Big East play has begun, or it will today at any rate. Over the next 66 days, Xavier will play 18 games, 15 or 16 of which will be considered A or B level games by KenPom when they’re played. Having grown up watching Xavier play in the A-10, it’s going to take me a long time to get over the quality of the conference schedule in the Big East. It’s about to be on.
Xavier appears ready. The Muskies come in riding the best 13-game start in program history. They’ve controlled games at home and away against good opponents. They’ve won grimy games when they’re not clicking. They’ve won boat races against overmatched opponents. Aside from that three-point barrage from an Arizona State team that has climbed 80 spots in the Pomeroy rankings since the start of the year, X has proven they can win any game in a variety of different ways.
Today’s opponent will be Marquette, a team that is in some ways not unlike Arizona State. The Golden Eagles started the season 5-3 before clipping off four straight wins heading into conference play. Like X, Marquette has a road win over Wisconsin on the resume. Unlike Xavier, they’re probably going to spend the next couple of months working their way off the bubble.
Marquette just frickin’ loves to score, and they do it all by making shots. That’s probably obvious on some level, but their offense doesn’t facilitate getting to the glass or the line that often. They’re just an elite shooting team with great ball security. They’re 38th in the country in 2P%, 27th in 3P% (at 40.1%), and 10th in FT%. They take almost exactly half of their shots from behind the arc. It’s not too much of a secret what they’re up to; they’ll just keep banging away from three until something gives or time runs out.
Defensively, they’re not impressive at all. They’re just above average in forcing turnovers but below average in DReb%, EFG% defense, and keeping opponents off the line. They do block a lot of shots though, led in block percentage by an unlikely player. That’s a teaser; you’re going to have to keep reading to find the solution to this mystery.
|Rowsey is both a highscorer and an efficient one. His numbers suggest a volume scorer, but he's a deadeye shooter with a 28.9% assist rate as well.
|Marquette's backcourt averages 42 points per game. Howard is more careful with the ball, but not quite as good from deep as Rowsey. Howard, however, finishes at the rim at a 20% higher clip.
|Anim is an efficient offensive player and offensive rebounder who simply doesn't use the ball often enough to register big numbers.
|Hauser's 49% from behind the arc comes on 6.4 attempts per game, so he's hardly a small sample hero. He's not a great rebounder, but being the 39th most efficient shooter in the nation papers over a lot of cracks.
|Heldt is the third most efficient offensive player in the nation. He's an old school post with some face up game who is a decent offensive rebounder as well.
Not quite nobody, but close. Marquette is 262nd in the nation in bench minutes, relying heavily on their starters to get the job done. Haanif Cheatham left the team five games into the season, further thinning an already shallow unit.
The most notable bench guy is freshman guard Greg Elliott. He only goes for 2.8/2.7/1.8 a game, but he’s a defensive maestro, ranking in the top 100 in the nation in block% and steal%. Freshman forwards Jamal Cain and Theo John round out the bench unit. Cain is good for a couple of buckets a game, and John is an aggressive offensive rebounder. Neither will have the scouting report written around him at this point.
-Is everyone healthy? Something on the order of half the team has been hobbled in the past couple of weeks, leading to some less than visually appealing ball out of Xavier. When everyone’s playing at or around 100%, this team can punch with anyone in the nation. When they’re not, they’re going to have to grind out the wins.
-Is there home cooking? Both of these teams are excellent from the free throw line, to the point that whomever has the advantage in attempts from there may well have a deciding edge in the game. The less said about the officiating in the UNI game, the better, but if Xavier has trouble getting calls on the road, Marquette is equipped to make it hurt.
-Can Q get a couple buckets? I’m not asking for like 12/4/8 out of the man, but Marquette’s starting guards are 5’11” and 5’11”. Q, as you may know, is 6’4” and stout. Greg Elliott - Marquette’s reserve guard who can play defense - isn’t nearly the offensive threat that Rowsey and Howard are. If Q can hold an advantage that makes the Golden Eagles go to the bench to slow him down, that will be a huge boon for Xavier’s defensive efforts.
-Check the arc. Marquette has three dudes who can make it rain, and only one of them needs to go all Trae Holder to ruin Xavier’s day. Games don’t generally have a single deciding factor, but this is going to be as close to that as you can find. Clean looks from deep for Marquette will spell doom for the Muskies.
-Pass to the right team. Against a UNI team that doesn’t even try to force turnovers, Xavier couldn’t stop turning the ball over. JP, Tre, and Q were especially steamed garbage at ball security, combining for 10 turnovers between them. Marquette’s only meaningful defensive asset at all is being slightly above average at forcing turnovers. If Xavier can get to the part of the possession where they shoot, they shouldn’t have too much trouble getting good looks.
-Bang it inside. The three teams that beat Marquette combined to take 118 shots from inside the arc and 45 threes, more than a 2.5:1 ratio. Xavier’s currently right about in that range on the season, but an opponent that is just splashing threes all over might pull the Muskies into trying to answer. X should have the advantage inside, and it will behoove them to press it all night long.