The Game: No. 3 Marquette (23-8, 14-4 Big East) vs. No. 14 Davidson (26-7, 17-1 SoCon)
The Round: NCAA Tournament Second Round
The Date and Time: March 21, 2013, 3:10 p.m. (EST)
The Location and Venue: Lexington, Ky., Rupp Arena (23,500)
The Network: TruTV
When people begin to look to sleepers and Cinderella stories when filling out their NCAA Tournament, they usually highlight the Davidson Wildcats as one of those teams lying in wait to upset one of college basketball's blue bloods, and this season the Wildcats head into the tournament with a tourney date against a team from one of the nation's top conferences, in Big East member Marquette.
For the Wildcats, it seems like old hat, and it marks the first time the Wildcats have come across a team from the Big East since facing Louisville last season, dropping a 69-62 decision. No one will soon forget Davidson's run back in 2008, which saw the Wildcats make a run all the way to the Elite Eight before getting knocked out by eventual national champion Kansas.
The Wildcats meet a Marquette team that enters the NCAA Tournament coming off a season which saw the Golden Eagles gain a share of the regular-season Big East Title (the school's first since the 2002-03 season) and come into the 2013 NCAA Tournament with a 23-8 overall record, and an 14-4 record in conference play in the Big East.
The Golden Eagles, of course, enjoyed their own magical run in the NCAA tournament back in the 2003 NCAA Tournament, and led by Dwayne Wade, Marquette made it all the way to the Final Four before losing to Kansas.
Davidson comes into the 2013 NCAA tournament with a 26-7 overall mark, and have won 17 straight games entering the Big Dance. The Wildcats' loss in conference play this season came on the road, dropping a 70-57 decision at Georgia Southern. Those 17 straight victories mark the longest winning streak of any of the 68 competitors entering the 2013 NCAA tournament.
Thursday afternoon's matchup in the Bluegrass State will mark just the third all-time meeting between Davidson and Marquette on the college basketball hardwood, with the series tied, 1-1.
Davidson was able to pull out a 73-65 win on Dec. 9, 1965, at Davidson, while Marquette evened the all-time series with a 66-65 win over the Wildcats in 1967, which was Al McGuire's first season at the helm.
Marquette is currently 12-1 all-time against the Southern Conference, with the last game against a team from the SoCon coming on Dec. 19, 2008, with a 94-77 win over Western Carolina.
Scouting the Golden Eagles:
The No. 3 seed Marquette Golden Eagles are making their eighth straight NCAA tournament appearance and it will be the 31st overall NCAA Tournament appearance for what has quietly become one of college basketball's most consistent winning programs.
The Golden Eagles are 38-31 all-time in the NCAA tournament, and Marquette has made six Elite Eight Appearances, and three runs to the Final Four. Marquette claimed its only national title in 1977 under the direction of the late, legendary head coach Al McGuire, who led the Golden Eagles to a 67-59 win over North Carolina in the title matchup.
Marquette likes to play an up-and-down game and is one of the more athletic teams in the Big East. The Golden Eagles are under the direction of Buzz Williams, who is in his fifth season since taking over for Tom Crean.
Williams has continued to help the school, located in Milwaukee, Wisc., fashion one of college basketball's elite programs year-in and year-out, despite having to follow in those large shoes left by his predecessor.
If any team can be prepared for a grueling run in the NCAA tournament, it's Marquette, who faced 13 teams during the regular-season headed to the NCAA tournament this season, holding a 6-7 mark against those teams to date. Marquette was able to garner wins over NCAA participants Wisconsin (60-50), (2) Pittsburgh (79-69, 74-67 OT), Georgetown (49-48), Notre Dame (72-64), and Syracuse (74-71).
The Golden Eagles' seven losses to 2013 NCAA Tournament qualifiers came against Florida (82-49), Butler (72-71), Cincinnati (63-61, OT), Louisville (70-51), Villanova (60-56), Georgetown (63-55) and Notre Dame (73-65).
The guard-oriented Golden Eagles will likely start three in the backcourt in Thursday afternoon's clash with the Wildcats. Leading the charge for Marquette is one of a trio of guards, in Vander Blue (14.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 1.9 APG).
Blue is the player that the Golden Eagles run everything through offensively from his wing guard spot, and he's the guy that dictates the pace of the game for Marquette, which Williams hopes will be at a fast pace against the Wildcats.
Blue will most be remembered for the heroics he provided for Marquette in the win over St. John's, as his lay-up at the buzzer allowed Marquette to get a 69-67 win, helping the Golden Eagles to clinch a share of the regular-season Big East Title.
Blue has posted double-figure scoring performances in 22 games this season, including a 30-point effort in the 70-47 home win against South Florida earlier this season. Blue leads the team with 33 triples this season, but he shoots just 29.2 percent from the perimeter for the season.
Joining Blue in the starting backcourt trio for the Golden Eagles on Thursday afternoon will be Trent Lockett (7.1 points per game, 4.7 rebounds) and Junior Cadougan (8.7 points, 4.1 assists), who are both solid complements to Blue in the Golden Eagles' backcourt. Cadougan leads the team at the point, and has started all 31 games for the Golden Eagles this season.
Cadougan enjoyed his best games of the season against UConn and Wisconsin, scoring a season-high 18 points in those games. Lockett turned in his most effective outing for the Golden Eagles against Louisville in a 70-57 road loss, as he posted a season-high 16 points, rounding out a streak of three consecutive double-figure scoring performances.
