BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: Marquette @ Pittsburgh
January 28, 2006
The two most pleasant surprises in the Big East, Marquette and Pittsburgh, get together in the Steel City for a noon showdown on Saturday. Tom Crean's Golden Eagles enter the contest with a 5-2 conference record and 15-5 overall mark in their first year in the Big East. The Panthers, coached by Jamie Dixon, are 5-1 in the conference and 16-1 overall as one of the nation's biggest surpises on the season.
So far this season, Marquette has played 8 games away from home. They won all three of their contests in the Great Alaskan Shootout in November, but lost a couple OOC road contests to Nebraska and Wisconsin. In the Big East, they played three consecutive road contests, winning at Seton Hall and DePaul, sandwiched around a loss at West Virginia. Away from home, the Golden Eagles allow 79.8 PPG, while scoring 77 PPG themselves.
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Pittsburgh is one of the better home teams in the country. Some of their home stats can be a little skewed by their OOC schedule, but in the Big East and against major conference opponents (Wisconsin, Penn St and Auburn) they are averaging 82.5 PPG and allowing 64.7 PPG. Pittsburgh seems to be a much more comfortable offensive team in their home building. Marquette is a team that tends to commit a lot more fouls than their opponents, which is tough against a team like Pittsburgh, who is the opposite, they get to the line a LOT more than their opponents, so Marquette is not only going to have to be physical against the Panthers, but physical within the concept of team defense. Sometimes teams try to adjust, but without concentrating on getting in good defensive position. Against the Orange, Pittsburgh went to the line 35 times compared to SU's 5 attempts for the game.
One of the areas in which the Panthers tend to struggle is in allowing too much dribble penetration from opposing guards. One of Marquette's biggest strengths is their ability to breakdown defenses off the dribble led by freshmen guards Dominic James and Jerel McNeal. James is by far and away the leading candidate for freshmen of the year in the Big East conference is listed at only 5'9, but he is one of the quickest and most athletic point guards you will see. Reverse slams and in-bounds alley oops are not uncommon to be thrown down by these athletic freak! Plus, James has an all-around game, too, averaging 15 PPG and nearly 6 assists, usually on a variety of pull-up jumpers and runners in the lane created by his athleticism. McNeal adds 11 PPG and the strong right-handed guard loves to get into the lane and take it to the basket. He will also knock down some perimeter jumpers as well. Both players love to play fast, Pitt's preference to control the tempo is a key here. Against St John's, the Panthers were out of sorts early as they let the St John's guards dictate a quicker tempo early on which led to many Pitt turnovers, look for Marquette to try and duplicate that effort. However, doing that in Pittsburgh has not been done often. Usually, slowing the game down with Pitt is the way to go.
The usual beneficiary of the dribble penetration of the Marquette guards is Steve Novak. The 6'10 senior leads the Golden Eagles with 16 PPG and 6 rebounds, shooting a blistering 46% from the 3-pt line on 153 attempts this season. However, a high ankle sprain slowed Novak in their last game in which he managed just 5 shot attempts against DePaul. However, 6'9 sophomore transfer Dan Fitzgerald stepped up htting 6/7 from beyond the arc for a career high 18 (he was 11-37 entering the game from 3). Fitzgerlad and senior Joe Chapman make up the 3rd guard spot for the Golden Eagles combining with James, McNeal and Novak to give most of the scoring punch for Marquette. Ryan Amoroso, Jamil Lott and Ousmane Barro rotate in the paint and will have thier hands full inside with Aaron Gray of Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh will try and wear down Marquette inside and on the boards by running out 10 players with very little drop-off in changing line-ups. Aaron Gray should be able to carve space out inside and on the boards and make life very tough for the Golden Eagles inside. Marquette will probably use as many fouls as they can with their 3-headed Center monster, plus Mike Kinsella and Chris Grimm can come deeper off the bench and Levon Kendall's size will also pose problems on the boards and Sam Young's athletic ability will also be a challenge in the paint and around the rim. Playing at home usually brings out the best in Carl Krauser. In the 6 home games against the Big East and major conference opponents, Krauser is 15-24 from 3-pt range and 40-70 overall from the field, averaging 21 PPG. He makes this team go and energizes the crowd with his play when in Pittsburgh.
There is a lot to like about both teams and that creates an excellent match-up that is a key game in the conference race. Pittsburgh is about to embark on a 5-game stretch that will see them host Marquette prior to facing road games with Connecticut and Georgetown before returning home for Cincinnati and West Virginia. Having Connecticut on their schedule following this game could be a small distraction to the Panthers. Marquette's schedule is pretty favorable heading down the stretch, a win at Pittsburgh should give the Golden Eagles one final lift toward the NCAA tournament. However, it is going to be a tall order in landing a win against these Panthers at home, especially with Pitt's ability to draw fouls and control tempo, Marquette is a team that likes to go-go-go, which is a tough way to beat Pitt at home. Their guards could cause some problems, but will the freshmen guards commit to causing the problems on the defensive side for 40 minutes? That is what will be needed on the road.
NBE Blogger Prediction:
Pittsburgh 74 Marquette 67