Marquette might not be the most talented team in the Big East, but it could be the kind that can successfully handle the grind of conference play.
The No. 25 Golden Eagles expect to face another serious challenge when trying for a seventh straight victory Saturday night at Cincinnati, which could be without one of its top players.
Marquette (13-3, 4-0) joins top-ranked Louisville and No. 6 Syracuse – who meet Saturday – as the Big East’s only undefeated teams, but it likely didn’t win many style points in the process. The Golden Eagles have a 49-48 win over then-No. 15 Georgetown that was sandwiched by overtime victories against Connecticut and Pittsburgh. Despite a 10-point first-half lead Wednesday, Marquette didn’t have an overall easy time in a 69-62 win over Seton Hall.
“I don’t think we’ll blow out anybody,” said coach Buzz Williams, whose team had two winning streaks of at least seven games last season. “We could very easily, very easily be 0-4. That’s the truth.
“I think it’s just going to be a grind. I think it’s going to be ugly, and I don’t think there’s a thing we do that’s pretty.”
That might be the recipe the Golden Eagles need to continue their best Big East start since going 9-0 in 2008-09.
Marquette ranks last in league play shooting 25.4 percent from 3-point range, but it’s tied for first in opponent rebounding average at 30.3. The Golden Eagles have not committed more than 12 turnovers in any Big East game and have four players averaging at least 9.0 points this season.
“Fortunately we have been winning,” said backup forward Jamil Wilson, who had 10 points and five rebounds Wednesday. “We still have yet to play a perfect game and I don’t think that will happen anytime soon. We are building on each and every game.”
Davante Gardner had 17 points while fellow reserve Todd Mayo added 12 as Marquette overcame a 43.5 percent shooting effort by holding the Pirates to 39.6 from the field and forcing 17 turnovers. Gardner has averaged 15.0 points on 17-of-24 shooting (70.8 percent) in conference play but has totaled 26 in three road games this season.
Coming off their 19th straight home victory, the Golden Eagles will try to win their second consecutive road game. Marquette had won two straight trips to Cincinnati before losing 72-61 on Feb. 29.
While the Bearcats (15-3, 3-2) are trying for a third consecutive win overall, they hope to avoid losing four in a row at home for the first time since a five-game skid Jan. 24-Feb. 21, 2007.
“The biggest mistake teams make is thinking we’re at home, we’re going to win,” coach Mick Cronin said. “We’ve made the adjustment in the last few games in taking each game separately.
“So that’s all we’re trying to focus on. If you don’t have that focus at home, it’s probably because you’re relaxing mentally.”
The challenge could get tougher if guard Cashmere Wright, second on the team with 15.1 points per game, is out with a knee injury suffered in Tuesday’s 75-70 win at DePaul. Wright, who had 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting and seven assists, has scored 43 in the last two games.
The senior missed seven field-goal attempts while going scoreless in 35 minutes of last season’s home win over Marquette. Guard JaQuon Parker, third on Cincinnati with an average of 11.1 points, scored a career-high 28 in that game.
Cincinnati was 12-0 and ranked eighth in the AP poll Dec. 24 before losing three of four prior to winning at Rutgers and DePaul.