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Xavier v. Marshall: Preview, matchups, keys to the game

It’s a final game before Xavier’s schedule tilts in earnest. The last game against a low-major, though, didn’t go so smoothly.

NCAA Basketball: Conference USA Tournament- Marshall vs MIddle Tennessee State
Jay Wright has nothing on Dan D’Antoni.
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier’s last game featured a 22 point comeback, a Trevon Bluiett dagger, and Xavier playing horrendously until they flipped the switch with a 33-11 run. That game shouldn’t have featured that kind of drama and this one shouldn’t either, but, as the saying goes, that’s why they play them. Xavier’s final contest at home in the non-conference is the Thundering Herd of Marshall.

Marshall has put together a pretty unimpressive resume thus far. Wins over a down Akron team, Toledo, and Ohio don’t carry the weight they usually would for a low-major punching up into the MAC. Losses to William and Mary and Morehead St. wouldn’t look good any year. The Thundering Herd are the final cupcake before Xavier steps up to Northern Iowa and then the Big East.

Team fingerprint:

Marshall’s offense is predicated on going fast. Like, really fast. The 13.4 seconds the Herd possess the ball on their average trip to the offensive end is third in the nation, and tops in teams not ranked in the bottom 50. Once they have raced into the other end they are very effective inside the arc (58.8%, 12th in the nation), and downright wretched from deep, where they shoot 33.7%. Naturally, they take 41.4% of their shots as threes. Unlike ETSU, Marshall takes care of the ball well, but they don’t go to the glass much at all.

On defense, they’ve been getting butchered. They’re 291st in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, which is obviously not good. They block a lot of shots, but they’re allowing opponents a 52.9% EFG% and rebounding the misses they do force at a rate that ranks them 306th in the country. This is a team that is trying to outscore you in the crudest sense of the term.


NCAA Basketball: Conference USA Tournament- Marshall vs MIddle Tennessee State
Marshall guard Jon Elmore (left) is averaging 24.2 PPG on the year.
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports


Starting matchups
Jon Elmore Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Junior Class Sophomore
6'3", 184 Measurements 6'4", 190
24.2/4.2/7.5 Game line 6.9/2.1/6.5
0.443/0.265/0.826 Shooting line 0.412/0.111/0.905
Elmore sports the 56th best assist rate in the nation and excellent from the line, but his offensive efficiency is only 109.3 because he shoots too much from deep. Make no mistake though, he's a scorer.
Jarrod West Shooting Guard J.P. Macura
Freshman Class Senior
5'11", 179 Measurements 6'5", 203
11.3/2.5/3.1 Game line 11.9/4.4/3.1
0.531/0.464/0.75 Shooting line 0.5/0.353/0.838
West is a pure shooter who sports th 52nd best EFG% in the nation. For a 5-11 guard, that's very impressive. If he gets hot, he can fill it up.
C.J. Burks Small Forward Trevon Bluiett
Junior Class Senior
6'4", 204 Measurements 6'6", 202
19.6/3.9/2.5 Game line 21.4/5.5/2.8
0.48/0.313/0.821 Shooting line 0.507/0.45/0.879
Burks is another good shooter, though not as good as West, but he turns the ball over a lot for a forward.
Dani Koljanin Power Forward Kaiser Gates
Junior Class Junior
6'8", 219 Measurements 6'8", 228
2.7/2.5/0.7 Game line 9.7/5.3/1.3
0.313/0.25/0.5 Shooting line 0.427/0.435/0.8
Koljanin starts, but he only plays about 15 minutes a game. That could be because of foul trouble, but it could also be because his offensive efficiency is under 90.
Ajdin Penava Center Tyrique Jones
Junior Class Sophomore
6'9", 214 Measurements 6'9", 237
19.1/9.9/1.4 Game line 9.5/6/0.5
0.652/0.393/0.742 Shooting line 0.7/0/0.606
The 25th most efficient player in the nation has only the third highest usage rate on his team. Penava can step out and shoot it, but he's best inside where he throws an unholy 13.8% of opponent's shots and makes 73% of his own.


There basically aren’t any. The Herd is 324th in bench minutes this year, leaning heavily on their starters. Darius George is a 6’7” freshman who will get about 20 minutes at the 3 and 4 off the bench. He’s good for 4.9/3.9/0.5 per game; he has good touch around the rim and is 6-8 from mid-range this year, but he’s not a guy who hunts shots.

Jannson Williams is a 6’9” freshman forward who gets 3.9/1.8/0.1 in about 11 minutes per game. He’s 5-12 from deep in all competitions and is a solid offensive rebounder. Elmore, West, and Burks each get about 35 minutes per game, so reserve guards aren’t getting a lot of run for Marshall.

Three questions

-That was just exam week rust, right? There’s really no decent reason that Xavier should have ever been down 22 to ETSU; it was a perfect storm of X playing awful ball and the Buccaneers being out of their minds. My guess is that Coach Mack was fairly direct in his feedback to his team in the last couple of practices and that the Muskies will be a bit sharper tonight.

-How about Naji Marshall? This is kind of a statement masquerading as a question, but hot dang. The heir to JP’s chaotic throne came into his own on Saturday, almost single-handedly willing Xavier back to within touching distance before his teammates roused from their slumber. He’s probably not going to shoot 5-6 every game from here on out, but it’s clear he’s a factor in the present day.

NCAA Basketball: East Tennessee State at Xavier
Tyrique thanks Naji for saving the game on Saturday.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

-How are JP and Kaiser? Macura left the game against ETSU early in the second half with an apparent concussion and didn’t return. Kaiser picked up a knock late in the game and was also an observer down the stretch. If those two are anything shy of whatever passes for 100% during the season, I’d guess the coaching staff is pretty cautious with them tonight.

Three keys

-Recover on defense. If Marshall gets a shot within the first 10 seconds of an opponent’s miss, they’re good for an EFG% of 61.8%. When they can’t and they have to play in the half court, their EFG% drops to 38.2%. Keeping them from shooting in transition effectively turns Marshall from Trevon Bluiett this year to Quentin Goodin last year in terms of shooting. For a defense, that’s obviously a desirable outcome.

-Don’t wait. In the last 10 minutes on Saturday, ETSU had 16 possessions. They scored on 4 of them. Clearly there was a switch to be flipped there, and X flipped it. Prior to that, they had been getting out of the blocks fast and burying teams before the first media timeout. If they’re back on stride, they’ll do that again tonight.

-Don’t let Penava and West get going. Burks and Elmore are going to get theirs even if it takes them a combined 40 shots to do it. I’m fine with that, and Xavier should be too. Letting Marshall’s volume scorers volume score isn’t going to hurt the Muskies; letting their efficient secondary guys get clean looks just might.