College Hoops Monday: Your Commentary

January 10th, 2011
With the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game between Auburn and Oregon taking center stage (the pick here is Oregon) there isn't a whole lot to keep tabs on in college basketball. But there is an important resume-boosting opportunity for arguably America's favorite cardiac program as Marquette (11-5, 2-1) looks to rebound from their loss at Pitt on Saturday. And the return to Milwaukee won't come without a challenge as Mike Brey's Fighting Irish are the visitors, and they're looking to build on a productive 2-0 week (wins over Connecticut and St. John's). Ben Hansbrough led the way on Saturday night as Notre Dame (14-2, 3-1) handed the Red Storm their first conference loss, scoring 26 points and displaying an array of offensive skills. But Notre Dame is about more than just Hansbrough as four other players are averaging double figures in points.

Carleton Scott has missed the last two games due to a hamstring injury, resulting in freshman guard Eric Atkins moving into the starting lineup and he's done well as a distributor. Atkins is averaging 3.4 assists per game and turning the ball over just a shade more than once per game, and given the offensive abilities of Hansbrough, Tim Abromaitis and Scott Martin all he really has to do is make sound decisions. Notre Dame as a team shares the basketball (17.9 assists per game) while taking good care of it (10.9 turnovers per game), and they also have a rebounding margin of plus-7.6. But this is also just their second true road game (Syracuse) so the jury may still be out in regards to how well the Irish will perform on the road. They've played good basketball for much of the season, meaning that the Golden Eagles will certainly have their hands full at the Bradley Center.

Marquette's problem with their resume is a simple one: every "big" game they've played they've lost. Close calls to Duke, Gonzaga and Wisconsin define the non-conference portion of the schedule for Buzz Williams' club, meaning that they'll need to rack up some solid conference wins in order to make their way back into the NCAA Tournament without sweating on Selection Sunday. Darius Johnson-Odom (15.9 ppg) and Jimmy Butler (15.1) lead the way for Marquette, who averages over 80 points per game and has five players scoring at least nine points per contest. The strength for the Golden Eagles offensively has to be their ability to get to the basket, although they also have players who can knock down perimeter shots. Freshman Vander Blue has steadily matured and grown into his role, and along with Dwight Buycks he's been their best distributor of late, and Junior Cadougan is a solid point guard off the bench.

The key for Marquette will be to get the Irish to play at an uncomfortable pace. While Notre Dame averages just two fewer possessions per game than the Golden Eagles they get nearly 31% of their points from beyond the arc. Why do those two stats fit together? If Marquette can force the Irish into some hurried perimeter shots they may gain the opportunity to score some easy baskets of their own, and to get the crowd involved early would be a bonus. And while Notre Dame performed well for much of their loss at Syracuse there's still more to be learned about this veteran club on the road. Do the Irish have the goods to make some noise come March? Games like this one will determine the answer to that question. As for the remainder of Monday's light schedule keep an eye on Jacksonville taking on Belmont in a battle of teams tied for first place (in the loss column) in the Atlantic Sun. The Dolphins won at Lipscomb on Saturday and a sweep of the two Nashville schools would put Cliff Warren's team in a good spot at this early stage in the season.

Top 25
7:00 PM (15) Notre Dame at Marquette (ESPN2)

NCAA Division I Games
1:00 PM North Florida at Lipscomb
6:00 PM Savannah State at Marshall
7:00 PM Stony Brook at Binghamton
7:00 PM Mercer at Campbell
7:00 PM Elon at UNC Greensboro
7:00 PM Bethune-Cookman at North Carolina A&T (ESPNU)
7:00 PM Austin Peay at Tennessee-Martin
7:15 PM Stetson at East Tennessee State
7:30 PM Florida Gulf Coast at USC Upstate
8:00 PM Howard at Coppin State
8:00 PM Hampton at Morgan State
8:00 PM Maryland-Eastern Shore at North Carolina Central
8:00 PM Delaware State at South Carolina State
8:30 PM Alabama A&M at Arkansas-Pine Bluff (ESPNU)
8:30 PM Jacksonville at Belmont
8:30 PM Florida A&M at Norfolk State
9:00 PM Southern University at Jackson State
9:00 PM Alabama State at Mississippi Valley State
9:00 PM Alcorn State at Grambling State