YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles head to the northeast United States tomorrow to take on the Connecticut Huskies. UConn started out their national title defense solidly, winning 10 games and only falling to Central Florida in the second game of an exempt tournament event in the Bahamas. Even Big East season started out well. With head coach Jim Calhoun suspended for 3 games by the NCAA, the Huskies won their first two games before contributing to the Bizarro Big East by losing at Seton Hall. Calhoun's return to the bench resulted in another loss, this time at Rutgers. UConn righted the ship and won their next two, including at Notre Dame, something that Marquette was unable to do.
That's when things went sideways. Since the win over Notre Dame, UConn has lost 6 of 8, including a mid-season non-conference loss at Tennessee. On top of the struggles on the court, Jim Calhoun has taken a medical leave of absence to deal with a case of spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal cord. From what I understand, this is the same condition that caused WWE wrestler Edge to retire about one year ago. I don't know if it's bad that Calhoun has a condition that a professional wrestler developed, or if it's bad that a professional wrestler has a condition that a 69 year old man developed. In any case, Calhoun has missed the last 4 games in which the Huskies are 2-2. There is no timetable set for Calhoun's return, which means that associate head coach George Blaney is in charge of the team for the forseeable future.
This is where things may be tipped in Marquette's favor. Join us after the jump for more.
In the last two seasons, Marquette and Connecticut have played three games. In two of these games, both in Connecticut, Blaney coached the team once because of Calhoun's health and once because Calhoun's sister-in-law passed away. Marquette won both of these games. In the third game, a Jim Calhoun-led Huskies team defeated Marquette in the Bradley Center as Marquette was able to shut down Kemba Walker, but not the emerging Jeremy Lamb.
Let's take a look at the Four Factors for these three games in comparison to what Connecticut did across the rest of the season that the game took place in.
First things first, let's stop and go back and watch Jimmy Butler's game winner from the first game listed here. NICE.
Moving on, I see two main variances between what a Blaney-led Connecticut did against Marquette as opposed to their season long numbers. First, UConn did noticeably worse on both sides of the ball when it comes to turnovers. It would seem that Blaney's Huskies have difficulty dealing with Marquette's defensive pressure. Given that Marquette is forcing turnovers at an even greater rate than any of Buzz Williams' previous teams, this could mean very good things for Marquette's transition offense. When it comes to how UConn plays defense, they don't get a lot of turnovers in the first place, but when Blaney coaches against Marquette, they nearly have no idea how to cause pressure. Look at the 2010 game. Marquette had 3% of their possessions in that game end in turnovers. That number is so low, it actually makes the outstanding 10.8% in the 2011 game look bad in comparison.
The other thing that stands out is how UConn stops opponents from getting offensive rebounds. Allowing 30% is an excellent number and you get exponentially worse the higher that number goes. The past two seasons, the Huskies have been terrible at letting their opponents get second chances. But Blaney's UConn teams have been able to cut those chances off by grabbing defensive rebounds at an outstanding rate. With Davante Gardner listed as doubtful on Marquette's official game notes, the Golden Eagles are going to need a big effort from Jae Crowder, Jamil Wilson and Vander Blue to reverse this trend.
Let's look at how a Jim Calhoun coached team fared against Marquette to see if we can see any variations in how Blaney and Calhoun organize the team:
Two changes are noticeable in comparison to the Blaney coached teams. When Calhoun coaches against Marquette, the Huskies do a better job of taking care of the basketball, but much worse at grabbing offensive rebounds. It comes as no surprise that they do just as good of a job at preventing MU from grabbing offensive rebounds, though.