This is a battle between the two best teams in the Big East, but Marquette’s home loss on Tuesday takes away some of the hype, while Villanova continues to hum along still undefeated in Conference play. If the Golden Eagles want a legit NCAA Tournament seed or a chance to win the Big East, they need to win this Game. If they can do that, anything can happen the rest of the way and that includes when these teams meet again in a few weeks.
Both of these teams have great offenses so some will assume it’s higher scoring, but Villanova likes to play a little slower and that could lead to a similar final Scoreas to Marquette’s loss on Tuesday. And despite being two of the better offensive teams in the conference, they also rate well defensively with Marquette No. 2 and Nova No. 3 in terms of efficiency. The best way for the Golden Eagles to win will be through defense and that’s not something anyone has done in the conference, though Creighton oddly put up a good fight on Wednesday.
Villanova has turned into a juggernaut the last month, scoring at least 76 points in its last seven Games prior to Wednesday, with help from an improved three-point percentage. But even when it struggled to shoot well from distance against Georgetown, Nova still managed to Scoreplenty with the help of getting to the free-throw line. Of course, some issues came to the front in Wednesday’s overtime win against Creighton and those can’t be overlooked.
The matchup everyone will point to is between Phil Booth (18.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4.0 apg) and Markus Howard (24.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.2 apg). Howard has the bigger numbers, but not many will say he’s better than Booth, especially after Shamorie Ponds got the best of Howard earlier in the week. The problem is that Booth is one of the best perimeter defenders in the Big East and he could make life difficult for Howard. Howard has had some huge Games, but when faced against guards that can play defense like that of St. John’s, Wisconsin, Kansas and Indiana, things were a little more difficult. If Booth and Collin Gillespie can limit Howard, that’s an immediate issue for the home team. That’s when others like Sam Hauser (15.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg), Joey Hauser or Sacar Anim step up. No one talks about players other than Howard, but Sam Hauser has at least 19 points in the last six Games.
The issue is that Villanova matches up well at every position with Jermaine Samuels, Eric Paschall and Saddiq Bey at the forward spot and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree serving as a small-ball big man. The question is if Marquette’s defense can live up to its numbers with the best effective FG% in the conference. Booth and Paschall (17.4 ppg) are always a threat to reach 20 points, while Gillespie surprisingly dropped 30 last weekend against Georgetown. If Marquette can stop one of those guys, it’d be a plus, but it won’t be easy. Howard isn’t known for his defense and that could be an issue against Booth and Gillespie, while Joey Hauser gives up experience and athleticism to Paschall.
Marquette is at home, but it just lost there on Tuesday. Some of that could be due to looking ahead, but why look past a team that already beat you by 20 points? To win this Game, the Eagles need a special effort from Howard or a little more production from everyone else, and still, they’ll need to limit what Nova’s trio does on the other end.
Our Pick – Marquette -1