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Marquette’s defense is peaking at the right time

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A goal for any coach is to have their team peaking at the right time. For college basketball, that means March.

Where is Marquette? The Golden Eagles began the season 10-0  but then lost four of six. The problem in those games? Defense. To begin that stretch of losses Marquette gave up more than a point per possession in four of five games.

After they dominated St. Johns in early January they seemed to right the ship and tighten up the defense. Over the next 16 games (leading up to the NCAA tourney) the Golden Eagles only surrendered more than a point per possession 6 times.

Then came the real test – the NCAA tournament.

In the opening round Marquette held BYU to 68 points in a 79 possession game. On a per-possession basis, that matched BYU’s 2nd worst offensive game of the season. If you only pay attention to the final scores, 68 points seems like a reasonable amount. But keep in mind that the BYU vs Marquette game featured 20% more possessions than the typical college game. Of course they’re going to score more points. Since each team gets the ball the same number of times, what matters is how much each team scores per possession. In this case, it was 0.86 points for BYU.

Then in the round of 32 Marquette completely smothered Murray State, giving up only 53 points in 72 possessions. Not only was this Murray State’s worst offensive game since December, 2008, but it was the 3rd most dominating performance by any Marquette defense against a decent team in the past decade.

That’s pretty good. But does a solid 16 games to end the season and then two great games to begin the tournament make a trend?

On Thursday, Marquette gets Florida. As I discussed last night, the Gators have the 3rd best offense in the nation. So this should be a true test of the Marquette defense. Are they really playing inspired hoops right now, or has it been a fluke?

Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament chances take a major blow in loss to No. 16 SMU

SMU guard Nic Moore (11) shoots over Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer (33) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
(AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)
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Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.

The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.

It wasn’t pretty.

And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.

Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.

The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.

But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: