Marquette begins postseason run against Irish

Marquette defeated Notre Dame, 73-64, two weeks ago at home. (USA Today)

Marquette defeated Notre Dame, 73-64, two weeks ago at home. (USA Today)

For Marquette to advance to the semifinals of the Big East Tournament for the first time since 2010 it will have to overcome two obstacles: the nightmare that was last year’s loss to Louisville at Madison Square Garden, and Jack Cooley, who played just 15 minutes against the Golden Eagles two weeks ago because of a stomach virus.

For all the “bad” losses in Buzz Williams’ five year career–which aren’t many–none compare to last year’s debacle against Rick Pitino’s group in New York a year and six days ago. The final score–84-71–hardly tells the story, as Marquette turned the ball over 26 times, had just 11 assists on 30 made field goals and committed 26 fouls, resulting in 21 Cardinal free throw makes.

But it wasn’t just the statistics that made it such a poor outing. It came on the heels of Marquette winning six of seven to close the Big East season, Jae Crowder had been named the player of the year two days earlier and Louisville had lost four of six entering the NCAA Tournament. Furthermore, the Golden Eagles had taken down Pitino’s group, 74-63, that January.

The after-effect of the New York CIty debacle didn’t last, as Marquette went on to defeat BYU and Murray State to advance to a second straight Sweet 16, but this year’s group is again in the spotlight and needs to produce.

The Golden Eagles enter this tournament as the No. 3 seed, fresh off a share of their first regular season conference title. Williams made headlines with his trashing of media–both national and local–about how his team hasn’t received the attention or respect it deserves. Now that they have the attention of most, a win tonight would make Williams’ argument of deserving respect stronger.

Marquette is 2-3 against Notre Dame the last three seasons, most recently disposing of the Irish on March 2 at home, pushing its home win streak to 25 games, currently the second longest active streak in the country.

The asterisk that goes along with that win is that Cooley, named an All-Big East first team member earlier this week, was in the hospital the night before the game. He attempted to give it a go but, after 15 minutes where he clearly wasn’t himself, was taken out of the game.

Marquette won the game thoroughly, Cooley or not, shooting nearly 60 percent from the field and assisting on 20 of 28 field goals. But without Cooley, Chris Otule (16 points, 8-of-8 FG), Jamil Wilson (19 points, 6-of-10 FG) and Davante Gardner (5 points, 2-of-3 FG) all had solid afternoons in the frontcourt.

Cooley is still working his way back, averaging 7.0 points and 9.6 rebounds in his three games (2-1) since the Marquette loss. He’ll be at the forefront of Marquette’s gameplan this evening, and his results in the box score could be a determining factor in the outcome.

The other cog in head coach Mike Brey’s system who Marquette must prepare for is guard Jerian Grant, who was named, along with Vander Blue, to the Big East’s All-second team this week. He scored a game-high 21 points and added seven rebounds and five assists in the loss to Marquette, but also had five of the Irish’s turnovers. He averages 36.4 minutes per game, so pressuring him early and often might be the best bet to slowing him down late.

But it’s the other backcourt member, junior Eric Atkins, who will be seeing the court plenty tonight. The 6-foot-2 signal caller plays a nation-high 38.3 minutes per game, and hasn’t played less than 37 minutes since the end of January. Fun fact, he played all 60 minutes in the Irish’s epic five-overtime win against Louisville on Feb. 9. Atkins is efficient, aggressive and runs Brey’s offense as well as possible.

Marquette should also remember a familiar and haunting face tonight, sophomore sharpshooter Pat Connaughton. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard exploded for a career-high 23 points in last year’s Irish win over Marquette in South Bend, and he’ll enter tonight on a hot streak after hitting 6-of-8 3-pointers in last night’s win over Rutgers in Round 2.

The Irish know how to play slow, and they do it well. Their pace of 60.2 possessions was second slowest in the Big East this year (behind only South Florida’s 59.5) yet they had the fourth best efficiency. Marquette will slow the pace, too, but both teams also are efficient in transition. Tonight will be a game of taking chances and knowing when to push the pace. Past that, winning the turnover battle will be crucial.

The other two areas where tonight’s game may be decided is Marquette’s ability to grab offensive rebounds and get to the free throw line, two areas the Golden Eagles excel in, yet Notre Dame does well defensively.


Something has to give between these two teams. On March 2 Marquette grabbed just nine percent (3-of-33) of available offensive rebounds, but shooting 59 percent makes that statistic not as important. As for the free throws, Marquette attempted 18 free throws against 47 field goal attempts (38.3 percent), right on par with its season average and nine percentage points higher than Notre Dame’s impressive mark. Again, Cooley was a non-factor, but if Gardner and Otule can get to the free throw line it’d go a long way toward a win.

Marquette is the favorite tonight and can earn that respect from the national media that Williams desires, but it won’t come easy. The Irish’s brand of basketball has worked in the Big East Tournament, as they’ve appeared in the finals twice and the semifinals once the last three seasons.

The Golden Eagles can make sure that success ends this season with a solid showing tonight. Let the fun in the Garden begin.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Home, Previews


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: