1. Containing Kemba Walker
In actuality, the concept of “defense” gets thrown out the window when discussing Connecticut junior guard Kemba Walker. Guarding him is like trying to tackle a mirage. The focus needs to be limiting the dynamic guard as much as possible and keeping the ball out of his hands down the stretch. Which is a feat unto itself.
Walker has been sensational this season, pouring in a cool 25 points a night, good for the second-highest mark in the nation behind Brigham Young’s senior guard Jimmer Fredette, 26.7 per. He’s only failed to score 20-plus points four times this year and has a game-high of 42 points on 15-of-24 shooting against Vermont. He’s been so hot this year that fire should sue for copyright infringement.
Stopping Walker means beating Connecticut. He’s had to be Herculean in games against quality opponents for the Huskies to win. The task will probably be charged to freshman guard Vander Blue for most of the game, who should have enough lateral quickness to keep Walker out of the lane and on the perimeter, where he is less effective and far less likely to rip Marquette’s heart out.
2. Perimeter shooting
It’s no secret that the Golden Eagles live and die by the three-ball, which wasn’t exactly something coach Buzz Williams envisioned at the beginning of the year. Senior guard Dwight Buycks and junior forward Jae Crowder aren’t exactly Maurice Acker and Lazar Hayward, but Marquette has been at its best when it drives-and-kicks back out for open three-pointers, like in the Notre Dame game Jan. 10 when the Irish were shot out of the gym.
The secret weapon for Marquette is going to be Crowder, who has a unique mix of speed, skill and power that most teams can’t match up with. If he can bury some early threes, it might force a Connecticut defender to step out and guard him, opening up driving lanes for junior guard Darius Johnson-Odom and senior forward Jimmy Butler.
3. Chris Otule must play big
For someone who is 6-feet-11-inches, Otule sure disappears a lot. The redshirt sophomore center has been underwhelming in his first complete season as a starter, and that’s just when he’s been on the court. Let’s just say that fouls are very fond of the big guy.
If Marquette wants to stay alive in the monster that is the Big East, this needs to stop. Butler and Crowder are both undersized for their positions, and freshman forward Davante Gardner is too unreliable to be counted on in high-stakes conference games.
That leaves Otule, who has the experience and physical stature to be a difference-maker, in charge of creating havoc inside. If he can manage to stay on the court and assert himself as a rebounder and shot-blocker, everyone’s workload gets lighter.