Marquette-St. John's Preview
For Marquette, it's as simple as 1, 2 or 3 in the final classic version of the Big East.
Given a chance to claim at least a share of the regular-season conference title with a victory, the 15th-ranked Golden Eagles try to take full advantage of that opportunity Saturday when they face a short-handed St. John's squad at Madison Square Garden.
Georgetown's loss at Villanova on Wednesday created a three-way tie atop the conference among the No. 5 Hoyas, No. 8 Louisville and Marquette (22-7, 13-4), and all three teams are in action Saturday. The Golden Eagles will finish no worse than third and already have clinched a double-bye into the Big East tournament quarterfinals, but they can also win the conference outright with a victory coupled with a Hoyas home loss to No. 17 Syracuse and Cardinals home defeat to No. 24 Notre Dame.
"To be in this position in the last season of the original Big East, picked preseason seventh, for us to be on the run we've been on run the last couple of years in league play exclusively, I think there's layers to the excitement and to the values it speaks to be in that position," coach Buzz Williams said during his weekly television show on the school's website.
Marquette - one of the seven Catholic schools which forms the core of the new-look Big East - also put itself in position to match last season's conference win total with a 60-54 victory Tuesday at Rutgers, rallying from a 12-point second-half deficit and outscoring the Scarlet Knights 17-4 over the final 7:44. Vander Blue had 22 points and Jamil Wilson added 10 - all in the second half - including a tiebreaking 3-pointer that gave the Golden Eagles the lead for good with 3:04 left.
The victory may have shaken Blue - the team's leading scorer at 14.3 points per game - out of his funk. He had totaled 19 on 7 for 23 shooting in his previous three outings.
St. John's (16-13, 8-9) has struggled offensively in the two games since leading scorer D'Angelo Harrison was suspended for the remainder of the season. Those frustrations boiled over for Sir'Dominic Pointer in Tuesday's 66-40 loss at Notre Dame in which the Red Storm scored only 14 second-half points. The swingman was ejected for punching Irish guard Cameron Biedscheid in the closing minutes and will miss this game per NCAA rules.
"Dom apologized for losing his composure and will serve his penalty by missing the final game against Marquette," coach Steve Lavin said. "We have to demonstrate more maturity ... We want to play with intensity, but also use intelligence in order to play a winning brand of basketball."
Amir Garrett was ejected for leaving the bench during that fight, but the Big East ruled he is eligible for Saturday.
Although the Red Storm will be without two of their top players and are leaning more on freshman forward Jakarr Simpson, who averages 14.9 points, Williams wants his team to "be better than we were (Tuesday) from start to finish to conclude this in a way that's fitting to what we've done up to this point."
Marquette's last conference title came in 2003 with Conference USA as part of its run to the Final Four.
The Golden Eagles have won eight of nine between the teams since joining the Big East in 2005, and Davante Gardner had then-career highs of 22 points and 15 rebounds in an 83-64 home win last season.
Marquette has won four straight at St. John's, which is 2-6 against Top 25 opponents this season.