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Xavier v. Marquette: preview, matchups, keys to the game

The Musketeers take their 3-1 Big East record on the road to Marquette where the Golden Eagles look to bounce back from a rough second half against Nova. Here’s what you need to know before the ball goes up.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

At 15-1, Xavier is off to the best start in school history. The Muskies have 5 wins against the KenPom top 50, including two at neutral sites and one in a true road game. Only the loss of dynamic point guard Edmond Sumner has derailed Xavier at all, and they quickly rebounded from that injury and its concomitant loss at Villanova to rip off three straight conference wins. Now Sumner is back and Xavier is headed to Marquette to try to take another step forward in a tough conference road game.

Marquette is a very young team (344th in experience out of 351 teams) trying to come together on the fly under second year head coach Steve Wojciechowski. They've demonstrated their talent in results like a neutral site win over media darling LSU and a road victory against Providence, but they've also lost to home games against Belmont, Seton Hall by 20, and Iowa by 28. They come into the game 12-5 on the year and 2-3 in conference, trying to hold serve at home to keep the top four of the Big East within touching distance.

Team fingerprint:

Marquette's offense is solid when it gets a chance to shoot the ball. Their TO% of 20.2% is 279th in the nation and short-circuits a lot of good things they try to do. They're not an especially accurate or prolific three-point shooting team, but they really pound the ball inside. Nearly 70% of their shot attempts come from inside the arc and 37% of them come at the rim. They're shooting 52% on two-point attempts including 63% at the rim, so they know where their strengths are and they share the ball very well. They're actually subpar on the offensive glass, which is a little surprising for such a big team.

Defense is really where they make their bones right now though. Their adjusted defensive efficiency of 96.9 is 53rd in the nation, and they're very good at pressuring ballhandlers. They force turnovers on 20.2% of opponents possessions (75th nationally) and get steals on 11.6% (13th). This team hounds the ball, and they do it without putting opponents on the line hardly at all. They defend the paint well - thanks in large part to very good shot blocking - but are only about average in contesting the arc. As with the offensive end, their defensive rebounding is surprisingly average.

Starters:

Starting matchups
Traci Carter POINT GUARD Myles Davis
Freshman Class Junior
6'0", 175 Measurements 6'2", 188
5.1/3.0/4.9 Game Line 11.1/3.1/3.6
.321/.306/.750 Shooting Line .411/.403/.935
Carter was briefly on the radar as a recruit for Xavier, but he ended up heading north. He's a solid distributor whose offensive game is still a bit rough around the edges, but he does his best work at the defensive end. Marquette's defensive pressure begins with him, and his steal% of 3.8% is in the top 50 nationally.
Haanif Cheatham SHOOTING GUARD Remy Abell
Freshman Class Senior
6'5", 190 Measurements 6'4", 185
11.4/2.9/2.3 Game Line 7.3/1.7/2.3
.524/.542/.761 Shooting Line .424/.371/.744
Cheatham was an under-the-radar pickup for Marquette, but he is an excellent scorer. That three-point number is on 13-24; he mostly prefers to get his points around the rim. If he puts the ball on the deck, he favors a pull-up game. Xavier would be wise to let him have that, because he's a lot more efficient from deep or when he drives all the way to the bucket.
Sandy Cohen SMALL FORWARD JP Macura
Sophomore Class Sophomore
6'6", 200 Measurements 6'5", 190
8.8/3.6/2.4 Game Line 9.0/2.7/2.0
.472/.397/.730 Shooting Line .480/.318/.783
Cohen is kind of Marquette's answer to Remy Abell in that they both can score but are far down the team's list of offensive priorities. They can both operate as standing shooters or moving to the hole. Cohen isn't quite the defender that Remy is and he fouls a bit more, but he will score at an alarming clip if left unattended.
Henry Ellenson POWER FORWARD Trevon Bluiett
Freshman Class Sophomore
6'11", 245 Measurements 6'6", 215
15.7/9.8/2.2 Game Line 15.1/6.8/2.2
.429/.246/.747 Shooting Line .415/.400/.787
Can Trevon guard Ellenson with his back to the basket? Probably not. Can Ellenson effectively chase Tre off the perimeter? Probably not. Ellenson plays well out of the high and low posts with a varied set of face-up and post moves. He also rebounds well at both ends. How Xavier addresses him will go a long way to determining the outcome of the game.
Luke Fischer CENTER Jalen Reynolds
Senior Class Junior
6'11", 245 Measurements 6'10", 238
13.7/7.4/0.9 Game Line 9.9/6.7/0.7
.610/.000/.696 Shooting Line .522/.500/.667
Ellenson gets most of the headlines and will one day cash larger checks, but Fischer has been the more effective college player to date. He's mostly a classic big man who works on the low post. He is a borderline dominant offensive rebounder and an incredibly efficient scorer who picks his spots well. Both Ellenson and Fischer draw almost 5 fouls per 40 minutes, which is not great news for Farrnolds.

