NCAA Basketball

College Basketball Preview: Marquette vs. Louisville

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Marquette Golden Eagles @ Louisville Cardinals
KFC Yum! Center – Louisville, KY
Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011
Time: 11:00 am EST
TV – ESPN2 Dave O’Brien (play-by-play) and Bill Raftery (analyst)
Radio: WKRD (790 AM, 101.7 FM) Paul Rogers, play-by-play; Doug Ormay, analyst. (also SIRIUS 121, XM 141)
Series History: UofL leads 38-25 (21-11 in Louisville, 17-13 in Milwaukee, 0-1 neutral)
Officials: John Cahill, Pat Driscoll, Brian O’Connel

Marquette is coming off an absolute annihilation, 79-57 of ninth ranked Notre Dame on Monday. They should be well rested and will get a Louisville team working on just two days of rest and preparation after losing their first BIG EAST game at Villanova on Wednesday night.

Third-year head coach Buzz Williams has assembled a very balanced squad, with four players averaging in double digit points and a fifth, freshman guard Vander Blue contributing 8.9 points a contest. The Golden Eagles are not a big team; they have one player listed above 6′ 8″ tall, and that’s 6′ 11″ sophomore center Chris Otule.

However, Marquette is athletic and lightning quick at all positions. They are also just as deep as Louisville, if not deeper, as 12 players average seven minutes or more of action a night. The Golden Eagles have also been unconscious thus far in BIG EAST play shooting the basketball. Against Notre Dame, Marquette shot 12-of-17 (70.6 percent) from behind the three point line and 26-49 (53.1 percent) overall. They rank fifth in the nation (through games of Jan. 12) in field goal percentage (.499) and 17th in scoring (80.7 ppg).

Another thing Buzz’s team does very well is protect the basketball. Against Pittsburgh (their lone BIG EAST loss), the Golden Eagles turned the ball over a total of a whopping two times. Pittsburgh is good at defense. On the season Marquette’s assist-to-turnover ratio (1.45) is 11th in the nation and fourth in the league. That’s cause for concern for a Louisville team that thrives off creating turnovers.

Another focus of this year’s Marquette team, as in Buzz Williams’ previous years, has been getting to the free throw line and converting. Yet another Achilles heel for this Cardinal team so far this season (Villanova made nearly three times more free throws than Louisville attempted, 18-7). So far in 2011, the Golden Eagles have made more free throws (292) than their opponents have attempted (255) and as a result, Marquette is outscoring its opponents by an average of nearly eight points per game (17.2-9.3) from the line.

The Golden Eagles leading scorer is 6′ 2″ junior guard Darius Johnson-Odom. Darius is pouring in 15.7 points a game to go along with 3.3 boards and 2.8 assists. In BIG EAST play Johnson-Odom is averaging a team-best 20.8 points per game while shooting 51.8 percent (29-of-56) from the field and 45.8 percent (11-of-24) from behind the 3-point line. He has also found time to chip in 3.5 assists and 2.3 rebounds in an average of 31.8 minutes per contest.

While Johnson-Odom leads the team in scoring, Buzz Williams seems to give the nod as Marquette’s go-to-guy to junior college transfer Jae Crowder. Crowder, the 2009-10 junior college player of the year at Howard College, netted a career-high 29 points on 12-of-14 shooting to lead all scorers in his BIG EAST debut, a victory over West Virginia. He is averaging 13.0 points and 6.6 rebounds a game this season and should be the biggest match-up problem for Louisville to defend. Crowder is also Marquette’s biggest threat from downtown, connecting on 45.3 percent (24-of-53) of his 3-point attempts to rank fifth among all BIG EAST competitors. This kid could go off on Saturday morning, and if he does the Cardinals are in trouble.

Perhaps the Golden Eagles most improved player is senior guard Dwight Buycks. Buycks is a junior college transfer who last year averaged just 6.3 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists while shooting 41.8 percent from the field and a paltry 27.3 percent from behind the 3-point line. It’s been a different story in 2010-11. The Milwaukee, Wisconsin native is currently chipping in 10.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and a team high 4.1 assists per contest. He has raised his shooting percentage to 53.8 percent from the floor overall and 44.4 percent from long distance.

Buycks’ shooting touch has really caught fire in BIG EAST play. In the first four games, he is knocking down 65.4 percent (17-of-26) from the field and 9-of-13 (69.2 percent) from behind the line. He has started each of the four league outings, and is averaging 26.0 minutes per contest.

All of that and I haven’t even mentioned Marquette’s second leading scorer (15.1) and rebounder (6.4), senior forward Jimmy Butler. I know it is early, but I will be weighting my judgment of the Cardinals season hopes very heavily upon this game. It is going to be an extremely hard win to get, even at home for UofL, and should they emerge victorious I think a tenth strait 20-win season is a lock (Louisville is one of just nine Division I schools in the nation which have won 20 or more games in each of the past eight seasons). A loss and it could get N.I.T. ugly.

Louisville 84, Marquette 78