Marquette Men’s Basketball: Louisville will be toughest Big East challenge yet

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"Tip-In Trent" will play a big role in the Golden Eagles' upset bid. Photo by Xidan Zhang/

“Tip-In Trent” will play a big role in the Golden Eagles’ upset bid. Photo by Xidan Zhang/

So far in its 6-1 Big East campaign, the Marquette men’s basketball team has reaped the benefits of a fairly soft schedule.

It played five of its seven conference games at home, and only one of those five teams (Georgetown) was ranked at the time. All that changes Sunday when the Golden Eagles take on No. 12 Louisville on the road.

“We’ve played the least amount of games in conference,” junior guard Vander Blue said. “We’ve played the least amount of games on the road as well. We’ve had a great draw in our schedule this year.”

Louisville presents a whole new challenge to Marquette, which has relied on home court advantage and mistakes by its mostly inferior opposition in its six victories in conference this year. Marquette’s only true road win of the entire season (not just in conference) came against Pittsburgh, which lost star point guard Tray Woodall just four minutes into the game with a concussion. Even so, Blue said Marquette enjoys the travel.

“Guys like playing on the road,” Blue said. “I know I love to. We’ll be ready for the challenge. We want to keep it up. We’ve got a long way to go.”

Blue’s exceptional performance of late has helped Marquette overcome some of the nerves that come with intense conference games. Coach Buzz Williams said Blue’s influence raises the level of play for the entire team.

“Van is magnetic,” Williams said. “Sometimes it’s magnetic in a good way, and sometimes it’s magnetic in a bad way … I think he’s past all of that. (Being) magnetic can be good or bad, and I think he’s starting to understand that.”

With Marquette facing its stiffest in conference test of 2012-13, here’s a look at the players that make Louisville and Marquette tick.

Players to watch:

Peyton Siva: As Siva goes, so goes Louisville. The 6-foot senior point guard was picked as the preseason Big East player of the year, but his past inconsistencies reared their ugly heads in Louisville’s recent three-game losing streak, which dropped it from No. 1 in the country to below 10. Averaging 10.5 points and six assists per contest, Siva can create baskets for his teammates from nothing, and even when he struggles, his leadership on the floor rivals that of any player in the country.

Russ Smith: Lousiville’s leading scorer is just that, a pure scorer. The 6-foot junior guard averages 18.4 points per game, which ranks third in the Big East. He is a volume shooter and a good one at that. He has attempted 311 field goals this season, 138 more than any other player on his team, and he still manages to shoot 41 percent from the field. If he has a weakness, it’s his streakiness. He has a slightly negative assist-to-turnover ratio this season, which pales in comparison to Siva’s 2-to-1 mark.

Gorgui Dieng: It’s easy to see why Lousiville was the preseason favorite to win the Big East, with Siva, the consensus best point guard in the conference, and Dieng, the class of the Big East’s defensive big men, at the helm. However, Dieng suffered a wrist injury in the preseason and missed seven games. It has taken him a little while to re-adjust to the rigors of college basketball, and Dieng has scored just 9.4 points per game. He has averaged a solid 10 rebounds and more than two blocks since returning from injury.

Trent Lockett: In Marquette’s road loss to Cincinnati two weeks ago, the Bearcats dominated the glass from the beginning. Once again, Marquette faces a team with a pair of domineering rebounders in the persons of Dieng and Chane Behanan (7.4 rpg). Marquette will need to generate offensive rebounds if it doesn’t shoot the lights out, as it traditionally doesn’t on the road. Lockett has earned a new nickname lately with his play on the offensive glass. “Tip-in Trent” will need to fly past the Louisville bigs worried about boxing out Davante Gardner, Chris Otule and Jamil Wilson. If Lockett gets five offensive rebounds Sunday, Marquette could pull the upset.