the Marquette Golden Eagles were back on the road this afternoon as they travel to take on the Washington Huskies (4-2) tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden.
Both teams enter Tuesday night’s affair heading in different directions.
The Golden Eagles are coming off one of their best wins under head coach Buzz Williams, a 61-54 road victory over Wisconsin. On the other side, Washington has dropped two of its last three games, including road losses to St. Louis and Nevada.
“They’re really good. Really, really, really, really good,” Williams said of the Huskies. “They’re the 10th fastest team in the country. They have six guys who average 9 points or more, they have 4 future NBA draft picks. Unbelievably talented. And statistically they do some astonishing things offensively.”
The Huskies are led by sophomore small forward Terrence Ross, who leads the team in scoring with 16.2 points per game. The highly-regarded recruit was named to the Pac-12’s All-Freshman team a year ago, and has continued to thrive in his second season. One addition the 6-foot-6 forward has added to his game is on the glass. His 6.7 rebounds per game are second on the team and almost four more per game than he had a year ago (2.8).
The Huskies are averaging 81.0 points and 72.6 possessions per game, but in their two losses have averaged just 68.5 points, shot 43.5 percent from the field and have turned the ball over 18 and 16 times.
Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar said an issue in those losses was a lack of offensive execution.
“It sounds simple and may sound like a straightforward answer, but you can come up with all the schemes you want, but if you don’t execute those schemes, nothing’s going to work,” he said. “So it’s not about what you’re doing, it’s how you’re doing it. And we just have to do a better job with what we’re doing.”
Those struggles are certainly something the Golden Eagles will prey on. After holding the Badgers to 32 percent shooting from the field Saturday, Marquette now ranks ninth in the country in field goal percentage defense (34.2 percent). Its 58.7 points per game allowed rank 31st in the country.
Tuesday night will mark one of the few times all season long that Marquette will be the “slower” of the two teams in regard to pace, but Williams said that, more important than pace, is executing at the tempo the team plays at.
“So much is talked about of pace, and I think that’s important,” he said. “Maybe what should be talked about just as much is the discipline required to be successful at executing, regardless of the pace involved. And that’s what you have to have to be a really good team.”
Freshman guard Todd Mayo added that Marquette’s game plan tomorrow, regardless of pace, is to “play smart.”
Height will be something the Marquette defense must deal with, as the Huskies deploy one of the tallest teams in the nation. With a starting lineup averaging 6-feet, 7-inches, Marquette will again need to be solid on the glass.
Sophomore shooting guard C.J. Wilcox is second on the team in scoring (15.8 ppg) and is the Huskies main 3-point shooting threat. Freshman guard Tony Wroten has been the most efficient player for Romar, averaging 13.0/4.2/3.8 in just 24 minutes a night. 7-foot junior Aziz N’Diaye is averaging 8.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks and will give Chris Otule all he can handle inside.
According to Romar, his squad’s biggest test will be dealing with senior forward Jae Crowder’s versatility.
“I think he’s the most difficult matchup that we’ve faced up to this point in the season,” Romar said. “Someone with that size and that versatility is a difficult cover. Can’t put a smaller guy on him because he’ll just post him up. And if you put a slower guy on him, he’ll take you outside.”
Crowder is looking to rebound after one of his worst performances of his Marquette career, as foul trouble limited him to two points and three rebounds in 24 minutes.
Tuesday night’s is the second of two games at the Garden as part of the annual Jimmy V Classic, something Williams said he was honored to take part in.
“We’re humbled that the Jimmy V Foundation would even ask us to do it,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know some of those people within that organization. Coach Valvano’s brother, Dick Vitale is very involved in the things he does to support that, so we’re thankful just to be a part of it. Relative to the media and all of the things that cover it, I think that’s secondary relative to what the actual event is for.”
To learn more about the V Foundation (and you should), click here.
THREE KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Hit the glass: Marquette was excellent against Wisconsin in this department, out-rebounding the Badgers 41-28, and will need to do it again Tuesday night. The Huskies average 42.7 rebounds per game and have the height to make it a long night for Marquette.
2. Get back in transition: It’s a bit of an ironic twist, but Marquette is now the team that must limit transition opportunities, just 72 hours after watching the Badgers bust their tails to limit Marquette on the break. Washington has the athleticism and speed to make teams pay for not getting back defensively, so Marquette guards will need to be alert and stop transition. Freshman point guard Derrick Wilson and his 94-feet defense will help a great deal.
3. Keep the same attitude: It’s hard to imagine Buzz Williams not having his team focused, but it’s still important to note that Marquette can not have a letdown. The win in Madison was huge and put the Warriors into the national spotlight, but Washington is talented enough to pull off the upset. Hopefully the intensity remains the same in New York as it was in Madison.