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March 2, 2013

Preview: Notre Dame @ Marquette

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Head coach: Brent “Buzz” Williams (5th year at Marquette) - 129-69 overall in six seasons: 14-17 at New Orleans, 115-52 in fifth season at Marquette. Previously served as assistant coach at Marquette in 2007-08. Averaged 24 victories per season through first four with Golden Eagles.  Advanced to Sweet 16 of NCAA tournament each of the past two seasons.

You should know: Marquette has won 24 straight at the Bradley Center, including a perfect 17-0 mark against Big East competition the past two seasons. Under head coach Buzz Williams, the Golden Eagles have been to two straight Sweet 16s and have a 25-8 overall mark in their last 33 Big East clashes…Marquette is 3-3 versus ranked opponents this season: lost by 33 at Florida, won at home against Georgetown by a point, lost at Louisville by 19, lost by eight at Georgetown, defeated Pittsburgh by 10 at home, and won at home over Syracuse by three…The Notre Dame-Marquette series dates back to 1920 when the Irish lost their first two games before winning 12 straight. The Irish hold a surprising 80-36 lead over the Golden Eagles in the all-time series, although Notre Dame has lost 10 of the last 17 games since 1993…The Irish have won the last two games against Marquette, both at Purcell Pavilion. Notre Dame has lost five of the last six to Marquette in Milwaukee, including a 79-57 loss in 2011. The Irish concluded the 2009-10 regular season with a surprising 63-60 overtime victory in Milwaukee as Luke Harangody returned to action following a knee injury…Larry Williams, a second-team All-American guard and tri-captain of Notre Dame’s 1984 football team, is athletics director at Marquette after serving in the same capacity at the University of Portland under Rev. E. William Beauchamp, Notre Dame’s former president. Williams is in his second-year at Marquette.

Top losses: Jae Crowder (17.5 ppg., 8.4 rpg., 61 three-pointers), Darius Johnson-Odom (18.3 ppg., 77 three-pointers).

Buzz Williams

Top players: Most of Marquette’s star power walked out the door following the 2011-12 season. Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom combined for 35.8 points per game last season. Crowder won the Big East player of the year award and Johnson-Odom was a first-team all-Big East selection.

Taking the largest step up for the Golden Eagles has been 6-foot-4, 200-pound junior Vander Blue, who has gone from averaging 8.4 points per game last season to 14.3 this season. At 32.2 minutes per game, Blue is the only Marquette player to average more than 30. He remains a marginal threat from three-point range with 30 conversions in 100 attempts.

Head coach Buzz Williams uses the one-two punch of 6-foot-8, 290-pound junior Davonte Gardner and 6-foot-11, 275-pound senior Chris Otule in the middle, although it’s Gardner who provides the bulk of the productivity. Averaging just 21 minutes of playing time per game, Gardner scores at a 12.1 clip with a 5.0 rebounding average. He scored a career-high 26 points with eight rebounds in 33 minutes of action against Syracuse. Otule averages 17 minutes per game and just 4.8 points and 3.2 rebounds.

Also stepping up in the backcourt for the Golden Eagles is 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior Junior Cadougan, who is averaging 8.6 points and 4.3 assists per game, but has converted just .217 (10-of-46) of his three-point attempts.

Helping compensate for the loss of offensive productivity in Crowder’s absence is 6-foot-7, 225-pound junior Jamil Wilson, who averages 8.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.

Joining Blue and Cadougan in the backcourt are 6-foot-5, 210-pound senior Trent Lockett and 6-foot-3, 190-pound sophomore Todd Mayo, who missed the first 10 games of the season due to academic ineligibility. Lockett scores at a 7.4 clip with 4.7 rebounds per game, and can stuff a stat sheet with his size. Mayo has provided a boost with a 7.1 scoring average in 16 games, including a couple of key three-pointers against Syracuse.

Brey on Marquette without Crowder, Johnson-Odom: “They still have drivers. They still have guys that can get to the paint. They still have athletes who can guard you physically. That really hasn’t changed much. The difference is they’re pounding away with big guys. They’re not spreading you out as much, and they’re beating you up with big guys. That’s a great challenge for the four big guys.

