In the final quarterfinal matchup in the Big East Tournament the third-seed Marquette Golden Eagles will take on the sixth- seed Notre Dame Fighting Irish Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
Led by Pat Connaughton's best performance of the season, the Irish slipped by Rutgers, 69-61, in Wednesday's first round. The Irish had lost two of the last three games to close out the regular season but still managed to finish among the top six teams in the conference in league play (11-7). Notre Dame has been to the semifinals in each of the last three seasons and is looking to make a fourth, and more successful trip, this time.
There wasn't a ton expected from Marquette this season but the Golden Eagles didn't get the memo as they went a stellar 23-7 overall, tying for the best league record (14-4) which gave them a share of the Big East title with Georgetown and Louisville. Marquette comes into the postseason with wins in four straight games and six of the last seven contests of the regular season.
There was just one meeting between these teams this season. Notre Dame failed to knock off the Golden Eagles in the contest as they won a 72-64 game at the Bradley Center, where they were a perfect 16-0 on the campaign. Notre Dame has still dominated the all-time series, 80-37.
The winner will move into the semifinals against either Villanova or Louisville.
Connaughton has normally taken a backseat for the Irish but he came up big on Wednesday hitting key shots from beyond the arc throughout the contest en route to a game-high 21 points. Tom Knight also stepped into the limelight in the contest as he put in 18 points to go with nine rebounds.
It's hard to imagine that the Irish could win a game when Jack Cooley (13.2 ppg, 10.5 rpg) finished with just two points. Cooley has been the anchor for the Irish all season and a threat to throw up a double-double every night. However the Irish play so well on the offensive end as a team that they were able to overcome Cooley's rough outing. The Irish are among the national leaders in both assists (17.3 pg) and field-goal percentage (.468), while scoring a healthy 70.7 points per game. Jerian Grant (13.3 ppg, 5.7 apg) and Eric Atkins (11.6 ppg, 6.8 apg) form a backcourt tandem that makes sure the Irish run smoothly on the offensive end.
The last time Marquette was on the floor at Madison Square Garden it earned a thrilling 69-67 overtime victory in the regular-season finale against St. John's. Vander Blue's layup at the buzzer lifted the Golden Eagles to the win after they had surrendered a 14-point lead in the second half.
Blue (14.4 ppg) is exactly who the Golden Eagles want taking shots in crunch time after he led the team in scoring. The 6-foot-4 guard had a rough patch when he failed to score in double figures in three straight games but he had 38 combined points in the final two games of the regular season. No other starter scores in double figures but Davante Gardner (11.5 ppg) is a real spark off the bench. As a team the Golden Eagles shoot a solid 46.7 percent from the field which ranks third in the league while netting 69.1 points per game. On defense they allow just 62.6 points per game on 40.6 percent shooting.