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2018 Big East Tournament Quarterfinals Preview: #2 Villanova vs #7 Marquette

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oh god how is there less than 24 hours until the next game my cardiologist is going to be so upset

Marq vs Nova

2018 Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament Quarterfinals

#2 Villanova Wildcats (27-4, 14-4) vs #7 Marquette Golden Eagles (19-12, 9-9)

Date: Thursday, March 8, 2018
Time: 6pm Central
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Television: FS1, with Gus Johnson, Bill Raftery, and Lisa Byington on the call
Streaming: Fox Sports Go
Radio: 540 ESPN Milwaukee, with Steve “The Homer” True and Jim McIlvaine on the call
Line: ???
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteMBB
Season Series: Villanova won, 2-0.
All Time Series: Villanova leads, 22-10.

Marquette Stat Leaders

Points: Markus Howard, 20.3
Rebounds: Sam Hauser, 6.0 rpg
Assists: Andrew Rowsey, 4.6 apg

Villanova Stat Leaders

Points: Jalen Brunson, 19.0 ppg
Rebounds: Omari Spellman, 7.8 rpg
Assists: Jalen Brunson, 4.8 apg

KenPom Rankings

Marquette: #50
Villanova: #2
KenPom Projection: Villanova has an 85% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 88-77.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 6-4, with three straight wins and victories in five of their last six.

Villanova Last 10 Games: 7-3, as they enter on a two game winning streak.

Tempo Free Fun: I don’t think I can muster up a proper discussion of how Marquette got to the quarterfinals. Watching last night’s game and then writing last night’s recap was way too much for my stress levels. Here, go read the recap and watch the highlight package from GoMarquette.com, and then we’ll call it even and move forward from there.

So, yeah, that’s how the #7 seeded Golden Eagles reached the quarterfinals. Villanova’s path was a little easier, as the #2 seeded Wildcats picked up the bye, and also earned the right to play one of the two teams that played on Wednesday night. It’s the first time since The Reformation that Villanova isn’t the #1 seed in the Big East tournament, and the first time that they haven’t won the regular season crown. In fact, they won each of the first four post-Reformation regular season titles by at least two games, but not so much this time around.

The math accords Villanova a heavy advantage in this game, as you can see from KenPom’s heavy favoritism towards the Wildcats. However, it’s not like these two teams didn’t play two pretty good games this season. Marquette fell by just 10, 100-90, in Philadelphia, and the return bout in Milwaukee was just a three point game, 85-82. In both cases, Marquette’s offense was good enough to win, scoring over 1.15 points per possession. However, and this isn’t necessarily a knock on the Golden Eagles here, the defense was not good enough. Villanova’s offense clipped past 1.20 points per possession in both games, including a 1.32 at Wells Fargo Center. Yes, Marquette’s defense has a lot in common with a spaghetti strainer this season, but the fact of the matter is that Villanova is really good on offense, ranking #1 in the country according to KenPom. In fact, they’re trying to take a run at being the most efficient offense in KenPom history. So yeah, Marquette could probably defend them better, but the same could be said for every other team in the country, because this particular iteration of Jay Wright’s offense is literally historically great.

The thing we need to take pride in is the fact that Wright has almost no idea how to defend Marquette. Remember when I said that VU is the #1 KenPom offense? They’re #24 in defense. Ranking in the top 25 in both categories is “national championship contender” territory, but the Golden Eagles have shredded Nova twice this season. The Milwaukee game is pretty self-explanatory, as MU shot over 45% on threes in that game, and when that involves 24 attempts, that’ll do a number on you pretty quickly. The Philly game is more troubling if you’ve a member of Nova Nation, though, as Marquette shot “just” 36% on 31 attempts from long range, but still had an incredibly effective day.

Marquette’s efforts to contain Villanova long enough to gain a victory will begin, and to a certain extent end, with Jalen Brunson. The Big East Player of the Year is deserving of the national version of that award, and for good reason. 19 points per game and 4.8 assists per game to lead the team, but that doesn’t properly explain his impact. The Chicago area native is so talented that the Wildcats can play a one-in/four-out offense but with Brunson operating out of the post instead of, say, 6’9” Omari Spellman, who more looks the part. Spellman, who was named Freshman of the Year in the Big East this season is just as comfortable on the outside as he is on the inside, knocking down 44% of his three-point attempts on more than three tries a game. It’s Brunson’s ability to play out of the post that makes the whole thing work, but Spellman’s ability to play outside can’t be ignored in the equation.

