Marquette is one of the top-scoring offenses in the nation, but its tenacious play on the defensive end is what has helped it to a Big East-best five game win streak.
The No. 17/18 Golden Eagles (17-4, 6-2 Big East) will look to continue their run of stellar defensive play when they travel to Villanova (10-11, 3-6 Big East) on Saturday in search of their sixth straight conference victory.
Marquette’s 76.3 points per game is second-most in the Big East behind only Syracuse, but Golden Eagle opponents are averaging just 60.6 points per game during their winning streak.
They allowed just 47 points in Tuesday night’s victory over South Florida and scored 20 points off 22 Bulls’ turnovers.
“They’re extremely quick, and they get some offense from their defense so you worried about how quick they get to the other side of the court,” South Florida coach Stan Heath said of the Golden Eagles on defense. “But they’re very active, too. They rotate and they cover well for each other.”
Marquette has lost on the road to Villanova in each of the last three seasons, including a 75-70 loss last year. All three of those games were played at The Pavilion, Villanova’s on-campus, 6,500 seat arena. It is considered one of the biggest home-court advantages in the Big East, but Saturday’s contest will take place at the Wells Fargo Center, which seats over 20,000 fans and is home to the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers.
The two teams last met on New Year’s Day, with senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom scoring a game-high 24 points en route to an 81-77 Marquette victory. The Golden Eagles used an 11-2 run to open the second half and forced 17 turnovers in their Big East opener.
Johnson-Odom said playing a team a second time can be difficult, but Marquette will need to continue doing the things it does effectively.
“They know what you’re going to do so we’ll have to change it up a little bit,” Johnson-Odom said of the Wildcats. “I’m sure they’re going to change it up a little bit on the offensive end because we try to take them out of the ball screen action, which they’re very good at. We have to be able to guard the ball. That’s what it comes down to. When we get stops, it helps us on the offensive end.”
Luckily for Villanova, it may have the hottest scorer in the Big East to rattle the Marquette defense.
Maalik Wayns, who was named the Big East player of the week, is averaging 27.8 points and 4.5 assists in Villanova’s last four games. The junior point guard was held to 12 points on 4-of-13 shooting against Marquette earlier this year but is playing as well as anyone in the Big East entering Saturday’s matchup.
Forward JayVaughn Pinkston also earned All-Big East honors last week, being named the Freshman of the Week after recording back-to-back double-doubles in Villanova’s wins over Seton Hall and St. John’s.
Both Wayns and Pinkston, along with junior forward Mouphtaou Yarou (11.6 points, 8.3 rebounds per game), will be difficult covers for the Marquette defense, but coach Buzz Williams said his team is playing as disciplined as it has all year.
“You want to have a crescendo with your team that, as the season progresses, guys are improving individually and, collectively, there’s more of a pace and fluidity to what you’re doing, and all that comes down to discipline, and I think that’s happening with our club.
“Obviously we’re doing more things defensively to hide our deficiencies, but sometimes doing more things changes the rhythm of the opponent in a good way for us,” Williams said. “And I think (Jamil Wilson’s) versatility, and even the few possessions Juan (Anderson) was able to get in, was really good.”