Games That Matter - January 4, 2013 (Georgetown at Marquette Preview)
A Quick Rant
Prior to delving into tomorrow's game, let me just wipe off the stank from last night's Arizona-Colorado game. For those who missed it, Colorado was dominating the whole game until it somehow blew a 16-point second half lead, including a ten-point margin with around two minutes to go. Colorado looked like a high school team for the last five minutes. And then, miraculously, some guy on Colorado named Sabatino Chen (whom I can only assume is the love child of tennis great Gabriela Sabatini and former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian), hit a game-winning three-point bank shot at the buzzer. Hooray for Colorado! What an amazing finish! Arizona no longer unbeaten....until the homer refs waived the basket off, even though it CLEARLY LEFT HIS HANDS BEFORE THE BUZZER. Naturally, Arizona trounced the Buffs in OT, despite the valiant efforts of Chen and his point guard friend Askia Booker, who resembles the dude who plays the point guard in the movie Coach Carter (who happens to be the same actor who encourages Frank the Tank to funnel beers in "Old School").
But anyway....at least all of this nonsense didn't happen to us.
Preview of Saturday's Game: Georgetown at Marquette (2pm)
Now that the Hoyas' three-week hiatus is over (seriously, what was that?), Saturday brings us THE FIRST CONFERENCE GAME OF THE SEASON, in what is essentially the final Big East season in the history of the world. Georgetown enters this game with a very respectable 0 and 0 record in conference play, thanks to the lack of an even number of teams in the conference (quick shout-out to those hooligans in Morgantown). Opening day features the crème de la crème of the Catholic 7, that newly-formed renegade conference that stands for nothing but god, country, and the pursuit of an all-basketball league of brothers.
Of Georgetown's eighteen conference games, the Hoyas should be favored in at least twelve. Four games fall into the "this should be a tough one and Georgetown probably won't be favored" category (at Cincy, at Marquette, at ND, v. Louisville), and two games fall into the "game to end all games" category, otherwise known as the "I will consider stabbing a man to death with a trident if we lose this game" category (Syracuse and Syracuse). This very rough assessment of our conference foes clearly demonstrates that a battle against the Golden Eagles on the road will be one of our most challenging games of the season.
The game against Marquette naturally promises to be a slugfest, for a variety of reasons. For starters, the Bradley Center is one of the most difficult venues in the conference. My brain seems to recall that the Hoyas' last win at Marquette was in February 2008, when a young man named Jonathan Wallace was fouled on a last-second three-pointer, then coolly sank all three free throws to send the game into overtime, at which point Georgetown took over. Other than that one nice win, every other game at Marquette has been painful to watch.
Make no mistake about it - despite the losses of all-Big East players Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom - Marquette is still pretty solid and will likely head to yet another NCAA Tourney under sweaty Buzz Williams. Marquette enters Saturday's contest with an impressive series of wins against the likes of Mississippi State, USC, Wisconsin, LSU and UConn. Its losses include a one-point defeat to future conference mate Butler (totally respectable), a 33-point drubbing by Florida (less respectable), and a two-point loss to Green Bay (wait, what?). Given the departures of Crowder and DJO, I think it's fair to say that many expected a bit of an adjustment period for Marquette, particularly at the beginning of the season, and the losses to Florida and Green Bay speak to this; but the Golden Eagles now seem to be heading in the right direction. They're experienced, they still get after it, and they should provide some tough competition.
Marquette's strength is in its backcourt, with 6'4'' junior Vander Blue (13.3 ppg) and 6'1'' senior Junior Cadougan (10.2 ppg, 4.6 apg). Blue is arguably Marquette's best player; he leads the team in three-pointers made and seems to be effective as both a shooter and as a guy who can put the ball on the floor. He's always had potential, and this may be his long-awaited breakout year. Cadougan, who has been at Marquette for what seems like 37 years, is the main facilitator and distributor. He leads the team in assists (by a healthy margin) and does an excellent job of penetrating and finding holes in opposing defenses. Despite his recent 18-point outburst against UConn, which included a game-tying three-pointer (clearly the Big East's first "ONIONS!" moment of the season), Cadougan is not a good shooter. Cadougan has only connected on five of 29 three-point attempts (for a dreadful 18.5% average). Junior is very good at drawing fouls and making his free throws (he has made 33 of 42), but he clearly has trouble from distance.
Down low, Marquette is led by wide body Davante Gardner (12.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and tall guy Chris Otule (4.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg). Gardner is Marquette's rock. He scores mainly on layups and easy putbacks (he shoots 59% from the field) and does a great job of drawing fouls. What separates Gardner from other bigs is his fantastic free throw percentage. He has connected on 50 of 59 free throws (84.7%). Georgetown would do well to keep him off the glass and off the line. Otule is more of a defensive stopper. At 6'11'', he provides good size in the paint and he's fairly athletic. But he's never really a go-to option on offense.
Two other players to watch out for are Jamil Wilson, a 6'7'' junior, and Todd Mayo, a 6'3'' sophomore. Wilson (8.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg) seems to do a little of everything. He's Marquette's second best perimeter shooter (where has hit 12 of 24 threes); he also rebounds well and is one of the best defenders on the team. Mayo (6.7 ppg), who only recently returned from an academic suspension, is just getting his feet wet. He's a good shooter and will likely become more and more of a scoring threat as the season progresses. He could be a real difference maker in this game.
Keys to the Game
1. Zone defense: Marquette is not a very good three-point shooting team. Blue and Wilson are decent shooters, but perimeter shooting is definitely not a strength of this team. Georgetown needs to commit to its improving 2-3 zone and force Marquette to shoot over the top.
2. Staying out of foul trouble: Marquette's players know how to draw fouls. It's what they do best. Whether it's Cadougan finding a seam in the defense and drawing contact, or Gardner bruising in the paint after missed shots, Marquette knows how to get to the line. Hopkins, Nate and Otto need to be careful. Play smart defense and don't pick up two quick fouls in the first five minutes (I'm looking at you, Mikael). Marquette shot 41 free throws against UConn earlier this week, and Gardner made all ten of his attempts. We do not want to get into a free throw shooting contest, and we do not have the frontcourt depth to deal with foul problems. This may very well be the one factor that determines which team wins tonight.
3. Showing poise: Despite playing against several marquee opponents, this is Georgetown's first true road game of the season. Given how young this team is, what can we expect? Will guys like Mikael and DSR and Domingo get rattled? With three seniors and three juniors in its active rotation, Marquette is one of the most experienced teams in the conference. Despite the losses of DJO and Crowder, the remaining players know how to play and know how to win. Should be a tough test for our youngish team.
4. Markel: When Markel plays well, we can beat any team in the country. When he doesn't play well, we struggle to score. Starks has been our most consistent threat from the perimeter, so when he's off, bad things tend to happen. Markel played well against UCLA and Indiana. Will he step up against Marquette?
Saturday's matinee matchup will be the first of two contests this year between two Catholic-7 BFFS, and the two teams that are probably the C-7's best chances of finishing this season in the top half of the conference. And while we may share similar futures and fates, and hatred of football and Syracuse and vegans, it will be all business on Saturday. It's time to shake off the rust and get the regular season started off the right way: with a W against a good team.
Let's go Hoyas. Beat Marquette.