With all due respect to the Marquette Golden Eagles, I truly believe the Washington Huskies will pull the upset and win their first round NCAA Tournament matchup on Thursday. You can call it blind allegiance if you must, but if I were a betting man I’d still side with the Dawgs. It just makes sense. Here’s why:
A bunch of swingmen vs. Matthew Bryan-Amaning
Had you told me a month ago that Matthew Bryan-Amaning would be our biggest X-factor in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, I would have cringed. These days, however, he might very well be our greatest weapon.
The 6’9″ power forward from Britain will be counted on to shoulder much of the load inside against Marquette’s diminutive front line. Though the Golden Eagles’ forwards are all at least two inches shorter than MBA, they play bigger than their stature and are more active than some of the big bodies the Huskies faced in Pac-10 play.
On the defensive end, Bryan-Amaning will have to work especially hard to avoid costly fouls. The fleeter, quicker Golden Eagle forwards will put the big man to work both outside and inside and force him to move around. My guess is Marquette will make a concerted effort to get Matthew in foul trouble early. Contending with the shorter Tyreese Breshers and the leaner Darnell Gant would shift the advantage to the Eagles and force the Huskies to look outside the paint for point production.
As long as MBA can keep his focus, continue to do what he’s done in recent weeks, and keep his arms tucked in, he should be able to exploit Marquette’s front line and have a big day.
The Golden Eagles rotation of six people vs. The Huskies run-n-gun offense
Something has to give here. Unless the Eagles’ five starters and sixth man are the most finely conditioned athletes in all of college basketball, they are going to have a tough time running up and down court with the Huskies, who go 10 deep and prefer chaos to control.
From what I know about Marquette, they like to pressure high in the half-court and force turnovers, or at the very least prevent entry passes. This will put the onus on Washington’s guards to either a) prohibit Marquette from setting up their defense, or b) withstand the high pressure and still find ways to get the ball inside. In this case Option A would be preferred over Option B. Entry passes are not a strong suit for this Husky team.
That said, while the focus will be on getting Bryan-Amaning involved on the interior, the Huskies need to stick to their gameplan and continue to force the tempo no matter what. We all know Washington struggles in half-court sets against any defense, and the increased rate-of-play should gas the Golden Eagles sooner rather than later.
Your average Big East guard vs. Isaiah Thomas and Venoy Overton
We can all agree that the Big East was the best conference in college basketball this year. But even with all their greatness, there are very few guards in the Big East like Isaiah Thomas and Venoy Overton. And those are two miniature beasts Marquette will have to contain on Thursday.
The best way to reel in I.T. and Venoy is through the use of a disciplined half-court zone defense, the likes of which is employed by Arizona State, for example. Designed to prevent dribble penetration and entry passes, a good zone often stymies the Husky backcourt, slowing them down and initiating turnovers. Lucky for us, the Golden Eagles don’t play that way.
Marquette’s half-court pressure defense works great against meticulous guards that run the offense in the halfcourt. Think Derek Glasser or Josh Tarver. Venoy and Isaiah could not be farther from that body of work.
When Venoy and Isaiah undoubtedly encounter Marquette’s high pressure defense, they should have no problem blowing past their respective defenders. They’re quicker than anyone on Marquette’s roster, and could probably outrun most of the opposing guards in the entire 64-team field.
The pressure, ironically, will be on Marquette to confine Thomas and Overton and not let them by. Much, much easier said than done.
Marquette’s outside shooting vs. Washington’s balanced effort
Three-point shooting teams are hit and miss come tourney time. On any given day, the deep ball can deceive even the best shooters, and a heavy reliance on the triple is the basketball equivalent of playing with fire.
Like Pac-10 foe Cal, Marquette is all about the three-pointer. All five of their starters can hit the trey, and none of that quintet shoots lower than 34%. However, unlike Cal, Marquette doesn’t have a big man (like the Bears’ Jamal Boykin) to clog the interior.
The Huskies, meanwhile, employ an inside-out attack. Their first option is to score within the arc. If Plan A isn’t there, the Dawgs look to a host of players who can knock down the three for Plan B. By no means does this team depend upon the long-range shot.
One extraneous factor that may play a role on Thursday is the arena in San Jose. The HP Pavilion (yes, that’s what it’s really called) is rumored to be a poor shooting venue. The sight lines behind the backboard reportedly don’t favor the shooters, and the rims can be tough at times. While purists will argue that shooters should be able to shoot no matter where, no matter when, the unfamiliar venue can often throw a team just enough to cost them the game.
1,800 miles vs. 700 miles
Marquette will be traveling roughly 1,800 miles from home for Thursday’s game.
Washington, on the other hand, needs only 700 miles to reach San Jose.
The relative proximity of San Jose to Seattle should bode well for the Huskies, who will likely be playing in front of more fans than their counterparts from Milwaukee. And while a home environment would benefit any team, it would especially help out Washington, who struggled early on the road but was lights out all season long at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
Add to that the raucous nature of the Huskies’ fan base, and an imposing crowd could await Marquette come game time.