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

Not sure how many different ways I can write that Xavier needs a win to arrest their slide. The opportunity du jour comes against a Marquette team that beat them by 20 two weeks ago.

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Marquette Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Challenges and opportunities are two sides of the same coin in college basketball, and Xavier certainly has that coin in hand right now. Sitting at 2-5 in conference and riding a 30-spot slide in the KenPom since Big East play began, the Muskies have their work cut out for them if they want to get back into the tournament conversation. Fortunately, resume games abound on the road ahead.

The first of those is Marquette. The Golden Eagles probably feel a little hard done by to be sitting at 4-4 in conference. Their four wins have come by an average of a dozen points, and two of their losses have come in overtime. They're sitting in the middle of the league, but they'll feel like they have the chops of a team that could have challenged for the title if things broke differently.

Team fingerprint

Not much has changed since these teams met on the Ides of January. Marquette still relies on the three for a large chunk of their offense and is just kind of average at everything else. They execute well from the line, which is a big factor if this game is close and late.

Despite blocking a lot of shots, they can still be scored on from inside. They don't force a lot of turnovers and generally concede the arc, which is of debatable value to Xavier. They defend the glass fairly well, and they crushed X on both ends in that department when they first played.

Personnel

Starters

Starting matchups
Markus Howard Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Senior Class Senior
5'11", 180 Measurements 6'4", 194
28.3/3.4/3.1 Game line 6.8/2.6/4
41.5/40.6/85.3 Shooting line 32.3/25/62.2
He's great and he scores in bunches. There's no need to overanalyze Howard, he's amazing.
Koby McEwen Shooting Guard Paul Scruggs
Junior Class Junior
6'4", 205 Measurements 6'4", 196
9.8/5.2/3.2 Game line 13.8/4.6/2.9
33.8/33.8/84.2 Shooting line 48.4/35.4/72.2
The Utah State transfer was very efficient in the first meeting between the teams. He's inconsistent at best, though, following up zero against Creighton with 22 against Villanova.
Sacar Anim Small Forward Naji Marshall
Senior Class Junior
6'5", 210 Measurements 6'7", 222
13/4.1/1.4 Game line 16.7/5.7/3.5
44.7/42.3/64.8 Shooting line 44.1/30.1/72.8
Anim is hot right now, scoring 21 and 22 in his last two games. His three point shooting makes him a serious weapon to offset complete reliance on Howard. When he's going, Marquette is tough.
Brendan Bailey Power Forward Jason Carter
Sophomore Class Junior
6'8", 220 Measurements 6'8", 227
8.1/5.5/1.4 Game line 7.3/5.2/1.6
43.7/39.5/56.3 Shooting line 41.7/25.6/82.9
Bailey is very efficient and is shooting the three at 38% in conference play. He's not a great rebounder, but he makes up for that with athleticism and the ability to score at three levels.
Theo John Center Tyrique Jones
Senior Class Senior
6'9", 255 Measurements 6'9", 239
5/5/0.8 Game line 13.3/9.9/1.3
47.8/0/58.9 Shooting line 52.9/0/61.5
If the rest of the Eagles are scaples, John is the hammer. He's here to clean up messes, block shots, and foul people, all of which he does well.

Reserves

Greg Elliot is the first guard off the bench and averages more time than starting big Theo John. He’s listed as doubtful with an ankle injury today, but he’s a knockdown three point shooter if he plays. Jamal Cain gets a lot of the time that John loses to his incessant fouling. He both cleans the defensive glass and is capable of knocking down outside shots when left with space.

The same cannot be said of seven footer Jayce Johnson, who plays much more like a traditional big man. Johnson is a monster on the offensive glass, but fouls at a rate that even Theo John thinks is excessive. With Ed Morrow on indefinite leave, Symir Torrence will see more time backing up the guards. Torrence is a very capable backup at everything other than ball security. His turnover rate of 30.8% leads the team.

Three questions

-Is Q back? Xavier's point guard has been something of a lightning rod among the fanbase, but there's no question perimeter play has suffered in the two games he has been out. Paul and Naji have shot 17-54 (31.5%) from the floor in his absence and combined to average just 22.5 points where they had been averaging 31. Goodin himself hasn't been a walking bucket, but the offense has missed his influence.

-Can Xavier slow down Markus Howard? Twice in seven regular season games has Xavier held Howard under 26. Earlier this year, he scored 35 on an ORtg of 135 and didn't look particularly troubled by anything the defense did. Nobody else on Marquette scored more than 12, but they didn't need another big scorer since Howard was getting buckets at will.

-Will Tyrique have a moment? Xavier's center didn't seem too keen on his opposite number, Theo John, in the last contest between these teams.

Three Keys:

- Come ready to play. Xavier gets routed early and never recovers. If they let Howard get going or can’t score themselves, this will be yet another game in which they dig a hole they can’t climb out of. If the Musketeers are in this game at the 10 minute mark in the first half, they should be in it for good.

-Dominate the glass. Xavier's rebounding has been somewhat lineup dependant this year, but there's no reason a group with at least two of Naji Marshall, Tyrique Jones, Jason Carter, and Zach Freemantle on the floor at any given time should get punked the way they did at Fiserv. Stops are worthless without boards, and Xavier needs to seal their own stops and ruin as many of Marquette's as possible to bring this one home.

-Be the tougher team. X dominated 50/50 plays against Georgetown. For years, the program's brand has been built around guys who didn't back down from any fight, any place. They need that tonight; the season is approaching the brink.