“How did it come to this?” In Peter Jackson’s epic Lord of the Rings series Bernard Hill, playing King Theoden, asks this on the eve of a battle he does not expect to survive. He is surrounded by evil in a situation that he was unable to change. Xavier is similarly girding up for a battle for the end times, surely wondering how a season that started so well now ends up in this. Xavier has one game left in their season. One chance to grab a win that could very well see them land an NCAA tournament bid.
They do that against a Marquette team that is plagued by inconsistency. The Golden Eagles lost three straight, then won two straight including a hiding of UNC, then got crushed by UConn before beating DePaul. Marquette has lost three straight three separate times this year. They have also beaten UNC, Creighton, and Wisconsin. Marquette on their day are a stern opponent. Marquette on a bad day lose to DePaul at home.
Marquette plays slowly and tries to work the ball inside. They don’t shoot particularly well from anywhere and are, indeed, even worse than Xavier from behind the arc. In addition to shooting medicorely, the Golden Eagles turn the ball over at a 21% clip, good for 272nd in the nation. Marry that to offensive rebounding that doesn’t set the world alight and you should have a terrible offense. Instead, Marquette leans heavily into what they are good at and tries very hard to avoid shooting from deep. Those shots, as always, will be there against Xavier. It will be interesting to see if the Golden Eagles take them.
Defensively the Golden Eagles are elite at preventing points in the paint. Teams simply don’t convert well inside against them at all. Some of this comes from decent shot blocking, but most of it is just sold interior defense. What they don’t do is force turnovers at all, rebound, or defend the arc. Unlike with their offense, all of those pieces do add up to a defense that can be had.
Marquette is led by the duo of DJ Carton (12.7/3.9/3.4) and Dawson Garcia (13.2/6.6/.8) who lead the team in scoring. Carton distributes well but turns the ball over at a truly alarming rate and is shooting only 29% from deep on the year. He does shoot well inside the arc and from the line. Garcia gets on the offensive glass pretty well and is a solid shooter from everywhere. He also takes care of the ball much better than most of his teammates. Koby McEwen (10.9/3.8/3.0) is a respectable shooter from deep but is shooting just 44% from inside the arc. He does get to the line well and shoots well from there. Much like Carton, McEwen throws the ball to the wrong team almost as much as his own. Jamal Cain (9.6/6.2/1.0) and Theo John (8.3/5.3/1.2) round out the starting 5 for Marquette. Cain shoots decently but not spectacularly from everywhere and gets on the defensive glass very well. Theo John blocks and deters shots at the rim but this also means he doesn’t rebound the greatest. Offensively, he shoots well inside, turns the ball over a lot and shoots an astounding 75% from 3. It’s only on 4 attempts but that’s still interesting.
Marquette is 304th in the nation in bench minutes and there’s good reason for that. Justin Lewis (8.3/5.3/1.2) gets a decent amount of run and rebound well at both ends while also blocking shots pretty well. Greg Elliot (6.0/1.7/.8) has a good steal rate and bombs away from three at a 44% clip. Symir Torrence barely plays and, much like his teammates, turns the ball over a lot and doesn’t shoot well from outside. This means he’ll probably have the game of his life tonight so be prepared.
- Who is healthy? Nate Johnson isn’t. Beyond that Xavier has Darius Miles working off a knee injury, Adam Kunkel so banged up he hasn’t practiced, and Paul Scruggs still working off the effects of the injury that saw him miss some time in the last game. All hands need to be on deck for this one.
- Will anyone make a shot? Marquette gives up threes, but Xavier cannot shoot them well at all. Since Nate Johnson was injured Xavier has dropped from 71st in the nation in three point shooting to 210th. That is not a typo. X needs to shoot at least 33% to have a chance. Five of their six losses have come when they shoot worse than that. Kyky Tandy is a good three point shooter. Just a thought.
- Can Travis Steele gameplan? Against Creighton Steele had a plan that the Musketeers came out and executed well to get what should have been a season defining win. Against Georgetown the Musketeers spent 30 minutes looking clueless before their frantic comeback. There won’t be a comeback like that on the cards against Marquette. Xavier needs a plan that works from the off.
- Limit them to one shot. Marquette doesn’t crash the boards super hard as a team but have a few guys who could give X trouble. Limiting their struggling offense to one chance every trip down the floor will be a huge boost and give X a chance to score in transition.
- Keep the ball moving. Marquette struggles against teams who keep the ball moving quickly. Getting everyone a touch and working inside and out will help keep their defense in rotation and allow for quick rips as well as open shots on slow rotoations or over-helping.
- Take the freebies. Marquette commits a lot of turnoevers and also allows a ton offensive rebounds. This doesn’t mean X has to sellout going for steals or crashing the boards but the chances will naturally be there and X will need to take them. In such an important game a quick stick back will be a big boost and help the Musketeers get a much needed win.