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Top five storylines for Marquette-Davidson

 

Buzz Williams and Marquette begin their quest for a third straight Sweet 16 this afternoon. (USA Today)

Buzz Williams and Marquette begin their quest for a third straight Sweet 16 this afternoon. (USA Today)

It’s finally gameday, meaning it’s time to narrow in on the matchups and storylines that will help determine this afternoon’s outcome. In case you’re just joining the party, here are links to our coverage on Marquette and Davidson to date. Check them out:

— Looking over the Tournament’s East region
— Marquette grabs No. 3 seed, will face Davidson
— Davidson scouting report: All you need to know
— Analysis of Nik Cochran’s outside shooting
— History says 3-point shooting will end Marquette early
— Where Cohen and Brooks help Davidson the most

1. Cadougan’s tournament woes? Not so fast

In 90 career regular season games after his freshman season, Junior Cadougan has averaged 6.0 points, 2.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.2 turnovers.

In 11 career postseason games after his freshman season, Cadougan has averaged 7.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.6 turnovers.

The senior point guard’s perceived postseason woes aren’t as legitimate as most believe, thanks in large part to the Louisville debacle (eight turnovers) and last year’s Florida loss (21 minutes, 0-5 FG, three turnovers, four fouls). While the assists and turnovers could use some improvement, he’s still the point guard behind back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances and two Big East Tournament wins.

Still, his poor performances have put him under the spotlight, and it will be brightest tomorrow afternoon when he takes the court for what could be the last time. His win-loss splits this year have been telling, and one look at Cadougan’s box score should tell whether or not Marquette comes out on top.

Davidson does not turn over teams all that often (259th in the country) but also does not allow opponents to assist on many baskets (41.7 percent, 5th in the country). Cadougan had better take advantage of the former and beat the trend on the latter to help Marquette’s offense.

2. Gardner hitting the glass, or Davidson controlling the boards?

Marquette led the Big East, one of the better rebounding conferences in the country, in offensive rebounding percentage thanks to Davante Gardner’s and Jamil Wilson’s aggressiveness. Second-chance points are important for a team that isn’t going to make many 3-pointers, and its offensive rebounding was perhaps Marquette’s main reason for success in 2012-’13.

But standing in the Golden Eagles’ path on the glass is one of the better frontcourt duos in the NCAA Tournament. Led by Jake Cohen and De’Mon Brooks, the Wildcats allow offensive rebounds on just 27.9 percent of misses, the 42nd best mark in the country.

For the first time in a long time, rebounding could very well determine this afternoon’s outcome. Will Gardner prove Davidson beat up on weaker forwards in the Southern Conference, or are the Wildcats for real? We’ll find out soon enough, but Marquette’s second-chance points should be a good determinant of who comes out on top in this one.

3. Which team goes cold?

Davidson enters Thursday night’s contest with a nation-best 17-game win streak. Say what you will about the competition in the Southern Conference, but not faltering for almost two months is impressive.

On the other side, Marquette has won six of eight entering Thursday, including wins over Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame. They had a hiccup in New York City against the Irish but are still rolling into March as one of the hotter teams in the country.

Something’s got to give, and one team is going home while the other continues its impressive run into the third round.

4. How does Marquette defend the frontcourt?

Both Chris Otule and Davante Gardner have improved their post defense significantly this season, but tomorrow they’ll face perhaps the team most dependent on their frontcourt for success.

Jake Cohen and De’Mon Brooks can score in a variety of ways and, like many solid mid-majors, can step out to the 3-point line (Cohen) and 15-feet (Brooks). It will be a difficult task for Marquette if it chooses to defend on the Davidson frontcourt’s stellar post play. Buzz Williams undoubtedly has prepared exhaustively for how he’ll defend each stretch-forward, but “top-10 coach” Bob McKillop, according to Williams, will have his own ideas.

There are more factors to this matchup, but how efficient Cohen and Brooks are, and how often they get to the free throw line, are as important as any.

5a. Nik Cochran: Soon-to-be household name or cupcake beater?
5b. Vander Blue: Tournament heavy-lifter or regular season All-Conference member?

For all this author has seen of Davidson sharpshooter Nik Cochran–snippets of 5-6 games–it’s apparent he is as talented an outside shooter as one will find in this year’s NCAA Tournament (Apologies to Rotnei Clarke and Seth Curry).

But what happens when the big boys come to play? In Davidson’s six toughest games this season, Cochran’s outside numbers dipped slightly, averaging 8.5 points on 45 percent from beyond the arc. Those numbers are still acceptable, and he scored nine points last year against Louisville (1-of-3 from 3).

He has the capability to become a household name with one or two major performances in the NCAA Tournament, or he can fade away in his final collegiate game, against Marquette. Somewhere in between is a likely outcome, but know he’s capable of getting on a run at a moment’s notice. The NCAA Tournament as a scene tends to bring that out in the best shooters.

On Blue’s end, the transformation he’s made from a role player with no jump shot to a versatile, leading scorer on a Big East champion has been phenomenal. Now he has a chance to be “the guy” on a complete national stage.

He’s not one to shy away from the moment, and going up against Davidson’s backcourt will give him the opportunity to show off his improved skill set. Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder each carried Marquette the last two seasons, and now it’s Blue’s turn to take a page out of his former teammates’ books.

Prediction

Paint Touches hasn’t given a prediction all season long, but this seems like as fitting time as ever to do just that.

Las Vegas has Marquette as a 3.5-point favorite today, abnormally low for a 3 vs. 14 matchup. Davidson is talented, efficient and on as hot a streak as any team in the country.

But Buzz Williams’ coaching job this season has been nothing short of incredible. Perhaps the best indicator of success in the NCAA Tournament is coaching, and Williams has proven himself two years in a row with back-to-back Sweet 16 appearances. For all he’s accomplished with a team lacking a superstar, it’s hard to imagine his efforts resulting in a one-and-done exit.

Davidson is talented, but so is Marquette.

Final score: Marquette 65, Davidson 59

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