It’s no secret this is a must-win game. Sitting at cringe-worthy 7-4, Marquette has so far lost every test they’ve faced this season, and the schedule from hereon out won’t help much in building their tournament resume. I mean, sure, playing Georgetown, Creighton and Villanova will definitely factor into our RPI, but as of now, it’s the W’s that are going to get us a good seed in the tournament. And don’t get me wrong, there’s no question the team has improved, or that the non-conference schedule was a tad overboard considering that Vander had left – but so far this team has given very few concrete reasons why they should get a ticket to Madness, and there’s no other way to put it. To further understand the importance of tonight’s match, take into account that after this and the Samford game, we jump into conference play with Creighton on New Years’ Eve. There’s no turning back after this one. If Marquette wants to boost their tourney hopes exponentially, they’ll come out of Las Vegas tonight with a win, urging committee members to further consider the Golden Eagles on Selection Sunday. Now, it’s not going to be an easy game on any standards, even with New Mexico guard Hugh Greenwood out for tonight with a wrist injury. His 31 minutes per game will be hard to fill, but we’re talking about a team that’s absolutely loaded with star power. I’m not even going to attempt to analyze the frontcourt. I’ll just throw some stats in your general direction and have you do it yourself. Ready?
PF Cameron Bairstow – 6’9, 250 lbs – 20.7 PTS, 6.8 REB, 1.5 BLK
C Alex Kirk – 7’0, 245 lbs – 16.5 PTS, 9.8 REB, 2.8 BLK
I mean, these guys won’t exactly be licking their chops to play against Davante Gardner and Chris Otule, but still, look at those numbers… How about we get onto the next subject before players start jumping ship?
Another problem when any team (of any defensive caliber) squares up against the Lobos: Kendall Williams. When you play New Mexico, you’re gonna give up a whole lotta points to Kendall Williams, and really, there’s nothing you can do to stop that from happening. The kid averages 19.4 points per game, shoots 44% from three and heats up as fast as Steph Curry. For a more visual effect on his ability to string buckets, look up his 46-point game last year against Colorado State, who were a top-25 team and one of the best rebounding teams in the country last year. Spoiler alert: Williams went 10-13 from three. Marquette has to contain Williams to keep something like that from happening, and since MU is also among the better defensive and rebounding teams in the country, it most likely won’t. Well, we hope.
If you put two and two together (or one and two?), containing all three of the Lobos’ previously-mentioned stars will be key in winning this game – because, as Paint Touches pointed out in their preview, the Lobos aren’t deep. Looking at New Mexico’s per-game-average stat sheet, it’s impressive to see that their top three players average 16.5, 19.4 and 20.7 points per game – but much less so to notice that no other player averages more than 6 points per game. And if you take into account that more than half their roster averages either zero or less than 2 points per game, you end up with only three players outside your stars that are helping lessen the scoring load. Oh, and as previously mentioned, one of those three, Hugh Greenwood, is sitting out tonight’s game with a wrist injury. New Mexico wasn’t kidding when they said losing Greenwood was going to hurt them big time. Taking advantage of New Mexico’s lack of depth will be absolutely key for a Marquette victory.
Another Marquette-biased stat is that, though the Lobos have a better-than-average defense in terms of points allowed, they’re one of the worst teams in the country at forcing turnovers (7.0 steal percentage ranks 302nd in country, 15 percent turnover rate is bottom-30 in country, and so on). You know who else didn’t allow that many points, but was horrendous at forcing turnovers? Arizona State. Marquette scored 77 on them and lost by 2. Next subject.
Here’s our x-factors for today’s game:
1. Contain three-headed monster of Williams, Kirk and Bairstow
- See above.
2. Use depth as advantage
- Didn’t I tell you to see above!?!?!?
3. Gardner and Otule show up both offensively and defensively
- No dud games today, big fellas. New Mexico shoots 29% from three (hey, that’s worse than us!), so collapsing on and defending the post will be key in suppressing the Lobos’ offense. As for on offense, we too shoot poorly from three, so if the bigs can’t get it going early this is going to be a lot closer than we’d like it to be.
4. Get hot on offense/from three, at least for a few stretches (that means you, Jake Thomas)
- Many fail to remember that Jake Thomas single-handedly brought us back into the Arizona State game by putting on a show from beyond the arc in the second half. New Mexico is more than willing to make us shoot threes, and if their post defense is collapsing too heavily on the bigs, someone is going to have to step up the shooting to stretch the floor. Since Thomas is one of our best three-point shooters (more of a best-by-committee situation), we’re putting it all on him for now, but Mayo, JJJ and Jamil are also capable of stringing a few treys together.
We don’t know if Duane is playing or not, and honestly, I’m not even sure if he knows whether he’ll get time or not. But what we do know is that when he finally comes back, his playing time is going to be limited for a few games – making the question of whether he’ll play or not insignificant for now. Patience, #mubb fans.
The pick: Marquette 67, New Mexico 65. Watch for Jamil’s development, Juan to continue his hot streak, the freshmen’s minutes/production, the frontcourt battle and whether Kendall Williams goes off or not. And if you’re at the game and don’t have anything to do, keep track of walk-on Dylan Flood’s misses/makes in warmups and tweet them to us at @Daily_Eagle. That’s always a great way to pass time before a quality win.
Catch the game at 8:00 CT on ESPNU.
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