The No. 17/18 Marquette Golden Eagles (16-4, 5-2 Big East), winners of four straight games, will look to extend their winning streak when they take on the South Florida Bulls tonight at the Bradley Center.
Redshirt sophomore forward Jamil Wilson put together a career-best performance Saturday against Providence, scoring 16 points, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking three shots in the Golden Eagles’ 79-72 victory.
It was yet another impressive performance from the Golden Eagles’ reworked front court, whose adjustment period seems complete after losing redshirt junior center Chris Otule to a knee injury in December. Sophomore forward Davante Gardner, senior forward Jae Crowder, freshman forward Juan Anderson and Wilson have all seen increased roles in the paint and have produced, carrying the undersized Golden Eagles in the paint.
“Everybody has picked it up,” Anderson said. “I try to come in and be a spark whenever I’m called upon. Jamil Wilson has picked it up, Jae has always been a leader and Davante has really picked it up. So I think everyone has fulfilled that role.”
Assistant coach Aki Collins said initially the forwards focused on Otule’s potential comeback rather than what each player needed to accomplish in his absence.
“I think early on everybody was looking at the front door waiting for him to walk in, and then when he decided to have the surgery, we knew that was it for him this year,” Collins said. “Now guys know that it’s on them, they have to do their job, he’s not coming to rescue us. We’re going to play with the guys we have, and I think our guys will focus in and they’re doing a good job of that.”
The production inside will need to continue tonight against South Florida (12-8, 5-2 Big East), which touts four players 6 feet 7 inches or taller in its rotation.
The Bulls utilize their size by implementing a slow-paced, balanced offensive attack. They average 59.7 possessions per game according to KenPom.com, one of the slowest paces in the nation, and eight different players average between 5.8 and 11.1 points per game.
“I don’t think it’s so much slowing it down,” freshman point guard Derrick Wilson said. “I think we have to play at our pace and make them play into our hands. We’re not going to buy into what they’re doing. That’s the key to our success, so we’ll continue to do that.”
The Bulls have been one of the biggest surprises in the Big East this year and are led by 6-foot-10 senior forward Augustus Gilchrist, who is averaging 10.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. After an inconsistent start to Big East play, Gilchrist exploded for 22 points and five rebounds in the Bulls’ 75-59 win over DePaul on Sunday.
Jawanza Poland has played well since returning from a back injury that cost him the team’s first 11 games. The 6-foot-4 junior guard is averaging a team-best 11.1 points and scored 16 and 19 points in his last two outings.
The Golden Eagles quick 5-2 start has them feeling good about themselves, according to Anderson, but Collins said the team also must pace itself for the long haul that is the Big East season.
“We’re taking it one day a time,” Collins said. “We’re telling the kids not to focus on what’s coming up down the road. Take care of Tuesday and then we’ll get to Saturday. So I think our guys’ mindset is in the right place and they know it’s a long road. We have to take care of what’s in front of us and that’s South Florida.”