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Villanova Basketball 2022-23 Game Preview: Marquette Golden Eagles

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The Villanova Wildcats (7-6, 1-1 Big East) will conclude an unpredictable 2022 as they take on head coach Shaka Smart and the Marquette Golden Eagles (10-4, 2-1 Big East) at 2 pm ET on Fox Sports 1.

Coach Kyle Neptune and the team will look to bounce back from a tough game against UConn on Wednesday night, where the Cats had an uncharacteristic 18 turnovers in an eight-point loss.

They will need to reverse that trend as Marquette will bring in his “Havoc” defense, which specializes in producing turnovers and building pressure. Smart will also be looking to defeat Villanova for a third consecutive game after his Golden Eagles completed last season’s regular series.

Villanova’s last victory over Marquette was on February 10, 2021, when Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had 27 points in a 96-64 win at Finn.

Let’s dive deep into Marquette ahead of the perfect New Year’s Eve pre-game.

Protect the Pavilion

The Marquette Golden Eagles may have lost 41% of their scoring last year (Justin Lewis and Darryl Morsell), but that hasn’t stopped Smart from developing this team for Big East contention in 2023.

His “top six” consists of five sophomores and one junior – all returnees from last year’s Marquette team, which swept Villanova.

The familiarity and roster development has paid huge dividends, as the Eagles are 10-4 overall and 2-1 in conference play while on the verge of cracking the AP Top 25.

Marquette signed up for a grueling non-conference schedule, facing four likely tournament teams in Purdue, Mississippi St., Baylor and Wisconsin. This stretch was highlighted by their blowout victory over then No. 6 ranked Baylor at home.

Despite the four defeats so far, all of them have been decided by less than five points and two of them needed extra time to decide the winner.

While Marquette is battle-tested and tenacious, there are two intangibles that equate to vulnerabilities in college basketball – inexperience and road games.

As mentioned above, Smart is relying on a very young roster (one junior, five sophomores, three freshmen) and it’s still early in the season. The Wildcats will have an advantage with a stronger presence of veterans from Dixon, Daniels and Slater. In the likely case, this is a tight game down the stretch, having these guys could give the Cats a slight advantage.

Furthermore, Marquette has only played three away games so far – at Purdue, Notre Dame and Providence. Although the losses were close, they are 1-2 in those games. Despite the winter break, playing at home is another advantage for Villanova on Saturday.

Rotations, rotations, rotations

This can be a game where the deciding factor is entirely determined by who wins the turnover battle.

Stealing the ball is a job that involves all hands at Marquette. As a team – they generate more than nine steals per game, with five players averaging more than one per game. Marquette’s defense ranks 49thth in the country in generating revenue from its defense.

Villanova’s only opponents in this range include Iowa State, St. John’s and UConn. In those games, Villanova had 18 turnovers twice (Iowa State and UConn) and 11 turnovers the other time (St. John’s). The Cats will need to emulate the ball safety and poise shown against the Johnnies or else it could be a long night for the ‘Cats.

Marquette, on the other hand, does not turn the ball over – almost at the same pace as Villanova’s attack. While the Cats don’t rely on steals, taking free kicks, forcing bad passes, and making Marquette’s life hell will go a long way toward thwarting this efficient offense.

Choose your poison

On the offensive side of the ball, Marquette has five players averaging over nine points per game, with sophomore Kam Jones leading the pack at 16.2. Within their offense, they have some elite characteristics and others that Villanova can capitalize on.

Marquette is one of the best 2-point shooter teams in the nation, ranked fourth at nearly 61%. They also love to share the ball, with 59% of completed shots coming from an assist (good for 45th in the country). However, it’s a 3-point shooting average team that doesn’t really rely on the long ball.

Based on that, Villanova should expect a fluid attack that will look for efficient 2-point shots and looks for the basket. Given Villanova’s weak 3-point defense, they could look further out than they have this season, but regardless, Villanova needs to be extremely aggressive in forcing hard shots.

If Villanova is to sacrifice a few fouls along the way, that should be a trade-off coach Neptune makes every day of the week. The Golden Eagles rank 236th in the nation when it comes to hitting pitches from the charity range, and that’s hardly free points for Marquette.

On the other hand, Marquette can be extremely vulnerable on glass. They rank 250th in collecting offensive rebounds and 232na in stopping offensive rebounds.

They have three players listed in the 6ft 7 to 6ft 9 range (Oso Ighodaro, Olivier-Maxence Prosper and David Joplin) who will command the frontcourt, but none have the structure to match someone like Eric Dixon who would have a 25 to 40 pounds. Marquette has a 6-foot-1 rookie, Ben Gold, but he only sees 8 minutes a game.

Villanova isn’t known for offensive rebounding this season, but he almost beat UConn in that category, which is seen as a physically large and imposing team. There could be plenty of opportunities for extra rebounds from Dixon, Whitmore and Slater that could make up for any loss of stolen possession by Marquette.

Based on the height advantage, the Golden Eagles aren’t really a threat to block anything. Even though their Twitter fans might have made you think otherwise.

In conclusion, Nova Nation should expect a back-and-forth match as both teams will look to capitalize on the other’s weaknesses in hopes of ending the year with a conference win.