Raise your hand if you saw this scenario unfolding.
Devoid of the talents of this past season’s top two scorers, Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom, and pegged to finish seventh in the preseason coaches’ poll, the Marquette Golden Eagles, courtesy of Pitt’s upset of No. 6 Syracuse on Saturday, find themselves alone atop the Big East standings.
MU (15-4, 6-1), who has won eight of their past nine contests, play at 12th-ranked Louisville (17-4, 5-3) Sunday afternoon at the KFC Yum! Center for a chance to conclude the weekend one game ahead of the Orange in league play.
If the past is any indication, though, victory will not come easy for Buzz Williams’ squad.
Since Williams supplanted Tom Crean on the Marquette sidelines in 2008, MU is 2-4 against the Cardinals. While possessing an unblemished mark against the Cardinals in games played in Milwaukee, the blue and gold have yet to triumph against the fighting Rick Pitinos away from home (two losses each at the Madison Square Garden during the Big East Championship and in Louisville).
However, the two squads enter their weekend matchup on opposite sides of the momentum scale.
Louisville, a unanimous choice to win the conference in the preseason coaches’ poll, stood as the nation’s top-ranked team two weeks ago while boasting a 15-1 mark.
Since upending the Connecticut Huskies, 73-58, on Jan. 14, Louisville has dropped three of their four subsequent outings—including a string of three consecutive defeats (to Syracuse, Villanova and Georgetown, respectively), marking a run of futility that has not been endured by the program since the 2009-10 campaign.
Additionally, the Cardinals have yet to eclipse the 70-point plateau since their aforementioned triumph over UConn—a feat attained by Louisville in all but two of their first 16 games.
Marquette, meanwhile, enters the Bluegrass State on the heels of their first back-to-back wins by at least ten points for the first time since mid-December.
“I think they’re as good as anybody in the country,” cited Williams, whose team enters Sunday third amongst Big East affiliates in field goal percentage (.463), as reported by the AP. “They had a bad week, two weeks ago, but other than that…They’ve had as good a year as anybody.”
Added Pitino, who has guided Louisville to a pair Final Four berths (2005, 2012) since coming to the university in 2001, according to the AP, “I think you are witnessing what the Big East is all about. It’s probably…the toughest it’s ever been because the teams that have traditionally been at the bottom have gotten very competitive. No one knows how this conference will shake out. You can only guess.”
A victory by the Golden Eagles would go a long way in helping create separation amid the log-jam that is the upper half of the Big East standings.
Tip off between Marquette and Louisville is slated for 1:00 p.m. CST.