It’s impossible to call a game on Jan. 20 a “must-win,” but tonight’s contest at Georgetown is now just as close to that for Marquette. Following a 69-57 overtime loss at Butler on Saturday, the Golden Eagles are now 2-3 in Big East play, with all three defeats occurring away from the Bradley Center. With just six road contests remaining in the regular season, Buzz Williams’ group is running out of chances to earn quality wins to boost a resume that is going to need serious help in the next two months.
That begins tonight against the Hoyas, who also have had their fair share of struggles. After shooting out of the gates with home wins over DePaul and St. John’s, they have lost three of their last four, including losses to Xavier and Seton Hall last week. At 11-6, tonight is also a crucial game for the Hoyas, who would drop below .500 in conference play with a loss.
Their successes and failures begin with Markel Starks, the senior point guard tabbed with lofty expectations for a group that lost All-American Otto Porter to the NBA. Starks has been a mixed bag this season; he’s averaging a career-best 15.2 points in more than 36 minutes per game, but he’s shooting just 39 percent from the field. His 4.0 assists have been solid for a team assisting on better than 56 percent of made field goals. He’ll look to improve on a 3-for-12 performance from the field in a Saturday loss to Seton Hall.
The biggest improvement has come from sophomore D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. After an impressive freshmen season, he’s exploded in Year 2, averaging 17.1 points on 48 percent shooting, 4.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 34 minutes per game. He’s scored at least 14 points in Georgetown’s last five games, including a 31-point outburst against St. John’s. Watch out for the 6-foot-3 shooter from beyond the arc.
Senior forward Nate Lubick hasn’t wowed anyone in his three-plus seasons, but he’s always been an integral piece to John Thompson III’s rotation. He’s averaging 5.5 rebounds, is shooting 54 percent from the field and must continue to thrive in Joshua Smith’s absence.
With Jabril Trawick (broken jaw) out of the lineup, freshman Reggie Cameron has seen a massive increase in minutes. He’s averaged 31 minutes per game in his last three games after not playing more than 18 minutes in any game before that. He’s been good, too, averaging 9.3 points and 2.6 rebounds.
Mikael Hopkins, former Marquette commit Aaron Bowen and Moses Ayegba round out the rotation that is now shortened with Smith and Trawick out.
WHERE THE HOYAS ARE GOOD
— In Big East play, opponents have shot just 45 percent effectively. That’s second best in the conference, and it’s headed by stellar 3-point field goal percentage defense. That’s not necessarily something the Hoyas can affect, but it’s still worth noting that the Golden Eagles won’t receive much scoring from beyond the arc.
— If you’re looking for star power, Smith-Rivera is your guy. Like Porter last year, Smith-Rivera has been a stud freshman who has played impeccably in Thompson’s unique offense. It can’t be understated how well he’s played, and his true shooting of 63 percent is top-80 in the country. This will be one of Marquette’s toughest covers all season long, and Semaj Christon hurt the Golden Eagles in their last true individual test.
WHERE THE HOYAS STRUGGLE
— The Hoyas have lost two straight without Trawick in the lineup, scoring 67 and 57 points, respectively, in those games. Offense is going to be tough to come by, and their 20.5 percent turnover rate (second worst in the Big East) isn’t helping. The Hoyas can’t afford costly turnovers, especially when they’re playing their starters so many minutes. This is a game in which Marquette could wear its opponent out.
THREE KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Need you, Derrick Wilson
Check our next post for why Marquette needs Wilson to be in tip-top shape. Starks is a physical point guard who isn’t going to let up no matter how many minutes he plays. While he’s not much of a threat from beyond the arc, Wilson must lock in on the Hoyas point guard and make sure he doesn’t dictate the game.
2. Keep on keeping on, Davante
Marquette’s leading scorer inexplicably didn’t receive but a few touches down the stretch in regulation against Butler, and he looked upset in the closing minutes (for good reason). Now it’s time for him to take out his frustrations on a Georgetown frontcourt that can be bullied inside. With so much on the line, it’s time for the senior to shine on a big stage.
3. Just win, baby
This isn’t really a key, but it’s time for Marquette to gear up and earn a victory. Williams doesn’t seem to have motivated his team as he has in years’ past, and now it’s time for that to happen. Simply put, go out and earn a victory by playing Marquette’s own brand of basketball. As we’ve learned this year, it’s not going to be pretty. But it has to happen or the NCAA Tournament will only come via a Big East Tournament championship.