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March 14, 2013

Preview: ND vs. Marquette

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Head coach: Brent “Buzz” Williams (5th year at Marquette) - 133-69 overall in six seasons: 14-17 at New Orleans, 119-52 in fifth season at Marquette. 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.

Last meeting: Marquette claimed its 25th straight victory at the BMO Harris Bradley Center by a somewhat deceptive 72-64 score on March 2. Marquette took a 12-3 lead early, led 41-27 at halftime, and had a double-digit advantage most of the second half.

Notre Dame shot just 38.3 percent from the field while Marquette finished at 59.6 percent. Particularly hot was 6-foot-11 Chris Otule, who made all eight of his field-goal attempts to finish with a season-high 16 points.

The Irish were at a disadvantage from the outset as Jack Cooley battled the flu. He played just 15 minutes, failing to score while grabbing just one rebound. Picking up the slack in his absence was freshman Zach Auguste, who scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half.

Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins combined for 17 points in the first half, but also had four turnovers between them, which got the Marquette running game going. Marquette finished with more turnovers (15) than Notre Dame (13). But the timing and impact of the miscues in the first half built what proved to be an insurmountable deficit.

Marquette kept the Irish at arm’s length, thanks mainly to Jamil Wilson, who scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half. Grant finished with 21 points and Atkins tossed in 16.

Who’s hot:
Jamil Wilson - The 6-foot-7, 225-pound junior has been on a roll for the past 10 games. He’s averaging 11.6 points per game during that span after averaging 8.0 through the first 20. Wilson has worked his way up to third on the team in scoring at 9.2 and is second to Vander Blue in three-pointers with 28. He’s made at least one three-pointer in nine of the last 10 games and is averaging 5.3 rebounds per game in this 10-game stretch.

Vander Blue - The 6-foot-4, 200-pound junior paces the Golden Eagles in scoring at 14.4 points per game. He only scored six points against the Irish 12 days ago, but has since tossed in 22 points against Rutgers and 16 points versus St. John’s on a combined 15-of-31 shooting. Blue’s assist-to-turnover ratio for the season, however, is a sub-par 55-to-65, and despite pacing Marquette in three-pointers with 33, he’s converting just 29.5 percent.

Who’s not:
Davante Gardner - The 6-foot-8, 290-pound junior scored a career-high 26 points in a Feb. 25 victory over Syracuse. Since then, he has scored just 19 points with 11 rebounds in three games/62 minutes. Against Notre Dame, he took three shots and scored five points with two rebounds in 19 minutes.

Chris Otule - Irish fans might have a difficult time understanding why the 6-foot-11, 275-pound senior is in this category after he torched the Irish for a season-high 16 points on 8-of-8 shooting in 25 minutes. He’s managed just four points and seven rebounds in the last two games/42 minutes. Otule is 0-of-5 from the free-throw line in the last four games.

Mike Brey on Marquette:
“They thumped us early. We did not get off to a very good start, and it came down to defending their bigs. Their bigs beat us up. I just talked to our guys, challenging our four big guys. We have to do a better job establishing our post presence defensively and offensively against Marquette.”

Prister’s take:
The Golden Eagles earned a No. 3 seed and a double-bye in last year’s Big East tournament, only to run into a Louisville buzz-saw. In an incredibly fast-paced game, the Cardinals ran past Marquette, 84-71, as Louisville - which would go on to win the Big East tournament and advance to the Final Four -- forced the Golden Eagles into a mind-boggling 26 turnovers.

Buzz Williams, who gets his team to play about as hard as anyone in college basketball, will have his team ready to perform tonight against the Irish. Since the victory over Notre Dame at home on March 2, Marquette has struggled while claiming a pair of victories. The Golden Eagles trailed by 10 at halftime of a 60-54 victory over Rutgers in Piscataway, N.J., and needed overtime in Madison Square Garden to defeat St. John’s, 69-67.

Notre Dame created yet another way to win a game Wednesday night at the Garden when Pat Connaughton and Tom Knight combined for 39 points. Connaughton scored a season-high 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting (6-of-8 from three) while Knight scored (18) and rebounded (9) career highs.

Knight balanced out another sub-par performance by Jack Cooley, who has managed just 21 points in his last four games since getting bitten by the flu bug in the days leading up to the Marquette game. But Cooley snagged nine rebounds Wednesday night against Rutgers and seven in the loss at Louisville. The Irish will need their all-Big East first-teamer to play to his level if they are to get through the likely gauntlet of Marquette-Louisville-Georgetown to win the Big East tournament title.

Notre Dame is going through an interesting metamorphosis again with Mike Brey turning the Irish guards loose when the situation dictates. He could be heard encouraging Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant to push the pace against the Scarlet Knights whenever an advantage opened up. The Irish offense is much more well-rounded since the second half of the St. John’s game now that they can score in transition as well as dictate a slower tempo.

The Irish can win this game if they claim the battle of the backboards - which they did by 11 in Milwaukee - and keep pace with the Golden Eagles early in the game. Both Davante Gardner and Chris Otule have done little the last couple of games, and if the four Irish big men can put together 40 solid minutes, they can pull off the upset.

Marquette is a poor shooting team from distance. They were 5-of-17 from three-point range in the Garden on March 9 while the Irish converted 10-of-17 last night against Rutgers.

Brey encouraged his players to bring a week’s worth of clothes to New York with the intention of playing in the last Big East tournament championship of which they’ll be a part. This has the feel of a veteran Notre Dame team putting it together at the right time.

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