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September 30, 2006

Marquette's Top 5 Games of 2006-07

Marquette's Top Five Games


While every game on the schedule is important, certain contests will stand out as particularly critical to Marquette's NCAA (hopefully) seeding. The following is an analysis of the top five games on the current Marquette schedule (potential encounters versus Stanford and Duke in the CBE Classic cannot be assumed).


Wisconsin (December 9 @Bradley Center)

The home team has held serve in the last five games of this intrastate rivalry. Now,  it's Marquette's turn to continue that trend. If Marquette doesn't play Duke in the CBE Classic, Wisconsin will be their biggest non-conference foe of the season and a victory will be critically important in the eyes of the NCAA selection committee.


Last year, Wisconsin held a 13-point lead at halftime and won going away, 77-63, behind Kammron Taylor's 18 points and Ray Nixon's 15 points. Marquette's "Big Three" of Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews had the "Perfect Storm" of rough games, combining to shoot only 9 for 31 from the field. McNeal played just 13 minutes before fouling out and Matthews' homecoming saw him shoot just 2 for 12 from the floor. Also having an off game was sophomore center Ousmane Barro, who played only 8 minutes and had three turnovers and zero points.


Despite the one-sided win, Wisconsin's core players did not fare very well, either. Taylor needed to attempt 17 shots (he made only 6) to net his 18 points and forwards Brian Butch and Alando Tucker both scored well below their averages. Butch contributed only four points and Tucker shot just 2 of 8 from the floor en route to an eight-point outing.


The Badgers lost only Nixon off last year's squad and, like Marquette, should be highly ranked for this game. Both teams are very evenly matched, with Wisconsin perhaps holding the advantage up front and Marquette's three-guard attack eclipsing the Badgers' backcourt. Coaching is a push. Wisconsin is a battle-tested team that rarely beats itself. Marquette's home court advantage could very well provide the sliver of difference it needs to win.


Syracuse (January 7 @Bradley Center)

Due to a Big East scheduling quirk last season, Marquette will get its first look at charter conference member Syracuse since it joined the league. While the Orange return four starters, including three seniors – frontcourt men Demetris Nichols, Terrence Roberts and Darryl Watkins – their lone loss was a big one: leading scorer Gerry McNamara. Josh Wright will end his two-year apprenticeship under McNamara and step in to the void at point guard. He's talented, but it's unlikely he'll have McNamara's grit, moxie and penchant for hitting clutch shots.


Last season, Syracuse needed a furious finish – capturing the Big East Tournament in the process – to gain entry to the NCAA Tournament. This year's team should also be in the field of 65 – with or without the Big East Tournament crown.


Syracuse always has a wealth of athletes and talent and this season will be no different. The game takes place during Christmas break, but maybe – like last season's Connecticut game – the students will sense the importance of this encounter and return to Milwaukee early to grace the Bradley Center with their presence. The Orange will have the more talented frontcourt, but look for Marquette's backcourt to once again be the difference.


Louisville (February 17 @Bradley Center)

Heading into this season, Marquette's dropped three straight to the Cardinals and with this year's first matchup in Louisville, that number could very likely stand at four in a row by the time these two rivals meet again in mid February.


Gone is four-year thorn in Marquette's side, Taquan Dean, but the Cardinals still return a wealth of firepower, led by 6'11" David Padgett and 6'8" Juan Palacios. Brandon Jenkins will start at one guard spot and could be teamed with a familiar name: Wauwatosa East's Jerry Smith.


The contest follows a tough two-game roadtrip that will have taken Marquette to Georgetown and to Chicago to face what will likely be a much-improved DePaul squad. Marquette could play well in the those two contests yet still take a two-game losing streak into this game; they can ill afford to lose three straight. Look for the Big Three to once again assert their will and for the home crowd to play a major factor – particularly in riding the freshman Smith hard for spurning his hometown school.


Notre Dame (February 24 @South Bend)

With the graduations of leading rebounder Torin Francis and leading scorer Chris Quinn,  the Irish look to be down this season. Still, Notre Dame is not bereft of talent. Dangerous shooting guard Colin Falls returns, along with ultra-athletic swingman Russell Carter.


Up front, the Irish will be very young and inexperienced. The best of the lot could be 6'11" Luke Zeller who averaged only 3.4 points a game last season in limited duty. At this point in the season, the Irish might only be playing for pride – or, at best, an NIT berth. But with the sting of two bitter losses from last year still fresh on their minds, they'd like nothing more than to bring Marquette down to earth.


Road wins are difficult enough to come by in the Big East, so Marquette must seize the opportunity and put away an undermanned ND squad. The task will not be easy, however. Too many talented Marquette teams have gone into South Bend in years past only to be tripped up.  


Pittsburgh (March 3 @Bradley Center)

Senior Day sees Marquette bid farewell to Mike Kinsella and Jamil Lott. Last season, Marquette and Pittsburgh split two physical contests – including a thrilling 84-82 Marquette win in Milwaukee in front of a state-record, college game crowd.


Gone from the Panthers' lineup is their leader, trash talking guard Carl Krauser. Center Aaron Gray, however, returns, along with a host of talented athletes, who primarily played secondary roles last season. Forward Sam Young is a phenomenal inside athlete; Levon Kendall is a clever, jack-of-all trades combo forward and guards Levance Fields and Ronald Ramon are tough and heady. Pitt also welcomes another stellar recruiting class led by swingman Gilbert Brown and transfer Mike Cook, who Marquette fans will remember from his days at East Carolina.


The Panther offense will once again revolve around the mammoth 7'0" 270 lb. Gray, who averaged a double-double last season (13.9 points and 10.5 rebounds). Like they did last season, Marquette will look to tag-team him on defense, throwing as many different defenders as possible at him. Fittingly, Senior Day might be Kinsella's moment in the sun. To date, the 7'0" Minnesota native has had an injury-riddled and largely ineffective career, but the 245 lb. Kinsella could match up better with Gray than any other  Marquette's big man. And if he's hitting his mid-range jumper, Kinsella may draw the future NBA first-round draft pick out of the lane and give James and company more room to drive to the basket.


The Panthers have designs on the Final Four this year and are thought by many prognosticators to be the odds-on-favorites to win the Big East title. This game will be part of ESPN's College Gameday broadcast. Perhaps Marquette will break another attendance record as they try to build up momentum heading into the Big East Tournament.


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