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Five keys: Marquette seeking quality win vs. Villanova

Deonte Burton is carving himself out quite a niche with Marquette. (USA Today)

Can Deonte Burton help Marquette beat No. 4 Villanova? (USA Today)

Marquette faces its first true home test in nearly two months this afternoon against No. 4 Villanova, and it’s hoping the results are better this time around. The last ranked opponent Marquette hosted at the Bradley Center was No. 10 Ohio State, which ended in an embarrassing 52-35 loss.

The Golden Eagles have improved since then, and head into today’s affair riding some momentum after coming from behind to defeat Georgetown, 80-72, in overtime. Only time will tell if Todd Mayo’s game-saving 3-pointer in regulation will act as a turning point for an otherwise disappointing season, but there’s no denying that having a conference road win under its belt helps Marquette entering today’s contest.

Villanova is also looking to re-establish themselves as one of the top team’s in the conference and country. After coming out blazing to the tune of a 16-1 start, the Wildcats were knocked back into reality when Creighton hit 21 3-pointers against them in a 96-68 blowout loss. It’s fair to chalk that game up as an aberration (21 3-pointers?!) but the Wildcats still have some work to do to get back on track.

Here are five things to watch for/keys during today’s tilt:

1. Get big, Marquette

Villanova isn’t the biggest team in the country, but they play like it. This season the Wildcats have made better than 54 percent of their 2-point attempts, ninth best in the country. Their four-headed monster of Darrun Hilliard, James Bell, Ryan Arcidiacono and JayVaughn Pinkson have done well in the lane, despite not playing in there often (we’ll get to that). Pinkston, specifically, has been stellar. The mini-Davante Gardner has made nearly 55 percent of his 2-pointers and is drawing 6.9 fouls per-40 minutes, 63rd best in the country. It’s safe to say the Golden Eagles will have their work cut out for them, as Villanova is one of the most effective offenses in the country. They rely on 2-pointers less than just about any team in the country, but they make the most of those attempts.

2. Beware the 3-pointer

It’s tough to say Marquette must play tough on the interior and also defend the 3-point line, but such is the case against an offense as good as Villanova’s. Six different players have made 13 or more 3-pointers, led by freshman phenom Josh Hart’s 21 makes on 44 percent shooting. Arcidiacono and Bell are the volume shooters, and it’s worth noting here that Villanova receives 33.3 percent of its points from beyond the arc, the 33rd highest rate in the country. Opponents have lived from the 3-point line against Marquette, making an astonishing 41 percent of its attempts in conference play. 3-point field-goal percentage defense is tough to change — it’s more about total attempts — but players such as Derrick Wilson, Jake Thomas and Todd Mayo must close out and make it tough on the Wildcats.

3. Ride some John Dawson momentum

Nearly every Marquette fan (un)officially has taken a side in the ongoing point guard debate, either rooting for the upperclassman Derrick Wilson or the shiny, new toy in John Dawson. Whoever you prefer running Marquette’s offense, it’s impossible to look past what Dawson did against Georgetown (12 points, four assists, 31 minutes). Buzz Williams has his own strategy and system, but there’s really no way to justify not giving Dawson ample playing time against the Wildcats. If he doesn’t play well early, it’s easy to yank him and ride with Wilson. Either way, Dawson needs some run. I think he’ll get it, and I think postgame we’ll be talking about who should start at the point going forward. Yes, safe to say Dawson impressed me.

4. Find, defend Josh Hart

In order to win on the road in the Big East, x-factors are needed. And today, look no further than freshman Josh Hart. The No. 92 prospect in the 2013 class has been phenomenal for Jay Wright, scoring in double figures in eight of his last nine games while playing, at most, 27 minutes. He’s a quick hitter off the bench for the Wildcats, and this afternoon’s contest may come down to whether or not Todd Mayo can outplay him. There are certainly other players to watch out for; Hart may be the most important.

5. Oh, that elusive “quality win”

Looking at Marquette’s schedule, there are four remaining games that, if won, would qualify as a quality win: today, vs. Xavier, vs. Creighton and at Villanova. Aside from Marquette needing general wins, it also needs to start boosting its resume if it plans on being included in the discussion come Selection Sunday. And of those four remaining games, today may be the Golden Eagles’ best chance. They’re riding some momentum from an overtime road win and Villanova just got pasted at home. The iron is hot for Marquette to pick up a win, and it’s time for the Golden Eagles to strike.

PREDICTION: Villanova 68, Marquette 60

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One Comment on “Five keys: Marquette seeking quality win vs. Villanova”

  1. Tom schwendlet
    January 25, 2014 at 12:23 pm #

    Nice column. First time reader. But what about the home field advantage?

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