Marquette looks to rebound tonight in South Florida

Nine days ago Marquette battled through a slow-paced 63-50 win at home against South Florida, and tonight the two teams are back at it in the USF Sun Dome as mirror opponents.

Vander Blue will certainly be happy to see the Bulls once again, as the junior shooting guard exploded for a career-high 30 points on 13-of-20 shooting in the Jan. 28 matchup. Neither Jae Crowder nor Darius Johnson-Odom accomplished such a feat, and the rejuvenated leading scorer will go for his 11th straight game in double-figures in what should be another low-scoring affair.

Since the previous game was just nine days ago, the scouting report hasn’t changed much. Click here to see how the Bulls line up, what they do well and where they can be beat.

The Golden Eagles need a rebound performance from Sunday’s 70-51 loss at Louisville, which began a stretch of five of seven games away from the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

Marquette did pick up a quality win at Pittsburgh on Jan. 12, but their road record still stands at 1-4. And while South Florida’s Big East-worst 1-8 record leaves plenty to be desired, the Bulls are 8-5 at home, and went 13-2 a year ago. Their lone conference win this year was at home against Georgetown, and Marquette is just a four-point favorite tonight. It’s a telling number that tonight’s matchup won’t be a simple road contest.

The key to Marquette’s win two weeks ago — outside of Blue’s numbers — was shooting better than 55 percent from the field, including 38 points in the paint. Despite the Bulls’ height inside, the Golden Eagles scored their first 10 points inside and led by as many as 15 in the second half. South Florida’s pace won’t allow for Marquette to pull away too long (the Bulls pulled within eight, 56-48, inside five minutes) but high-percentage shots will be available.

The one area the Bulls were able to exploit in Milwaukee was from beyond the arc. Despite shooting just 28 percent in conference play, South Florida made 8-of-19 3-pointers in the loss. Marquette is third worst in the Big East defending the arc, and it’s an area that could keep the Bulls in the game again tonight.

Past history also may be on the Bulls’ side. Two years ago Marquette eked out a one-point win in Tampa, and the infamous 2009 loss halted the Golden Eagles’ 9-0 conference start. Whatever the reason, Marquette has struggled taking their farthest conference road trip of the year. Buzz Williams’ group’s last trip to the state of Florida didn’t end so well, either (see: Gators, Florida).

While Blue’s offense will be crucial, it’d be incomplete not to mention the improvement Trent Lockett has made the last three games. After averaging 5.4 points on 30.7 percent shooting his first five Big East contests, he’s turned it on and gone for 13.0 points on 50.0 percent shooting in his last three. He’s gone to the free throw line 22 times in that span, whereas his previous three-game high this season was 14 attempts. In a game of valued possessions and points at a premium, Lockett’s contributions will be key.

Davante Gardner will also look to rebound from a pair of poor outings. The 290-pound forward has totaled six points on eight field goal attempts and ZERO free throw attempts the past two games. True, he was ejected from the South Florida contest after just 12 minutes, but it’s still uncharted territory for him.

Gardner hasn’t scored in single-digits in two straight games since early December of last year, and this is the first time since March of his freshman season he hasn’t gone to the charity stripe in two straight games. That, combined with a chip on his shoulder from the questionable ejection in the first meeting, should give him plenty of reason to break out of this mini-slump.

Tonight’s matchup is essentially one that will either prove A) that Marquette hasn’t regrouped since the Louisville debacle, or B) that it took care of a lower opponent on the road. There’s nothing to be gained outside of a seventh Big East win, but there’s something there to lose. Tonight is the Big East definition of “get in, pick up a win and get out.”

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