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#24 Marquette Basketball Big East Preview Primer: vs #12 Villanova Wildcats

The Golden Eagles already showed that they can beat the Wildcats on the road. Can they do it at home?

Georgetown v Villanova Getty Images

#24 Marquette Golden Eagles (15-7, 7-4 Big East) vs #12 Villanova Wildcats (16-5, 9-2 Big East)

Date: Wednesday, February 2, 2022
Time: 9pm Central
Location: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Justin Lewis, 16.5 ppg
Rebounds: Justin Lewis, 7.9 rpg
Assists: Tyler Kolek, 6.1 apg

Villanova Stats Leaders

Points: Collin Gillespie, 17.1 ppg
Rebounds: Eric Dixon, 6.5 rpg
Assists: Collin Gillespie, 3.0 apg

KenPom.com Rankings

Marquette: #29
Villanova: #7
Game Projection: Villanova has a 63% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 68-64.

Last Time Out: Marquette gave up a 12-0 run in the middle of the second half to cough up a 36-33 lead.... and won anyway, 57-54. That was pretty neat.

It came down to the final seconds after Marquette rallied, and after Kur Kuath came up with a big block and Justin Lewis secured the loose ball, Lewis reassembled a rapidly falling apart possession to hit a monster three. MU came up with one final defensive stop, and that’s your ball game. Lewis led all scorers with 21 points, and he added seven rebounds, two assists, and a steal to his evening to push the Golden Eagles to their first ever win at Finneran Pavilion.

Since Last We Met: The Wildcats have bounced back from their second worst offensive outing of the season (only Baylor held them to fewer points per possession) to win three straight and stay within sight of Providence for the lead in the Big East standings. Those wins are: An 85-74 win at Georgetown that got a little wobbly in the middle when the Hoyas were up eight, a 67-43 mauling of DePaul pushed along by a 13-0 run late in the first half, and a 73-62 win at home over St. John’s that featured a 23-4 run in the first half and only looks close because the Red Storm put together a 13-2 run that still left them down nine with two minutes left.

Tempo Free Fun: Obviously, the question at hand when previewing this return bout is “how did Marquette beat Villanova the first time?” Not that this exact game plan will work a second time because VU head coach Jay Wright is not a goof, but to understand exactly what worked, and maybe figure out some things that didn’t work so well and find places to improve.

I don’t think it’s out of line to say that Marquette caught the biggest break that you can get when you play Villanova: The Wildcats didn’t hit their three-pointers. As a team, they went just 6-for-24 from downtown, and only Justin Moore’s 3-for-6 outing was a positive performance for them. Villanova wants to shoot a lot of three-pointers, as over 45% of their shots on the season are from outside the arc, a number than ranks #34 in the country at the moment per KenPom.com. They make an awful lot of them on average, ranking #44 in the country in accuracy. Combine holding them to “only” 41% of shots attempted from long range and a very bad 25% conversion rate, and you’re definitely coming out ahead on that end of the floor.

The other big thing that went really well for Marquette? The Golden Eagles hit a bunch of their three-pointers. 45% of them, in fact, the fifth best shooting percentage that they’ve posted all season. Now, that sounds like it’s a little out of the ordinary for Marquette, and sure. But while on their seven game winning streak, Marquette’s worst shooting night was 34.6% against Georgetown. The Golden Eagles have been on a heater as a team when it comes to three-pointers.... right up to the fact that they only hit 26% of them against Providence and they lost that game.

If Marquette can get back to being the best three-point shooting team in the Big East this season — and they are, 39% in league play leads all teams — then that’s probably a good sign against the Wildcats on Wednesday night. The problem, such as it is, comes in the form of Marquette shot really well as a team against Nova last time. The specific reason for that? Justin Lewis went 5-for-8 and Greg Elliott went 4-for-6. That’s nine of Marquette’s 13 makes from just two guys, and it’s two guys that likely can’t replicate 63% and 67% shooting again. Hey, maybe they do, maybe Greg Elliott goes 4-for-4, who knows? But depending on guys going nuclear is a bad idea, and Marquette has to focus on getting the best possible shot that they can get, no matter where on the floor that shot is.

