Thursday, January 1, 2009

Preview -- Marquette

The Wildcats open their Big East season on the road for the second consecutive season. This time the hosts are the Golden Eagles and the sight is the Bradley Center at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That first road game has been something of a bane for the Wildcats. Under Coach Wright the 'Cats are 4 - 3 in their first Big East road game. They currently have a 2 game losing streak Villanova and Marquette have met 3 times since becoming conference mates; the 'Cats own a 1-2 record during that time. Overall the Wildcats have a 6-5 mark versus the Golden Eagles. Will Nova break their losing streak? Or will Marquette even the series?...

Common Opponents, Good Wins, Bad Losses...
The 'Cats and Marquette? share several opponents this year:
Houston BaptistW (H)+36W (H)+31

Marquette's good wins include Wisconsin (Big Ten, 8-3, RPI #43) and Presbyterian (Big South, 5-8, RPI #98). Counted among the "good" losses, -14 versus Dayton (A10, 12-1, RPI #28) and -12 at Tennessee (SEC, 9-2, RPI #23) ...

Lineups, Rotations...
...Buzz Williams will go with Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wes Matthews in the back court, with Lazar Hayward and Dwight Burke up front. Those five have started virtually every game since the middle of last season. Matthews (6-5, 215lbs) is the third of three guards that came in together back in 2005-06. The spotlight was on Dominic James for the first season and a half, while the next season and a half was Jerel McNeal's time in the sun. This may be "The Season of Matthew", as the player most like Randy Foye (without the outside shot) has stepped up for a handful of stellar performances, including his 28 point effort against Dayton, and 30 point effort against Tennessee. Matthews has led (or co-led) the Golden Eagles 7 times in scoring so far this season. Matthew's inside/outside number (Pelton's calculation) is 57.0, well "inside" of Lazar Hayward's 9.5, suggesting Matthews looks to score by penetrating and making contact, as his 15-18 night at Tennessee or his 14-17 night in Chicago with Dayton (or his 10-10 night versus Central Michigan) attests. Four of the starting five (James, McNeal, Hayward and Matthews) log 70% or more of the PT at their positions. Burke gets about 50% of the time in the paint.

Virtually all of what is left is distributed to four players, Maurice Acker, David Cubillan, Jimmy Butler and Patrick Hazel. Acker, a transfer from Ball State (brought in by Tom Crean as insurance after Dominic James' freshman year), will take the point in relief of James or McNeal. The others are 'tweeners who rotate between the #3 and #4 as the need arises. Cubillan, a wing who seems to specialize in the 3 point shot, saw more playing time his freshman season than he has lately. Jimmy Butler, a 6-6 JUCO is listed on the official roster as a guard, but like Matthews, registers an inside/outside of 89.7. Only Dwight Burke (6-8, 250lbs) and freshman Chris Otule (6-10, 245lbs) register as "more inside" than Butler. Sophomore Patrick Hazel is listed at 6-7, and like Butler (and Hayward) appears to show an aptitude for grabbing offensive rebounds.

Villanova has started Dante Cunningham and Antonio Pena in the front court all season long. The staff has started Scottie Reynolds and Corey Stokes in the back court/wing. Dwayne Anderson or Corey Fisher will get the nod for the last spot. Anderson has started through much of December, and Fisher is usually the first or second off the bench. Anderson makes the lineup a bit taller and oriented more toward the wing as Anderson and Stokes play #2/#3. In that scheme Scottie will handle the ball. Shane Clark and Reggie Redding will rotate with just about anyone currently on the court who is not a point guard, making the lineup taller or shorter (and faster) depending on who each replaces. Look for one of Cunningham and Pena to be on the court at all times, as they provide the height and solid interior rebounding (and low post scoring). One of Scottie and Corey fisher will also be on the court as they are the best ball handlers Villanova has.

By the Numbers, Offense & Defense...
Marquette plays for about 70 possessions, faster than Villanova. A "Four Factors" comparison for when Marquette has the ball...

When Marquette has the ball...
Warrior O52.118.440.034.8
Wildcat D44.223.127.634.9

Marquette takes most of it's FGAs inside the arc, but the Warrior's scoring efficiency (about 51.7%, per Ken Pomeroy's Scouting Report) provides only part of the rational. The yield at the free throw line is too great to ignore. Marquette logs a quarter of its points (25% on the nose) at the line; that has been about the same as points from beyond the arc. That makes the foul situation (and the role of the refs?) a point of interest, as Villanova and Marquette are about equally at denying opponents access and getting to the line respectively. Other matchups to watch include Marquette's shooting versus Nova's shot defense. As I suggested earlier, the challenge for the 'Cats will be defening the interior, not the 3 point line. That may prove, referees noted, to be an advantage as Marquette will most likely not probe Villanova's 3 point defense. Another crucial matchup will be the defensive boards. Villanova has done an excellent job at limiting 2nd chance opportunities. Marquette has been excellent at getting them, grabbing just over 40% of their misses to date. The "Four Factors" look at Villanova's offense versus Marquette's defense:

When Villanova has the ball...
Wildcat O51.417.536.831.5
Warrior D48.422.528.935.2

Look for the Wildcats to try and exploit Marquette's lack of size in the paint -- everyone else has. Marquette is very average on the interior, as their opponents to score 2s at a 48.5% clip. The matchup to watch will be rebounding on Villanova's end too. The 'Cats do a decent job getting to loose balls (the number has been declining of late), but Marquette, like Villanova, tends to shut down 2nd chance points, holding opponents to a 28.8% offensive rebounding rate (the Warriors typically get more than 70% of their defensive rebounds).

Want to Beat Marquette? Then...
1. Challenge their shooting, lock down the lane and stop transition baskets. Marquette is 8-0 when they post an eFG% of 50.0 or better. Conversely, they are 1-2 if their eFG% is 46.0 or less.
2. Hit your own shots. As I suggested earlier, the lane and interior may be the places to exploit. When their opponents shoot 55.0 or better (eFG%) the Warriors have gone 2-2. This trend is consistent for Villanova's own games as well. When the 'Cats run their eFG% to 44.7 or better they are 11-0. I would expect they would have to do better today though.
3. Get to the line, force them to foul. In Marquette's two losses the Golden Eagles allowed their opponents to get to the line more than once per every two FGAs. That is very high and suggests a lot of contention under the baskets (and probably a number of change of possession fouls near the end of those losses...).

...Analysts and Big East observers have suggested the two teams are virtually identical in their personnel makeup, offensive philosophy and defense. True their are a number of common points. But Villanova has better scoring interior options in Dante Cunningham and Antonio Pena (versus Burke and Hayward). The Wildcats rely significantly less on scoring in transition. They are far more likely to grind it out on defense and chew up the clock with perimeter passing and penetration through high post screens. Marquette will challenge the interior defense early and often with penetration from McNeal and Matthews. If Stokes can lure McNeal into a 3 point shooting contest, the 'Cats have a good chance to win as McNeal tends to consume a great many Warrior possessions. If Matthews is penetrating and hanging fouls on Pena/Cunningham, then the Wildcats will have problems at the end of the halves.

Pomeroy projects the game to be played for 68 possessions (closer to Marquette's comfort zone than Villanova's) and come down to a single possession game, Marquette 68-67. That does, by the way, suggest it will be a defensive struggle. And given both teams histories with fouling (strengths and weaknesses), it may well be decided at the line.

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