#16 Marquette Golden Eagles (11-3, 0-1) vs Xavier Musketeers (9-6, 1-1)
Date: Sunday, January 6, 2019
Time: 11am Central
Location: Fiserv Forum
Marquette Stats Leaders
Points: Markus Howard, 23.9 ppg
Rebounds: Sam Hauser, 6.9 rpg
Assists: Markus Howard, 3.9 apg
Xavier Stats Leaders
Points: Quentin Goodin, 13.5 ppg
Rebounds: Naji Marshall, 8.0 rpg
Assists: Quentin Goodin, 5.7 apg
Current KenPom Rankings
KenPom.com Projection: Kenneth Pomeroy favors Marquette to win this game with a 75 percent likelihood and his algorithm says Marquette wins, 77-70.
What To Watch For: Well, what can you even say about Tuesday in Jamaica (the New York kind)? Marquette was shellacked by St. John’s, beaten from pillar to post in a hype-silencing 89-69 drubbing.
The referee waved off the bout far before the end of the scheduled 12 rounds, but Sunday, Xavier offers Marquette a chance to get up from off the mat. Boxing analogies are fun.
Switching to health-related sports cliches momentarily, there’s a chance that a home game against Xavier is exactly what the doctor ordered for Marquette after a loss like Tuesday’s this side of DePaul.
Following the departures of a ton of players and coaches, the Musketeers are a fine mid-to-lower tier power conference team this year, in that they probably will be floating around the NIT bubble in March but can still give NCAA Tournament teams good games, as they showed in their Wednesday matchup against Seton Hall where they stayed with the Pirates in Cincinnati until the final minutes.
Xavier offers Marquette’s defense, which has been great at Fiserv Forum this year and pretty great overall subtracting the two disastrous road games, nothing super complicated. Quentin Goodin is widely regarded as Xavier’s best player, but the junior point guard is having a horrific season shooting the ball, connecting on just 27 percent of his three-point attempts.
Xavier only has two players that shoot the three with regularity better than 30 percent, and that’s sophomore guard Paul Scruggs and San Jose State graduate transfer Ryan Welage. Welage, while 6-foot-10, is the definition of a stretch four, as 80 percent of his field goal attempts have come from deep. Scruggs probably offers the most difficult defensive challenge of any Xavier player, as he’s able to score efficiently in a number of different ways. Look for Sacar Anim, who after Jamal Cain’s performance against Shamorie Ponds is almost definitely Marquette’s go-to perimeter defender, to start here.
The Musketeers also have Naji Marshall, a 6-foot-7 beast of a man who probably gets offended when someone calls him a small forward. Marshall would probably be Xavier’s toughest guy to guard if he could shoot it, but his 93.2 Offensive Rating per KenPom tells you all you need to know there.
Inside, Xavier will rotate Zach Hankins and Tyrique Jones. Jones, a junior, will be familiar to Marquette fans as “that guy from Xavier who dunks a lot,” and he’s a force on the glass, leading the nation in offensive rebounding rate, although Marshall gets more rebounds per game. Hankins, a grad transfer from DII Ferris State, is a sentient barbershop mistake with a fascinating Twitter username who gets buckets in the post and just had a breakout game against Seton Hall, scoring 20 points on 10-for-13 shooting.
As a collective, the Musketeers have yet to beat a decent team this season. Their best win is either at DePaul, which, sure, or on a neutral court against Illinois. Neither of those are top 100 KenPom victories as of yet, although KenPom’s algorithm counts the DePaul game like one thanks to the road aspect. They’re 0-5 against the KenPom top 100, with an additional neutral court loss to No. 131 San Diego State in Maui thrown in.
On paper, this doesn’t seem like the kind of team that can beat Marquette at Fiserv Forum, where three top 50 teams have already tried and failed. Xavier also doesn’t pose much a defensive challenge to the Golden Eagles, as KenPom rates them as the worst defensive team in the Big East.
Basically, the only lingering doubt hanging over this game for Marquette is the St. John’s debacle, and whether any of that can carry over into Sunday. Thus far, Fiserv Forum has been kind to Marquette, and Xavier will need a lot to go right to beat the Golden Eagles Sunday.
Marquette Last 10 Games: 8-2, with the two losses coming at the bookends.
Xavier Last 10 Games: 7-3, with losses to rival Cincinnati, Missouri and Seton Hall.
All Time Series: Marquette leads, 49-24. Xavier is Marquette’s third-most played opponent since 1949-50, behind only DePaul and Wisconsin.
Current Streak: Xavier swept Marquette last season en route to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. A lot has changed.