When the Marquette Golden Eagles (8-6, 0-3) tip-off against the #16 Providence Friars (13-1, 3-0) on Tuesday night, it will have been nearly four weeks since they last won a game. They have lost four games in a row, three of which came at home. Shaka Smart is still looking for his first Big East win.
Marquette has not played bad basketball, but this team has been unable to finish. Against Xavier and Connecticut, the Golden Eagles cut deficits to a single score with less than five minutes to play. They never led in the second half of either game. Marquette did force overtime against Creighton and even led by five late in the first overtime, but a failure to foul when up by three allowed Alex O’Connell to play the hero and force a second overtime. Five minutes later, Marquette was 0-3 in Big East play. Too little, too late has been the story of the last month for Shaka Smart.
Unfortunately for Marquette, they welcome the street fightin’ Ed Cooleys to Fiserv Forum next. Providence enters Wednesday night on an eight-game winning streak. The Friars handled DePaul with ease on Saturday, and they stay in the Midwest on what Cooley called a “business trip” for the team.
Providence has allowed just 57 points per contest through three conference games, including holding UConn and DePaul to 53 points each. The Friars will slow you down and beat you up in front of their own basket, which is at great contrast to this Marquette offense. Smart has the Golden Eagles playing at the fifth highest tempo on offense in the country, per Kenpom.com, and they pass the ball well. Tyler Kolek, who grew up just down I-95 from Providence, averages almost six assists. Four starters for the Golden Eagles record at least an assist per game, including Kam Jones who will return against the Friars.
Marquette has struggled to shoot the three this year, so they’ll be forced to pass into the teeth of this Providence defense. Behind Nate Watson, Justin Minaya, and Noah Horchler, the Friars have put together arguably the best paint defense in the Big East. Opponents have hit two-pointers at just a 37.4 percent clip so far in conference play, and they rank in the top 30 nationally on two-point field goal percentage allowed so far this season. For Marquette to win, they’ll need strong performances from Justin Lewis, Oso Ighodaro, and Ker Kuath.
For the Friars, playing at Marquette has been a house of horrors historically. They lost their first 10 games there, but the tides have turned as of late. Providence is 3-2 in their last five games at Marquette. A.J. Reeves hit a late three to send the game to overtime in Providence’s last win there, coincidentally from the same spot where Alex O’Connell sent the game to an extra frame on Saturday. Reeves’s health will be a situation to monitor. The senior injured his finger against DePaul and played just eight minutes, and Cooley remarked that it was very swollen and awaiting further evaluation after the game. Reeves scored in double-figures in six of the previous seven games and was a big part of the team’s winning streak.
Reeves is just one of five seniors that start for the Friars. Ed Cooley has the tenth oldest team in the county according to Kenpom.com. Marquette ranks 351st. Tuesday night will be a battle between a steady, veteran program and the plucky up-and-comers. The Golden Eagles have yet to get over the hump in conference play. That could change after Tuesday night.
How to watch or stream
Time: 8 p.m. CT
Streaming: FOX Sports Go