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Marquette opens Big East play against Villanova

Marquette begins its seventh season as a Big East member when it hosts the Villanova Wildcats tomorrow afternoon at the Bradley Center.

The Wildcats are led by second team All Big East member Maalik Wayns. The junior point guard is enjoying a breakout campaign in 2011, averaging 17.6 points and 5.3 assists per game. Despite shooting just 41 percent from the field, Waayns ranks sixth in the Big East in scoring thanks to his ability to drive to the basket and draw contact. His 5.8 fouls drawn per 40 minutes are seventh in the Big East and his 88 percent free throw percentage is second in the conference.

Villanova forward Markus Kennedy has provided an offensive spark for the Wildcats. (Photo by Chris Chambers/Getty Images)

Without Chris Otule, however, center Mouphtaou Yarou may be a bigger problem for the Golden Eagles. The 6-foot-10 junior is averaging 12.9 points and 8.5 rebounds for the Wildcats and has been a monster on the offensive glass. In nine of 13 games, Yarou has grabbed three or more offensive rebounds and his 12.5% rebounding rate is one of the best in the nation. He was inconsistent during non-conference play but has played well against stiffer competition (13 points, 8 rebounds vs. West Virginia). Marquette can only hope to catch Yarou on an off night, or it could be another long night in the paint.

Staying in line with the bigs, freshman forward Markus Kennedy has proven himself a scoring punch off the bench early in his collegiate career, much like Marquette’s Davante Gardner. In his last four outings, Kennedy is averaging 7.0 points per game in just over 15 minutes.

Shooting guard Dominic Cheek has been an enigma his entire Villanova career. Joining Wayns and Yarou in Jay Wright’s stellar 2009 recruiting class, Cheek has struggled to put “it” all together. His numbers are fine offensively (12.9 points) but he gets shot-happy at times and takes the Wildcats out of their offensive rhythm. Much like the rest of the Wildcats, Cheek is wildly inconsistent but has good size and athleticism.

A serious Marquette recruiting target in high school, freshman forward JayVaughn Pinkston has shown improvement over the past three weeks and will have opportunities to score down low against Marquette. The 6-foot-7 forward has three-point range and can hold his own in the paint. He could be a sleeper for the Wildcats against Marquette’s shallow and undersized front court.

A teammate of Marquette forward Jamail Jones at Montverde Academy, forward James Bell has taken on an increased role in his sophomore season. An above average defender and streaky shooter, Bell is the Wildcats’ best 3-point option and hits the glass hard. Villanova’s “glue guy” is still a work in progress but has shown improvement in his second season.

Darrun Hilliard, an afterthought to the Wildcats’ 2011 recruiting class, has come on strong off the bench. The 6-foot-6 freshman is averaging 6.5 points and has played solid defense.

What they do well

A strong front court and long “switchables” on the wing have made Jay Wright’s squad one of the best rebounding teams in the nation, especially on the offensive end. Despite a below average effective field goal percentage of 48.2, their 37.8 offensive rebounding rate has allowed for many second chance opportunities that keep them in close games.

The Wildcats get to the free throw line a modest 21.1 times per game but are helped out by shooting an excellent percentage from the charity stripe. Starters are shooting 76.9 percent from the line on the year.

Where they can be beat

As it seems every year, there’s plenty of talent on Villanova’s roster.

For whatever reason, the Wildcats settle for 3-pointers whenever they can, and they don’t go in. 37.2 percent of their attempts have come from beyond the arc (87th in the nation) but they are shooting just 31.1 percent from there (256th in the nation).

Wayns has been the biggest culprit, making just 16-of-62 3-pointers while Cheek’s quick trigger (31.1 percent on 5.5 attempts per game) has not been much better. Hilliard (3.6 attempts per game) and Bell (4.2) have made 35.6 percent of their outside looks, but it’s still not enough to justify the threes taken. Clearly the lack of scoring options inside has led to more jumpers and it hasn’t been the answer for the Wildcats.

Point guard Maalik Wayns has played well this year but the Villanova offense as a whole has struggled. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Marquette struggled to guard the 3-pointer in Thursday’s loss to Vanderbilt, allowing the Commodores to hit 10-of-22 shots from beyond the arc.

Defensively, the Wildcats are forcing just 11.1 turnovers per game, one of the worst marks in the nation. In six losses, they have forced nine turnovers per game. Marquette guards should have no problem getting to the paint, something it failed to do against Vanderbilt.

Three keys to the game

1. Rebounding: Get used to this key being at the top of every list now that the Big East season is underway. Villanova is going to miss shots and Marquette must take advantage of that by limiting second chances. As seen Thursday, Davante Gardner must stay out of foul trouble to man up on Yarou. The Wildcats play a four-“guard” offense but have plenty of length in the lineup, and all rotation players are capable of crashing the glass on any possession. Rebounding will always be important for Marquette, but the Golden Eagles can run away with the game if they take care of the rebounding portion of the game.

2. A heavy dose of Derrick Wilson: The freshman standout defender played seven and eight minutes against LSU and Milwaukee before seeing 19 minutes in Thursday’s blowout, but he’ll likely have his name called Sunday against Maalik Wayns. Junior Cadougan has struggled defensively of late and Wilson has proved he can handle the spotlight (ask Jordan Taylor). If Marquette shuts down Wayns, the Villanova offense will struggle.

3. Offensive movement: The Marquette offense has been in a major funk since Chris Otule went down with a knee injury and much of it has been due to low percentage shots. Villanova isn’t going to create many turnovers which means paint touches can be had early and often. The Wildcats are surrendering just 67.3 points per game but if Marquette can keep the pace up and find good looks, it should have no problem scoring.

Final prediction: Marquette needs a bounce back win after Thursday’s lackluster performance. Villanova doesn’t have the offensive firepower to keep up, as long as Marquette runs the offense and finds good looks. Offensive rebounding will keep Villanova in the contest but Marquette will pull away in the second half. The Golden Eagles move to 1-0 in the Big East with a 73-66 win.

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One Comment on “Marquette opens Big East play against Villanova”

  1. December 31, 2011 at 7:08 pm #

    This just isn’t the same Villanova team that has given MU fits in the past. Golden Eagles finally have a better backcourt now that Fisher is gone. Yaru could be problematic without Otule, but I’m glad it’s not Melo or Drummond.

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