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#9 Marquette Men’s Basketball Big East Preview Primer: at Villanova

The Golden Eagles head to The Finn with an eye on a program best sixth straight win over the Wildcats.

Villanova University vs University of Kansas, 2022 NCAA National Semifinals Set Number: X164001 TK1

#9 Marquette Golden Eagles (15-5, 6-3 Big East) at Villanova Wildcats (11-9, 4-5 Big East)

Date: Tuesday, January 30, 2024
Time: 6pm Central
Location: Finneran Pavilion, Villanova, Pennsylvania

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Oso Ighodaro, 14.6 ppg
Rebounds: Oso Ighodaro, 7.1 rpg
Assists: Tyler Kolek, 7.1 apg

Marquette Injury Notes: Chase Ross (shoulder) is doing non-contact shooting work in practice at last report from head coach Shaka Smart, so it would be surprising to see him return here. Kam Jones played just five minutes on Saturday and was visibly hobbled by an ankle injury suffered in practice on Friday. While it’s hard to understand why anyone thought Jones was able to play on Saturday, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that treatment on Sunday and Monday would be enough to restore him to full-enough-strength by Tuesday night.

Villanova Stats Leaders

Points: Eric Dixon, 15.7 ppg
Rebounds: Tyler Burton, 7.4 rpg
Assists: Justin Moore, 2.1 apg

KenPom.com Rankings

Marquette: #13
Villanova: #39
Game Projection: Marquette has a 51% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 71-70.

Last Time Out: With Chase Ross already out and Sean Jones blowing out his knee late in the previous game, dropping Marquette to 2-3 in Big East play, they needed to figure something out in their Martin Luther King Day matinee against Villanova. They figured it out while the plane was in the air, struggling from behind the three-point line (30% on 23 attempts), but got enough other things to work. Marquette barely turned the ball over against a Wildcat defense that’s not designed to make that happen anyway and got to the rim at will to shoot 75% on two-pointers. A late 10-0 run was the difference maker in an 87-74 victory.

Since Last We Met: Marquette might have kicked Villanova down a set of stairs.

At the time, the January 15th loss to MU was the second in three games, with St. John’s winning at the Finn for the first time in 30 years on the far side of a home win over DePaul. VU comes into Tuesday night riding a four game losing streak now, and that means that the SJU loss gives them five losses in their last six games. They got squeaked at home by UConn by one point, got dumped by 20 at The Garden by the Johnnies, and then on Saturday, they coughed up a 62-54 lead with just under three minutes to go to end up in overtime at Hinkle Fieldhouse against Butler.... and then the Bulldogs forced a second overtime session before finally handing the Wildcats an 88-81 defeat.

Nova’s track record in Big East play: An overtime win at Creighton, a dumptrucking of DePaul at Wintrust before DePaul fired their coach, barely edging out Xavier at home, losing to the Johnnies at home, dumptrucking DePaul again, and then the four game losing streak they’re currently riding. The vibes are very wrong on the Main Line in Year Two of Kyle Neptune’s tenure after taking over from Jay Wright.

Tempo Free Fun: The first thing that we have to talk about is the combination of how Marquette beat Villanova in Milwaukee and the ankle injury suffered by Kam Jones.

Marquette does not beat the Wildcats without tearing them up inside, full stop. The defense wasn’t good enough, both in terms of shot contesting or in forcing turnovers. And so, the fact that the Golden Eagles shot 30-for-40 inside the arc in that game was incredibly crucial. The chess match nature of things indicates that Villanova was starting to figure Marquette out in the first meeting, as MU went from shooting 17-for-20 in the first half to 13-for-20 in the second half. To be clear: I’ll take 65% on two-point attempts every day of the week, but it was trending downwards. Depending on how much of that trend was Nova adjusting and how much was “they can’t possibly shoot 85% the whole game,” it stands to reason that Marquette’s not going to be able to do that again at the Finn.

A potential major reason why that won’t happen again? Kam Jones might not even play, and even if he does, he’s not going to be 100%. Jones was perfect from the field on eight attempts inside the arc against the Wildcats in Milwaukee, and he tacked on 2-for-4 shooting from three-point land for a team high 21 points. Odds were that Jones wasn’t going to be that electrifying against VU again anyway, and a slightly reduced Kam Jones is going to take yet another step back from perfection. A Kam Jones that doesn’t even dress for the game is an entirely different discussion, and a possibility that could turn the entire game.

