That’s the best way to describe the state of Marquette and Seton Hall as they enter tonight’s contest.
No. 15 Marquette (16-4, 7-2 Big East) enters on a six-game winning streak. It’s in second place in the conference, and if Syracuse continues to play without sophomore center Fab Melo, some believe Marquette is the conference’s best team.
Its two senior leaders, guard Darius Johnson-Odom and forward Jae Crowder, are playing some of their best basketball of the year over the previous four games. Crowder is averaging 16.8 points and 8.0 boards per game while Johnson-Odom’s averaging 17.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
Sophomore forward Jamil Wilson cited improvements on defense and in transition as keys to the team’s improved play — and keys to playing even better.
“Obviously we can get up and down the court way faster, and I think we can press a little bit more, speed guys up and we can outrun a lot of people,” Wilson said.
The Golden Eagles are playing some of their best basketball of the season over this six-game stretch. Crowder said is a product of the team “playing within” itself, “which is giving us a chance and an opportunity at the end of the game.”
“When we play like we know how to play, and we play with a will and fight that we’ve had these past few stretches, we’re capable of beating anybody,” Crowder said. “I really like the way we’re playing right now as a team. I like the groove we’re in each day at practice that prepares us to play any game. I’m excited.”
Like Marquette, the Pirates (15-6, 4-5 Big East) are led by their two seniors: Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore. Those two haven’t been playing their best basketball over the previous four contests. Seton Hall has suffered as their production decreased, losing its last four after a four-game winning streak that featured home-wins over West Virginia (67-48) and Connecticut (75-63).
Pope, a 6-foot-8 forward, is the team’s leading rebounder and second leading scorer (15.9 points, 10. 4 rebounds) but over the previous four games he’s underperformed, with only 9.3 points and 8.5 boards per game. Despite that, he’s still the Big East’s second best rebounder – one of two players to average double-digit boards – and the No. 13 scorer.
Junior guard Junior Cadougan said Pope’s going to get his but Marquette must execute its game plan and hope for the best.
Theodore, a 6-foot guard, is the team’s leading scorer (16.9 per game) and assist-man (7.0 assists per game). When Seton Hall was on its four game winning streak, Theodore’s play was instrumental. He averaged 19.3 points and 9.8 assists per game. His average points and assists per game dropped to 14.5 and 4.3 respectively.
What Marquette needs to do is stop Pope and Theodore in the pick-and-roll game they love to play together. Crowder acknowledged that Marquette hasn’t faced a post and guard that work as well together as those two.
Crowder called stopping them a top priority.
“The way we go out there (and defend it) will predict a majority of the game, and how we take those two players out of their game — which we know, they score a high percentage through the pick & roll,” Crowder said.