The Marquette Golden Eagles, the 14th-ranked team in the nation this week, tries to open Big East Conference play with a bang this afternoon as it hosts the Villanova Wildcats at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee.
Marquette kicked off the 2011-12 campaign with 10 straight wins, but the team struggled in the final weeks of December with two setbacks in three outings. On Thursday night, the Golden Eagles were crushed by Vanderbilt at home in a 74-57 final, the first home loss in seven games for Marquette.
As for the Wildcats, they are in a transition phase after years of being one of the more dominant programs in the league. In fact, since opening this season with four straight wins, the team has posted just a 4-6 record and looked weak heading down the stretch of their 83-69 loss to West Virginia in their conference opener on Wednesday night in Morgantown.
With respect to the all-time series between these two schools on the hardwood, the Wildcats are ahead by a count of 11-7 thanks in part to a 75-70 win for Villanova in the most recent matchup last February.
The Wildcats were led by Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns, who both tallied 20 points for the visitors in their setback at West Virginia in the conference opener earlier this week. Mouphtaou Yarou chipped in with 13 points and eight rebounds as the team lost for the second time in the last three contests. Villanova shot only 3-of-14 out on the perimeter and turned the ball over 15 times on the night. Three-point shooting has been somewhat questionable for the Wildcats this season with the team converting just 31.1 percent of their attempts through 13 games, yet still they feel comfortable letting fly with 21 attempts beyond the arc per game anyway. Wayns, who has done much of his damage at the free-throw line so far this season, is responsible for 17.6 ppg and has handed out a team-best 69 assists as well. Yarou (12.9 ppg) and Cheek (12.2 ppg) are also keys figures on the offense for 'Nova, the former planting himself firmly in the paint in order to clear 8.5 rpg and avoid taking a single shot from three-point range to date.
Marquette dug itself a huge hole early in the first half against Vandy, making just one of its first 15 field goal attempts, en route to a 44-22 deficit at the break and an eventual double-digit loss at home in front of nearly 16,000. The Golden Eagles made a total of just 19 field goals in the meeting, 3-of-15 behind the three-point line and 16-of-30 at the charity stripe. Jae Crowder registered a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds, both team highs for the hosts, while Darius Johnson-Odom and Todd Mayo tossed in 12 and 10 points, respectively. Three-point shooting continues to be an issue for the Golden Eagles, particularly in the last two games with the team combined to hit on only 5-of-26 attempts and as a result the team has dropped to 33.5 percent from long range. Then again, this isn't a program that assumes too much from the perimeter because guys like Johnson-Odom (17.4 ppg) and Crowder (17.2 ppg) are shooting well enough from the floor overall, and the latter has managed to stay close to the rim where he is responsible for 7.5 rpg.