Iowa (2-0) vs. Marquette (1-1)
Date: November 19, 2015
Time: 8:15 p.m. CT
Line: Iowa -2
Not that long ago, a trip to Marquette would be a big deal for Iowa, a serious non-conference opponent. The Golden Eagles thrived under Tom Crean in the aughts (due in no small part to the presence of Dwyane Wade, for one) and continued to be an NCAA Tournament mainstay under Buzz Williams. From 2001 through 2013, Marquette won a minimum of 19 games per season and made 10 NCAA Tournaments and one Final Four.
But one year after joining the new Big East, Williams bolted the program for Virginia Tech. His replacement, former Duke assistant and guy you hated Steve Wojciechowski, went 13-19 in his first season last year, Marquette's first sub-.500 season since 1998-99 and first 19-loss season since 1963-64. Wojo won just four games in the Big East, the lowest total by any Marquette team ever. It was not good. It was not good at all.
Still, early-season hype had Marquette as a potential contender in the Big East. Wojo had landed five-star recruit Henry Ellenson from Rice Lake, beating out the likes of Kentucky and Duke. He also lost just three contributing seniors. Another year older, another year wiser, and an influx of talent should move Marquette back into contention, common sense held.
The season started, though, and common sense jumped out the window like the PTA had disbanded. Marquette lost its opener against Belmont, a quality opponent but hardly the type of first game you intend to be a challenge. They followed up the loss with a four-point overtime win over IUPUI, one of the worst Division I programs (they came in ranked #279 in Kenpom, for what that's worth). Marquette has dropped 20 spots in Kenpom in barely more than a week, and Iowa is now a favorite to win on the road.
In two games, Ellenson has established himself as the best player on the Golden Eagles. Ellenson is a 6'10, 245-lb. power forward that can shoot from anywhere and rebound anything. He's averaging 19.5 points and 9.5 rebounds per game so far, and is even kicking in three assists per game for fun. When combined with junior center Luke Fischer (6'11, 245, 14.5 ppg, 10.0 rpg), the Golden Eagles have a formidable frontline tandem. Sophomore forward Sandy Cohen (6'6, 205, 11.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg) rounds out a frontcourt. But, aside from those three players, there isn't a Golden Eagle getting any significant minutes who is over 6'5; Ellenson, Fischer and Cohen all average over 33 minutes per game. Ellenson and Fischer account for 44 percent of Marquette's points, 49 percent of its rebounds, and 67 percent of its blocked shots so far, albeit against undermanned competition. They're important, mostly because...
Marquette has guard problems. Duane Wilson (6'2, 185), ostensibly the point guard, has struggled mightily from the perimeter so far. Wilson is 8/9 inside the three-point arc but just 2/14 behind it. Freshman guard Haanif Cheatham isn't even that prolific, missing all three attempts from beyond the arc this season and existing essentially to sponge up an extra 25 minutes a game. The sixth man, 6'5 guard Jajuan Johnson, has been a poor outside shooter with a hair trigger for three seasons. He, too, has missed all of his five attempts from three so far this season. Marquette's 21 percent rate from behind the three-point line is one of the worst in the nation so far, a deficit they only partially make up on the offensive glass (37 percent of their misses are rebounded by the frontcourt, a good-but-hardly-great rate).
What to Watch For
If Marquette's guards play as they have so far this season, and the Golden Eagles frontline has any trouble at all with Iowa's height (Adam Woodbury is five inches taller than anyone they have seen so far), this could be a comfortable Iowa win. The ability of forwards like Jarrod Uthoff, Dom Uhl and Dale Jones to stretch the Marquette defense and take their rebounders away from the basket could be important, as Iowa should have some success on the offensive glass. Defensively, there is a concern that Woodbury finds foul trouble against a pair of big opponents and Iowa lacks a bench replacement that can handle Marquette's size, but the Hawkeyes have been good enough from the perimeter so far this season that they can make up that ground in tempo and shooting. An ice cold night from outside could spell doom, but otherwise, Iowa stands a decent chance of notching the Big Ten's fourth win in the Gavitt Tipoff Games.