Date: Sunday, March 1st
Time: 12:06 p.m. EST
Site: Freedom Hall (18,865) in Louisville, KY
Series History: UofL leads 37-24 (20-11 in L’ville, 17-12 @Milwaukee, 0-1 neutral)
Last Meeting: UofL 71, Marquette 57 (Feb. 16, 2008 in Milwaukee, WI)
National Rankings: UL No. 6, Marquette Nos. 8, 10 AP, ESPN/USAToday (2/23)
Officials: John Cahill, Michael Stephens, Mike Stuart
March Madness is upon us!!! Louisville welcomes the Marquette Warriors or Golden or Screaming or Fighting or Whatever Adjective (it’s Golden) they are now Eagles into Freedom Hall in a battle that is crucial to both squads BIG EAST regular season title hopes. Marquette is now in a must win situation if they want to cling to any hope of winning the conference (it ain’t happenin’). However, the Golden Eagles still need a win to hang on to the coveted fourth spot in the standings, thus attaining a double bye in the BIG EAST Tourney (it ain’t likely).
Louisville has regained their look of a Final Four team, which they really only lost for 40 minutes somewhere on their ride into South Bend. They have won four strait, and 14 of their last 16. They sit at 22-5 overall and 13-2 in BIG EAST play. With three games to go, Buzz Williams’ Eagles will be the last ranked team Louisville sees before the BIG EAST tourney starts (assuming West Virginia doesn’t sneak in come Monday). During the Cardinals current four game streak, they are forcing an average of 16 turnovers a game; that will be difficult to duplicate with a very experienced and guard laden Marquette squad. The Golden Eagles start four seniors and a junior Louisville needs to use its press to wear down a not so deep Golden Eagle team (at least offensive-wise as the Marquette starters are accounting for 86.4 percent of the team’s offensive output).
Earl Clark appears to be peaking for the Cardinals’ stretch run. The junior’s 22 points Monday were his most since Jan. 7 in the Cardinals’ Big East opener. He has scored in double figures six games in a row and has scored at least 10 points in all but four games this season. Clark also has been a force on the boards, with at least eight rebounds in six straight games. At times Clark appears to force his game, but as Slick Rick told he and fellow NBA prospect Terrence Williams, “I told them this time of year, you’ve got to stop (just) being a good college basketball player,” Pitino said. “If you’re going to be an NBA basketball player, this is the time you’ve got to pick it up.”
Marquette (23-5, 12-3 BIG EAST) has won 15 of its last 18 games, including a 12-game win streak which was halted at USF on Feb. 6. The Golden Eagles won 78-71 at Georgetown on Saturday as Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal scored 23 and 22 points, respectively. Marquette lost to Connecticut 93-82 on Wednesday night in a game where Dominic James left after 4 minutes with a what has now been confirmed as a broken fifth metatarsal in his left foot. Unfortunately for James he is done for the season, and his collegiate career is over. Connecticut snapped a squad’s long home winning streak for the second time this year, this time at Marquette’s 17 game expense. McNeal and Matthews again led the Golden Eagles with 26 and 20 points, respectively.
Senior guard Jerel McNeal, Marquette’s all-time leader in field goals made, scoring and steals, leads the Golden Eagles in scoring (20.0 ppg). McNeal is also in a heated battle with Louisville Forward Terrence Williams for the Lowe’s Senior Class Award. Go vote now! Junior guard Wesley Matthews, who has started 97 straight games, averages 18.7 points. Senior guard Dominic James, who is second in career assists at Marquette and is No. 3 in career scoring, averages 11.7 points and a team-high 5.3 assists as previously mentioned is out. So the Golden Eagles are down to three dynamos, McNeal, Matthews and all-name squad and the only underclassman to start this year, junior forward Lazar Hayward. Marquette is the top scoring team in the BIG EAST at 80.0 ppg, though it will be interesting to see how they play without their floor general James. Also, there is practically no scoring after these three, as guard Jimmy Butler is the next best contributor at 4.7 ppg and no one else tops 2.7 ppg.
Marquette has ten players who see at least eight minutes of action a game, and eight that see 12 minutes. While mostly these were just bodies to give the Fab Four some much needed rest, Marquette’s reserves are fully capable of holding their own. However, the Golden Eagles are led by their perimeter group, one of the best in the nation. Dominic James once again is a HUGE loss for this team. He is fearless when driving to the rim and can finish with anyone in the country. He is not overly consistent from three-point range, but he is a playmaker off the bounce and will sorely be missed. McNeal is one of the better two-way players in the Big East. He can do nearly anything on the court – besides shoot threes –and is a lockdown defender. Matthews can shoot the three and has a nice mid-range game to go with it. And Lazar is just 6-6, but he can hold his own in the post and has the offensive versatility to step out to the perimeter and consistently knock down three-pointers. He is also a very solid rebounder.
Bobby E’s Gamebreaker: COMPOSURE!!!
This should be a back and forth game with both teams putting together some impressive runs. Whichever squad can keep its composure and not allow itself to crumble, should be able to weather the storm and stay in the game. Also with Marquette able to match Louisville in speed and quickness, and given the Cards will also be donning throw-back uniforms in the style from the Wes Unseld era of the late 1960’s, Samardo Samuels, Terrence Jennings and George Goode will need to channel some of Wes’ dominance and control the inside game. Without James, I don’t think Marquette will be able to keep it together for the full 40.
If you plan on being in attendance, the University of Louisville Athletic Department would like to encourage you to don white in an effort to “White-Out” Freedom Hall. The Cardinals have been successful with their previous “White Out” promotions. The Cards knocked off Connecticut 68-54 on Jan 23, 2007 and beat No. 9 Georgetown on Feb. 9, 2008 when Freedom Hall was a bright white. U of L Coach Rick Pitino drew national attention when he wore a white suit for last year’s event.
The game will be televised nationally on CBS with the awesome tandem of Verne Lundquist (play-by-play) and Bill Raftery (color) calling the action. You can also hear the game broadcast on WHAS (840 AM) by Paul Rogers (play-by-play) and Bob Valvano (color) or on SIRIUS satellite ch. 123.