Conference play is here. The Xavier Musketeers emerge from the non conference schedule with a record 10-1, a resume as good as all but the best in the nation, and momentum. Aside from Kyky Tandy’s season ending surgery, not much has gone wrong for X so far. There are no more mid majors on the schedule though and no more home games against Norfolk State for getting right. Now it’s on to the big boy part of the schedule.
The start of that is Marquette. The Golden Eagles have had an up and down year. They’ve beaten Illinois and West Virginia, but lost to Wisconsin and UCLA and gotten pasted by St. Bonaventure. While Xavier comes into conference play needing to not do anything stupid in order to make the tournament, Marquette comes in need to bag some good wins in order to have a shot. Their first episode comes today.
Fast. Only four teams in the nation play at a higher tempo, only two average shorter offensive possessions. Marquette will go up and down the floor at pace. What they do with that pace is a matter of some inconsistency. Against WVU they managed 1.17 points per possession and shot the ball extremely well. Against SBU they scored .73 points per possession and shot a laughable 37.9% inside the arc. Marquette doesn’t profile as a team that does anything very well on offense. They are solid in two point shooting, generally speaking. Beyond that they have to get hot to hurt you.
Shaka Smart’s theory at VCU was that the refs can’t call all the fouls all the time. He has carried that, though not to the same extremes, to Marquette. The Golden Eagles have five players who average fouling out every 40 minutes, including their most efficient offensive player, Oso Ighodaro. Marquette doesn’t turn teams over much, but they block shots and defend inside the arc well. They don’t defend the three as well, but they do greatly limit their opponent’s looks from deep.
|Tyler Kolek||Point Guard||Paul Scruggs|
|6'3", 190||Measurements||6'5", 198|
|Travis Steele described Kolek as the straw that stirs the drink for Marquette, but his work has been something of a mixed bag. He has an elite assist rate, but his efficiency is submarined by mediocre ball security and bad shooting. He's shooting just 35% at the rim and has hoisted 50 threes despite hitting just 10. He's an active defender who leads the team in steal rate.|
|Kameron Jones||Shooting Guard||Nate Johnson|
|6'4", 185||Measurements||6'4", 192|
|Jones is almost entirely a shooter on offense. He's a solid finisher at the rim and purely a catch-and-shoot guy from behind the arc. He doesn't offer as much on defense as Kolek and is almost completely absent in the rebounding phase of the game.|
|Darryl Morsell||Small Forward||Colby Jones|
|6'7", 205||Measurements||6'6", 207|
|Morsell is an excellent defensive player who is having the most efficient offensive season of his career. He's a career 28% shooter from deep heading into this season, and he has improved his mark at the line by 20 points over last year. He's reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year; whomever he takes will have a rough matchup.|
|Justin Lewis||Power Forward||Jerome Hunter|
|6'7", 245||Measurements||6'8", 210|
|Lewis is a dominant defensive rebounder and an excellent defender. He's also an excellent interior scorer, shooting 78% at the rim and 57% inside the arc overall. Unfortunately for his efficiency numbers, he takes about 40% of his shots from deep despite being a career 25% shooter on threes.|
|Kur Kuath||Center||Dieonte Miles|
|6'10", 215||Measurements||6'11", 231|
|Late of Oklahoma (where he scored 8 on 4-5 shooting against X last year), Kuath is one of the finest rim protectors in the nation. He's in the top 10 nationally with a block rate of 14.7%. He also sports solid DReb% numbers and shoots 70% from inside the arc. He catches about 4 fouls per 40, which can occasionally take him out of games.|
Guard Greg Elliott missed the first four games with disciplinary issues, but he's back and averaging 6.4/1.3/0.9 on his young season. He's shooting 52% from deep and hit 6-9 last time out against UCLA. Freshman Stevie Mitchell provides the rest of the guard depth. He's averaging 4.2/1.5/1.4 and is a solid defender, though the 5 fouls he averages every 40 minutes somewhat dilute his effectiveness.
Olivier-Maxence Prosper is a freshman forward averaging 4.9/3.7/0.9. He's a decent defensive rebounder and an excellent free throw shooter, but he's posting an EFG% of just 40.4%. At 6'9", 215, Oso Ighodaro is a mini Kur Kuath off the bench. He's a good shot blocker in his own right, posts similar rebounding numbers (though his are slightly better than Kuath's on the offensive end), and averages 4.7/4.4/0.9 on 70% shooting inside the arc.
David Joplin is a stretch four who provides the last line of depth for the team. His minutes have dropped since Elliott returned, but he's a solid shooter from deep. On the whole, Marquette gets about 35% of their minutes off the bench, just inside the top 100 in the country. Only a handful of teams in D1 are less experienced than the Golden Eagles.
- How does Xavier handle the step up? Things get a bit more heightened in conference play. That’s not to say Marquette is the best team Xavier has played so far, they aren’t. The Big East isn’t the same as non-conference though, and things from here on out very much matter. There are no more breaks, no chances to get right. X needs to start on the right foot.
- Can Xavier exploit the Marquette defense? Marquette defends the interior well, but they can be had beyond the arc. Since Iowa State, Xavier is shooting over 42% from deep. Some inside out game will be needed to start, but if Nate Johnson and Adam Kunkel can get going, they’ll have their opportunities to gash the Golden Eagles.
- Is Zach Freemantle ready? Frosty started Xavier’s last game and has played 20 or more minutes four times. In a total of 40 minutes against Ball and Morehead State, he went for 33/12/7. Against UC and Oklahoma State in nearly the same amount of time, he was good for 11/7/2. Freemantle needs to be ready for top tier competition for Xavier to succeed.
Bonus: Whither KyKy Tandy? Tandy hasn’t lived up to the hype that followed him to Xavier, but a lot of that has been rotten luck. The latest comes in the form of a season ending surgery for a left leg stress fracture in a season in which he simply couldn’t stop being sick. From the foot injury his freshman year that robbed him of his prodigious bounce to never quite finding the rotation last year, Tandy has had a rough go at Xavier. Armchair psychologists have read way too much into his facial expressions, but the simple fact is a talented kid has stayed where he committed and has consistently tweeted things about perseverance. It’s hard not to feel gutted for him now.
- Rebound. Marquette cedes the offensive glass and isn’t much better on the defensive. Xavier should crush them on both ends. Do that and this game is one big step closer to winning.
- Match Marquette’s depth. It seems weird to say given Xavier’s rotation, but the Golden Eagles go deeper than the Musketeers right now. With both Dieonte Miles and Cesare Edwards recovering from the flu and Tandy obviously out, Xavier may need Ben Stanley to play some actual minutes or Jerome Hunter to stay in this new vein of offensive respectability he has found.
- Don’t get sucked into running. A team that struggles to control the ball and extremely high pace are not a good mix. Xavier needs to have the discipline to walk the ball up the floor, initiate offense, and work for good shots. Early shot clock threes or attempting to score consistently on the run out are recipes for Marquette to crank the pace even higher and for Xavier to struggle. The Musketeers can play quickly, but a tempo in the upper 60s will suit them better than one in the mid 70s.