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Xavier v. Marquette: Preview

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The goal, obviously.
We've already spoken at some length about what kind of team Marquette is. For those too forgetful to recall and too lazy to click (or maybe you still have dial-up and don't want to wait; I'm not here to judge), the Golden Eagles are a stout offensive team that led the Big East in scoring this year. Defensively, they play more zone than most teams do, but lack a big man in the middle outside of the offensively anemic Chris Otule.

People - including those in the Marquette camp - have been comparing Tu Holloway to Kemba Walker, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them defend Tu the same way they did Kemba. Marquette split their games with UConn on the year, and Walker shot 15-43 and scored 41 points. Despite playing 82 minutes, Walker only got to the line eleven times, so we can see that Marquette did a good job keeping him away from the bucket.

Even if Marquette is able to keep Tu away from the bucket - which is a questionable proposition - there are reasons to believe X can come away with the win. In the game UConn won, freshman swingman Jeremy Lamb dropped 24 on 9-14/3-4/3-3 shooting. Lamb is UConn's second-leading scorer on the year with 10.4 PPG, but he and Walker are the only double-digit scorers on the team. Xavier boasts four such players, two of whom are forwards.

Speaking of forwards (it's called a segue; takes notes, journalism students), they may be the key to the game for the Muskies. Despite the fact that they are the 230th best defensive rebounding team in the nation, UConn outrebounded Marquette 89-69 - including 35-24 on the offensive end - in the two games this year. Jamel McLean is a better rebounder than anyone on Connecticut's squad, and Big Kenny is better under defensive glass than any Huskie.

Once you make it to the tournament, anything can happen. Xavier is six wins away from being the national champion, just as 63 other teams were once the tourney tipped off. With the experience and ability they have, there is a chance they could go on a magical run and win it all. Conversely, one bad game could send our boys home for a very long summer. It's a high-stakes time of year for the team, and a high-tension ride for the rest of us.

Keys to the game:
-Smart post play: McLean and Big Kenny have the ability to carry a good portion of the load against the slightly undersized Marquette team. If they can exploit one-on-ones, kick to shooters and cutters out of situations in which the zone collapses, and get after it on the boards, Xavier has a much better shot at the win.

-Stay out of foul trouble: Xavier isn't deep. Cohesion and continuity are keys in March, and having to run out a couple of guys who weren't considered for the starting five is a wild card you don't want to be adding to the deck.

Nobody closes like this guy.
-Don't be a hero: Dante has swagger. Cheek has swagger. Tu has so much swagger that he felt obligated to remind the media that Kemba Walker never worked him when they played in New York. While transcendent play from one player can carry a team and vault that player into legend, one 3-17 can send the team home. Trust the process and do the same things that made the team great all year.

Toughness factor:
Marquette comes out of the Big East and scores them in bunches. Also, there are no easy games in March. I'm more nervous now than I was when I proposed. This one is a 3.