In Tolkien’s epic Lord of the Rings trilogy there comes a moment when all seems lost. The heroes, embattled on all sides and having taken immense casualties are driven to their last redoubt and pause there briefly to collect themselves for a last, desperate fight. As a king surveys the carnage around him and the few men that have come through it he wistfully asks “How did it come to this?”
Xavier now finds itself in similar straits. The optimism of November and the elation of of Myles Davis return to a 13-2 team that had just thrashed St. John’s have given way to a spate of injuries and grim slog through February that leaves Xavier on the wrong end of five straight, on the bubble, and increasingly looking to the west for the last minute miracle that saved Tolkien’s heroes. Maybe Trevon Bluiett will appear in a flash of light and ride to the rescue against Marquette. There’s nothing else left for it.
Great news gang, the team that just allowed Butler to pile up 50 second half points now gets to face the 11th most efficient offense in the nation. No team shoots better from behind the arc, only seven shoot better from the line. The good news is that the Golden Eagles don’t get on the offensive glass well, but that just could be because they are genuinely surprised when they miss.
There’s a reason that a team that scores with bloodless efficiency is barely clinging to the bubble though, and that’s because they eschew defense in the way a hipster rejects practical footwear. The Golden Eagles are 44th in the nation with a 10.4% steal rate and not in the top 150 in any other defensive category. It’s been frustrating to be a Xavier fan this year, but imagine cheering for a team that lost to Georgetown in a game in which the impotent Hoyas scored 80 or lost to St. John’s when the Red Storm scored 86. Steve Wojciechowski has a great offensive team, but they will likely miss the tournament because they are steamed garbage on defense.
|Andrew Rowsey||Point Guard||Quentin Goodin|
|5'10", 180||Measurements||6'4", 190|
|Rowsey proves the old basketball adage that you should grab a UNC Asheville transfer whenever you get the chance. He has been the Big East's most efficient offensive player thanks to a 26.3% assist rate, good ball security, and great shooting from deep and at the line. He also draws 5 fouls per 40 minutes played.|
|Markus Howard||Shooting Guard||JP Macura|
|5'11", 175||Measurements||6'5", 203|
|Holy cow, this kid can really fill it up. He has actually stepped his game up in conference play, shooting a scalding 58% from behind the arc. He's not much in the mid-range, but he's a really effective slasher. Also, he hits almost three of every five threes he throws up, which isn't bad work if you can get it.|
|Duane Wilson||Small Forward||Malcom Bernard|
|6'2", 185||Measurements||6'6", 202|
|Wilson was a volume scorer for his first two years at Marquette, averaging nearly 12 PPG as a freshman and sophomore. This year he's a little more efficient, but he's playing a distinctly diminished offensive role. He's a good defender and decent rebounder for his size.|
|Sam Hauser||Power Forward||Trevon Bluiett|
|6'6", 225||Measurements||6'6", 215|
|Hauser is on the floor to catch and shoot for the most part, and he does a really good job of that. He has hit three or more threes in eight different games this year despite not attempting more than eight in any given outing. He's also a very good defensive rebounder, which gives Wojahowski the luxury of playing a 6'6" shooter at the four.|
|Matt Heldt||Center||Tyrique Jones|
|6'10", 245||Measurements||6'9", 237|
|Heldt just hit the starting lineup three games ago, having been a hit-and-miss reserve for most of the year before that. He has had three of his four highest-minutes games in BE play in those three games as a starter, but he's also fouled out of two of them. He's a solid rebounder who scores rarely but efficiently.|
Marquette is deep. Katin Reinhardt was on Xavier’s radar but landed in Milwaukee and is knocking down 37% of his threes and rarely turning the ball over. Luke Fischer remains a 6-11 menace in the lane on defense and a constant threat on the offensive glass. Haanif Cheatham is a slasher who runs hot and cold (15 points against X the first time, five since) but excels in getting to the line. The final major contributor off the bench is JaJuan Johnson who, like Reinhardt and Cheatham, stands 6-6 and shoots from pretty much anywhere. Johnson is also liable to rack up steals in bunches and sports the second best rate in the conference.
- What fight is left? Xavier’s effort hasn’t been reasonably questioned in this losing stretch, but it also hasn’t amounted too much. Against Butler they raged against the dying of the light but then lost late anyway. Too many efforts like that can leave a team jaded.
- Can Coach Mack stretch the depth? The Musketeers are simply getting tired at the end of games. The strain on Goodin, Bluiett, Macura, and to a lesser extent, Bernard is beginning to really tell. Against Butler, though, Tyrique Jones only played eight minutes. Prior to that, the minute spreads had been better, but Coach Mack has to get double digit minutes out of each of his eight guys.
- Who steps up? For this story to have an unexpectedly happy ending, someone has to come riding to the rescue. In Tolkien’s story the person you most expected to save the day left it late before appearing on scene. Tonight would be a great time for Trevon Bluiett to throw the team on his leg and a half and drop another 40.
- Contain the runs: Xavier spotted the Golden Eagles a 21-2 lead the last time this teams met. Obviously, that is not a recipe for success. Hidden in that eminently forgettable game were several more smaller runs for Marquette. Xavier has to keep the Golden Eagles from hitting a quick rhythm because when they do, they go off.
- Value the ball: Four turnovers in five possessions to close the game against Butler and more than 50% of the team’s turnovers coming from the point guard kept that game from becoming the win that Xavier so badly needed. Marquette isn’t good on defense, they’re barely better than DePaul, but they will chase steals all game long. Throw the ball away and risk the easy points getting the Eagles offense going.
- Find some heart: That’s not to imply that this team doesn’t have heart, but now is the backs against the wall time to come out swinging. Maybe some of that left with Myles Davis, maybe the Zip Em Up era is ending, maybe it’s unfair to expect every Xavier team to be harder than ten penny nails, but it would be a wonderful thing for one more off the mat story to start tonight.