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This is a big game for Marquette. The Golden Eagles get to face Villanova, a top 5 team that is coming off an embarrassing home loss. So far, Marquette hasn't been up to the challenge against elite teams, which is why its record sits at 11-8. With the Big East depleted this season, that kind of record won't get you into the tourney.
Going into Monday's game, the Wildcats were ranked No. 4 and a projected No. 1 seed. However, they caught the Creighton Bluejays on the wrong night as they shot a ridiculous 21-of-35 from long range. Nova, a stout defense throughout the season, was left stunned, losing by 28 points as 6-point favorites. Now, they get a three-game stretch on the road against quality teams. A win here could keep them in the Top 10 of the polls.
Despite having eight losses, the Eagles have actually only lost once at home, and that was back in November to Ohio State. Every other loss has either come on the road or on a neutral court. After upsetting Georgetown in overtime on Monday, they'll be looking to build off that win.
In case you don't remember Marquette's Elite 8 run from last year, they run a lot of their offense through a couple big guys down low. Davante Gardner is a monster weighing it at almost 300 pounds. He can back guys down, but also can hit a short-range jumper. Gardner has played at least 34 minutes in five straight games because coach Buzz Williams is realizing he needs this guy on the court as much as possible. Villanova isn't the biggest of teams either, so Gardner will get plenty of touches. He'll likely be matched up with Daniel Ochefu (6-11, 245 lbs.), who averages 1.7 blocks per game, or JayVaughn Pinkston (6-7, 260lbs.). The Golden Eagles also have Chris Otule (6-11, 275 pounds) at their disposal, and while he's not a big scorer, he's a tough guy to defend.
The Wildcats' advantage is at the other positions where they have a slew of lanky guys that can beat you inside or outside. Pinkston (15.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG), much like Gardner, is a tough player to defend due to size. A couple 6-6 guards in James Bell (14.2 PPG, 6.0 RPG) and Darrun Hilliard II (13.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG) are also problematic.
Villanova usually has three or four guys on the court at all times that can shoot the long ball, which is the opposite of Marquette. Guard Jake Thomas is the only consistent three-point threat on the Eagles squad, as Jamil Wilson (11.6 PPG, 5.3 RPG) and Todd Mayo (9.2 PPG) are more of the flashy type that attack the rim.
The Wildcats have the overall advantage due to size and athleticism, but the Golden Eagles may have a better presence down low, which is probably where they will start attacking. If Gardner can't get things going, it will be tough for Marquette to pull out a win.
Villanova 75 Marquette 67
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