Behind some sensational shooting and a stifling defense effort, the Marquette Golden Eagles advanced to the Elite Eight on Thursday night, setting up a showdown with the Syracuse Orange.
The two conference rivals have met only once this season, resulting in a narrow 74-71 home win for Marquette.
The Golden Eagles won’t be dumbfounded by Syracuse’s 2-3 zone as Indiana was on Thursday night, but it will still take an outstanding game for Vander Blue and company to take down the Orange. Of course, Marquette is coming off its best performance of the season on both ends of the floor, so an outstanding game is far from an impossibility.
Read on for a five-step plan that will help Buzz Williams’ No. 3 seeds hold off the fourth-seeded Orange and punch the program’s first Final Four ticket since 2003.
The only time Marquette struggled offensively against Miami was late in the game when the Hurricanes started pressing and trapping.
There’s no question that Jim Boeheim noticed the Golden Eagles’ problems as well, and his team presses far more effectively than Miami does.
If Marquette isn’t ready for Michael Carter-Williams and company to attack its ball-handlers, the Golden Eagles could get off to the same kind of turnover-riddled start that doomed the Hoosiers.
Expect Buzz Williams to draw up a whole new arsenal of anti-press offenses to avoid the missteps that Marquette committed against the 'Canes.
Marquette put on an uncharacteristic shooting exhibition against Miami, highlighted by a 3-for-4 effort from three-point range by reserve forward Jamil Wilson.
The Golden Eagles usually prefer to attack the rim on offense, but against Syracuse’s zone, they’ll need to be able to hit some jump shots too.
Wilson and Vander Blue combined for 30 points against the Hurricanes, and not many of those were in the paint. If Buzz Williams can figure out how to reproduce that performance on Saturday, Marquette’s offense will benefit in a big way.
The Golden Eagles locked down Miami’s offense by running three-point shooters off the line and daring the Hurricanes to hit mid-range jumpers. If they try that again on Saturday, Syracuse will eat them alive.
C.J. Fair is a devastating mid-range scorer, and both Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche are also happy to nail 18-footers for as long as the opposing defense permits.
Marquette can’t give up open three-point shots to the Orange, but it also can’t sprint to the arc with abandon and think its defensive job is done.
In the first meeting of these two teams, Michael Carter-Williams was held to an unremarkable game: 14 points, five assists and two steals.
That was in the midst of a three-game losing streak for the Orange, though, and the star point man is playing a good deal better right now.
Carter-Williams is too athletic for Junior Cadougan to stop alone, but Marquette also can’t give him easy passing lanes by helping too aggressively or too predictably.
Just as important, the Golden Eagles must limit his steals, because fast-break points are a great way to sink a terrific half-court defense such as Buzz Williams’.
Without a doubt, the hero of Marquette’s regular-season win over Syracuse was Davante Gardner. The Big East Sixth Man of the Year set a career high with 26 points on perfect 7-for-7 shooting from the field and was 12-for-13 from the charity stripe to boot.
Obviously, Syracuse will be preparing to close the holes Gardner barged through back in February, but Marquette must force the Orange to prove that they can execute on that plan.
Even if Gardner doesn’t fill up the points column again, he can do just as much damage passing from the high post to set up scoring opportunities for the other Golden Eagle forwards.