Two of the Big East Conference's best are set for a showdown at the KFC Yum! Center on Sunday afternoon, as the 12th- ranked Louisville Cardinals play host to the 25th-ranked Marquette Golden Eagles.
Marquette recently took down USF at home on Jan. 28, 63-50, to improve to 15-4 overall and an outstanding 6-1 in Big East play. The Golden Eagles have won eight of their last nine games to sneak into the latest AP poll, but while they are a perfect 12-0 on their home floor, they've won just one of four true road matchups.
Louisville ripped off 12-game winning streak earlier this season to improve to 16-1, which allowed it to rise all the way to No. 1 in the nation. That distinction turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing however, as it suffered three straight losses to Syracuse, Villanova and Georgetown. The Cardinals were able to snap out of the funk on Jan. 28 by logging a 64-61 home win over Pittsburgh to improve to 5-3 in conference.
Louisville owns a 41-26 series advantage over Marquette, and while the teams split the season series in 2011-12, the Cardinals have won seven of the last nine meetings overall.
Marquette was able to blow past USF in its latest game thanks to an outstanding 55.1 percent shooting effort. Vander Blue shot a lofty 13-of-20 from the field in netting a career-high 30 points, 21 of which came after halftime, nearly outpacing the Bulls' total output in the second half (26). Trent Lockett tallied 10 points and eight rebounds, and while Junior Cadougan managed just two points, he handed out six assists.
The Golden Eagles have been stellar in all phases of the game this season, shooting 46.3 percent from the field for 70.1 ppg, and holding their opponents to 62.3 ppg on less than 40 percent shooting. They also sport positive rebounding (+4.6) and turnover (+0.4) margins. Blue averages 14.8 ppg to pace the squad, while Davante Gardner (12.7 ppg) is incredibly efficient from both the field (.577) and the foul line (.848), despite coming off the bench in all 19 games. Cadougan adds 8.9 ppg and has 82 assists. One of Marquette's few weaknesses is the 3-point shot, as its has drained just 80 long-range buckets (4.2 pg) at a meager 29.5 percent clip.
Louisville's cold streak nearly continued last Tuesday as it saw its 11-point lead in the second half shrink to just two in the finale minute, but it went 4-of-4 from the foul line in the final 12 seconds to seal the deal. Russ Smith poured in 20 points, Gorgui Dieng stuffed the stat sheet with 14 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks and four assists, and Chane Behanan chipped in 12 points. Peyton Siva struggled mightily from the field (1-of-7), but certainly helped the team with his 10 assists.
One of the most well-rounded teams in the nations, the Cardinals play exceptional defense (57.9 ppg) in addition to producing at the offensive end (74.0 ppg), although their scoring output was dwindled to just 61.8 ppg in the last four tilts. Smith is one of the Big East's elite scorers, netting 18.4 ppg, while causing a ruckus in the passing lanes as well with 2.2 spg. Behanan (10.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and Dieng (9.4 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 2.4 bpg) are a formidable frontcourt duo, while Siva is one of the top floor generals in the country with averages of 10.5 points, 6.0 assists and 2.1 steals per contest.