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Warriors in winning time

When it comes to games Xavier has to have with their backs against the wall, the Muskies have two of the toughest dogs in the fight.

NCAA Basketball: Providence at Xavier
These two are nails.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Say you're on the bubble in February. Where you are right now is immaterial; you need to compile wins and avoid losses if you want to hear your name called. Imagine you're in that situation, pretend you're the head coach.

There's a twist, though: you get to pick your top two guys. What do you want?

Suppose I could offer you a wing with great height, length, and athletic ability? What if he also shot 40% from deep and had an EFG% of 56.3%? If he also boarded, could guard anyone from the quickest guards to the strongest bigs, and found time to dish out almost 4 assists per game, would you be interested in that dude?

If you felt like that guy gave you a solid foundation on the perimeter, could I interest you in a post? How about an efficient scorer who dropped 13 a game on a very nice EFG% of 69.69%? Maybe also a beast on the boards, ripping down 10 a game without caring which end they're on, all while protecting the paint and giving your team an emotional as well as a physical anchor? We'd all sign on for that.

As you may have guessed, Xavier has two such guys in Naji Marshall and Tyrique Jones. After laboring in the shade provided by the JP Macura/Trevon Bluiett recruiting class, those two have been Xavier's stretch-run horses the last two years. The results have been remarkable.

In 8 February games over the last two years - all of them in the league, all of them with their backs against the wall - Marshall and Jones have helped lead Xavier to a 6-2 record. They're 4-0 in KenPom B tier games and 2-1 in A tier games.

Tyrique has been a wild boar in the paint. Along with the aforementioned 13 and 10 on the gaudy 69.69% EFG%, he has averaged almost half an hour of playing time a game, a testament to his heart, conditioning, and discipline in staying out of foul trouble. He's also averaging 2 blocks per game. Xavier has ridden him like Seattle Slew.

Speaking of horses, Naji has been a thoroughbred when the chips are down. In those 8 games, he's averaging 20/6/4 and shooting the lights out with a line of .467/.397/.658. He's also as versatile a defender as there is, with his greatest hits stretching from holding Alpha Diallo to 7 on 2-10 shooting to his recent lockdown on Myles Powell. All this while fighting through back and leg problems last year and the flu on Saturday. He's just tough.

All this doesn't add up to any guaranteed wins for Xavier. They still have to go into DePaul and beat a team with 4 KenPom A tier wins on the year, then try to battle through a Big East schedule that offers opportunity but no reprieve. Heading into that battle, though, there's not two guys you'd rather have at the head of the column than Naji Marshall and Tyrique Jones.