For the first time since 2015 Xavier will be playing for a Big East Tournament Championship. That game itself did not go so well, and we’ll obviously be hoping for much better come tip-off.
It’s no secret how both of these teams got here. X survived a quarterfinal scare against a scorching hot DePaul before punking Creighton in the Semi. Marquette also got a scare in their first game, but held St. John’s to no made baskets in OT to sneak out victors. The Golden Eagles then held on against a UConn team who stormed back into the game before soiling themselves in the closing stretch.
We already know what Marquette is at this point. They lead the nation in 2p%, share the ball extremely well, and barely turn it over. They are not an elite 3-point shooting team, but they hoist quite a few and have a few guys who can heat up quickly. While they don’t play as quickly as X, they’re not afraid to get up and down the court in a hurry.
Like most Shaka Smart teams, these guys love to create turnovers. While it’s not exactly like Havoc, they are still 18th in the nation on defensive TO% and 6th in steal%. The turnovers cover for the lack of defense found elsewhere. Opponents shoot 35.5% from three against the Golden Eagles, and just over 50% from inside the arc. Marquette isn’t blessed with size and their guards routinely have to sag away from the arc to help out in the paint. Exploiting this will be key.
You’ve seen the grid on these guys twice already. Today is going to look a little bit different when we look at the players.
Love it or hate it (Brad definitely hates it) Tyler Kolek runs this team. He’s 3rd in the country in assist rate while hardly turning the ball over. The guy has also turned himself into a legitimate scoring threat thanks to his quickness, craftiness in the lane, and hugely improved three point shooting. He’s very fun to watch when he’s not torching your team.
Kam Jones leads the team in scoring, and is far from scared to lift from deep. He shoots 36% from three on 257 attempts, but also shoots 64% inside the arc. He had been somewhat forgotten about against UConn before lifting, and burying, a logo three. He can easily take games over, barely turns the ball over, but is not great at the line on the rare occasion he gets there.
Oso Ighodaro is the tallest starter at just 6’9” but has freakish athleticism to compensate for any size he gives up. Oso never shoots threes, but doesn’t need to since he shoots 66% from inside the arc. His lack of size does leave him, and the whole team, vulnerable on the glass.
O Max Prosper also brings high-level athleticism, but also has a jumpshot. He doesn’t light it up from deep, but it’s enough to keep defenders honest. He’s also a solid free throw shooter who gets to the line often. Prosper is also a very solid defender, probably the best on the team. His size and athleticism makes him a viable option anywhere on the perimeter and on most four-men.
Rounding out the starting five is Stevie Mitchell. Mitchell doesn’t chase his own shot, but is excellent inside the arc. His deep shooting is well below average, but he also rarely turns the ball over.
David Joplin is option 1A off the bench for Marquette. He averages 9ppg and shoots 40% from deep while also shooting 82% from the line. Joplin had a stinker against St. John’s before torching UConn for 17 points in just 18 minutes. He also brought home 6th Man of the Year honors, mostly thanks to Jerome Hunter becoming a starter.
The rest of the bench sees considerably fewer shots than Joplin, but Chase Ross has seen some decent run at MSG thus far. He does what every bench guy should do and shoots well on low usage, takes care of the ball, and hits his free throws. Sean Jones and Ben Gold are separated by nearly a full foot on a measuring stick, but both have seen limited time at the Garden.
Can we play defense? After getting torched by a poor DePaul team on Thursday, X shut Creighton down almost completely just one night later. Souley Boum gave Ryan Nembhard fits all night, and a combination of Colby Jones and Des Claude stayed glued to Trey Alexander every time he touched the ball. It may be unreasonable to expect the defense to be at that level again, but if Boum can avoid getting torched off the bounce every time his man touches the ball, it’ll vastly improve Xavier’s chances.
Can X limit turnovers? The comeback against DePaul was only possible because of X committing only one TO. They played clean against Creighton with only 10. In the loss at Marquette, it was a staggering 17 TOs that eventually cost X the win. Obviously, turnovers are bad, I’m not splitting the atom with that one. Limiting the turnovers means more chances for X to exploit their mismatches, and not giving away freebies. Plus, it’s gotta be embarrassing carrying that rock with you everywhere you go.
Can we do it? All stats, brackets, seeding and everything else aside, this would be awesome. For a few years, X was the team that was right with Villanova in terms on conference and tournament success. The one BET final X went to they got destroyed by a juggernaut of a Nova team. Things have changed since then. Nova is no longer the king, X has gagged a few golden seasons away in heartbreaking fashion, and for 38 minutes on Thursday night, it seemed like it was gonna happen again. Less than 48 hours later though, X will play for a BET championship. After a few years of choking on opening night, we’re right back where we should be, and it would be huge to seal the deal.
Get on the glass. Marquette doesn’t bring a lot of size, and X brings a 7 footer and Big Rome. Both Nunge and Hunter get on the offensive glass well and getting some extra possessions will be huge. Marquette pulled back 15 Orebs the last time the two teams played and one of those was a game winner. X just held Creighton to only 7 Orebs and need to bring that same energy to this one.
Get rolling early. Against Creighton, X played with intensity from the tip. They can’t afford to sleepwalk through the opening 10 minutes against the conference champs and have any chance at pulling it out. Be locked in from the tip, and it’s anyone’s game.
GET THIS DUB. It’s the Big East Tournament Championship. Whatever, however, whoever, just get it done. That’s all that matters.