Two teams still vying for the Big East regular-season title will square off at the Bradley Center, as the 22nd-ranked Marquette Golden Eagles play host to the 21st-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Mike Brey's Irish have begun to build some momentum as the season heads towards a close, with wins in two straight and four of their last five games. Notre Dame is coming off an impressive 62-41 rout of Cincinnati last weekend and with the win, moved to 22-6 overall and 10-5 in conference play, a game behind Marquette and Louisville and two games behind league-leading Georgetown with three to play.
Buzz Williams' Golden Eagles are in a little better shape, sitting just a game behind the Hoyas in the conference standings at 11-4. Marquette has won three of its last four games and comes in off a thrilling 74-71 come-from-behind victory over Syracuse a the Bradley Center, where Marquette is a flawless 15-0 on the year.
Notre Dame won last year's only meeting with Marquette, 76-59 inside the Purcell Pavilion and is now 80-36 all-time against the Golden Eagles. However, Marquette maintains a slim 6-5 edge in Big East play.
The Irish held the Bearcats to just 41 points, the lowest scoring output by a Notre Dame opponent in Big East play ever. Meanwhile, Notre Dame took care of business at the offensive end, converting a healthy .468 from the floor in the lopsided win. Jerian Grant led the way with 13 points in the win. Tom Knight added 12, while Jack Cooley and Eric Atkins chipped in 11 each.
The Irish aren't a team that will blowout opponents with gaudy offensive numbers, but rather with efficient shooting (.476) and solid defensive play. Notre Dame is yielding just 63.1 ppg on the year and boasts of a +4.6 rebounding margin. Cooley, a 6-foot-9 senior, is a big reason for that, as he is shooting .589 from the floor and leads the team in both scoring and rebounding, averaging a double-double with 14.4 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. Grant and Atkins are the perfect backcourt complements, as both can score and distribute. Grant is netting 13.0 ppg, while dishing out 5.6 apg. Atkins comes in at 11.6 ppg and doles out 6.0 apg.
After getting benched the game prior, junior Davante Gardner came out with a renewed vigor, lighting up Syracuse to the tune of a career-high 26 points. A 15-2 run in the second half proved to be the difference for Marquette, which further clouded up the Big East picture with the win. Junior Cadougan and Jamil Wilson added 12 points apiece for the Golden Eagles, who really took advantage of Syracuse foul trouble, outscoring the Orange at the free-throw line 29-5.
The Golden Eagles are another team that has modest scoring outputs at 69.4 ppg, but does so on efficient shooting (.464). Vander Blue headlines the scoring options for Marquette with 14.3 ppg. Gardner is next in line, coming off the bench all season long with 12.1 ppg. Wilson (8.6 ppg) and Cadougan (8.6 ppg) provide limited scoring depth, while Cadougan serves as the team's top facilitator (4.3 apg).