NC State had three big non-conference games this season, and the Wolfpack play the second of the three games tonight at the RBC Center.
No. 24-ranked Marquette is off to a good start at 9-2 and brings a talented quartet of perimeter players to play at 7 p.m. at the RBC Center. NC State lost its last game against a ranked opponent, 72-67, to then No. 22-ranked Davidson on Dec. 6 in Charlotte, but get another shot against Marquette. NC State also plays at Florida on Jan. 3, though the Gators are currently unranked, but receiving votes.
The all-senior "Big Three" of point guard Dominic James, shooting guard Jerel McNeal and small forward Wesley Matthews Jr., are joined by junior forward Lazar Hayward in leading the Golden Eagles.
Matthews has blossomed into MU's leading scorer, averaging 20.4 points per game, including pouring in a career-high 30 against Tennessee on Dec. 16.
McNeal is second with 17.5 points, Hayward is averaging 16.9 and James runs the show, scoring 10.5 points. Fifth starter Dwight Burke at center is only averaging 2.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.
"They are a very good ball club, and they have excellent guards with experience and they will push it at us," NC State coach Sidney Lowe said. "They have great speed, quickness and toughness. We are going to need to be ready to play and get back in transition. We have to play our game."
Both teams backbones reside in its 2005 recruiting classes.
Marquette's recruiting class in 2005 was ranked No. 23 in the country according to Rivals.com, six spots behind NC State, which landed Brandon Costner, Courtney Fells and Ben McCauley.
Costner said he's gotten to meet several of the Golden Eagles' players over the last few years.
"I played with Dominic James and worked out with Wes Matthews, and I tried out for the Pan Am team with Jerel McNeal," Costner said, "I played their big kid Burke in high school all the time. I know a lot about them.
"We are playing well, we are playing together and playing hard. I'm just ready for us to go out there on Monday, and leave it all on the court. It's a good test for us early in the year."
James was the highest ranked of the three four-star players, checking in at No. 61. The Richmond (Ind.) High product picked Marquette over Purdue, with offers from Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa, among others.
Matthews was ranked No. 85 coming out of Madison (Wis.) Memorial, and picked Marquette over Wisconsin and Georgia Tech. His father, Wes Matthews Jr., and mother, Pam Moore, were both stars at Wisconsin in the early 1980s in basketball and track and field respectively.
McNeal cracked the top 100 at No. 99 coming out of Hillcrest High in the south Chicago suburbs. He eventually signed with Marquette over Purdue and Dayton.
That the three ended up at Marquette while growing up in the heart of Big Ten country, shows the salesmanship of former coach Tom Crean, who is now at Indiana. Their performances on the court also helped Crean get his new job.
James has scored 1,547 points and could be the all-time leading scorer at Marquette when his career concludes, McNeil has 1,485 and Matthew has 1,256 points. The trio has won 78 games, scored 4,288 points, 1,367 rebounds and dished out 1,21 points.
The three immediately made an impact from day one. James averaged 15.3 points and dished out 5.4 assists per game his freshman year. McNeal averaged 11.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. Both McNeal and James started all 31 games.
Matthews battled some injuries, but averaged 9.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, starting 13 of 23 games. However, Matthews might end up having the best senior season of the three.
Marquette (9-2) at NC State (7-1)
Game time: Tonight, Dec. 22, 7 p.m. — RBC Center, Raleigh
PG — 24 Julius Mays (6-2, Fr., 3.9 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 2.3 apg) or 12 Farnold Degand (6-3, R-Jr., 3.8 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 1.0 apg)
SG — 15 Trevor Ferguson (6-5, R-Jr., 8.2 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.2 apg)
SF — 4 Courtney Fells (6-6, Sr., 11.3 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.5 apg) or 2 Simon Harris (6-6 R-Sr., 2.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 0.4 apg)
PF — 33 Brandon Costner (6-9, R-Jr., 13.0 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.2 bpg)
C — 34 Ben McCauley (6-9, Sr., 15.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.6 spg)
PG — 1 Dominic James (5-11, Sr., 10.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 5.4 apg, 2.1 spg)
SG — 22 Jerel McNeal (6-3, Sr., 17.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.7 spg)
SF — 23 Wesley Matthews Jr. (6-5, Sr., 20.4 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.9 spg)
F — 32 Lazar Hayward (6-6, Jr., 16.9 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 1.2 apg)
C — 12 Dwight Burke (6-8, Sr., 2.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 0.1 apg)
Location: Milwaukee, Wis.
Nickname: Golden Eagles
2007-08 record: 25-10 overall, 11-7 Big East (tied for fifth)
2008 postseason: Lost 82-81 in overtime to Stanford in the second round of the NCAA Tournament
Coach: Buzz Williams, 2nd season overall (23-19) and first season at Marquette (9-2)
The all-time series with NC State: NC State leads 2-1
Last meeting: Marquette won 66-42 on Feb. 4, 1992 in Milwaukee
Marquette: The Golden Eagles gained the services of wing Joe Fulce and center Chris Otule in their 94-77 win over Western Carolina on Friday. Fulce, a 6-7 sophomore wing, signed with Texas A&M when Williams was an assistant there, but then got sidetracked to junior college and followed Williams to Marquette. He suffered from a stress reaction in his right kneecap and Otule, a 6-10 freshman, was out with a fracture in his left foot. Both injuries were suffered in early November, causing them to miss Marquette's first 10 games … James and McNeal are both named to the Naismith Trophy watch list and the preseason Wooden Watch list … Hayward had a career-best 18 rebounds against Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne (IPFW), and had personal-high 27 points against Western Carolina … Marquette has won 1,406 games and rank 33rd among all NCAA programs in winning percentage and are among 50 teams to reach the 1,400-win plateau.
NC State: At halftime of Monday's game, NC State will honor the 1974 National Championship squad celebrating the 35-year anniversary of NC State's first national title … NC State defeated Marquette 76-64 on March 25, 1974 to win the NCAA National Championship behind 21 points from David Thompson and 16 from Monte Towe, now an assistant coach for the Wolfpack … The last time a ranked non-conference opponent played at the RBC Center was No. 10 Alabama during Lowe's first season … Fells returned from his ankle bruise against Lipscomb for six minutes, but is expected to play significantly more minutes against Marquette. However, sophomore point guard Javier Gonzalez could miss the game with an elbow injury suffered against East Carolina on Dec. 17.