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Xavier v. Marquette: Preview

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Marquette has struggled mightily on offense while still playing tenaciously on the other end. Can Xavier's three point shooters break the top off the Golden Eagle defense?

God knows why Buzz is upset here, he's had plenty of reasons to be.
God knows why Buzz is upset here, he's had plenty of reasons to be.
Eric Francis

At the start of this season, the Marquette Golden Eagles were the lone Big East representative in the national polls. Ranked 17th in the AP, Marquette started the year as the odds on favorite to win the Big East, even according to this very site "Deep, experienced, and well coached, Marquette remains the cream of the Big East." Even as recently as the conference primer, Marquette still looked like it chance in the conference.

To say things haven't gone well since the start of the year for Marquette would be a bit of an understatement. Still 49th in the KenPom rankings (down from a high of 24th), the Golden Eagles are 9-6 on year, 1-1 in the Big East, and are driving their fanbase crazy. According to SBN's Anonymous Eagle "Even more concerning than the numbers, though, is this: when you look at the composition of the roster, there appears to be precious little room for improvement, let alone the kind of significant improvement that would be needed to have a shot at sneaking into the NCAA Tournament."

Things probably aren't that bad, Marquette hasn't lost to a team ranked lower than 50th, but the lack of top 50 wins (0-6) has passed from concerning to alarming for the Golden Eagles. A road win over Xavier would be the biggest win that that Buzz Williams and his squad had managed all year.

Team Fingerprint:

For the second game in a row, Xavier takes on a team that is just a shadow of what it once was offensively. In the Buzz Williams years, the Golden Eagles have finished 12th, 21st, 22nd, 52nd, and 25th in adjusted offense. This year, they rank 111th. A large part of that comes because the Eagles just do not shoot the ball well at all. The 50.3% from inside the arc is only average, and things go down from there. 66% at the line (266th) and 30.5% from deep (282nd) are both atrocious at best. The lone reason that Marquette can manage anything on offense is a rebounding rate of 37.1%, 40th in the nation.

On defense, this is still the Marquette with which you have grown familiar. 21st in adjusted defense, they clamp down seemingly everywhere. The Eagles force turnovers on 20% of possessions, block shots on 11.1%, grab steals on 10.9%, and only allow teams to shoot free throws on 31.8% of field goal attempts (40th). Teams shoot 41.6% inside the arc against Marquette, making them the 14th best in the nation there. The true Achilles heel comes the same place it does on offense, behind the arc. Opponents shoot 33.8% from deep, a below average mark for the Golden Eagles defense. This is made worse by the fact that 38.7% of their opponents shots come from behind the arc.

Despite their issues, Marquette is still a deep team, getting 38% of their minutes off the bench. They also play big, accruing a +1 in effective height, just slightly above average.

Starters:

With the caveat that the lineup seems to be a bit in flux for Buzz and the boys (Derrick Wilson didn't start against DePaul), here are the five I expect to see come Thursday night.

The player: 6-1, 215 junior guard Derrick Wilson.
The numbers: 4.7/4.3/3.7 on .362/.111/.526 shooting.
More numbers: 22.2% assist rate
The words: This is not what Buzz and Marquette wanted from a guy that Buzz considered starting last year, if not for his loyalty to Junior Cadougan. Wilson started this year, but Buzz surely must wish Duane Wilson hadn't gone down injured. Derrick has been, in a word, horrid.

The player: 6-3, 205 senior guard Jake Thomas.
The numbers: 7.0/2.6/1.5 on .341/.403/.733 shooting.
More numbers: 110.3 ORtg.
The words: Thomas is another cog in a backcourt that simply refuses to achieve what it seems it should. His freshman year his shooting line was .421/.441/.828. Since transferring from South Dakota where he put that up, Thomas hasn't come close to duplicating it. He is still a dangerous three point shooter and 67 of his 82 attempts have come from there.

The player: 6-7, 230 senior forward Jamil Wilson.
The numbers: 11.7/5.0/2.5 on .448/.293/.591 shooting.
More numbers: 28.9% shots taken, 21.5% assist rate, 3.0% block rate.
The words: This fall I said "Wilson plays mostly as a forward, but can step back and knock down jumpers if the situation requires." Like many Marquette players, he's slid backward from that point. Last year, Wilson made 42% of his two point jumpers, this year he's right at 40%. Last year he made 36% of his threes, this year, 29%. When he gets to the rim he's above average, but he's far too likely to pull up and shoot.

