I did the preview for the first Xavier game a few weeks ago. Honestly, not much has changed with them. They’ve had a couple poor trends with their defensive rebounding and two point defense, but their overall adjusted efficiency hasn’t moved much. There aren’t any injuries that I know of. Also, J.P. Macura is wearing sleeves again, and that’s very important. You can read that first post if you want a more in depth look at their team and their strengths and weaknesses. I mainly want to talk about something else.
By now we’ve all heard that the path to the tournament is essentially guaranteed with a 10-8 Big East record or 9-9 with a Big East Tournament win. We all blocked that path into smaller segments to make it easier to digest. I did it myself in the preseason, back when I thought Creighton was going to suck and St. John’s was going to make a tournament run. Great job, idiot.
The segment that I’ve been paying the most attention to is the one we are currently in the back end of. Our cult leader/editor Brewtown Andy sent out this tweet before the Providence game, and it’s a pretty good summation of what needs to be done to get in the tournament. Winning 3 games in that brutal stretch not only means they picked up two good looking wins, but that they have the ability to win more games like it.
Look at that tweet again. Count the games they’ve won so far. It’s three. That’s more than the amount of NCAA Tournaments UConn has been in since they moved to the AAC, a conference that cripples UConn and every other team in the conference so much that they’ve been a multi-bid league every single year since its inception. The joke there is that UConn sucks and the Big East has no business letting them back in. But yeah, they’ve had three wins already in that stretch before the two toughest games.
For the next two games, Marquette is playing with house money. There’s no reason for the selection committee to even wipe their ass with the box scores of those games unless Marquette wins them, they lose by 50, or there is a weird toilet paper shortage at the hotel they’re staying at. There’s no real risk for these two games and they’re coming off a week long rest. This is the time for head coach Steve Wojciechowski to staple his balls to the wall and go all out. Tell the guards to go for every possible steal. Give Harry Froling the green light to see if he can get some comfort with his outside shot. Hell, let Matt Heldt play point guard. Actually, I really need Matt Heldt to play point guard. Just like Simeon could only die when he met the Messiah, I can only die when I see The Milkman break a press by himself.
Playing at Xavier and at home against Villanova are probably going to be the only two games where the reward of winning far outweighs the risk of losing. Don’t look now, but that Seton Hall win is looking worse by the day. You’re never going to believe it, but a Kevin Willard coached team is having a meltdown after the first of the year. The sucky part about getting a big win as a bubble team is that there’s another side to it. Beating a good team makes that team appear worse for losing to a subpar team, which kind of lessens the intended effect of said win. In Seton Hall’s case, that loss to Marquette couldn’t even be taken in isolation, as it was the first in a series of blowout losses that even Mark Turgeon would say is a disappointing use of resources. Whoever killed Khadeen Carrington really should come forward and tell us why they decided to wear his skin during basketball games.
Regardless of where Seton Hall ends up, snagging that other statement win should not be expected to happen in the next week. This team should use that, and their extra rest, to their advantage. I should finish by stressing that I’m not necessarily trying to get your hopes up for a win against either of these teams. Villanova isn’t going 6-34 from three again. Taking a new, riskier approach is more likely to turn out like the time Lil Wayne made a rock album than when Kanye made 808s and Heartbreak. The point is more that even if the results don’t work out in Marquette’s favor, they haven’t leveraged the future of the season at all.
What I’m trying to say is that if I had to pick a game I was more confident about, it’s probably the Xavier game strictly because they have had some real stinkers this year. The most prominent were a pair of squeaker against East Tennessee State and DePaul. T-Rank had them as “likely” to win for all of 93 total seconds in the final half of the ETSU game and generally sucked against the Blue Demons. The probability of having a really off night at home is a lot more likely than counting on Villanova to be off in general, but it’s still a slim chance. I have Marquette losing 96-90. I only picked that score because it’s unreasonable to guess either team scoring 69 points, which is my ultimate viewing goal for every game I watch.
KenPom Projection: Xavier has a 75% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 87-80.
All Time Series
Marquette leads 49-23. Every college has the dream of beating Xavier 50 times in its history, so this game could be historic.
Marquette Stat Leaders
Points: Markus Howard, 21.5 ppg
Rebounds: Sam Hauser, 5.9 rpg
Assists: Andrew Rowsey, 4.3 apg
Xavier Stat Leaders
Points: Trevon Bluiett, 19.1 ppg
Rebounds: Kerem Kanter, 5.7 rpg
Assists: Quentin Goodin, 5.3 apg
Greg Elliott Watch: The freshman from Detroit is already up to a three-way tie for the sixth most blocks by a freshman. His 19 so far this season ties him with teammate Sam Hauser and Charles Luter, who had his freshman campaign in 1987-88. Up next is current MU women’s basketball assistant coach Scott Merritt, who had 25 in 2000-01.
Markus Howard Watch: We should probably open the door here: Howard is now 39 points away from the top 10 sophomore seasons in MU history. Maurice Lucas had 448, Howard sits at 409. His 68 made three-pointers are the seventh most by a Marquette sophomore, trailing Travis Diener and Robb Logterman for a tie for 5th place by just one. He needs five more three-pointers to tie Anthony Pieper and Darius Johnson-Odom for the 10th most in any MU season. Howard’s 175 three-point attempts are the 6th most by a sophomore (Dominic James at 184 is 5th), but he’s still 17 away from the all-time top 10.