After suffering a pair of (consecutive-) Big East losses to Seton Hall and Butler in its last two games, the reeling Golden Eagles of Marquette entered Monday’s matchup against the Villanova Wildcats needing a win. Thanks to Tyler Kolek and Kam Jones; who contributed to the Golden Eagles’ cause with 21 points, 11 assists and 22 points respectively, Marquette got what they came for and strolled to a sizable, 13 point margin of victory.
As Shaka Smart pointed out during his post-game presser with Fox color-man , Bill Raftery, his Golden Eagles showed tremendous grit, patience, and poise throughout the home victory; especially when ‘Nova’s shots were falling and Marquette’s weren’t. In Justin Moore’s second game back from injury, the fifth-year guard struggled to impact the game on the offensive end and finished the away-loss with just 7 shot attempts, 8 points, and 3 turnovers. Although the (now-) 11-6 & 4-2 (in-conference) Wildcats did earn themselves a 21-point advantage from three-point territory (14 to 7 made-threes), the game’s end-result came down to the home-team’s ability to protect & share the basketball; highlighted by Marquette’s 24 assists and just 3 turnovers.
In the Golden Eagles’ 87-74 statement win, they torched the Wildcats’ strong defense by using their dribble/vision to constantly attack the paint along with ‘Nova’s weakest defenders; especially Hausen and Armstrong. Before Marquette pulled away from the visitors, however, ‘Nova found themselves trailing by a single possession in the game’s final ten-minutes, and it was at that crucial moment when Coach Smart showed us his genius by imploring his players to increase their paint touches (offensively) and reminding them of their game-plan for ‘Nova sharpshooter, Brendan Hausen. Moreover, Smart specifically mentioned Hausen’s name during the pivotal time-out in order to underscore Hausen’s habits on the offensive and defensive end.
As Shaka knows, Hausen is a defensive liability every day of the week; and this young shooting guard is particularly vulnerable when he’s cast out in space and (/or) asked to move his feet on dribble-drives. Once Coach Smart addressed his players, the Golden Eagles narrowed their focus and stopped letting the Cats hang around; taking their coach’s simple instructions to-heart and attacking Hausen in transition and in the half-court. Defensively, the Golden Eagles didn’t allow Hausen to get another clean look for the rest of the game; after the native Texan (earlier) nailed 3 of his 5 3-pointers and (was fouled on another; and he) finished the game with 11 points.
Don’t let this game’s box-score fool you. On one hand, ‘Nova’s Mark Armstrong played well in his team’s road-loss; scoring 9 points in the first half and committing only 1 turnover for the whole game. Additionally, the 6-foot 2-inch speedster was a table-setter for his teammates and seemed to play within the flow of the game; not forcing it offensively and avoiding needless fouls on the other end. If you took a quick-peak at the game’s stats, it (still) would’ve been hard to miss Armstrong’s numbers; as the up-and-coming combo-guard dropped 24 points on 8-of-15 shooting.
However, Armstrong fell flat in the opening ten minutes (or so) of the game’s second half; scoring at least half of his (24) points in the game’s closing stages; after the Golden Eagles went on their game-sealing run and expanded their lead to double-digits. At the same time, Armstrong’s (late-game) resurgence wasn’t entirely futile; as the youngin’s flurry of quick buckets allowed the Cats to remain within striking distance of the Golden Eagles until the game clock became too much of a hurdle. Big-picture-wise, Armstrong’s total performance against this (17th) ranked-opponent was very promising while also being the kind of memory Armstrong himself can call upon as the season progresses.
Based on what we’ve witnessed and heard from the 2023-‘24 Villanova Wildcats, the Big East blue-bloods are a confident, mature team; burdened by the kinds of qualms that are self imposed and not those that originate from external sources. Plainly, the Wildcats have no delusions about who they are and possess the utmost faith in their identity. Until further notice, Villanova is a defensive team.
In Milwaukee, Shaka Smart propelled his team to victory by beating Kyle Neptune’s defense. Specifically, the Marquette Golden Eagles injected pace into its offensive sets, emphasized ball-movement, attacked the paint, and mixed up their looks. Along with Kolek and Jones, the Golden Eagles’ leaned on the versatility of its 6-foot 11-inch senior, Oso Ighodaro, who was able to get downhill on the road-team’s defense all game; making 9 of his 11 shots, scoring 18 points, and dishing out 5 assists. Defensively, the Golden Eagles relentlessly pressured the ball, stole it 9 times, and turned the Cats over on 12 (total-) occasions; leading to 15 points on the opposite end (off-turnovers) and a decisive 13 point advantage in that category alone.
Moving on to the top-ranked U'Conn Huskies, the Cats have a lot of work to do before they share the court with the defending national champions. Like the Golden Eagles, the Huskies can beat you in a number of ways when it comes to scoring the ball, and ‘Nova (likely) can’t afford to lose the turnover battle (like they did against Marquette). In the world of Big East basketball, facing physical, well-rounded powerhouses is the standard. While ‘Nova failed to pass the test Marquette threw at them, that road-loss should serve as a great tune-up for the nation’s leading team.
Let’s go ‘Nova.