The last time these two team met, the conference season was still young. After home wins against a St. John's squad that was looking mediocre at the time and a Butler squad that is mediocre, Xavier was looking for a marquee win to build momentum in the Big East. Marquette was sitting at 1-1, having dropped their opener at Creighton before coming home to work DePaul over. X picked up the win that time out behind a 6-13 showing from deep as a team and 28 points for Semaj.
This time around, the stakes are higher. With the margin for error that having the season in front you gives all but whittled away, these two teams are battling to set up their respective March fates. Xavier is trying to burnish an at-large resume through a brutal closing stretch. That ship has sailed for the Golden Eagles, who are playing to set themselves up for a run in the Big East tournament. To get to where they want to be, both of these teams need this game.
The offense - never a point of great pride for Marquette - has really gone south in conference play. The team's problems are agonizingly simple; they can't shoot (EFG% of 46.5%, 8th in the Big East) and can't take care of the ball (TO% 18.3%, also 8th in BE). Their possessions are also the fastest in the conference, suggesting they simply find a shot they like and lift without regard to the likelihood of success. Three-point shooting is especially grim at 28.5%, but their offensive rebounding percentage of 32.4% is 4th in the Big East.
Defensively, Marquette has been one of the best teams in the league. This is down in large part to their ability to force turnovers on nearly 20% of opponent possessions, a rate good for third in the Big East. Their interior defense holds teams to 46.4% shooting inside the arc, but outside is a different story. They are 7th in the Big East in opponent 3P% at 37.3% and dead last in 3PA/FGA; teams can get off plenty of three-point shots against this team. Their defensive rebounding percentage is 9th in the Big East.
Buzz Williams squad is experienced and - in getting 35.5% of their minutes from the pine - deep. Their height is right around the national average both inside and in the perimeter positions.
The player: 6'1", 215-pound guard Derrick Wilson
The numbers: 5.4/3.8/4.1 on .405/.083/.492 shooting
More numbers: 25.7% assist rate, 40.9% EFG%
Last time: 2/3/5 on 1-4/0-0/0-1 shooting
The words: I'm not sure I've ever seen a worse EFG% on a regular starter, and I'm not enitrely unconvinced that some of us would be incapable of replicating Wilson's shooting if we had the playing time and the green light. Ball distribution is Wilson's role, and to his credit, he doesn't try to do too much scoring. He's effective at assisting baskets and getting to the free throw line, and he does a decent job of not turning the ball over. If you're looking for the guy you can dare to shoot, though, this is him.
The player: 6'3", 205-pound guard Jake Thomas
The numbers: 7.0/2.8/1.3 on .338/.364/.738 shooting
More numbers: 4-21 from inside the arc, 15.3% shots%
Last time: 17/3/2 on 6-12/5-11/0-0 shooting
The words: Thomas is on the floor to shoot three-pointers, and so that's what he does. His performance last time these two played matched season highs for him in 3PM and points scored; Xavier has to do a better job of checking him this time around. He is 2 of his last 10 from behind the arc, but he hit 3-5 in the game before that streak. He's going to get shots up, and he's going to keep pulling even if the first few don't fall.
The player: 6'6", 215-pound forward Juan Anderson
The numbers: 3.7/3.6/1.0 on .393/.217/.773 shooting
More numbers: 12% OReb%, 18.1% DReb%, 13.8 minutes per game
Last time: 0/0/2 on 0-0/0-0/0-0 shooting
The words: this is the most tenuous of the starters listed. Though he has started the 5th-most games of anyone on the team and did start last time out, Anderson has bounced in and out of the lineup as Williams has searched for the right combination of players and minutes. He is a superb rebounder, especially for a man his size, but doesn't offer much in terms of scoring. Seeing him pulling more than a few minutes matching up with JMart on the glass is an interesting proposition.
The player: 6'7", 230-pound forward Jamil Wilson
The numbers: 12.1/5.5/2.5 on .448/.329/.646 shooting
More numbers: 24.7% usage rate, 17.1% DReb%
Last time: 5/1/3 on 2-5/1-3/0-0 shooting, 12 minutes, 5 fouls
The words: Wilson, on the other hand, has started every game for Marquette. He's the starter who is the largest focus of the offense, as they look to feed it to him and let him do work from the wing or either post. He shoots the three well enough often enough to keep defenses honest, but he's most effective when on his way to the tin. He and sixth man Davante Gardner both shoot more than an average amount of two-point jump shots.
