Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
The first official “Big Monday” of the year kicks off in a big way with four games on ESPN starting at 3:30 PM EST. We have previewed the two big ones below. Rankings are subject to change with a new RTC Top 25 coming out today.
#17 Louisville at #21 Marquette – 3:30 PM EST on ESPN (****)
- Marquette has struggled in the first half of its last three games, but it should look to come out with great energy against Louisville, an old Conference USA rival that moved to the Big East with Marquette in 2005. The Golden Eagles have won two straight games with strong second half efforts, but the key in this game will be jumping on the Cardinals from the start. Marquette likely won’t be able to score easily against Louisville’s #12 defense but Marquette can create advantages in other areas. Look for Marquette to push the pace and try to score in transition. The Golden Eagles will likely be out-rebounded so a significant turnover margin in their favor could propel them to a lot of points in transition. Louisville ranks #224 in defensive free throw rate and Marquette shoots 70.5% from the charity stripe. Creating turnovers and getting to the line will take care of any disadvantage on the glass. Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder do the bulk of the offensive work for the home squad, which averages nine steals per game.
- The Cardinals really struggle to shoot the basketball as they are ranked #137 in offensive efficiency. To win this game on the road, Louisville will have to put forth one of its best defensive efforts of the season along with crashing the offensive glass when it has the ball. With Gorgui Dieng inside and a number of guards that aren’t afraid to rebound, Rick Pitino’s team has the toughness needed to get second chances around the bucket. It would be nice for the Cardinals if Russ Smith had another game like the 25-point performance on Saturday against DePaul. Smith has been inconsistent, but when he scores he really goes off. A better offensive game from Peyton Sivawould significantly help Louisville’s chances as well. He hasn’t been all that impressive in Big East play, but a smart game from their point guard will make Louisville much tougher to beat. If the Cardinals aren’t turning the ball over, they can control the pace and make it harder for Marquette to score.
- Louisville has won six of the past seven games in this series, but may be without its leading scorer, Kyle Kuric. He sprained an ankle last week in practice and his status is questionable for today’s game. If he plays, Louisville won’t have to rely as heavily on the Smith’s for offensive production. In addition to DJO and Crowder, Buzz Williams needs a third scorer to emerge on a consistent basis. Todd Mayo can be that guy, shooting 48% in Marquette’s wins and only 33% in its losses. When Mayo and/or Vander Blue are contributing, the Golden Eagles are one of the tougher teams in America to beat. A smart game plan by Louisville would be to go after those two defensively and try to prevent them from getting touches. Johnson-Odom and Crowder will get their points, but shutting down Marquette’s ancillary pieces is the key to beating them. Louisville was blown out at Providence last week but we expect a better showing this time. Marquette is the favorite, but Louisville could make this a very close game.