Coming off of Providence winning on Sunday somewhat because they grabbed up their misses with enthusiasm, it’s probably a good idea to check in on how that went for MU against Villanova last time around. It was a kind of a middle of the road performance, with Nova snagging 28% of their missed shots. That’s actually just a bit below Marquette’s season average of allowing 32% and even further below their 34% mark allowed in Big East play. All of that’s pretty good news overall when you take into account that Villanova’s a pretty good offensive rebounding team (#67 in the country in rate) as they haul in just under 32% of their misses on average. Allowing offensive rebounds has been a weakness for Marquette all season, and given how well the Golden Eagles play defense — they’re top 25 in KenPom’s adjusted metric — it’s a very real flaw in the diamond. Whatever it was about the Wildcats or MU’s particular strategy in that game at the Finn, it worked for 40 minutes. Eric Dixon is a particularly good offensive rebounder, ranking in the top 40 in the country in individual OR rate. He did come up with a team high three of VU’s 10 offensive rebounds last time, so making sure to get a body on him will be a critical point.

I think we have to at least spill a little bit of digital ink in the direction of this game starting at 9pm in Milwaukee, or 10pm in Philadelphia body clock time. That’s weird, right? Off the top of my head, I can’t remember seeing a 9pm Central start time for Marquette before. Of course, I’m feeling pretty sure that the television lead-in for Marquette basketball has never been a United States men’s national soccer team World Cup qualifying match before. That’s what we’re getting on Wednesday night as the US is hosting Honduras at Allianz Field in Saint Paul, Minnesota, with a 6:30pm start time. The good news is that these things are pretty much guaranteed to wrap up in less than two hours and 30 minutes, so there’s no worry about the MU game being pushed even later because the soccer runs long.

With that said, how cool is it that the USMNT is MU’s lead-in on television?? For those of you who aren’t up on your CONCACAF qualifying news, the US is currently second in the standings through 10 of the 14 matches in the World Cup qualifying round, four points behind Canada after America’s Fancy Hat beat the Yanks 2-0 on Sunday and tied with Mexico. The United States can’t clinch a World Cup berth on Wednesday night — the top three teams in the eight team group automatically qualify — but seeing as Honduras is in last place with a record of seven losses and three draws and a -14 goal differential, it would certainly be a good idea for Ricardo Pepi et. al. to score a bunch of goals and run away with the three points.

By the way: expected temperature in Saint Paul for this outdoor soccer game? 6 degrees Fahrenheit. What brain geniuses took one look at all of the possible stadiums available in the entirety of the United States and said “I know, let’s go to Minnesota and play outside on February 2nd!” Someone should be fired.

Stat Watch: Senior center Kur Kuath has 67 blocks on the season as we enter February. That is the eighth most blocks by any Marquette player in any season in program history. He is three away from tying and four away from passing Theo John’s 70 swats in 2019 for seventh place. When Kuath gets past John — and with eight regular season games to go, it is when, not if — we will be able to say that Kuath has the most blocks by a Marquette player in 25 years.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 7-3, with a seven game winning streak snapped in MU’s last contest.

Villanova Last 10 Games: 9-1, with the only loss coming against Marquette.

All-Time Series: Villanova leads, 27-13

Current Streak: Marquette’s win at Finneran Pavilion earlier this season snapped a three game winning streak by the Wildcats.

Follow Along on Twitter:

@AnonymousEagle - Hey, that’s us!
@MarquetteMBB - Official MU account
@NovaMBB - Official Villanova account
@VUhoops - our SB Nation friends who follow Villanova
@becb_sbn - our SB Nation friends that follow the whole Big East
@BenSteeleMJS - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel MU beat writer