The player: 6-6, 215 junior forward Juan Anderson.
The numbers: 5.0/4.7/1.3 on .431/.250/.778 shooting.
More numbers: 12.2% offensive rebound rate, 18.6% defensive rebound rate, 5.0% steal rate.
The words: I'm confused as to why Anderson starts and Davante Gardner doesn't, but I'm not Buzz Williams. Anderson crashes the glass hard and generally has the sense to only take the 18.6% of his teams shots that his percentages dictate. That 5% steal rate is 15th nationally, so he definitely brings some value to the court beyond just the rebounding.

The player: 6-11, 275 sixth year senior Chris Otule.
The numbers: 7.2/5.2/.1 on .621/.000/.563 shooting.
More numbers: 14.8% (47th) offensive rebound rate, 16.4% defensive rebound rate, 7.5% (97th) block rate.
The words: Almost a literal man among boys, Otule brings very good rebounding and solid interior defense to the table. His scoring numbers don't look great, but he gets those seven points in only 18.7 minutes per game. Otule is effective in scoring without dominating the ball. His shot rate of 14.9% is lower than any other Marquette regular other than Derrick Wilson.

Reserves:

The player: 6-8, 290 senior Davante Gardner.
The numbers: 13.9/5.9/1.2 on .558/.286/.693 shooting.
More numbers: 118.7 ORtg, 9.9% offensive rebound rate, 17.2% defensive rebound rate, 12.1% TO rate.
The words: It's rare to list a bench guy like this, but Davante Gardner plays more minutes than Otule or Anderson, leads the team in scoring, is second in field goal percentage, blocks 2.9% of opponents shots, and has the best offensive rating on the team. Of course, Gardner grabbed his first start against DePaul and scored 28, so he may move up a slot.

Joining Gardner in coming off the bench is JaJuan Johnson (6.1/1.2/1.2) a 6-5 freshman forward who may not play against Xavier after not appearing (who knows why) against DePaul. Johnson gets on the glass and forces turnovers quite well. Deonte Burton, a 6-4 combo guard will bring his amazing bled of ability to score (6.4 points in just 14 minutes) and terrible decision making (18.3% TO rate) off the pine, as will Todd Mayo. Mayo is a reformed sort of reformed gunner who scores effectively (106.1 ORtg, 9.1 ppg) and provides more help defensively.

Three questions:

- What's going on here? Marquette is not the team they seemed to be at the start of the season. The offense doesn't click, the lineups are confusing, JaJuan Johnson didn't play last game for no discernible reason, and it took a substantial comeback for the Golden Eagles to beat DePaul at home. Is this team 0-6 against the top 50 because they simply aren't very good this year?

- Who wins on the glass? Xavier seems to have a slight edge because the Eagles don't defend the offensive glass (29.7%) as well as they get on it (37.1%). Still, that second number is worrisome. Xavier allows offensive rebounds only 28.3% of the time, but Marquette is behind only Iowa, Tennessee, and UC as far as team's Xavier has played that grab their own rebounds. Two out of those three teams beat the Musketeers.

- Will Xavier open the tap from outside? Marquette does not defend the perimeter well either in terms of letting teams make shots, or letting teams take shots. Creighton got off an astonishing 35 threes against the Golden Eagles and won by 18. Xavier shoots well from deep, but takes only 32% (155th nationally) of their shots from there. If that numbers goes up because opportunities are there, the Musketeers could shoot Marquette right out of the gym.

Three keys:

- Score from deep: This follows right off the last question simply because it is important. Xavier hasn't taken more than 20 threes in a win since Miami (Oh) on the 20th of November. Odds are, the chances will be there tonight. If the shots aren't going like they didn't in the 4-19 against Wake, Xavier will be in trouble. If Xavier makes the 37% they are averaging, they'll be hard to beat.

- Make Marquette pay for chasing shots: Marquette is very tough defensively on anything that isn't a three pointer. There will be misses aplenty for Matt Stainbrook, James Farr, Justin Martin, and Isaiah Philmore to chase. Otule, Gardner, and Duane Wilson will be chasing blocks. That should leave backside offensive rebounds open for Xavier's relentless bigs.

- Grind defensive possessions: In addition to being a cool thing to say, defensive possession will play a great deal into the pace of this game. Marquette wants to shoot within the first 17 seconds of the clock, Xavier's forces teams to take 17.7 seconds per possession on average. It stands to reason that a team that doesn't shoot well will be even worse when they start to feel the pressure of the clock ticking away. Conversely, Marquette averages 19 seconds per their own defensive possession. This game could be low scoring and slow.