Marquette Golden Eagles (11-5, 1-3 Big East) vs Xavier Musketeers (12-5, 1-3 Big East)
Date: Wednesday, January 15, 2020
Time: 7pm Central
Location: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, WI
Marquette Stats Leaders
Points: Markus Howard, 26.8 ppg
Rebounds: Brendan Bailey, 5.4 rpg
Assists: Koby McEwen, 3.0 apg
Marquette Injury Note: Greg Elliott missed Saturday’s game against Seton Hall with a dinged up ankle. Head coach Steve Wojciechowski said on his post-game radio spot that Elliott is “game-to-game” as far as his availability goes. Elliott is averaging 5.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in 21.1 minutes per game so far this season. It’s unclear if this is the same ankle that Elliott needed same day surgery on after an injury over the summer.
Xavier Stats Leaders
Points: Naji Marshall, 16.8 ppg
Rebounds: Tyrique Jones, 9.8 rpg
Assists: Quentin Goodin, 4.1 apg
KenPom Projection: Marquette has a 66% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 73-69.
The Stakes: Odin help us, it’s January 15th and we’re talking about stakes in a regular season game already. Okay, well, here it is: One of these teams will be 1-4 in Big East play at the end of the night. Starting out 1-4 doesn’t put an end to your season, far from it. However, it’s also not a fun way to go about things, especially after what appeared to be a relatively successful non-conference schedule for both squads. In short, one team — hopefully Marquette — gets to say “whew, dodged that bullet,” while the other finds themselves needing to go 8-5 the rest of the way just to finish .500 in the conference and stay in NCAA tournament contention.
Tempo Free Fun: Well, let’s just put some cards on the table here, shall we? If you take the entire 2019-20 season to this point into account, Marquette and Xavier are both pretty good teams. The Golden Eagles are top 50 in the country in KenPom.com’s adjusted efficiency metrics for both offense and defense. The Musketeers are struggling a bit on offense at #86 in that algorithm, but they make up for it by being a top 40 defense. However..... welllll...... when you take the four conference games that these two teams have played into account...... well, they’re bad. If you only look at league games, Marquette and Xavier are two of the three worst defenses in the conference with both giving up more than 103 points per 100 possessions. The good news for Marquette is that Xavier’s defense has actually been the worst defense in the league so far this season. The other good news for MU is that KenPom says that they’ve played the third toughest league schedule to this point, while Xavier has been objectively bad on the defensive side of the ball while playing the eighth toughest schedule. REMINDER: There are only 10 teams in the Big East.
Now, yes, you can make an argument about Small Sample Size Theater here if you want, and maybe that’s fair. It is only four games of data. However, being bad through four games does very much explain why the Golden Eagles and the Musketeers are tied for 9th place in the conference right now at 1-3. (Yes, technically they’re also tied for 6th, but work with me here, people.) The question at hand is which team has the bigger problems right now, and more importantly, which team can exploit the other team’s biggest problems the most?
As far as Xavier’s defense goes, it seems that they have two major malfunctions in league play relative to their season as a whole. They’re still a good effective field goal percentage defense, and their two-point and three-point shooting numbers are mostly the same. They’re allowing a liiiiittle bit more on twos, but it’s not a major change, honestly. Their biggest problems appear to be 1) turnovers and 2) rebounding. As a whole this season, Xavier has not been a good turnover defense, popping a ball free on about 20% of possessions. That’s essentially average. In their four Big East games, that’s down five points to just 15% of the time. At about 70 possessions per game, that’s about three extra possessions per game for their opponent that ends in a shot instead of a turnover. Specifically, Xavier isn’t generating steals. I mean, they weren’t anyway, but their steal rate has nearly been halved in league play, going from 9% of the time to just 5.7%.
On the rebounding front, they’ve gone from allowing teams to get to 28% of their misses to 32% of them. The Musketeers weren’t a good defensive rebounding team to start with, and allowing more possessions to get extended with a second chance, especially against three of the four toughest opponents you’ve faced all season, is no way to go about things.
Here’s the really bad news for Xavier’s rebounding: Tyrique Jones is actually doing better on the glass in league play than he is overall this season. Sure, it’s a 24.9% rate overall vs a 26.1% rate on the defensive end of the court, which isn’t much. However, Jones — #6 in the country on the offensive glass, #58 on the defensive glass in terms of rate — is also Xavier’s only real rebounding threat. No one else on the roster ranks in KenPom’s top 500 in defensive rebounding rate, and for context here, Marquette has two top 500 defensive rebounders in Brendan Bailey and Theo John. The point is that if Jones, who is a walking vacuum cleaner when it comes to shots bouncing off the rim, is actually trending upwards, how badly are things going for everyone else that things are trending downward for the entire team? If Jones was experiencing a downturn, at least then you could say “oh, teams are gameplanning him out of position,” but that’s not the case.
Let’s turn our attention to what Travis Steele’s team is doing when they have the ball. Or, perhaps the right way to phrase this is “what is Xavier not doing?” The answer to that question is they’re not making threes. Xavier is one of the 60 least accurate teams in the country from behind the arc, ranking #301 in the country while making 29.7% of their long range shots. That’s absolutely atrocious. However, Xavier knows they’re no good at shooting threes, so it’s not a big focus of their offense. Not only do they focus on shooting it inside the arc, but they’re also really good at hitting their twos, ranking in the top 100 at 51.5%. The Musketeers also don’t get blocked very much, which helps boost their efficiency even without threes to help them. They’re also really good, very much thanks to Tyrique Jones, at hauling in whatever misses they do end up creating.
I know that Naji Marshall is the one leading the team in scoring at 16.8 points per game. However, I am actually more worried about Paul Scruggs when it comes to Marquette’s defensive posture in this game. The junior from Indianapolis is averaging 14.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, and 1.4 steals per game, but none of that is what concerns me. Scruggs is shooting 62% on two-pointers this season, as well as 38% from long range. He and the only recently earning minutes KyKy Tandy are the only two Musketeers shooting better from 33% from long range this season. No matter where Scruggs is on the floor, he’s a threat to score, and that’s a real problem when he’s really the only guy who presents that kind of a threat.
I think that I speak for all Marquette fans that we would like it if Paul Scruggs did not score in this game. If he had no points, you might say. Verily, we don’t want no Scruggs.
Marquette Last 10 Games: 6-4, with losses in three of their last four games.
Xavier Last 10 Games: 6-4, with losses in three of their last four games.
All Time Series: Marquette leads, 51-24. Xavier is Marquette’s third-most played opponent since 1949-50, behind only DePaul and Wisconsin
Current Streak: With a season sweep last season, Marquette has now won four of the last six against Xavier. The two sides have been trading season sweeps for the last four seasons.
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@AnonymousEagle - Hey, that’s us!
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@becb_sbn - our SB Nation friends that follow the whole Big East
@BannersParkway - our SB Nation friends that follow Xavier
@BenSteeleMJS - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel MU beat writer