For Cincinnati completing the third leg of the latest winning streak will be difficult. Marquette hosts Cincinnati this afternoon. The two top-five Big East teams are looking up the ladder with plans of ascending.
MU will be smaller on the blocks, but their closing ability impresses. Entering play Marquette shoots almost 10% better from the free throw line.
Small versus small
While Cincinnati has shown a proclivity towards multi-guard offense injuries have forced Marquette into the same configuration. This was destined be Davante Gardner's break out season. The left knee injury suffered January 28th continues to hold him out. Gardner had a nice NCAA Tournament debut last March.
As Head Coach Buzz Williams proudly led his upstart team into the Sweet 16 Gardner contributed 4.3 rebounds per game in 13.0 minutes a night. Facing North Carolina with an Elite 8 appearance on the line a 290-pound Gardner scored 16 points.
Interestingly Gardner is cousins with Cincinnati Bearcat wing JaQuon Parker. Cincinnati's basketball team really has not seen the best Gardner can offer as he played just four minutes in their 2011 encounter.
Also absent from the lineup will be redshirt junior Chris Otule, a moderately-used 6'11" center from Texas. Otule is hardly a game-changing force but gave Marquette some size in his eight starts. Unfortunately, Otule tore his ACL.
What is left for Marquette front line is warrior Jae Crowder (6'6") and a bunch of inexperienced wings. Crowder will challenge Yancy Gates on the glass and could still pull down ten. He works much harder rebounding than any Bearcat forward, even Justin Jackson.
It does bear mentioning that Marquette is 2-3 with their probable starting lineup.
Depth could be advantage
Marquette runs seven or eight deep. Cincinnati Head Coach Mick Cronin trusts ten players giving him the opportunity to run MU ragged. It would take a lot of full court trapping to discombobulate Darius Johnson-Odom though. And Crowder possesses a freakish motor.
Unless UC gets some bench scoring their deeper rotation won't wear on Marquette like it did DePaul, Notre Dame, and others.
Walk the line
Senior Dion Dixon scores 13.5 ppg and while his shooting touch remains deplorable UC can count on his charity stripe touch.
Dixon made 74 FT's entering play this afternoon, which accounts for 28.3% of the Cincinnati made free throws.
Much has been made of Cincinnati's ability to win away from Fifth Third Arena, rightfully so. With a month to play UC ranks third in road/neutral contests amongst Big East teams. Four conference road wins ties Cincinnati with Notre Dame for second best.
Of course Syracuse leads both categories and their 7-1 R/N record carries even more clout since they have been ranked in the top five throughout. Every night they arrive in a cauldron resembling the Cincinnati-Syracuse madhouse. Yet just one team tripped them up.
Today Cincinnati ventures into the frigid north where Marquette rarely loses.
Bradley Center strangles foes
In the last two years Marquette has won 84% of their home games. The Bradley Center is a busy, but beautiful venue hosting Milwaukee Bucks, Milwaukee Admirals (Hockey minors), Milwaukee Mustangs (Arena football), and premiere concerts.
An expected sell-out (18,500) this afternoon pits a strong road team against a solid home team. Marquette has requested all fans wear gold, so look for that theme to persist throughout.
This afternoon represents the toughest test left on Cincinnati's regular season slate. Villanova is down and South Florida is beatable in Tampa. Marquette has quietly put together a season worthy of NCAA 4-5 seed. Remember they advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2011 and aspire to greater things in 2012.
A handful of Bearcats are cognizant of the intensity February/March demands. Can the youngsters boost while seniors snag another reputable road win?