Marquette-Cincinnati Preview

The Associated Press

Marquette's high-octane offense had little trouble cruising past defensive-minded Cincinnati earlier this month in Milwaukee.

Coach Buzz Williams' aggressive defense was a big reason why.

Coming off an emotional victory, the eighth-ranked Golden Eagles look to clinch the Big East's second seed and sweep the season series from the Bearcats on Wednesday night in Cincinnati.

Marquette (24-5, 13-3) has already secured its first-ever double bye for the Big East tournament, and it needs a win either Wednesday or Saturday against 11th-ranked Georgetown to ensure itself the No. 2 spot.

Losses in both, however, could drop the Golden Eagles to fourth, so they'd prefer to solidify their position by beating Cincinnati for the fifth time in six meetings. The Bearcats (20-9, 10-6) are tied with No. 19 Louisville for sixth place.

The Golden Eagles had no problem with Cincinnati at the Bradley Center on Feb. 11. Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder finished with 23 points apiece, while Jamil Wilson added 15 and Vander Blue scored 14 in a 95-78 victory. Marquette, which leads the Big East with 76.4 points per game, shot 56.7 percent - its best mark in its last 47 games in league play.

Marquette overwhelmed Cincinnati, which is fourth in the conference in scoring defense (60.8 ppg), although much of the offense was created by its defense. The Golden Eagles forced 14 turnovers leading to 25 points, and also had a 31-10 edge in fast-break points.

"We take a lot of pride in trying to play defense," Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said after that game. "We didn't do a very good job of it today."

Marquette's defense frustrated Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati's leading scorer at 14.8 points, limiting him to a season-low seven.

The Golden Eagles have won all three games they've played since to improve to 12-1 since Jan. 11, and their latest victory might be one of their most encouraging.

At West Virginia on Friday, Williams benched Johnson-Odom, Blue and Junior Cadougan for the first half and Todd Mayo for the second, declining to give the reason for the penalties. Johnson-Odom is second in the Big East with 18.4 points per game and Cadougan leads Marquette in assists, averaging 5.5.

Unsurprisingly, the Golden Eagles struggled and were down 32-21 at the half, and they fell behind by as many as 15 in the second half before rallying for a 61-60 victory.

Crowder played 40 minutes and led the way with 26 points, while Blue scored 10 and Johnson-Odom added nine.

"We played with unbelievable heart," said Crowder, who is averaging 26.3 points in his last four games - 8.9 better than his average.

Williams was so elated with his team's performance, he danced at center court after the game while John Denver's "Country Roads" played on the loudspeakers, which didn't sit well with Mountaineers fans.

"I apologize," Williams said. "It was very unprofessional. That's a bad representation of our program."

While Marquette struggled to get in rhythm without three of its starters against West Virginia, Cincinnati didn't have an excuse for how poorly its offense played its last time out.

The Bearcats shot 34.0 percent in Sunday's 46-45 loss to South Florida, snapping a three-game winning streak. Kilpatrick had 13 points, but Cincinnati's other starters totaled 22 - not even half their combined average.

Despite the meager offense, Cincinnati was still in position to win until South Florida freshman Anthony Collins hit two free throws with 3.2 seconds remaining.

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