Reserves:

Duane Wilson is a 6'2" sophomore guard who started the season's first three games. He gets de facto starter's minutes off the bench now, averaging 12.6/2.9/3.0 on .424/.347/.679 shooting. He can play both guard positions and is a tough defender. He'll attach occasionally but is more comfortable scoring from deep. JaJuan Johnson is a 6'5" wing and probably the team's best defender. He was injured in the first half against St. John's and set out the midweek fixture against Nova, so it's not clear that his 7.1/2.3/1.2 will be available against X. Nobody else really gets good minutes off the bench, but 6'6" junior forward Wally Ellenson deserves mention as an excellent defensive rebounder. He's also in the top 10 in the NCAA as a high jumper and occasionally dunks all over everyone.


Three questions:

-How ready is Ed and who pinch hits for him? This is kind of question 1a and b. Sumner is coming back against a team that really gets after the ball on defense, so he's not exactly easing his way back onto the court. Marquette will take advantage of any rustiness Sumner has and make Xavier pay for it. Even if Sumner is full speed, X will need someone else to share the minutes at the point. If Marquette is swarming, will Coach Mack put Myles Davis or Larry Austin on the ball to break through?

-Can Xavier get to the line? X gets more than a quarter of its points on free throws, in the top 20 in the nation. Marquette's defense is third in the country in terms of not giving up free throws, and home courts are not notorious for allowing opposing teams to get foul calls. I don't know that Xavier will need to get a ton of points from the stripe, but being able to rack up those free points will help derail Marquette's ball-hawking defense.

-Can Xavier score inside? Interior defense is a strength of Marquette's and Xavier can score from the perimeter, but it's going to be important for X to get some points in the paint. If Marquette can defense the post straight up without having to help, that really shuts down the ball rotations that make Xavier's shooters so dangerous. Someone out of Farr, Reynolds, and O'Mara needs to force Marquette to adjust defensively.

Three keys:

-The four. Marquette has found its most success when playing Fischer and Ellenson together. Xavier has been at its best with four perimeter players surrounding one big man. Whichever team can force the other to adjust to its preferred personnel will have gone a long way to making the matchup more favorable for itself.

-Control the glass. There are going to be a lot of extra possessions going back and forth in the turnover game in this one. Xavier and Marquette are very comparable shooting teams, so getting to the glass will be an important proposition for Xavier. Marquette can be had on the boards at both ends; the Musketeers should establish a healthy margin in second-chance scoring by grabbing their own misses and stopping Marquette from doing the same.

-Score off of pressure. One of the big problems Xavier had in Sumner's absence was breaking defensive pressure but not being able to convert those opportunities into buckets. One of the best ways to get a team out of a press is to turn it into easy baskets on the back end. Larry demonstrated a troubling tendency to make bad decisions when he had the defense outnumbered and Myles was content to pull the ball out and start the offense. When Marquette tries to turn Xavier over, the Muskies need to attack decisively when they get through it.