Now at 4-0 in conference play, the Golden Eagles head to Cincinnati to face one of their biggest Big East tests of the season.
Marquette scored a win at home against the Bearcats last year but fell 72-61 in their road matchup with Cincy. Like the Golden Eagles, Mick Cronin’s squad ended up reaching the Sweet 16 and has had holes to fill with the departures of starters Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon.
Cincinnati has played in one more Big East game than Marquette and boasts an impressive 15-3 record. After two straight losses to St. John’s and Notre Dame, the Bearcats rebounded to win their next two games at Rutgers and DePaul.
A good bulk of Cincinnati’s past success has come from the backcourt, as last season Cronin would at times start four guards. For the majority of this season the trend has continued as returning guards JaQuon Parker, Cashmere Wright and Sean Kilpatrick are regular starters. The trio leads the Bearcats in scoring, averaging a combined 43.5 points per game.
The Bearcats attempt around 20 3-pointers per game but have only hit seven of those attempts on average. Keeping Cincy cold from beyond the arc will be a big key for the Golden Eagles down the stretch.
Coach Buzz Williams has come to expect a lot from his forwards, and against Cincy, the Golden Eagles will probably look to attack an inexperienced defensive frontcourt.
“I think our frontcourt collectively when they’re all in a good groove is as good of a frontcourt as we’ve ever had,” Williams said.
The Golden Eagles won’t have an easy time rebounding, however.
Despite their guard-heavy approach, the Bearcats often win the battle of the boards, outrebounding opponents on average 43-34. The Golden Eagles also win the glass on average but only by about a five-rebound per game margin. This plays a big part in a recurring theme of Marquette’s season: playing at the level of its opponent.
Against lesser-talented teams like Green Bay and North Carolina Central, the Golden Eagles have had hard times getting out to big leads and distancing themselves on the scoreboard. On the flip side, Marquette has played up to teams like Georgetown and Connecticut.
Cincinnati is another one of those top-tier teams, but one that will be very difficult to beat in a close-game scenario.
The Bearcat defense has been stingy, allowing just 58.6 points per game. With that in mind, this matchup will most likely be a slow-paced defensive slugfest similar to Marquette’s upset win over Georgetown.
Redshirt junior forward Jamil Wilson said the team needs to communicate better on defense, especially off of ball screens.
“Off a ball screen sometimes we get into a rotation too much and they end up swinging it out for a wide-open look or a drive to the basket,” Wilson said. “I think once we become better on-ball defenders and don’t have as many lapses on ball-screen communication, it will help us a lot.”
If the game comes down to the final moments, the Golden Eagles do hold a distinct advantage from the free throw line where they shoot 73 percent to Cincy’s 62 percent. Based on the recent trend of nail-biting finishes, the Golden Eagles may be due for another close contest.