Sweet 16 Preview: Marquette

You might think that Carolina has received a good draw by getting to play the 11-seed, Marquette, as opposed to say the 3-seed, Syracuse. You’d be right in some respects. Syracuse plays a very mean 2-3 zone, against which Carolina has struggled this year due to its lack of 3-point shooting acumen. However, you’d be wrong if you think the game will be much easier.

For one, this game comes after a five day layoff, and Marquette coach Buzz Williams is a notorious stat-head and team scout. He’s a big fan of Ken Pomeroy’s tempo-free statistics – points per possession, offensive efficiency, et al — and I’d put serious cash on the chance that he began his game-planning on Sunday night. The Golden Eagles will be attacking UNC at its most vulnerable points, probably transition D, and doing it often.

Carolina outsizes Marquette pretty significantly from a physical sense and very significantly from a talent sense. Down low is where they’ve made their keep all year, and they should continue to do so. Marquette was also outsized by Syracuse, so there shouldn’t be any indication to sleep on this team. Marquette caused lots of turnovers on the ‘Cuse, which is something UNC has struggled with at times this year, so again, don’t sleep — I’m looking at your perimeter telegraphs, Heels.

As that primer that I linked to above states, oddly enough, it’s probably in Marquette’s best interest to try and run with the Tar Heels tonight. This is not something one typically does against Roy Williams, but this Roy team is a bit different in that it plays superior defense in the half-court.  If you don’t want to drive into the trees (Henson, Zeller, Barnes) you better get there before they do a.k.a. on the fast break. This should work in the Heels advantage because other than causing some turnovers on D, Marquette doesn’t really stop its opponents’ offensive sets with great efficiency. UNC is a talented offensive team and Marshall will probably get double digit assists again. Just like Washington, expect this to be tight for a very long time with both teams putting up buckets after buckets. UNC will make a run like it always does, the trick will be maintaining that run after it comes. Now some quick points as I’m sneaking in this preview at work:

  • Marquette’s go-to defender is Jimmy Butler (right). He managed to hold Xavier’s Tu Holloway to only five points, and Holloway is a fucking animal. Butler will draw the assignment on Barnes and has indicated he’s been planning his approach. At 6’7″, he’s athletic enough and tall enough to pull it off. It will be the senior vs. the freshman, so we’ll have a big-time experiment on the question of experience in  this match-up.
  • Darius Johnson-Odom is a Raleigh native and Marquette’s leading scorer. His 3-pointer buried Syracuse with less than a minute remaining in the Golden Eagles’ last game. You think a guy from Raleigh is going to be amped up to play Carolina? Me too. Damnit.
  • Kendall Marshall has 24 assists in the tournament so far. Damn, son.

Let’s be honest. How excited are you that Duke got a beatdown last night, and tonight UNC has a chance to go further in the tournament than the Devils? Dukies can say whatever they want about winning the ACC Tournament, but there’s only one banner that every team in the country wants to hang, and Carolina has a great chance to get a lot closer to that than Durham Tech this year. This game will be tough, and I know a lot has been made of Buzz Williams’ intense preparation, but Carolina has been preparing, too, and should be able to handle Marquette. That being said, they call it madness for a reason. Whichever team takes the early lead will get a huge mental boost, and Carolina hasn’t exactly been having quick starts lately. Hopefully though, as in the Washington game, the Heels can wither any outburst by their opponent in the FIRST half, and then pull away for the win.

NCAA Tournament Game Prediction (an oxymoron of sorts): UNC 86, Marquette 80