The #8-ranked Marquette Golden Eagles (24-5, 13-3 Big East) head into a rematch tonight on the road against the Cincinnati Bearcats (20-9, 10-6 Big East) at Fifth Third Arena at 7:00 PM ET in Cincinnati, Ohio.
While Marquette has already locked in a double-bye for the upcoming Big East Tournament ahead, the Golden Eagles still have accomplishments to make in what has been an outstanding campaign, and they’ll no doubt be under an increasing spotlight as they wrap up their season with tonight’s game and a tough home battle against #11 Georgetown on Saturday. No doubt a sweep of the season series with Cincinnati, combined with earning a #2 seed in the competitive Big East conference would give Marquette a huge leg-up in the NCAA tournament bracket selection, and also plenty of confidence heading back home for what should be an even greater challenge against the Hoyas. Winning 12 of their last 13 games, and 5 of 6 against Cincinnati specifically, Marquette has to like it’s chances tonight especially if they’re talented offense can have similar success against the Bearcats like they did earlier in the month. Once again, keys to a Marquette win will hedge on their two talented leading scorers and veteran leaders, Darius Johnson-Odom (18.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg) and Jae Crowder (17.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg). With the two putting up 23 points apiece in the win over Cincy two and a half weeks ago, once again they’ll be called on to lead the scoring attack for the Eagles tonight. Helping the team to shoot an impressive %56.7 against a tough Bearcats defense that averages just 60.8 points to opposing offenses, in a game where you can expect Cincy to have a much better defensive plan, Marquette’s leading scorers must have another top shooting night on the road in order to avoid becoming the 2nd Top-25 team in a week to fall against the Bearcats.
After being thoroughly trounced in all aspects of the game in the last match-up with the Golden Eagles, a 95-78 loss, the Bearcats have a lot of mistakes to correct if they’re to pull down a key Big East win at home before the conference tournament. The correction starts with getting back to a solid level of defensive play, which they have done in the last three games, allowing less than 57 points per game. Looking at the statistical information from the last match-up between Cincinnati and Marquette though, a couple of key areas of necessary improvement stand out; first, the Bearcats surrendered twice as many turnovers (14:7), and secondly, they were out-shot in every possible aspect of the game (field goal, 3-pt and free throw %). To address the first issue, Cincinnati has to do a better job with ball handling, as both Cashmere Wright (11.1 ppg, 4.5 apg) and reserve Justin Jackson (5.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg) combined for 4 turnovers apiece, collectively more than the entire Marquette team had in the Feb. 11th meeting. Those 14 total turnovers created 25 points for the Eagles, and Marquette further was able to dominate in fast breaks, outscoring Cincy 31-10 in that category. The Bearcats can’t expect to win if Marquette is able to run with the ball and avoid Cincy’s set defensive schemes, so avoiding the costly turnovers as much as possible and keeping the ball away from opportunistic hands will be essential tonight at home for Cincinnati to maintain a good pace for the game.
Secondly, shooting has to get better for the ‘Cats, especially around the perimeter. While Marquette can’t be expected to produce the same school record-setting shooting night they had in this year’s first meeting with Cincinnati, with the form the Eagles are currently in heading into tournament play, the Bearcats have to step up their game to take higher percentage shots, and also limit the amount of high percentage shots they are giving up. Cincy shot just 34 percent from the floor in the loss against USF on Sunday that snapped a 3-game winning streak, and that performance is troubling especially as they already aren’t a great shooting team at 42 percent for the year (252nd in the nation). To stand a shot at keeping pace with a Marquette side that shoots at a solid %46.4 for the year, Cincinnati’s leading scorer Sean Kilpatrick (14.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg) has to set an example and personally improve upon his awful 7 point performance in the Feb 11th game (2-6 shooting), which saw him frustrated all night by a hounding Marquette defense. Along with Kilpatrick, who should see most of the defensive attention again, senior guard Dion Dixon (13.2 ppg) also has to set a better standard tonight; he’s shooting just 37 percent from the floor on the year, and his percentages in shooting from the floor and from 3-pt range have fallen by 45 and 72 points respectively year-on-year. With Dixon, Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright combining for 77 percent of the Bearcat’s three-point efforts, Dixon has to be the one to step up big tonight, as he’s not shot above 35 percent in the last 4 games, and seeing him drop a few bombs in from deep should certainly boost the confidence of Cincinnati as a whole.
While Cincinnati was dominant in the paint during the last game pulling down 39 rebounds, 18 of those on offense (vs. 28 and 7 for Marquette), mainly due to their significant height advantage over the Eagles, Marquette’s smaller size and speed was shown to almost erase the advantages Cincy has in their inside game. Thus, Marquette will once again try to push the ball as much as possible, and utilize their efficient passing game (17.3 assists/game, 7th in the NCAA) to get the ball to players moving off screens and penetrating the base line. Jae Crowder has to be a go-to guy for Marquette tonight once again, as he’s averaging an astonishing 26.3 points over his last 4 games, but getting the ball to him will fall to the likes of Vander Blue (8.6 ppg, 3.0 apg) and Junior Cadougan (6.5 ppg, 5.5 apg), who have been the main distributors for the Eagles this season. Marquette has to keep pushing the ball into the interior and avoid being suppressed with defense around the outside, where their shooting hasn’t been as good (34.6 percent from 3-pt range). If they can keep the ball moving and keep Cincy guessing, they’ll be able to once again overcome their size deficiencies and frustrate the Bearcat’s defense. A frustrated Bearcats team on defense is usually one that struggles on offense, as we’ve seen over recent years.
Betting Lines for #8 Marquette vs. Cincinnati at Betonline Sportsbook
For this featured Big East match-up tonight, we head down to the betting lines at Betonline Sportsbook, one of the best online sportsbooks reviewed here.
Starting with the straight up wagers for the money line, this game is looking to be a tight one, with Cincinnati at a slight favorite to win with -115 odds, while Marquette trails only just with -105 odds.
Against the spread, it’s an almost-negligible difference of 1 point, with Marquette getting +1 at -110 odds, and the host Cincinnati Bearcats getting -1 points at -110 odds.
The over/under on total points stands at 139 points, however in what should be more of a defensive match-up on Cincinnati’s home court, I expect the Golden Eagles to not have the same success running the ball, and for the Bearcats to be much more effective on defense. Look for scoring in the high 60′s for both teams to push the over/under, but eventually fall just short.
Our Pick To Win:
As I continue to incorrectly back high-ranked teams in road games against opponents that play their best basketball at home, this game again has me second-guessing my judgment, especially after Michigan State’s awful performance in a road loss to an Indiana team that simply wanted the game more. However, in sportsbook betting, going with the initial, gut reaction is never something you want to question, and as such, I’m backing Marquette to win this game on the road in a close one. While Cincinnati is going to put on a much better defensive effort and should improve drastically off their poor performance against USF over the weekend, in the end, Marquette’s better shooting, better ball control, and better efforts at the free-throw line are going to carry them through the contest at Fifth Third this evening. While they were given a big test at West Virginia in light of a number of players getting benched for half the game, I expect those guys, including leading scorer Darius Johnson-Odom to come out swinging right away tonight, and put on a solid effort that earns them the second seed in the Big East. Marquette 67, Cincinnati 64.