The player: 6'11", 275-pound center Chris Otule
The numbers: 5.9/4.3/0.2 on .613/.000/.566 shooting
More numbers: 13.4% OReb%, 6.5% block%, 18 minutes per game
Last time: 4/2/0 on 2-3/0-0/0-0 shooting, 2 blocks
The words: Because the traditional center is going the way of the dinosaur in college basketball, the NCAA has granted Chris Otule special dispensation to spend the rest of his life in school. That's hyperbole, but only slightly, as the sixth-year senior is older even than Justin Martin. He is a shot-blocking machine who dominates the lane, but his lack of traditional offensive skills (almost half his baskets are putbacks) and size keep him from getting too much playing time. When he's out there, he is generally able to alter shots without fouling, as he has only even gotten to four fouls in a game twice this year.
Forward Davante Gardner does not start despite being the team's leading scorer and rebounder on his way to 14.7/6.0/1.3 on .523/.125/.761 shooting. He gets 26.8 minutes per game and generally makes a mockery of the concept of a starting lineup meaning anything. He is an excellent finisher and an above-average jump shooter, and he gets to the glass on the offensive end at an elite level. Six-foot-three guard Todd Mayo continues the trend of not starting your best players, as he gets 9.6/2.5/1.6 on .458/.321/.821 shooting. He's not a great shooter, but he is a very good finisher. Freshman wing Deonte Burton stands 6'4" and is the team's fifth-leading scorer (Williams doesn't start 3 of his top 5 scorers; take from that what you will) at 6.3 PPG in just 13 minutes. His shooting line is .444/.250/.652 and he takes a shot every 140 seconds or so he's on the court.
-Can Xavier exploit a rebounding advantage? Marquette is a good offensive rebounding team but is barely respectable on the glass on the defensive end. Between Marquette's defensive chops and their inability to hit a jump shot, there are going to be plenty of balls coming off the rim tomorrow. Keep an eye on the rebounding percentages and the second-chance points column; controlling those categories would be a big step in the right direction for the Muskies.
-Whose secondary scorers will show up? Both teams have two players upon whom they rely for consistent scoring and then a cast of possibilities beyond that. Marquette plays excellent defense, and Xavier's D is coming on strong after a lapse early in conference play. Both coaches will be game-planning for something to throw at the big guns, so whoever has the next guy step up the get the big baskets is going to be in position to win this game.
-Can Xavier shake the road woes? The Muskies are sensational at home and lose 2 of every 3 games they plan away from Cintas. While there are no true road games in post-season play, being able to knock off a quality opponent in a building other than your own is a skill that will take a team deep into March. Xavier's last neutral-site win was that trouncing of Cincinnati back in December, and their best true road win may well be the game at Alabama that they played the next week. The stretch run is going to give X plenty of chances to prove something on the road, but tomorrow would be a good time to start.
-Pull from deep. In the Davis brothers, James Farr, and Justin Martin, Xavier has four players who could be considered legitimate threats from beyond the arc. While pretty much all four of those guys have run hot and cold this season, they all have the ability to exploit the biggest weakness of Marquette's defense. The Golden Eagles get after the ball hard and are strong in the lane, but Xavier has a not-insignificant chance to shoot Marquette out of this game if they commit to lifting when they have a clean look.
-Protect the basketball. This Marquette defense can be head if Xavier executes at a high level, but you need the ball to do that. The ability to force turnovers is the hinge on which the Marquette defense hangs. Keep them from doing that and you have a chance of putting together a pretty good offensive afternoon. Another 9-assist, 1-turnover showing from Dee would stand the team in good stead.
-Avoid the big run. Xavier is 3-6 away from home and 2-3 in true road games, and a lot of that is down to their habit of letting opponents reel off those 7-0 or 11-2 runs early in games that put a team in a hole. Those deficits are always difficult to overturn, but that is doubly true when there is a rocking partisan crowd screaming encouragement to your opponent and invective to you. If X starts getting sloppy or stagnating, it is up to Coach Mack to cut it off with a timeout, substitution, or strategic adjustment. A team that forces turnovers like Marquette can open up a lead in a hurry if you drag your feet at all in reeling them in.