MARQUETTE OPENS NCAA TOURNAMENT WITH UTAH ST
March 20, 2009
One popular upset pick among many of the brackets in the opening round seems to be Utah State over Marquette. Many like the 11th seeds resume, which includes a 30-4 record as the champs of the competitive WAC, where they beat Nevada in the conference tournament finale.
Marquette will look to avoid being an upset victim and rely on senior guards Jerel McNeal and Wesley Mathews to offset the size dis-advantage they will be facing in this game. Add in the fact it is the last go-round for the seniors with the Golden Eages, and you should have a very focused team on the floor in Buzz Williams' club.
"It's definitely a sense of urgency coming from the three of us who are playing," Mathews said of the feeling of the seniors heading into the last NCAA Tournament. "But I think there's a sense of urgency throughout the whole team because it is our last go around, our last shot at this."
Along with McNeal and Mathews, Dwight Burke is the third healthy senior, but it is the fourth senior who is not playing that is likely to have the biggest impact on Marquette's post-season.
Dominic James broke his foot and was lost for the season on February 25th in a loss to UConn. James was the athletic floor leader for all four of his seasons at Marquette and his loss is a major blow that will be continued to be felt by the Golden Eagles.
"He's played four years, he's been battle tested, he's played four years with the three of us, three years with Lazar (Hayward)," Mathews said of James. "There's just plays and reads that he makes that we don't have to talk about. Just that chemistry on the court that he has and he brings and just what we know we can expect from him."
In James' place, Maurice Acker takes over the role of starting point guard. The Eagles have lost five of their six games since James got hurt, but even in defeat last week against Villanova in the Big East Tournament, they can take away some positives as they nearly completes a rally from 16 points down at the half to win. They were beaten on a rare defensive lapse by Jerel McNeal that led to 'Nova scoring at the buzzer to win.
In that game, Acker acquitted himself quite well, especially in the second half and his teammates' confidence in the 5'8 point guard who was a high school teammate of McNeal's at Hillcrest.
"He's been better every game, he had a his breakout game against Villanova in the Garden and we're adjusting to life without Dominic," Mathews said of Acker. "And this team is ready, we're prepared, and we're, more importantly, we're excited to play again."
After playing in the Big East for 18 games, Marquette has seen their share of good big men. Utah State will add another one to the list that the Golden Eagles have faced with 6'9, 240-pound center Gary Wilkinson.
"Well, Wilkinson, the coaching staff has kind of compared him to like a player like Luke Harangody, with the same build and height and weight," said Dwight Burke of today's match-up.
On the season, Wilkinson averaged 17 points and 7 rebounds, while shooting 58% from the floor and 83% from the foul line.
As usual, Marquette will defend the post from the outside-in. That means they will extend defensive pressure on the Utah State guards to make it difficult for them to find Wilkinson when he is in position to score.
"Our main focus in coming into the game is just to put non-stop pressure on them, force them into tough shots if possible," McNeal said of the gameplan against Utah State. "And after we make them take those tough shots, that we got to get a defensive rebound right way."
The early college basketball odds have the Golden Eagles as a 4 1/2-point favorite. While Utah State will have plenty of confidence as a team that has won 30 of their 34 games, they are going to see an opponent that will come after them for a full 40 minutes with tight and aggressive defense.
"I think if we do a good job of pressuring them 94 feet and making things tough on them, giving them, making them have tougher looks and get first shot rebounds, that we'll be all right," McNeal said.
I agree. The athletic guards, albeit undersized, will make it tough on Wilkinson as they will swarm him when he gets the ball. Lazar Hayward will put pressure on the Utah State defense with his ability to play inside and out. In the end, they are not likely to have an answer for McNeal and Mathews, who will also, along with Acker, make thins very difficult for the Utah State offense because of their on-the-ball pressure.
NBE Blogger Prediction:
Utah State 64
Labels: 2008-2009 Game Previews