Men’s basketball set to take on Pittsburgh

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Unlike seasons before, Pittsburgh at Marquette wasn’t looked at as a premier match-up coming into this Big East season. The teams have each recorded 10 or more conference wins the past three seasons.

However, these two young, overachieving teams meet up tonight in quite possibly one of the biggest match-ups of the year on both ends of the spectrum.

“It’s huge, it’s a must-win for us,” senior guard David Cubillan said. “We have to keep doing what we’ve been doing and we’ll be fine.”

Marquette’s match-up against Pittsburgh Thursday night has both NCAA and Big East Tournament implications on the line. If the Golden Eagles can take down No.19/21 Pittsburgh, they immensely improve their tournament resume and move into a tie for third in the Big East. Meanwhile, the Panthers seem to be a lock for a NCAA bid and could pull two games ahead of Marquette in conference with a win.

While the buzz around Milwaukee and the entire country regarding Marquette’s tournament chances has escalated, the Golden Eagles assured everyone that they block out the media and stay level-headed.

“We don’t know anything about the tournament,” sophomore Darius Johnson-Odom said. “I don’t even know what our record is right now. We just take it one game at a time.”

Johnson-Odom was reminded that Marquette had 16 wins and six very crucial games ahead.

“That’s the dream, but you can’t think about it right now,” he said about making the NCAA Tournament. “You can’t focus on the future, because you don’t know what’s going to happen. You can’t focus on the past, because it’s already gone. You can only focus on right now.”

In the 2009-’10 Big East preseason Coaches’ Poll, Pittsburgh was predicted to finish ninth while Marquette was pegged three spots behind the Panthers at No. 12.

“At the beginning of the season we were trying to find ourselves individually to figure out how the team was going to go and how the season was going to go,” Johnson-Odom said. “As the season’s progressed, I think we’ve bonded as a team on and off the court.”

The Golden Eagles and Panthers are very similar when it comes to transitioning from one year to the next. Pittsburgh lost starting point guard Levance Fields and forwards Sam Young and DeJuan Blair were selected back to back in the 2009 NBA Draft.

Marquette, on the other hand, lost four of its five starters from last season and completely revamped its lineup. Now, senior leader Lazar Hayward has taken his inexperienced group to being on the verge of an NCAA tournament berth.

“(Lazar) has been huge on and off the court,” Cubillan said. “He’s been great, he’s teaching everybody … and he’s been a great leader. I think he’s going to finish the season well, too.”

When it comes to matching up with Pittsburgh, coach Buzz Williams knows it’ll be a fight from the time the ball is tipped.

“They have seven returning players that are all really good. … Coach Dixon has won 78 percent of his games since he’s been at Pitt and we’ll have our hands full from the very beginning.”