Marquette Basketball Big East Preview: versus Xavier Musketeers

Date: Saturday 6th March 2021
Time: 8 p.m. Central
Place: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Dawson Garcia, 13.2 / game
Rebounds: Dawson Garcia, 6.6 / game
Helps: DJ Carton, 3.4 / game

Xavier Statistics Guide

Points: Zach Freemantle, 7/16 / game
Rebounds: Zach Freemantle, 9.2 / game
Helps: Paul Scruggs, 5.9 / game

KenPom.com rankings

Marquette: # 76
Xavier: # 56
Game projection: Somehow, Marquette has a 51% chance of winning with a projected score of 73-72.

Last time out: Ah yeah, on December 20th, when Marquette had a post-season future, you could take a three-point loss on the road and just throw your hands up and say, “Well, some guy hit a crazy second chance shot , well. ”

Marquette was leading in the middle of the first half by nine and Xavier by almost six minutes by eight. MU honestly had nothing to do with being tied 25 seconds before the end. Xavier was one minute ahead of six, but the Musketeers missed some free throws and messed up Koby McEwen while raining with three pointers to turn it into a four-point game. MU made the first stop in the last game of the game to force overtime but got an unlucky jump and gave Adam Kunkel a tip for the game winner. Well, or at least we could all say that back then.

Since we last met: For Xavier it went south. Not immediately. The game took place on a Sunday and the next day the 8-0 Musketeers appeared in the AP poll in 21st place. That was their first ranking of the season …… and their only one. They’d lose their next two games en route to 5-6 as Kunkel hit that shot to win the big stuffed animal. After a three-game winning streak in the middle of it all, the X-Men drifted back into the top 25, but have only gone 2-4 since then. In all honesty, Xavier is fighting for her post-season life at this point. Bracket Matrix has them in 100 of the 107 projections tracked on March 4th, two days after looking lifeless for most of their 72-66 loss to Georgetown. They only project as a # 11 seed, just five points from the cut line, and a loss to Marquette, a loss in Quadrant 2 where the Golden Eagles hover in the NET in the ’90s, could mean the end of their chances.

Free fun time: I don’t even know if it’s possible to properly gauge what to expect from this game, at least not from a “This is what happened last time, Marquette has to do it again this time / avoid this time”.

Neither team played anything that resembled defense in the first meeting. Marquette lost, scoring 1.28 points per possession, according to KenPom.com. Both teams shot over 44% behind the three-point line, including a 54% day from the Musketeers thanks to Paul Scruggs and Nate Johnson who combined for a 9v14 win. Both teams were good at hitting the open man, with MU assisting the buckets at 53% and Xavier at a staggering 70%. But again, no defense is played, so that’s not surprising. With the same mindset, neither team flipped the ball that many times, and both sides had rates below 18%.

Xavier’s death could spread because they are actually number 7 in the country in terms of support rate. Neither team is forcing very much defense sales, so this is likely to happen again. But shooting for both teams? It probably won’t happen again. It’s just unlikely that either team will, even if these are two of the four worst defense mechanisms in the Great East this season.

The biggest change for Marquette in terms of her approach to Xavier has to be the absence of the aforementioned Nate Johnson. Gardner Webb’s senior transfer shot 45% out of three-point land this season (although “only” 36% in Big East games) and will miss the rest of the season with an injury.

As mentioned earlier, his 4v6 long distance shooting was a pretty big part of why Xavier beat Marquette in December. He had started every game for head coach Travis Steele until injury. It looks like Dwon Odom has been added to Johnson’s starting line-up, which in itself is a big deal. Odom started the first seven games of the year for Xavier and had received some rave reviews early on. COVID logs kept him away from the MU game earlier this year, and he has not returned to the starting XI since then. In fact, in Xavier’s first three games in February, Odom had only played nine minutes against Connecticut, five against St. John’s and 13 against Butler. It sure looks like Steele didn’t really want to use Odom that much, but his hand was now being forced.

Without Johnson, Xavier would not have a reliable three-point shooter. Paul Scruggs is the second best man on the team of the year overall … but he only shoots 33.8%. KyKy Tandy hits 37% of his attempts, but the 22 minutes he played in the Georgetown loss was the first time he hit double digits in 2021. Scruggs shoots 36% on three in Big East competitions, so at least the Musketeers do that for them … but he’s only 5-for-23 (22%) in their last six games and 3-for-11 (27%) ) without Johnson on the floor in the last three games.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 4-6, with wins in three of their last four games. The four wins in this stretch of 10 games: Butler x2, DePaul and inexplicably North Carolina on the road.

Xavier Last 10 matches: 5-5, losing four of the last six games and two of the last three. Since January 11th, Xavier has hit Butler and Creighton twice at home and that’s it.

All time series: Marquette leads, 53-25. Xavier is Marquette’s third most popular opponent since 1949/50, only behind DePaul and Wisconsin.

Current series: Xavier’s win in Cincinnati earlier this season ended a streak of four wins in that streak for Marquette. The Golden Eagles have still won six of the last nine games, but one side or the other have won both games in the last five seasons respectively.

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@ BannerParkway – our friends from SB Nation who follow Xavier
@ BenSteeleMJS – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel MU Beatwriter

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