The one theme running through Marquette’s season, other than inconsistency, is a struggle against teams that move the ball well. In losses to Oklahoma St, Seton Hall, UConn, and Xavier, teams that have racked up high assist rates have had success against the Golden Eagles defense. The Xavier Musketeers are currently seventh in the nation in assist rate at 63.9%. To make that pay against Marquette, though, they are going to need to adjust a couple of things.
For starters, the three man weave that Xavier employed against Providence and Georgetown early in both games is going to have to go by the wayside. In both of those games Xavier’s offense sputtered as it moved horizontally across the top of the key. The conscious decision to slow the game was undone by a complete lack of penetration once it came time to go. Contrast this to the Creighton game, where Xavier slowed the pace but then got into organized sets and used their guards to attack Creighton’s slower footed bigs and wings.
That means that Zach Freemantle will have to go where he is effective. Xavier needs their lone productive big under the rim, not setting screens 25 feet from the basket. Freemantle’s thoroughly mediocre three point shooting does not make up for the loss of rebounding that is presented when a shot goes up with him lingering near the arc. Freemantle doesn’t just have to be an old school back to the basket big man, but he does need post touches to lengthen the floor on the offensive end and get Xavier’s guards moving downhill.
That, finally, brings us to personnel. There is absolutely no denying that Kyky Tandy changed the game against Georgetown when he came in. His ability to both space the floor and attack gives him a dimension that Xavier is missing without Nate Johnson. Dwon Odom is not a shooter and Colby Jones is more of a mid range player. A guard that can both shoot and move gives X the dimension they need to exploit a defense that struggles to rotate.
Xavier is best served utilizing Tandy by going to a smaller lineup. In Jason Carter’s last three games, a span in which he has played 76 minutes, he has posted a cumulative line of 2/11/4. That is a mediocre game, it’s an awful three game span. Sacrificing Carter means that X could work Tandy into the starting lineup with Jones at the risk of putting a much smaller player on Dawson Garcia. The shift in lineup would mean Xavier was essentially committing to winning the game on the offensive end.
Ultimately, Xavier will have to knock down shots to capitalize on Marquette’s struggles in containing quick passing. In most of those games it has been wing players that capitalize on Jamal Cain and Koby McEwen rather than a pure guard initiating from the point. Marquette has countered that by introducing Greg Elliot into the rotation more, occasionally at the cost of Theo John. That switch would also allow Xavier to go smaller.
Our game preview will go farther in depth on the game, but it is worth watching how Xavier comes out of the gates. If the team stays in the slow moving weave they have been using, it will put the Golden Eagles in a situation they can defend better. With the season on the line, it might be time to throw the dice.