Busting Brackets

Marquette Basketball: 3 keys for NCAA Tournament 1st-round game vs. Western Kentucky

After closing out the season strong, despite the absence of starting guard Tyler Kolek, the Golden Eagles obtained a favorable turnout at the selection show. When it was revealed that Marquette had earned the number two seed and would not be traveling far to face Western Kentucky in Indianapolis, many cheers were heard from the team. With energy and hopes high, here are the three keys to success for Shaka Smart and his squad.

NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament - Practice Day - Indianapolis
NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament - Practice Day - Indianapolis / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages

As highlighted by Action Network, Western Kentucky has a field goal percentage that is respectable—nothing too impressive—but in the top 50% in the nation. What they lack is ball security. Coming in towards the bottom of the league, it will be interesting to see how coach Steve Lutz gets his team prepped for Shaka Smart’s adaptable defense, which has been known to throw teams off balance. 

All-American Tyler Kolek has been dealing an oblique injury and many questioned if we would see him for the start of the tournament. We saw him at practice today, looking healthy and ready to go. If there’s doubt in anyone’s mind beyond that, we received confirmation ourselves at the selection show party back in Milwaukee, when the team was watching a TV broadcast that mentioned his injury. He happily exclaimed, “I’m back!” 

Key 1: Transitional Defense

We talked with Coach Smart after the Thursday morning practice, and one thing that he mentioned was a point of emphasis for them over the week: not allowing teams to beat them back. Especially with their depth, Smart commented: “There really is no excuse for another team to beat us back down the court.” He told us there were some things that he took away from his team after talking to another coach and seeing them run their 4-on-4 drill and the similarities in their flash drill.

Key 2: Control of the Glass

Something that has been plaguing the Golden Eagles is their opponent's second-chance points. In many of Marquette’s close losses, there has been a reoccurring theme in the differentiating amounts of rebounds, especially offensive. If they can figure out how to control the glass and eliminate the second-chance opportunities, Marquette can set the pace and control the game from start to finish.

Key 3: Utilizing Their Depth

Having to adapt quickly after Kolek's injury, one thing Smart discovered is how deep his roster actually is. Trey Norman and Zaide Lowery stepped up in a big way to fill the gap at guard. Shaka also mentioned at a press conference last week that it was really about everyone just doing what they do, a little better, while maybe sprinkling some things in that led the Golden Eagles to stay successful over that stretch. 

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Marquette is the #2 seed in this matchup. Many viewers are already expecting to see them play Florida on Sunday, but they’ll have to focus on the game at hand because the Hilltoppers won’t be just a walk in the park. This is the NCAA Tournament, so anything can happen.