Starting in the paint for the Golden Eagles on Friday afternoon against the Wildcats will be Chris Otule (4.9 points, 3.3 rebounds) and Juan Anderson (3.0 points, 3.0 rebounds). Otule and Anderson are asked to be role players and "scrappers" in the paint for the Golden Eagles, and they won't be looked to as scorers.
Otule's main concern will likely be defense, as he will draw the unenviable task of checking Southern Conference Player of the Year Jake Cohen, which means chasing Cohen out to the perimeter to make sure the senior does not hurt the Golden Eagles from beyond the arc.
Otule is a great story in his own right, as the 6-11, 265-pound center has had three previous seasons cut short as a result of injuries. In the lone season he was able to complete thus far in his career, which was the 2010-11 season, he finished with 55 blocks, which ranks as the ninth-highest single-season total in school history.
The Golden Eagles know what to do with it when they get the ball in the paint, and come into the contest ranking 17th nationally in field goal percentage from two-point range, as the Golden Eagles are shooting 52.1 percent from two-point range.
In stark contrast, the Golden Eagles have struggled mightily from three-point land this season, ranking 312th nationally in long-range shooting as a team, connecting on just 30.1 percent for the season from downtown.
Off the bench, the Golden Eagles will look to their other double-figures scorer, in big man Davante Gardner (11.5 points, 4.9 rebounds). Gardner could be a tough matchup in the low post for the Wildcats, and his top performance came against St. John's, as he posted 22 points.
The depth continues in the front court off the bench for the Golden Eagles, in the form of Juan Anderson (3.0 points, 3.0 rebounds) and Jamil Wilson (9.4 points, 4.9 rebounds), who round out what has been an eight-man rotation for the most part this season for the Golden Eagles.
Scouting The Davidson Wildcats:
Davidson enters the 2013 NCAA tournament with nation's longest winning streak, having taken that streak to 17 games and will hope to make it 18 when the Wildcats meet Marquette in Thursday afternoon's NCAA Tournament opener.
All-time in the NCAA tournament, the Wildcats are 8-13 and have enjoyed a great tradition and lineage of coaches. Bob McKillop is part of that lineage, which includes the likes of Lefty Driesell, Terry Holland and Jim Laranaga.
It's been the veteran McKillop who has brought the program a majority of its success, as the Wildcats have charted seven of their 12 NCAA Tournament appearances, including six of which have come since 2002.
Like Marquette, Davidson has played a schedule more than tough enough to help prepare the Wildcats for an NCAA Tournament run, including games against Vanderbilt, West Virginia, Gonzaga, Richmond, Duke and Drexel to name a few.
Davidson's bread and butter this season has been its front court, with SoCon Player of the Year Jake Cohen (14.8 points, 5.5 rebounds) leading the way, and he will combine in the paint with a very talented De'Mon Brooks (13.8 points, 6.2 rebounds).
He struggled at times during the regular season, but was red-hot in the Southern Conference Tournament and was one of the main reasons the Wildcats were able to bring home a second straight Southern Conference title in 2013.
Cohen is a very versatile big man in the post, and it shows in the statistical data, as he connects on 50 percent from the field, while also having connected on 36 triples on the season to rank fourth on the team in three-pointers made this season. His 1.6 blocks on the defensive end ranked in the top five in the SoCon in blocks per game this season.
Brooks scored in double figures in all three Southern Conference Tournament games for the Wildcats, including 24 in the championship game to take home Southern Conference Tournament MVP honors. Brooks is athletic and savvy, and he might be the Wildcats' most talented all-around player, despite all the praise that Cohen receives.
The backcourt for the Wildcats is equally impressive, led by a trio of veterans, including a pair of seniors in J.P. Kuhlman (8.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists) and Nik Cochran (9.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists). Kuhlman and Cochran have seemingly made clutch shot after clutch shot in their respective careers for the Wildcats, with Kuhlman knocking down a huge three to give Davidson their first lead in the only game in which they were threatened in during the Southern Conference Tournament last weekend, in that 65-62 semifinal win over Appalachian State.
Cochran has hit 49 triples this season for the Wildcats, and he is shooting a team-best 48.5-percent (49-of-101) from three on the season. Cochran leads the nation in free throw shooting, coming in shooting an astounding 94.1-percent (112-of-119). Kuhlman has provided a number of big plays for the Wildcats in the backcourt, and scored a season-best 16 points in a loss to Milwaukee early in the season.
Chris Czerapowicz (9.2 points, 5.1 rebounds), a junior guard, rounds out the starting five for Davidson. Czerapowicz is not only one of the best athletes in the starting five for Davidson, but he is also one of the best perimeter shooters, connecting on a team-best 59 triples.
The bench for the Wildcats is deep, and only gets deeper with the return of Clint Mann (7.3 points, 3.0 rebounds), who returns for the NCAA Tournament after having fully recovered from injury. The backcourt depth off the bench will include Tyler Kalinoski (7.8 points, 2.8 rebounds), who has 54 triples this season to rank second on the team.
Perimeter defensive support will also be aided by Tom Droney (4.2 points, 3.0 rebounds) and the young Jordan Barham (2.2 points, 1.4 rebounds) off the bench.
Davidson has the kind of depth and defensive discipline to give Marquette fits all afternoon in Rupp Arena, and I am going with the 14-over-3 upset in this one, taking the Wildcats in a close one.
Davidson 68, Marquette 65