For the second straight season, Marquette has reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. While last year’s run was somewhat unexpected as an 11 seed, this year’s Golden Eagles were expected to do some damage as the third seed in the West Regional. Thursday evening in Albuquerque, Buzz Williams‘ team will match up with Billy Donovan and the seventh seeded Florida Gators with a trip to the Elite 8 on the line.
How Marquette got here:
The Golden Eagles jumped out to an early lead and never looked back in their first game, beating BYU 88-68. Then in one of the most physical, hard-fought, entertaining games of the season, Marquette used a 21-7 run at the end of the game to hand Murray State just their second loss of the season and eliminate them from the tourney, 62-53.
Jae Crowder has been a man on a mission for MU. The Big East Player of the Year has posted 42 points, 29 rebounds, and seven steals in the first two games. He made a critical three-pointer versus Murray State to give the Golden Eagles a comfortable six-point lead. Crowder has also made numerous other “winning” plays and has proven why he is such a difficult match-up due to his inside/outside ability.
How Florida got here:
Having lost four of their final five games prior to the NCAA Tournament, Billy Donovan’s team turned things around, looking incredibly impressive this past weekend. The Gators chomped down on a Virginia team limping into the tourney in the opening round, picking up a 71-45 victory. Florida then caught a break by avoiding a match-up with Missouri and instead faced 15 seed Norfolk State who shocked Mizzou. No more magic was in the cards for Norfolk though, as Florida was dominant rolling to an 84-50 win.
The Gators led the nation averaging almost ten made three-pointers per game but haven’t shot the ball exceptionally well from distance, connecting on just 14 of their 51 triples tries. That type of shooting usually spelled disaster for the Gators in the regular season, but they have been able to overcome their poor shooting with the quickness of their guards and ability to attack the basket as they were a ridiculous 40-53 from inside the arc in their first two games.
What to expect Thursday:
These two teams are actually rather similar in their make-up. Both Marquette and Florida utilize three-guard line-ups and don’t possess a ton of size inside. Donovan will actually use some four-guard looks as well since he has five guards who average fifteen minutes per game. Because of that depth, the Gators will frequently bring full-court pressure due to their quickness on the perimeter so taking care of the basketball for all 94 feet will be essential for Marquette. Another similarity is that both teams will look to push tempo and get out in transition at every possible opportunity. Donovan may also show a 2-3 zone as he did at times during the season.
Marquette is the more aggressive defensive team and outside of Patric Young, the Gators don’t possess near the physicality or toughness of the Golden Eagles. To be honest though, not many teams in college basketball do.
The Golden Eagles will have to guard the three-point line since starting guards Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, and Bradley Beal can all light it up from deep along with face-up power forward, Erik Murphy (What up, E?) Walker, Boynton, and Beal are all known to be streaky shooters who aren’t shy about taking bad shots. If that happens Thursday night, it could serve as a huge benefit for Marquette.
Florida’s lone inside presence is 6-9 Patric Young who is built like an absolute house. His incredible motor, physicality, and aggressiveness on the glass could cause problems for the Golden Eagles. However, Young is not very skilled on the offensive end though due to a very limited offensive arsenal and he also has a tendency to get into foul trouble which makes the Gators even more thin inside since sophomore Will Yeguette is out for the season. If Young is strapped to the bench with foul trouble, Marquette big man Davante Garnder could have a huge impact inside. Crowder will more than likely draw the match-up of guarding Young to start the game since Jamil Wilson does not possess the strength to hang with Young down low.
Prediction: Marquette 79, Florida 71
If Marquette allows Florida to get going from downtown, the Golden Eagles could be in trouble. However, if as Buzz says and MU “plays like us,” I think their defensive pressure, toughness, and physicality will overpower the guard-oriented Gators. The match-up at shooting guard between Boynton and Darius Johnson-Odom will be fun to watch and the winner of the game could be decided by the winner of that individual battle.
Check out our Michigan State/Louisville Sweet 16 preview
David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities. David has appeared on numerous national radio programs spanning from Cleveland to New Orleans to Honolulu. He also had the most accurate 2011 NBA Mock Draft on the web.
You can follow him on Twitter at DavidKay_TSB.