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

A couple of teams with high hopes meet on the edge of desperation today in Wisconsin.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Marquette
I couldn't find a picture of the Marquette and Bessemer #2.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier is in need of a big win. After a solid non-conference schedule that lacks the gloss of a high-profile scalp, they're 1-3 in Big East games and in desperate need of a W to right the ship before a week off. Their trip to Marquette provides just that shot.

Marquette is in need of a big win. Like Xavier, they have just one win in a KenPom tier A game, and like Xavier they have just one conference win in four tries. Winning this game won't solve everything for either club, but losing it would sure be a kidney shot and require a recalibration of what a successful culmination of the year would look like.

Team fingerprint

Marquette has a handful of stacks and you'd better grab an umbrella, because they make it rain (from three). They shoot more than 40% of their shots from behind the arc and connect on exactly 40% of those shots. Their rebounding and ball security are average and they can't score from inside the arc very well at all. Weirdly for a team that shoots so many jumpers, they are excellent at getting to the line. It all adds up to an offense just inside the top 50 in the nation.

On defense, they thrive on forcing tough shots, ranking 26th in the nation in defensive EFG%. They also clean the glass well, hanging out just inside the top 100 in defensive rebounding percentage. They don't force turnovers, and they can be fairly foul prone. They block a lot of shots, especially through Theo John.

Players

Starters

Starting matchups
Markus Howard Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Senior Class Senior
5'11", 180 Measurements 6'4", 194
26.8/3.3/2.9 Game line 7.2/2.6/4.1
42.1/43.9/86.3 Shooting line 34.4/26.2/62.9
Howard is the best scorer in the Big East. He's been at 30 points or more in six of Marquette's 16 games and has a higher usage rate than any other high major player.
Koby McEwen Shooting Guard Paul Scruggs
Junior Class Junior
6'4", 205 Measurements 6'4", 196
9.8/4.7/3 Game line 14.9/4.5/2.5
32.2/31.1/85.7 Shooting line 52.7/37.7/75
McEwen initiates the offense and handles the ball when Howard doesn't. Offensively he's a non-entity except from the line. Defensively he's a big body for a guard and hits the glass well.
Sacar Anim Small Forward Naji Marshall
Senior Class Junior
6'5", 210 Measurements 6'7", 222
12/3.9/1.3 Game line 16.8/5.8/3.5
45.3/42/61 Shooting line 44.5/28.4/73.2
A good shooter from deep but limited inside and from the line, Anim tends to run and cold. He scored 21 against Maryland, six against Villanova.
Brendan Bailey Power Forward Jason Carter
Sophomore Class Junior
6'8", 200 Measurements 6'8", 227
7.9/5.4/1.6 Game line 6.1/3.5/0.3
41.7/38.6/60 Shooting line 50/25/77.1
Bailey cleans the glass, blocks shots, and picks his spots from deep. Those are the things he's good at, and that's what he does.
Theo John Center Tyrique Jones
Junior Class Senior
6'9", 225 Measurements 6'9", 239
4.8/4.8/0.8 Game line 13.5/9.8/1.1
45.5/0/56.3 Shooting line 52.1/0/62.6
John blocks 10% of opponent's shots that go up while he's on the floor. He's a solid defensive rebounder and decent interior scorer who is hampered by poor free throw shooting and a penchant for fouling everyone he can reach.

Reserves

Greg Elliott has been the bench depth in the guard spots, but he's game-to-game with a knock on his ankle. He's shooting 45% from deep and has been a sticky defender. Jayce Johnson is a 7' grad transfer center from Utah. He is a colossus on the glass at both ends, but he's no scoring threat and has a turnover problem. Also, he's shooting 43% from the line.

In the frontcourt, Ed Morrow and Jamal Cain are the same guy in two different uniforms. They're 6'7", good rebounders at both ends, and solid defenders who don't use too many possessions on offense. Cain is a more efficient scorer; Morrow will block a few more shots.

Symir Torrence is a deep bench option at guard as a freshman. He's still waiting on his first Big East two-point bucket and has some turnover issues, but he has good distribution numbers and is shooting 40% from deep.

Three questions:

- Can Xavier keep Howard from wrecking their defense? In the past two games things have gone downhill when teams started hitting from deep. First it was Quincy McKnight forcing Q to go over screens, then it was Mitch Ballock going nuts. Howard is a far better player than either of them. Xavier has to decide whether they think they can contain everyone else while Howard gets his and risk his being 51, or try to slow Howard at the risk of pulling the defense out of shape.

- Does Xavier have a bench? 8/7/1 isn’t a bad line for a player in one game. That’s Xavier’s bench line from the last two games combined. That is, needless to say, awful. The Musketeers have to get some production from the bench at some point. Bryce Moore’s 17 minute psuedo-trillion is emblematic of the struggles of anyone who hasn’t been starting.

- How does Q fit? Xavier’s much maligned point guard is still doing the things he does well pretty well. Unfortunately, he seems to be leaning into his weaknesses more than his strengths. After being told by Travis Steele to drive the ball into the defense, he shot 0-6 behind the arc in a single half and watched the final 15 minutes of the Creighton game from the bench. In those 15 minutes KyKy Tandy and Bryce Moore took turns demonstrating they can’t run the offense effectively yet. Q is a needed piece on this team, he just needs to play to his strengths and trust his teammates to do the scoring.

Three keys

-Take Theo John out of the game. In Marquette's losses, John is averaging under 13 minutes of play. In three of those, he got into foul trouble, which he's prone to (6.3 fouls per 40 minutes). John averages 22 minutes per game in Marquette wins and is far and away the team's best defender per Sports Reference. Getting him off the floor can be a big boost for X.

-Play to form. Xavier is 10th in the 10-team Big East in defensive efficiency, which sources have confirmed to me is not good. However, a couple of things have been positive for Xavier's defense, one of which has been their three-point defense, which has remained solid. There's a chance the Muskies could boost their defensive numbers by leaning into the one thing they're doing well because it happens to be the one thing Marquette's offense relies on.

-Avoid the big run. There is a sense in which this barely counts, because it's blindingly obvious that you don't want to let the opponent score like 17 straight points. This is a key like remembering your uniforms and showing up to the right gym is a key. However, Xavier has shown they can play with anyone if they don't have a four-minute spell when they just stare idly into space while the game happens around them. As always, that will doom them tonight.