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Xavier @ Marquette: Preview, Matchups, Keys to the game

Xavier tires to go 2-0 on their road trip when they visit a Golden Eagles squad coming off their biggest win of the season.

NCAA Basketball: Marquette at Villanova
The refs rightly ruled him down by contact.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

When these teams met for the first time this season to open Big East play, Xavier was a week removed from obliterating UC, Marquette was coming off a loss to UCLA, and the Musketeers struggled early before Dwon Odom sparked them to life at the end of the first half and they were able to hold off Marquette’s second half fightback.

Since the Marquette has cratered, losing their next two games to start Big East play 0-3, before catching fire and beating Providence, Georgetown, DePaul, Seton Hall, and, most recently and most notably, Villanova. Marquette now sits at 5th in the Big East and has set themselves well for a return to the NCAA tournament in year one under Shaka Smart.

Team Fingerprint

This Marquette team loves to play fast, inefficient offense. They are not spectacular at shooting the ball at any level and are solid but not great at taking care of it. What they do is share the ball better than almost anyone in the country. 66% of their baskets are assisted, ranking 4th nationally and behind only Arizona among high majors. Because of their emphasis on transition, they essentially cede the offensive glass with only one player coming in above 7% among regular performers.

Defensively, this is the lowest ranked team Smart has had since his first season at Texas. They are not great at forcing turnovers, but do a good job of forcing bad shots. Their problems come after forcing those bad shots, as they give their opponent another crack at it almost a third of the time, ranking 297th in the nation in defensive rebounding.

Players

Starters
Tyler Kolek Point Guard Paul Scruggs
Freshman Class Senior
6'3", 190 Measurements 6'5", 198
6.4/4/6.4 Game line 11/4.5/4.3
29.7/23.1/84 Shooting line 39.3/30.4/73.7
Kolek is a George Mason transfer and the Big East leader in assist rate. He can be turnover prone and faced foul trouble at X, but he affects the game in a big way without scoring, which is good because his shooting numbers are not great.
Darryl Morsell Shooting Guard Nate Johnson
Senior Class Senior
6'5", 205 Measurements 6'4", 192
13.6/3.6/2.4 Game line 11.6/2.8/0.9
45.1/39.5/81 Shooting line 47.8/43.3/72.7
Morsell transferred in as the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and will draw the opponent's best perimeter scorer. He shoots the ball well for a defensive specialist, especially since conference play began, and it was his 26 point effort against Seton Hall that set the table for the refs to grab the headlines.
Olivier-Maxence Prosper Small Forward Colby Jones
Freshman Class Sophomore
6'8", 220 Measurements 6'6", 207
5.9/3.4/1.1 Game line 11.3/8.1/2.5
43/30.3/79.3 Shooting line 48.8/33.3/68.1
Prosper is long and uses that to create steals at the highest rate on the team in conference play. He is a sporadic offensive force, often being the 4th or 5th option, but did go for 22 against Georgetown. He rebounds pretty poorly for his size at both ends.
Justin Lewis Power Forward Jerome Hunter
Freshman Class Junior
6'7", 245 Measurements 6'8", 210
15.6/7.6/1.6 Game line 6/2.2/2.3
43/30.3/77.5 Shooting line 60.6/33.3/80
Lewis shoots on a higher number of his team's possessions than anyone else in the Big East, although his shooting numbers aren't exactly those of Markus Howard. Lewis uses his explosive athleticism to make himself hard to guard and has added a much improved jumper to make himself a greater threat this season. If he gets going, Marquette becomes a much more dangerous team.
Kur Kuath Center Zach Freemantle
Senior Class Junior
6'10", 215 Measurements 6'9", 220
5.5/4.7/0.5 Game line 8.3/5.1/1.5
66.2/0/50 Shooting line 42.7/18.8/78.3
Kuath is out there to block shots and not much else. At 6'10", he is markedly worse at rebounding than Colby Jones and he has cracked the double digits in scoring once all season. All that being said, he does really block shots pretty well and can make tough for opposing bigs, which does not bode well for a team with Xavier's recent struggles in the lane.
Reserves

Greg Elliot is the headliner of the group, having been a sporadic starter in his first 3 years at Marquette. He is shooting a gaudy 52% from three, although that number has dipped to 51.7% in conference play. He scores the ball well inside the arc as well and can set teammates up, but his rebounding impacts is essentially nonexistent and he can struggle on defense. Kam Jones is a freshman guard who provides a scoring punch as well, having dropped 15 on K-State and 14 on Providence. Oso Ighodaro is the main big off the bench and seemingly the only player Marquette has that is concerned with offensive rebounding. He shoots 78% from two on 3.6 attempts per game, so he scores efficiently but infrequently.

Three Questions

  • Can Xavier score inside? Over the past 3 games, Xavier has had various struggles scoring the ball inside, although their 14-20 performance against DePaul represented a marked improvement. Against Kuath, Xavier will have their work cut out for them and it is imperative that Freemantle and Nunge impose themselves.
  • Which Marquette offense will show up? Marquette is a bit of a mixed bag on offense, even on this 5 game winning streak. They have had games where they dominated inside, they shot 8-22 from inside the arc against Nova and still won because of their 13-29 from three. They hit 9 threes against both Xavier and Wisconsin, but lost those games and yet survived a 5-17 performance against Illinois to win. They are capable of torching the nets and equally capable of shooting 17-56 and losing to St. Bonaventure.
  • Is it Dwon’s game again? In the first game between these two teams, Dwon Odom was the standout player, drawing rave reviews from commentators, fans, and both coaches. Since Xavier’s 17 day break, Odom has 5 total points. He was magnificent against Butler and Creighton, but has been nowhere near as prominent in the offense as he was against Marquette the first time around. Is time to call his number again and see if he can make the most of his size and athleticism advantage over Kolek again?

Three Keys

  • Press the advantage on the glass. There are few high majors who are hopeless on the boards as this Marquette team. Xaiver saw themselves how much it helps an offense when they get a third of their misses back when DePaul did just that. 33% offensive rebounding rate should be the goal for Xavier in this one and would go a long way to avoiding the same fate as Nova, who got just 27% back.
  • Keep Lewis quiet. Simply put, Justin Lewis is going to shoot until he gets his. The first time these teams met, he had 15 points on 5-15 from the floor and was kept from taking the game over. Elliot and Morsell stepped up to make it a contest, but Marquette struggled without their main scorer being effective. Marquette is 9-1 when his ORTG is above 100 this season and 4-5 when it isn’t. If Jones and Hunter can hassle him into another bad day, X will have a much better chance.
  • Make Kolek defend. Tyler Kolek is a wonderful distributor of the ball and makes Marquette’s offense tick when he is at his best. He wasn’t the first time these teams met because he struggled to keep Dwon Odom and Paul Scruggs in front of him without fouling. He had 4 fouls in 22 minutes of action the first time out as Xaiver’s relentless driving meant he had to watch Marquette’s offense founder for much of the 2nd half so that he didn’t foul out.