A team from the Big East will make it to the Final Four from Saturday's matchup in Washington D.C., but the question is which, as Marquette and Syracuse meet once more before heading to separate conferences.
Both of these teams are coming in as hot as can possibly be. Marquette's path to the Elite Eight has been a little bit sloppy: they had a ridiculous last-minute comeback against No. 14 Davidson and needed to outscore Butler 47-37 in the second half, but perhaps this was all just part of Buzz Williams' plan. The Golden Eagles responded to two close calls by trouncing Miami, hounding the Hurricanes on defense in a 71-61 game that was nowhere near as close as the margin indicates.
Meanwhile, Syracuse just took on the team considered by many to be the best in the country and handed them an early exit. Indiana couldn't figure out what to do against Jim Boeheim's signature defensive look, managing just 50 points on 33.3 percent shooting with 18 turnovers. That and a 24-point outing from Michael Carter-Williams was enough to power the Orange to the Elite Eight.
But the Golden Eagles have already shown this year that they know how to find the weaknesses in the 2-3. One would think that the Eagles would struggle -- they're not just one of the worst shooting teams left in the tournament, they're one of the worst in the country, hitting only 30.5 percent of their threes -- but the only time these teams met this year was a 74-71 Marquette win, where Davante Gardner operated perfectly out of the soft spot in the high post. The junior posted 26 points, a career high, hitting all seven shots he took and went 12-for-13 from the line. The zone should keep Vander Blue from penetrating (he went just 2-for-7 in the teams' first matchup) but if Gardner has a repeat performance, that might not be an issue.
But there's one key difference between that first game and this one: that was at the BMO Harris Center, where Marquette would finish the year 16-0, while this one will be played at the Verizon Center. None of the Big East's elite could knock off Marquette at home, but they were relatively vulnerable in road games and neutral site outings. It hasn't caught up to them yet in the NCAA Tournament, but they did need some serious luck to get this far.
The key matchup for Syracuse on offense comes on the glass. The Orange grabbed 39.7 percent of their misses this season, the 6th best rate in college basketball, thanks to Baye Mousse Keita and Rakeem Christmas. Meanwhile, Marquette is relatively week on the glass, bringing in just 66.8 of their opponent's missed shots -- the 236th best rate in the country. That should give Syracuse opportunities to score even if they aren't playing particularly efficiently.
Here's the info on Saturday's game:
No. 3 Marquette (26-8, 14-4, Kenpom ranking 24) vs. No. 4 Syracuse (29-9, 11-7, Kenpom ranking 9)
Time: 4:30 p.m. ET
Location: Verizon Center, Washington D.C.