It’s a question that’s almost always asked of a college coach before a game against a team the school doesn’t usually play.
Who does your opponent most compare to?
When Marquette head coach Buzz Williams was asked the question Tuesday, he took a few seconds to think. Stumped, he had to compare Miami to two schools the Golden Eagles have lost to this season.
Williams sees the Hurricanes as a combination of Florida and Louisville. That means Marquette is in for quite the challenge when it faces Miami at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.
“If you believe it, Miami sets more ball screens than Florida,” Williams said. “That’s hard to do.”
“I think it’s incredible what they’ve accomplished in the time that they’ve been there. I think Coach Larranaga has given credit to Frank Haith for the players that were there when he took the job, but I think how he’s managed and coached (has been great).”
Guarding ball screens will be the key to slowing Miami’s offensive attack. The Hurricanes’ offense is largely based off setting ball screens for guards Shane Larkin and Durand Scott. College basketball has become a game of defending ball screens and the pick-and-roll on defense and executing the same things on offense.
It also was a focus of Williams this offseason, as he made better defending ball screens as a priority heading into this season.
The Hurricanes excel at this style of offense because of Larkin – the son of Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin. The ACC’s Player of the Year as a sophomore, Larkin averaged 14.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game while shooting 47.9 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from beyond the arc.
“They’re as good as any backcourt in the country, bar none,” Williams said. “Statistically, playing time, defensively. Those guys get so much notoriety offensively that you’re not able to express defensively how good they are.
“Those guys are both pros. I would say probably both long time pros. They have great intangibles, you can see it by watching them play.”
Marquette’s plan of attack on Larkin will be similar to the one it implemented on Butler’s Rotnei Clarke in the Round of 32. Though Clarke torched the Golden Eagles for 18 points in the first half, they were able to wear him down and hold him scoreless for the final 15 minutes of the game.
“You could see in the second half, Clarke was slowed down and you could see that his legs were going away from him,” Marquette point guard Junior Cadougan said. “Me and Derrick (Wilson) did a good job of wearing him down the whole game, in and out, in and out with high intensity and high energy, every time we got an opportunity to be on the court. Guys coming in and out really wears down teams and by the second half we have a great opportunity and a great chance to win.”
The Hurricanes will be playing without center Reggie Johnson. The 6-foot-10, 292 pound big man injured his knee in Miami’s Round of 32 victory over Illinois and had surgery recently.
Johnson has been coming off Miami’s bench, averaging 6.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.
“Well it doesn’t change our game plan but Reggie Johnson is our best rebounder at both ends of the court,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “We’re going to need other guys to step up and do a great job especially on the defensive back boards because Marquette is such a powerful offensive rebounding team. We will is ask Julian Gamble, Kenny Kadji, and Erik Swoope and Raphael Akpejiori to step up and do a great job and we’re going to need Shane and Durand Scott to do a great job, because they have great rebounding guards.”
In the locker room after the Davidson game and many times since, Marquette has brought up the notion that it is getting given the same tests over and over again until it passes. An obvious reference to ending their season in the Sweet 16 the past two seasons, the Golden Eagles are focused on taking lessons learned the past two seasons into Thursday’s game.
“A first year we were really excited to make the Sweet 16,” Marquette guard Vander Blue said. “I think we were a little over excited, maybe got a little complacent. We were happy we were there. This year everybody is a lot more focused. We’re not satisfied. We’re glad we’ve made it again, but want to extend it and get to the Elite Eight.”
Coaching carousel: In college basketball, opportunities come with success. Williams’ name has been mentioned for jobs across the country before and will be again this offseason.
With UCLA, USC and Minnesota already open, Williams was asked about the coaching carousel at his press conference at the Verizon Center Wednesday.
“I’m compassionate toward guys who lose their jobs,” Williams said. “What’s changed in our business is the money. So guys get paid a lot of money and expectations are somewhat out of whack, there’s a lot of anxiousness involved. I think too much of it centers around money, but I’m on the positive end of that as of today.
“Guys normally get jobs in April and it’s extremely hard to have a good recruiting class in November. So guys that are fired early, that’s two recruiting classes washed out. You would hope to build equity with your institution, with your administration, with your alumni. Sometimes that happens, sometimes that doesn’t.”
Good health: With Johnson’s injury coming out Tuesday for Miami, injuries were a topic of discussion Wednesday.
Marquette has had good fortune, as Blue is the only player to miss a game with an injury, and he missed just one game with a knee injury.
“This year we have been fortunate,” Williams said. “Van had a runny nose one game but other than that, everybody has played.”Injuries are such a part of all that we do, so for us to have maintained our health, I have not seen that in my 19 years in Division I.”
Feeling better: Williams’ wife Corey had to have an emergency appendectomy during Marquette’s stay in Lexington, but she’s currently doing much better and is with the Golden Eagles in Washington, D.C.
“That’s never happened to me, but I’ve been in the delivery room and my wife delivered all four children of ours naturally, and I’ve never seen her in that sort of pain with her appendix,” Williams said. “They were giving her morphine in the lobby when she checked in and the ambiance of the hospital wasn’t great.
“I think Robert Morris was up by eight (in the NIT) when we checked in, so she took a lot of morphine to calm her down and she had surgery about 2 a.m. Wednesday of last week. So she is doing fine. Like I said Saturday night, she is tougher than all of us. She wasn’t able to be there at the last two games, so I’m glad she is here now.”