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Marquette Basketball Preview Primer: at Xavier

The Golden Eagles head to Cincinnati with an eye on securing a attainable road victory.

St John’s v Xavier Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Marquette Golden Eagles (14-6, 4-4 Big East) at Xavier Musketeers (13-7, 2-5 Big East)

Date: Wednesday, January 29, 2020
Time: 7:30pm Central
Location: Cintas Center, Cincinnati, OH

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Markus Howard, 28.3 ppg
Rebounds: Brendan Bailey, 5.5 rpg
Assists: Koby McEwen, 3.2 apg

Marquette Injury Note: Greg Elliott is still listed as doubtful in the Marquette game notes after suffering an ankle injury against Providence on January 7th.

Xavier Stats Leaders

Points: Naji Marshall, 16.7 ppg
Rebounds: Tyrique Jones, 9.9 rpg
Assists: Quentin Goodin, 4.0 apg

Xavier Injury Note #1: Quentin Goodin missed each of Xavier’s last two games after suffering a knee injury of some sort in warm-ups for their game against Georgetown. He didn’t play in that one, nor their Sunday loss to Creighton, and he did not practice yesterday, according to Shannon Russell of The Athletic. His availability for this game will be a game-time decision.

Xavier Injury Note #2: Naji Marshall did not practice on Tuesday, according to Shannon Russell of The Athletic. It seems that he had some sort of tweak against Creighton, but did finish that game. Like Goodin, he will be a game-time decision.

KenPom.com Rankings

Marquette: #28
Xavier: #59
KenPom Projection: Marquette has a 51% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 73-72.

Last Time Out: These two teams have already met in Milwaukee this season, with Marquette getting the relatively easy 85-65 victory. The Golden Eagles were up 44-32 at the half, and then ripped off a 15-0 run early in the second half to put the game away.

Since Last We Met: The win against Xavier kicked off a three game winning streak for Marquette which ended last Friday night as they couldn’t hold a lead against then-#13 Butler and lost in overtime. Xavier has only played twice since that shelling in Milwaukee. They exploded for a 24-4 run at home against Georgetown that had them leading 26-8 with seven minutes left in the first half and held on to win by nine. Their most recent game was this past Sunday on the road against Creighton. The 77-66 final score makes it look like it was fairly competitive, but the Musketeers needed an 11-0 run late in the second half to pull within six, 65-59, before running out of steam. That was Xavier’s fourth loss in their last five games, and they have been losing in horrible fashions, too. When Big East play kicked off, they were ranked #30 in KenPom, but they’ve fallen into the high 50s now and are currently looking like their NCAA tournament hopes are evaporating pretty quickly.

The Stakes: It’s simple, really. If you figure that Marquette needs a 10-8 record in Big East play to be in NCAA tournament contention, then the easy math route there is win all nine home games and steal one on the road. Every time MU loses at home, that’s one more road game that they have to steal. This is Big East Road Game #5 this season, and the Golden Eagles are 1-3 so far. They also lost at home to Providence, which means that they need another road win to balance that one out. This appears to be an eminently winnable game for Marquette, so it’s kind of sort of not really but maybe actually crucial in the overall trajectory of the season.

Tempo Free Fun: Well, the first thing that we should probably do, since this is Marquette’s first return bout of the season, is look at what we thought Xavier’s strengths and weaknesses were for the first game between the two teams, and see how Marquette ultimately dealt with them. According to our preview from that one, Xavier was bad at turnovers and rebounding on defense, and very not good at shooting from the outside on offense. The Musketeers were going out of their way to minimize that three-point shooting problem, and were a very good two point shooting team as of two weeks ago.

At Fiserv Forum against Xavier, Marquette was able to post a turnover rate of 17%, which is pretty good. They were also able to grab up 44% of their offensive rebounds, which is 1) better than MU’s season average, 2) better than MU’s Big East average, and 3) would be the best season-long average in the country in OR% if they could figure out how to do that all the time. Let’s go ahead and give the Golden Eagles a big ol’ gold star for making the most of Xavier’s defensive problems there.

On the other end, Xavier connected on just 24% of their long range attempts. That’s worse than they’ve been doing in both league play and overall, so that’s a fantastic job by Marquette there. In terms of how often they let it fly, Marquette got them to fire off 39% of their shots from behind the arc, which is more than what Xavier does on average. Again, big gold star on that. Still, the big test for Marquette was going to be how they defended the interior. Xavier shot just 44% inside the arc, and while Naji Marshall and Tyrique Jones were a combined 10-for-17, you can live with that if you’re holding the entire team under the season average like MU did here.

In short, it certainly seems that if the Marquette coaching staff mere redistributes the scouting report and game plan for the previous game against Xavier, things are probably going to work out really well for the Golden Eagles.

There is one thing to watch out for, though.

Paul Scruggs picked up his second foul of the game with 14:59 left in the first half. At the time, depending on how you want to look at it, Marquette was either up six or up nine. See, Scruggs’ second foul was against Markus Howard in transition, and the MU senior guard got the layup to fall and then sank the free throw. Before the foul: six. After the foul as Scruggs departed the game: nine. He would not return until the second half started, when MU was already up 12, and then played the entire final 20 minutes.

Of course, that means that Scruggs was on the court for the 15-0 run that tipped the game over to MU’s favor for good. It also means that he got 11 points, two rebounds, and five assists all in the second half, and he did it on 4-for-9 shooting, including hitting one of his two long range attempts. Scruggs had a really good second half for Xavier, even if they were already in a hole when it started and even if MU spent the first seven minutes of the second half bludgeoning the Musketeers into submission. He’s really their only outside shooting threat, knocking down 35% on the year and 42% in Big East games, although freshman KyKy Tandy has come on as of late in that department.

The point here is that you can easily make the argument that Scruggs is actually Xavier’s most important player, maybe their best player given that, and he’s probably not going to sit out for 15 minutes of the first half again. The Golden Eagles will have to stay aware of him on the floor and keep Scruggs contained if they want to snag this road win.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 6-4, with wins in three of their last four games.

Xavier Last 10 Games: 4-6 with losses in four of their last five games.

All Time Series: Marquette leads, 52-24. 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 three straight against the Musketeers and five of the last seven against Xavier. The two sides have been trading season sweeps for the last four seasons.

Follow Along On Twitter

@AnonymousEagle - Hey, that’s us!
@MarquetteMBB - Official MU account
@XavierMBB - Official Xavier account
@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