The New Year gets started in a big way as #13
Villanova (12-1) heads to Wisconsin to face #25 Marquette (11-2)
in its Big East conference opener. The three losses for these two teams are
telling: Texas, Tennessee, and Dayton--all NCAA Tourney-bound teams.
However, neither team has a strong win on its resume and only one team can
earn that signature win today. Both teams play 3-guard lineups, with
Villanova having a slight edge in size and overall talent. Villanova's Dante
Cunningham (a veteran forward averaging 16.9 ppg) will be the key player to
watch. Villanova has won games without Cunningham leading the way in
scoring, but against a smaller Marquette squad (Lazar Hayward being their
only forward) Cunningham should shine.
Marquette won last year's only meeting, a ten-point victory at Villanova.
With the win, Marquette finished 11-7 in Big East play, while Villanova fell
to 9-9 and ended up with a lower Big East Tournament seed. After barely
squeaking into the Big Dance, Villanova redeemed itself by advancing to the
Sweet 16 in March, losing to eventual National Champion Kansas. Villanova
returns all the important pieces from that team and therefore retains a
slight advantage in overall experience, though Marquette's core (James,
McNeal, and Matthews are all seniors). This year, it seems as if each
Villanova starter has improved, and Dante Cunningham has stepped up to lead
the team in scoring instead of Scottie Reynolds. This has resulted in a
little more interior scoring and toughness than you'd expect from the usual
Villanova squad and it should help them in tough road games like this.
Neither of these teams can afford to pass up winnable games like this,
making this matchup quite revealing. Will Marquette defend its house or can
Villanova step it up on the road? I look for Villanova to use its slight
talent advantage to the fullest and pull out a closely fought battle.
Villanova should find an advantage on the boards and be able to draw fouls
and connect free throws down the stretch.
Winner: Villanova Margin: 3-5 pts