“I think Buzz is a strong candidate for coach of the year. He and (Georgetown’s) John Thompson should share the award.”

Brey on key to victory: “We’re going to have to be really physical. Their frontline is tough. Gardner is really burying people, and that’s the key. We’ve got to play them without fouling. They get to the foul line more than anybody in the league. Can we handle a tough road atmosphere? We’ve handled a few already. We’re going to have to dictate tempo.”

Prister’s take: What a huge victory this would be for the Fighting Irish if they can pull this off in one of the most difficult venues in the country. A win at Marquette and then back home again Tuesday against a St. John’s team that just lost D’Angelo Harrison for the balance of the season due to suspension would virtually lock up a top five finish in the Big East while maintaining an outside shot at a double bye.

This is not as explosive of a Marquette team as the ones we saw with Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom. Crowder was a true inside-outside threat, and between his three-point shooting prowess (61 made) and that of Johnson-Odom (77), Marquette had more ways to hurt you than they do this year with a poor 29.7 shooting percentage from beyond the arc. The Golden Eagles’ 114 three-pointers (4.2 per game) rank 329th out of 345 teams.

But as Jerian Grant pointed out this week, one of the great difficulties on the road is dealing with the home team’s propensity for making things happen - and making shots - for the home team.

“Teams hitting shots when you don’t expect them to hit shots,” said Grant of the difficulty of playing on the road. “Playing on their home court, they’re going to have that confidence to hit that shot they don’t usually make. Just being able to absorb that and keep playing the game is important.”

If the Golden Eagles dictate the tempo like they did two years ago, Marquette undoubtedly will win. If the Irish can sway that tempo more to their liking, as they did three seasons ago, it increases their chances of hanging around and making it a possession-by-possession game, which then incrementally increases Notre Dame’s chances of ending Marquette’s 24-game home winning streak.

Marquette has won 17 straight conference home games. That is a powerful number, and if there’s one thing you can count on at the Bradley Center, it’s that the Golden Eagles fans will be out in force, prepared to help the players run the Irish out of the arena. The only way the Irish can take the Marquette fans out of a frenzy is to stay close, avoid spurts and long scoring droughts, and dictate the tempo of the game.

The Irish have the big men to contend with Marquette’s ability to crash the boards. Notre Dame has defeated the No. 1 rebounding margin team in the league - Cincinnati -- twice, and also knocked off Nos. 2 (Pittsburgh) and 3 (Louisville). No. 4 Syracuse hammered Notre Dame, but that was before the Irish began embracing the four-big man rotation and fully utilizing the physicality that has helped them win seven of the last nine games.

Marquette, by the way, is sixth in rebounding-margin, and if Davonte Gardner has a game like he did against Syracuse last week, that will open things up for their guards, who will take those shots and bank on a stronger showing than their 29.7 percentage from three-point range.

It goes without saying that Notre Dame guards Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant and Cam Biescheid have to win the battle of the backcourts, which is a heckuva lot easier to achieve without Johnson-Odom around. But while Crowder was struggling against the Irish last year (four points), Vander Blue (12 points) and Junior Cadougan (11 points) picked up the pace, and now Todd Mayo is adding a spark in limited time.

Notre Dame will have a more difficult road if Pat Connaughton logs heavy minutes but contributes little on the stat sheet, as he did against Providence and Syracuse. The Irish need the Pat Connaughton who hit the two three-pointers that turned the momentum around at Pittsburgh, as well as his six hard-fought defensive rebounds when the Irish slammed the door on Panther second shots.

If the Irish are going to catch Marquette in Milwaukee, this is the time to do it. But Notre Dame has not played a complete game on the road since their first one against Cincinnati on Jan. 7. They look like they may be primed for just such a performance, but they’re going into a place that the Irish feel is the most difficult venue to play in the Big East.

This one feels like a hard-fought loss.

Pointspread: Marquette by 7
Prister’s Prediction: Marquette 65, Notre Dame 60
Prister’s record: 22-6 straight up; 12-13 vs. points


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