One thing that might balance Marquette’s offense out is their three-point shooting. MU connected on just 7 of 23 long range attempts last time against Nova, and that was heavily boosted by a 4-for-11 second half. At the time, the Golden Eagles were oscillating between “good enough” shooting games and bad shooting games. They would shoot 35% or better in a game, then go under 30%, and then back again, and you get the idea. Shooting 25% from long range in the first half against VU in Milwaukee was an extension of a 16% shooting night in an awful loss to Butler, and was a general point of concern for the team.

That, uh, is no longer the case. Yes, MU shot just 30% against St. John’s, a second straight not great game after the Nova game, but those were both wins. Over the last two games, Marquette has shot 23-for-51 (45%) and cleared at least 44% in both contests. The fact that the shooting has been largely speaking coming from David Joplin (9-for-16) and Ben Gold (6-for-11) is particularly heartening as neither man would be considered one of Marquette’s top three offensive options without taking current injuries into account. If Marquette isn’t able to find the same seams in Villanova’s interior defense, one way to open them back up again is to start bombing in three-pointers and spread things out further. In a best case scenario, hitting a lot of one type of shot makes it easier to hit the other one, and that circles back and makes it easier to hit the first one again, and you see how this can work.

Speaking of working..... uh, nothing’s working for Villanova. During their current four game losing streak, BartTorvik.com’s data filtering system says that they are playing like the #78 team in the country. Not awful, but also clearly not an NCAA tournament team. The defense has primarily been their problem, as T-Rank slots the defense in at #120 in the country in the last two weeks. They let opponents hit way too many shots, they don’t balance it out by forcing turnovers, coming up with one of the 20 worst turnover rates in the country over the last four games, and their rebounding is nearly non-existent. Making things worse, Nova has been one of the dirt worst offensive rebounding teams in the country during this losing streak. That’s great news for Marquette, who is currently #3 in the conference in defensive rebounding. Lower than their season average which we could generously call middle of the country, but third best in the Big East is still third best.

If the NCAA tournament started today, Villanova probably wouldn’t be in it. With one game each against Marquette, Seton Hall, Connecticut and Creighton left to go and both of their games against Providence, the chances to build a resume are there for the Wildcats..... but they don’t project as a team that’s going to take advantage of said chances. Defending home court is a good way to get that going in a different direction, so I think it’s safe to say that Marquette has to be prepared to play a slightly desperate Villanova squad on Tuesday night.

A possible sign of desperation? Something that I talked about on the radio last Thursday with Leo & Balky on The Score. DePaul hung around with Marquette for a while last Wednesday because the Golden Eagles were dealing with foul trouble in the second half. With Chase Ross and Sean Jones definitely out and Kam Jones potentially out, a great way to cause problems against Marquette is putting them into a foul disadvantage. However, Villanova wants to shoot half their shots from behind the three-point line. That’s not a good way to get fouls called on the other team, because everyone knows you shouldn’t foul a jump shooter. However, if VU changes it up and starts taking it inside in an effort to create contact and draw calls, that’s a sign that they’re doing whatever it takes to tip the table in their favor. If they’re content to let Justin Moore fire off five threes a game even though he’s only shooting 26% this season and 3-for-20 against Big East squads.... well, then maybe the Wildcats aren’t as desperate as we think they probably should be.

Stat Watch #1: Oso Ighodaro needs two blocks to tie and three to pass Trevor Powell for the 9th most blocks in program history.

Stat Watch #2: Kam Jones needs one three-pointer to tie and two to pass Brian Wardle for the 10th most made three-pointers in program history. He needs four three-pointers to become the 10th player in program history with 200 made threes.

Stat Watch #3: Kam Jones needs one point to break a tie with Chris Crawford for the 43rd most points in program history. That one point would then tie him with Jae Crowder and Scott Merritt for 31st place, so one field goal in this game will move Jones to #41 by himself. #40 is Andrew Rowsey, who is still 39 points away.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 7-3, with wins in their last four games and six of the last eight.

Villanova Last 10 Games: 5-5 with losses in their last four games and five of the last six.

All-Time Series: Villanova leads, 27-17.

Current Streak: Marquette swept the season series each of the last two years and won earlier this season to give them a five game winning streak over Villanova. That is an all-time series record for the Golden Eagles which they will be looking to extend. Marquette had never won at Finneran Pavilion before Shaka Smart was hired, and MU’s head coach is currently 2-0 all time in that building.