And then there’s Mikal Bridges, who may just be the most underrated player in the country, merely because he plays with Brunson. Toss in Donte DiVincenzo, Phil Booth, and Eric Paschall, and you’ve got one hell of a squad. It’s going to take one mighty effort from Marquette to contain them, but the possible reward is worth it: A win over Villanova will almost assuredly remove any doubt from the murky question that is whether or not Marquette earns an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. They’re on the edge now, with T-Rank forecasting them as headed to Dayton and Bracket Matrix showing them just barely outside before taking into account Wednesday’s contests. Beat the Wildcats, a team headed towards a #1 seed in the 68 team field? That would be MU’s best win of the season by a decent margin, and should be enough to convince the selection committee that the Golden Eagles are deserving of inclusion.

It’s just going to be really, really difficult to do that.

Greg Elliott Watch: The freshman from Detroit has the seventh most blocks by a freshman with 21, and is trailing teammate Theo John by just one. Up next is current MU women’s basketball assistant coach Scott Merritt, who had 25 in 2000-01.

Theo John Watch: With a block against Creighton, John now has the sixth most blocks by a Marquette freshman all to himself at 22. He’s chasing Scott Merritt at 25.

Sam Hauser Watch: I feel so bad for the sophomore from Stevens Point. After assembling one of the greatest freshman shooting campaigns in Marquette history, he’s doing the same thing as a sophomore and is being completely overshadowed by Markus Howard yet again. Hauser has 91 made threes, which is the second most by a Marquette sophomore, trailing behind wherever Howard’s new sophomore record is at any given moment. It’s also the 4th most in any single season, trailing Steve Novak’s all time record, and wherever Howard and Andrew Rowsey happen to be at a given moment. Hauser’s 178 attempts from long range have surpassed Duane Wilson for the seventh most by a MU sophomore. Next up on the list is Dominic James at 184.

Andrew Rowsey Watch: Rowsey now has a team high 105 made three-pointers on the season, which is the second most by a Marquette senior, the 2nd most in any MU season, and just the second time any Marquette player has splashed 100 triples in a season. Steve Novak’s senior year record of 121 is the only total left in front of him on both charts. Rowsey is up to 262 three-point tries this season, which breaks Novak’s senior year total of 259 as the program’s all time record. Rowsey’s campaign is just the seventh time a Marquette player has attempted 200 or more three-point shots in a season. After going 5-for-5 against DePaul from the free throw stripe, Rowsey has tied Rube Schulz for the seventh most made free throws by a senior with 150. Davante Gardner is up next at 157, and that mark is the 10th most in any single season. Rowsey’s accuracy is absurd, as he still needs 17 more attempts from the stripe to get into the senior top 10 in that department. Rowsey tied Jim Boylan and Dominic James for the seventh most assists by a MU senior with 144. He’ll need six more helpers to tie Derrick Wilson. He also needs just eight points to score 1,000 in a Marquette uniform. If/when he gets there, he’ll be the 49th MU player to ever hit that mark, the seventh to do it in just two seasons, and the fifth player IN NCAA HISTORY to score 1,000 points for two different teams. Rowsey already has the fifth best senior scoring season in MU history with 621 points, vaulting past Jae Crowder, Lazar Hayward, and Dean Meminger on Wednesday night. Next up is Darius Johnson-Odom at 623 and then Wesley Matthews at 641. On the all time single season chart, Rowsey sits at eighth place all time with DJO next and Butch Lee at 628 after him.

Markus Howard Watch: It’s official: This is the best sophomore scoring season in Marquette history. With 4 points against DePaul, Howard is up to 610, and that has surpassed the one and only Dwyane Wade at 571. He is four points away from Jae Crowder’s mark of 614 for the 11th best scoring season in MU history. Howard’s 97 made three-pointers are the most by a Marquette sophomore, passing Steve Novak’s 89, and he trails only Rowsey right now and Novak’s senior year record of 121 on the all-time chart. Howard’s 246 three-point attempts is now the most by a Marquette sophomore, surpassing Novak’s record of 207. 246 long range attempts in a season is also the sixth 200+ attempt season in Marquette history and the 3rd most in any single season by any Marquette player, trailing Novak’s senior season (259) and Rowsey’s current total of 262. His 210 made field goals are the third most by a MU sophomore, surpassing George Thompson (200) and coming up next on Dwyane Wade (223). Howard’s 455 total shots on the season is just the seventh time a Marquette sophomore has broken past 400 in a season, and he currently sits in 3rd place on that list. Tom Flynn is up next at 457, and Dwyane Wade has the record at 458.

Oh, and one more thing: Howard is the sixth player to record 1,000 career points for Marquette in just two seasons, just barely beating Rowsey to the punch. He’s up to 1,020 right now, which means he has already passed Lloyd Walton, Jajuan Johnson, and Luke Fischer on the all time chart and moved into 45th place all-time. If he hits for his average of 20 points, he’ll tie Ron Curry for 42nd place and pass Dwayne Johnson and Tony Miller.