Thanks to Tim Blair from our friends at Cracked Sidewalks for this great preview of the game on Saturday:
Who are the key players for Marquette in the backcourt?
Marquette is a backcourt dominated team. Crean over-recruits in the backcourt where he can go as many as six deep this year, though a rotation of five guards has become the norm. The team is led by the duo of Jerel McNeal and Dominic James. These guys lead MU in scoring, and are also second and third in the BIG EAST in steals per game. Each player is having a fine season, showing marked improvement offensively. Neither is a great shooter, but both players have improved their shot selection this season and are (no surprise) much more efficient. Another player to watch on Saturday is combo guard David Cubillan. He's a ferocious defender and dead-eye three-point shooter when healthy. However, he's been struggling with a bad ankle for the past week or so and his productivity has suffered.
Speaking of injuries, there's some question about how James' injured right wrist is recovering. James was injured against Seton Hall but later returned to the game. Still, Crean is cagey on injuries to his players and there have been reports that James' wrist will limit his PT on Saturday.
Who are the key players for Marquette in the frontcourt?
Lazar Hayward and Dan Fitzgerald. Hayward has emerged as an ideal complement to the MU guards, scoring from all over the floor. He's draining shots from deep consistently, is a fine offensive rebounder, and has an effective midrange game. Hayward is the most improved player on the roster, and might be the key to MU's offensive because of the pressure he takes off of the guards.
Fitzgerald, a 6'9" senior, can be Steve Novak-lite. He missed a month with injury but had a huge night against SHU earlier in the week, draining four three-pointers. Fitz needs to shoot more, and if he hits a few shots the MU offense really cooks. At the center slot, Crean goes with a platoon of Dwight Burke and Ousmane Barro -- but this duo has been underwhelming for most of the year. Barro started every game for MU last season, but Crean has him coming off the bench now ostensibly to keep him out of foul trouble. Trouble is, Barro's production has fallen significantly and Burke rarely delivers. At least they have 10 fouls to give against a bull like Harangody.
What is your opinion of Tom Crean as a coach and how would you describe his coaching technique, offensive/defensive philosophy, etc.?
Crean is a good coach and he's developed a system that fits the style of the players he recruits. This team is built on defensive pressure, pushing the ball up the floor, and driving and kicking to an open shooter or a cutter. Effectively, TC runs a pro-styled offense where the best players get the most looks (realize that Burke and Barro took one shot in 39 minutes against the Hall). On defense, MU pressures the ball effectively thanks to McNeal and James. Against Providence in the BIG EAST opener, MU's backcourt pressure rendered the Friars' bigs completely ineffective (Hanke and McDermott combined for only four shot attempts) - - their guards just could not run the offense effectively. I'd expect MU to try the same formula against the Irish in hopes of marginalizing Harangody and Kurz. Easier said than done.
How has the team performed compared to expectations this season?
MU is right where they should be. The road win at Wisconsin has been the best win so far, and now that the team is healthier they should be primed for a successful conference season. However, MU has struggled in its last two outings, so ND will be a major test.
What are you predictions for the rest of the year (conference finish, postseason play, etc)?
3rd place in the Big East and a Sweet Sixteen run....NCAA wins have become Crean's albatross in the post-Wade era. It's time to shed that.
Good stuff. Cracked Sidewalks always does a great job covering Marquette hoops. They are our biggest rivals on the hardwood, so there is plenty of reason to follow this team and see how the do the rest of the year. CS is always good for some solid reporting and thanks to Tim and the rest for giving us this preview.
The 2:00 game tomorrow throws me off a bit. Hopefully I will get a chance to post before the contest, but that all depends on when I wake up, I guess. This is our first chance to defeat a ranked team and hop into the top 25 ourselves. Too bad you can't watch it if you don't have ESPN Full Court. ESPN360.com should have streaming video for your viewing pleasure, however.
'til then, happy Friday.