English Premier League
The No. 11 Villanova Wildcats will try to maintain their winning streak and their lead atop the Big East standings on Wednesday night when they host the Marquette Golden Eagles. The Wildcats come into the game riding a six-game winning streak, although the Golden Eagles have already knocked off three ranked teams this season, so they could pose a threat to the Cats.
There have been plenty of highs and lows for the Golden Eagles this season, which explains Marquette’s 12-6 record. In fairness, the Golden Eagles have played a tough schedule and have non-conference wins over Illinois, Ole Miss, West Virginia, and Kansas State. More importantly, they head into Wednesday’s game riding a four-game winning streak that has come on the heels of a four-game losing streak. Over the weekend, Marquette knocked off a top-25 Seton Hall, proving that the Golden Eagles can compete with the top teams in the Big East.
The Golden Eagles are led by the tandem of Justin Lewis and Darryl Morsell, who are the only players averaging more than eight points per game for Marquette. Lewis is a freshman averaging 15.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. He’s a decent jump shooter but is at his best when he’s attacking the basket. Morsell, a transfer from Maryland, averages 13.8 points per game and shoots over 39% from the perimeter but is also better at attacking the basket. But as the only two players who average double figures for Marquette, the Golden Eagles lean a lot on Lewis and Morsell.
That being said, the rest of the roster is far from helpless. George Mason transfer Tyler Kolek has provided strong play at the point guard position, averaging 6.4 assists per game despite not being a high-volume scorer. George Elliott has started to come around, including a 25-point outburst in a recent win over DePaul. Like Elliott, freshman Kam Jones is averaging 7.9 points per game and has emerged as one of Marquette’s best three-point shooters. Redshirt freshman Oso Ighodaro, Oklahoma transfer Kur Kuath, and Clemson transfer Olivier-Maxence Prosper also provide Marquette with good minutes in the frontcourt, giving the Golden Eagles the depth to maintain Shaka Smart’s aggressive defensive style for 40 minutes.
Jay Wright’s team lost its Big East opener by 20 points to Creighton but has been on a roll ever since. The Wildcats have won six in a row, including two wins over a ranked Xavier team and a redemption game against Creighton. Over the weekend, Villanova blew out Butler by 40 points, moving the Wildcats to 13-4 overall and 6-1 in Big East play.
Villanova’s success continues to be driven by the backcourt tandem of Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore. Gillespie is doing everything the Cats need him to do, scoring 17.1 points per game while shooting 41% from the perimeter and leading the team with 3.3 assists per game. Moore isn’t far behind, averaging 15.8 points per game and knocking down better than 39% of his perimeter shots. Senior Caleb Daniels also provides a reliable third guard for the Villanova backcourt. However, even with a string of recent blowouts, the Wildcats are having trouble developing much depth in the backcourt beyond Gillespie, Moore, and Daniels.
It’s a similar story in the frontcourt where Villanova has three reliable players but not much else. Jermaine Samuels is having a fine year with 10.3 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds per game. However, Brandon Slater’s production has dropped off over the last few games despite averaging 9.3 points per game on the season. On the bright side, Eric Dixon has picked up the slack, scoring at least nine points in four straight games and averaging 11.8 points per game during that stretch. Dixon also gives the Wildcats a strong rebounding presence in the paint.
While Villanova is the clear favorite in this game, the Golden Eagles could be poised to give them some trouble. Marquette has good depth and plays with a lot of defensive intensity, not to mention the momentum and confidence that comes with four straight wins. If Villanova’s stars show up, the Wildcats should have enough to get the win. But if Gillespie or Moore have an off-night, the Golden Eagles can make this game interesting.
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