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Tuesday, November 23, 2010
CBE Preview: Gonzaga vs. Marquette

By Eamonn Brennan

CBE Classic Consolation Game: No. 18 Gonzaga vs. Marquette, 7:45 p.m. ET

No moral victories for Butler, Marquette

College basketball players hate to talk about moral victories, and Marquette forward Jimmy Butler wasn't any different after his team's scrappy and impressive loss to Duke Monday night.

"You can lose by 30 or you can lose by one and it's still a loss in that column," Butler said. "But we proved that we can play with the best of them. We wanted to show the world that you can't sleep on the Marquette Golden Eagles."

Consider that point proven. Given the loss of star forward Lazar Hayward this offseason, Marquette entered the season looking like a fringe bubble team. But the Golden Eagles might be much better than that. Butler & Co. played Duke to a tie with 11 minutes remaining in the second half Monday night, and they refused to wilt despite unrelenting pressure from a team with superior talent and size. Contrasted with Gonzaga -- a team ranked in the Top 25 that got blown off the floor in a nightcap loss to K-State -- the Golden Eagles looked ready for anything.

What to watch for: Size vs. speed

Marquette's biggest weakness -- size -- might also be its biggest strength. Buzz Williams' team is a versatile bunch with a bevy of guard-wing combos at its disposal, but its interior presence is limited to junior college transfer Jae Crowder and raw freshman talent Davante Gardner. Neither player could stop Mason Plumlee from dominating inside Monday night. Still, Marquette's offensive versatility -- especially in the form of Butler, who is too quick for big men and too big for guards -- was enough to keep it in the game.

How will that play out against the Zags? It's another tough matchup. With Elias Harris and Robert Sacre in the frontcourt, Gonzaga is by far the taller, stronger team, and Marquette could again struggle to keep a bigger opponent off the glass. But the Eagles' quickness could give a plodding Gonzaga team all sorts of matchup issues on the offensive end. How that dynamic plays out -- strength vs. speed, size vs. versatility -- will determine whether Gonzaga rebounds from its second straight loss or suffers another disappointing defeat at the hands of an apparently ascendant team.