It was 48 degrees where I live on Sunday. That came on the heels of weather that had dumped eight inches of snow and left us with wind chills well below zero earlier in the week. I mention all that, because Xavier had a similar week. A horrendous middle of the week effort was very nearly eclipsed by Jalen Reynolds dunk and a convincing win over the Providence Friars. Like the February weather anywhere in Ohio, it's very difficult to know exactly what the Musketeers are going to give you on a daily basis. One day it's miserable, the next day you can't believe your good fortune.
Marquette, meanwhile, is stuck in the permanent Milwaukee winter. (I paid for this weather analogy, I'm using it). A loss to Xavier back on January 17th kicked off a six game losing streak that was only broken with a win over Seton Hall in a truly grim game on Saturday. At the start of the season, Luke Winn and Sports Illustrated had Marquette challenging for an at large bid, instead, they've been awful and are now 93rd in the KenPom rankings.
Marquette may be bad for a Big East team, but they are still one of the top 100 teams in the nation. That comes almost solely on the relative strength of the their defense. An efficiency rating of 101.5 in conference play is actually fourth in the Big East. The Golden Eagles come by that by forcing turnovers on 22% of opponents possessions and holding opponents to an effective field goal percentage of 48%. All that gambling for steals (in which they are 13th in the nation) leaves them extremely susceptible to offensive rebounds, which they surrender at a 36.2% rate for the season, 37.2% in conference play.
Offensively, Marquette is just not good. Their overall efficiency is 146th in the nation, but that number is actually still seven points higher than the Big East worst 95.4 they've put up since conference play began. Their highest ranking in the Big East is the fifth (32.9%) they are from behind the arc. The Golden Eagles are last in free throw percentage (67.4%), turnover percentage (21.2%) and FTA/FGA ratio. They are in the bottom half in every other offensive category. In 11 Big East games they have managed to score over 70 points twice. That's not good.
|Derrick Wilson||Point Guard||Dee Davis|
|6'1", 210||Measurements||6'0", 160|
|Wilson is basically what he has always been for Marquette, a solid defender and distributor, and a miserable shooter. Wilson is at the point due to Matt Carlino's concussion, which may limit or keep him out of this game. X will not need to close out Wilson nearly as hard and can send him to the line freely if it comes to that.|
|Duane Wilson||Shooting Guard||Myles Davis|
|6'2", 185||Measurements||6'2', 195|
|If you squint, you can see why Marquette is high on building around this Wilson. He is second on the team in scoring and has had big games against Butler and Georgetown this year. What he has not been, much like most freshmen, is consistent and is coming in 6-17 with 7 turnovers in the past two games. There is a lot to both like and dislike about Wilson's game, but he is capable of getting hot and being a factor.|
|JaJuan Johnson||Small Forward||Trevon Bluiett|
|6'5", 185||Measurements||6'6", 215|
|Johnson was a sporadic starter at the beginning of the year before falling from grace to the point of not featuring against Xavier. Now he is back and has gone for double digits the last two games. Johnson excels when he gets to the rim, which he does about a third of the time he is shooting, but is very ineffective when forced to take a jump shot. He also has the best steal rate on the team and is in the top 250 in the country in that category.|
|Juan Anderson||Power Forward||James Farr|
|6'6", 215||Measurements||6'10", 237|
|Anderson is a bit undersized for a big and suffers on the defensive boards as a result, but has a knack for offensive rebounding and isn't afraid to make the opposite team guard him on the perimeter with his decent three point shooting. He doesn't do a lot of creating his own shot anywhere on the court, preferring to catch in the post or catch and shoot from three.|
|Luke Fischer||Center||Matt Stainbrook|
|6'11", 245||Measurements||6'10", 270|
|Fischer came in from Indiana and was not eligible for the start of the season, but has added a nice scoring punch to Marquette's post play. Fischer also earns his keep on the defensive end , where sits just outside the top 50 in block rate, contributing to Marquette's defensive reputation. While Fischer is not necessarily the focal point for Marquette, if Carlino can't go he is by far their best option.|
Marquette only typically goes 8 deep anyway, so the loss of Carlino meant it was 7 deep on Saturday. 6'7" Steve Taylor Jr. hits the offensive glass better than anyone else on the team and gets 5.7/4.7/0.6 in about 20 minutes per game. 6'6" Freshman Sandy Cohen III can shoot it decently from anywhere, ticking in just over 40% from three, but is limited in both his playing time and shot selection for the most part. Matt Carlino may also have his part to play, whether off the bench or as a starter is anyone's best guess, but he gets 14.5/3.5/3.2 on .404/.426/.854 shooting. He does drive a lot and is not a good finisher in the lane, but is capable of getting hot and, say, scoring 27 points if you leave him alone on the outside.
- Can Xavier come ready to play on the road? The Musketeers have made a bad habit of falling behind in the first half on the road and then not being able to rally all the way back. Even in the close road losses Xavier has found a way to look lifeless early. The intensity closing the home game against Providence was incredible. It would behoove Xavier to come out and hit Marquette with that right away.
- Is the 1-3-1 here to stay? In the second half against the Friars, Coach Mack went to the 1-3-1 to protect his ponderous bigs against outside shooters. Providence went 3-12 from deep for the half and Xavier looked that little bit better on defense for once. Marquette isn't a great shooting team, and they are wretched on the offensive glass. The zone may be in action again, especially if Coach Mack thinks he can turn the Eagles over out of it.
- Can Xavier knock down threes? Teams shoot 35% from deep against Marquette. Xavier shoots 28.7% since conference play started. That started to shift with an 8-22 (7-15 discounting JP Macura) against Providence. Stretch the Marquette defense even the smallest bit and Xavier's bigs will dominate inside.
- Stop Carlino: Hate him or hate him, Matt Carlino is the Golden Eagle you have to pay attention to. He's going to shoot (25% of his team's shots when he's on the court) and he shoots 42.6% from deep. In the first game he was 6-9 from deep, went for 27 and was basically the only reason Marquette was in the game. That can't happen again.
- Crush the glass: Marquette gets dominated on the offensive glass, and Xavier used to excel there. In conference play though, Xavier is only grabbing 27.8% of their misses. Marquette allows 31% and a reinvigorated Musketeers effort on the glass could pay off.
- Win, even if it's ugly: The first matchup ended 62-58 and Marquette just win 57-54. This game isn't likely to become an instant classic, but that doesn't matter. Xavier simply cannot afford to drop any more games to teams that don't have an NCAA tournament pedigree. Road or not, this one has to go in the W column.