By Paul Gotham
Setting: It’s a Big East battle at the Carrier Dome as Buzz Williams brings his Marquette Golden Eagles (11-7/2-4) to Upstate New York for a tilt with Jim Boeheim and his No. 5 Syracuse Orange (18-1/5-1).
Plot: Marquette opens play Saturday four games off the pace in Big East conference play. Syracuse is tied for second with Pittsburgh one game behind Villanova.
Syracuse has won five in a row including the last three on the road. Marquette has lost two of three.
Sub-plot: Saturday is the only time the two rivals meet during the regular season. Marquette’s four conference losses have come by a total of six points. In a scheduling oddity, the Golden Eagles have already lost to Villanova twice – both times by two points. Marquette has used six different starting lineups this season.
After three games on the road, the Orange return home to the friendly confines.
Flashback: Jonny Flynn dropped 24 and Andy Rautins hit four threes off the bench as Syracuse closed last year’s Big East regular season with an 86-79 overtime victory over Golden Eagles. Syracuse leads the all-time series 6-2.
The Orange have made 26 NCAA Tournament appearances under Boeheim. In the last 10 years Syracuse has reached ‘The Dance’ seven times with three ‘Sweet Sixteen’ appearances (’00, ’04, ’09) and a National Championship in ’03. Marquette has earned six berths in the tournament the last ten years. The Golden Eagles reached the Final Four in ’03.
Foreshadowing: Thirty alums of Marquette basketball have laced them up in the NBA including current players Travis Diener, Wesley Matthews, Steve Novak, and Dwyane Wade. Thirty-four Orange have earned spots in the NBA. Carmelo Anthony, Jonny Flynn, Donte Green, Jason Hart, Etan Thomas and Hakim Warrick currently hold spots in the Association.
Conflict: Marquette leads the nation from behind the three-point arc hitting 43.1 percent from long range. The Orange zone defense limits opponents to 30.3 from behind the arc. Marquette is 143-of-332 from behind the line. In comparison, SU is 138-of-349.
Syracuse has taken 1,122 field goal attempts this season and averages 84.5 points per game. Marquette has attempted 1,003 shots and scores 75.5 per outing. The difference here might be slight, but don’t ignore it. Syracuse will force the Golden Eagles to play at a faster pace.
Can the Golden Eagles maintain their three-point efficiency in a faster game?
Eight Golden Eagles log at least 12 minutes a contest. Nine Orange play at least 10 minutes a game.
Lazar Hayward leads three Golden Eagles in double figures. The 6’6″ senior forward from Buffalo, N.Y. averages 18.5 ppg and 7.4 rpg. Hayward hits 82 percent (60-73) from the free throw line.
Hayward is joined in the front court by Jimmy Butler. The 6’6″ junior adds 14.8ppg and 6.6 rpg. Butler hits 58.8 percent (10-17) from behind the arc.
Darius Johnson-Odom leads Marquette with 40 threes. Johnson-Odom hits 51.3 percent of his trifecta attempts.
David Cubillan and Maurice round out the starting lineup. The back-court tandem combine for 14 points and six assists.
Marquette’s biggest challenge will lie in dealing with Syracuse’s size. The Orange go 6’9″, 6’7″ and 6’9″ across the front. Wesley Johnson, as he has been for all opponents, is the immediate concern for the Golden Eagles. Johnson hits 45 percent (27-60) from behind the arc. The junior transfer averages 17 points and 8.7 rebounds.
Marquette can not afford to focus on Johnson. Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku combine for 19 points and 11 rebounds. Kris Joseph adds nine points and four rebounds off the bench.
Andy Rautins is the glue to the Orange attack. The senior hurts opponents in a variety of ways. Rautins averages 10 points, three rebounds and five assists per game. He has a success rate of 41.7 percent from long range and 74.3 percent from the free throw line. Rautins is invaluable when it comes to moving the ball. The 6’4″ guard sees the floor well and finds seams in the defense. He frequently makes the pass that leads to an assist.
Freshman point guard, Brandon Triche adds 10 points and three assists. Triche helps establish the Orange transition game.
Resolution: As in years past, Syracuse free-throw shooting has been a concern of late. The Orange hit 64.5 percent from the line. Marquette has 73.5% success from the stripe. This difference will allow the Golden Eagles to make this game close, but that is it. The Orange have too much size and depth for Marquette. Syracuse wins by single digits.