The Villanova Wildcats (7-6, 1-1 Big East) will conclude an unpredictable 2022 by facing off against head coach Shaka Smart and the Marquette Golden Eagles (10-4, 2-1 Big East) at 2 pm ET on Fox Sports 1.
Coach Kyle Neptune and staff will look to bounce back from a tough game against UConn on Wednesday night, where the Cats had an uncharacteristic 18 turnovers in the eight-point loss.
They’ll need to reverse that trend as Marquette will be bringing their “Havoc” defense which specializes in producing turnovers and turning up the pressure. Smart will also attempt to defeat Villanova for a third straight game, after his Golden Eagles completed the regular season series sweep last season.
Villanova’s last win over Marquette was Feb. 10, 2021, when Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had 27 points in a 96-64 win at the Finn.
Let’s do a deep dive on Marquette ahead of the perfect New Year’s Eve pregame.
Protect the Pavilion
The Marquette Golden Eagles may have lost 41% of their scoring from last year (Justin Lewis and Darryl Morsell), but that hasn’t stopped Smart in developing this squad for Big East contention in 2023.
Their “top six” consists of five sophomores and one junior – all who returned from last year’s Marquette team that swept Villanova.
The familiarity and development of the roster has paid enormous dividends as the Eagles sit at 10-4 overall and 2-1 in conference play, while being on the verge of cracking the AP Top 25.
Marquette signed up for a grueling non-conference schedule by facing four likely tournament teams in Purdue, Mississippi St., Baylor, and Wisconsin. This stretch was highlighted by their blowout win over then-ranked No. 6 Baylor at home.
Despite the four losses so far, all have been decided by less than five points and two of them needed overtime to decide a winner.
While Marquette is battle tested and tenacious, there are two intangibles that equate to vulnerabilities in college basketball – inexperience and road games.
As mentioned above, Smart is relying on a very young roster (one junior, five sophomores, three freshmen) and it’s still early in the season. The Wildcats will have the upper hand with a stronger veteran presence from Dixon, Daniels, and Slater. In the likely event this is a tight game down the stretch, having these guys can give the Cats a slight advantage.
Additionally, Marquette has only played three true away games so far – at Purdue, Notre Dame, and Providence. While the losses have been close, they are 1-2 in those games. Despite being on winter break, having home court is another advantage for Villanova on Saturday.
Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers
This might be a game where the deciding factor is entirely determined by who wins the turnover battle.
Stealing the ball is an all-hands-on deck job at Marquette. As a team – they generate over nine steals per game with five players averaging over one per game. Marquette’s defense ranks 49th in the country in generating turnovers from their defense.
The only Villanova opponents in this range include Iowa State, St. John’s, and UConn. In those games, Villanova coughed up 18 turnovers twice (Iowa State and UConn) and 11 turnovers the other time (St. John’s). The Cats will need to mimic the ball security and poise demonstrated against the Johnnies or else it could be a long night for the ‘Cats.
On the other hand, Marquette doesn’t turn the ball over – almost at an identical rate to Villanova’s offense. While the Cats don’t rely on steals, drawing charges, forcing bad passes, and making life hell for Marquette will go a long way in stopping this efficient offense.
Pick Your Poison
On the offensive side of the ball, Marquette has five players who average more than nine points per game, with sophomore Kam Jones leading the group at 16.2. Within their offense, they’ve got some elite traits and others that Villanova can capitalize on.
Marquette is one of the best 2-point shooting teams in the country, ranked fourth at nearly 61%. They also love sharing the ball, with 59% of made shots coming from an assist (good for 45th in the country). However, they are an average 3-point shooting team that doesn’t really rely on the long ball.
Based on this, Villanova should expect a fluid offense that will look for efficient 2-point shots and looks at the basket. Given Villanova’s poor 3-point defense, they could look more outside than they have this season, but regardless, Villanova needs to be extremely aggressive in forcing tough shots.
If Villanova must sacrifice some fouls along the way, that should be a trade Coach Neptune makes every day of the week. The Golden Eagles rank 236th in the country when it comes to sinking shots from the charity stripe, and they’re hardly free points for Marquette.
On the other hand, Marquette can be extremely vulnerable on the glass. They rank 250th in collecting offensive rebounds and 232n.d in stopping offensive rebounds.
They have three players listed in the 6-foot-7 to 6-foot-9 range (Oso Ighodaro, Olivier-Maxence Prosper, and David Joplin) who will man the front court, but none have the frame to match someone like Eric Dixon who would have anywhere from a 25-40-pound advantage. Marquette does have a 6-foot-11 freshman, Ben Gold, but he only sees 8 minutes a game.
Villanova is not known for offensive rebounds this season but almost beat UConn in that category who is seen as a physically large, imposing squad. There could be plenty of opportunities for extra rebounds from Dixon, Whitmore, Slater that may offset any lost possessions from Marquette steals.
Based on the height advantage, the Golden Eagles aren’t really a threat to block anything. Even though their twitter fans might have made you think otherwise.
In conclusion, Nova Nation should expect a back-and-forth matchup as both teams will look to capitalize on the other’s weaknesses in hopes of ending the year with a conference win.