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Marquette Basketball Big East Preview Primer: at #22 Xavier Musketeers

The Golden Eagles kick off Big East play in the Queen City.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 08 Ball State at Xavier Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Marquette Golden Eagles (8-3, 0-0 Big East) at #22 Xavier Musketeers (10-1, 0-0 Big East)

Date: Saturday, December 18, 2021
Time: 3pm Central
Location: Cintas Center, Cincinnati, Ohio

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Justin Lewis, 15.4 ppg
Rebounds: Justin Lewis, 7.8 rpg
Assists: Tyler Kolek, 5.6 apg

Xavier Stats Leaders

Points: Jack Nunge, 13.0 ppg
Rebounds: Colby Jones, 8.2 rpg
Assists: Paul Scruggs, 4.1 apg

KenPom.com Rankings

Marquette: #79
Xavier: #23
Game Projection: Xavier has a 84% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 81-70.

So Far This Season: As you can see from the record at the top of the page, Xavier has a pretty gaudy record so far to go along with their AP poll ranking. They’re not just skating along and stacking wins against goofs to get there. They have a home win over a Ohio State team that’s going to compete for the Big Ten title, a neutral site win over a Virginia Tech team with better computer numbers than their record shows, a road win over a quality Oklahoma State squad, and a 20 point Crosstown Shootout win over Cincinnati. Their only loss was on a neutral floor to an Iowa State team that is surprisingly 10-0 on the year.

That’s all pretty good stuff, and their wins over Kent State and Morehead State have the potential to look better than traditional buy game fare as the season continues to evolve. In short, yeah, Xavier’s for real.

Tempo Free Fun: So, obviously, the follow up is “why is Xavier for real?” Well, at a glance, it appears that balance is the name of the game. Xavier’s top three scorers are all within a point of each other. Jack Nunge at 13.0, Nate Johnson at 12.9, Colby Jones at 12.5. Paul Scruggs is #4, and he’s at 11.3, just a little bit behind the peloton. That applies to the rebounding department as well, where Jones leads but Nunge is averaging over seven a game and Jerome Hunter (5.3/game) and Scruggs (4.5) are still putting up strong numbers. Even assists are balanced, as Scruggs is down from the over five per game he averaged last season just a bit over four here but he has four teammates north of two helpers a night.

That’s offensive balance, a certain amount of “hey, you’ve got it going, you do the scoring tonight” crossed with an idea of “we all have to pitch in and do our part.” The defense, though, is probably the most notable thing about the Musketeers. They currently have the #13 effective field goal defense in the country according to KenPom.com, and obviously that’s pretty damn good. They get there by ranking #12 in the country in two-point shooting percentage defense. Their three-point shooting defense isn’t shabby by any means, as I’d be happy to see Marquette rank #82 in the country while holding teams under 31%, but the Musketeers are elite at stopping things inside the arc, and in particularly at the rim. They’re #34 in the country in block rate, led by — who else — Jack Nunge. The 7-footer transfer from Iowa is currently ranked #67 in the country as he gets at least a fingertip on 8.2% of shots that go up against Xavier while he’s on the court.

Xavier also won’t foul you, which is a very stable way to get good defense. If you’re usually not in foul trouble, you can batten down the hatches if a game is tight late. XU is #12 in the country in defensive free throw rate as none of their regular rotation players average more than 3.6 fouls per 40 minutes.

If you’ve been paying attention to Big East basketball close enough, then you might have noticed that I haven’t mentioned Zach Freemantle at all yet here. The 6’9” junior from New Jersey earned Preseason All-Big East First Team honors this year, but missed Xavier’s first six games with a foot injury that required surgery, and then also only played six minutes in their seventh game of the year. He has come off the bench in four of the five games he has played and was only in the starting lineup for the first time against Morehead State on Wednesday night. It looks like the Musketeers realize that they have a pretty good thing going already and are willing to work Freemantle back in slowly. With that said, if they were already on a “we’re a ranked team” trajectory without him, then adding an all-conference caliber forward into the mix is only going to make things better for them.

One thing that’s not going well for Xavier is turnovers. Not of the defensive variety, that’s mostly fine. No, I’m talking about their own ball control. Xavier coughs up the ball on over 20% of possessions, and that ranks them #258 in the country right now according to KenPom.com. Five rotation players have a turnover rate north of 20% with backup guard Dwon Odom “leading” the charge at 33.2%. It’s not a secret that Marquette really wants to create deflections. While they’ve been relatively effective at charging towards Shaka Smart’s goal of 32 per game, that hasn’t quite turned into turnovers on a regular basis. MU only ranks #133 in the country in defensive turnover rate, but if Xavier is going to be fumblefingered with the ball, then the Golden Eagles are going to be more than happy to tip the ball away from them and in the direction of MU’s basket on the regular.

Stat Watch: Kur Kuath is three blocks away from tying Jae Crowder for the 10th most by a Marquette senior. Yes, it is not even Christmas yet.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 7-3, with three losses in their last six games.

Xavier Last 10 Games: 9-1, with a winning streak of six straight.

All Time Series: Marquette leads, 54-25. Xavier is Marquette’s third-most played opponent since 1949-50, behind only DePaul and Wisconsin.

Current Streak: The two teams split last season, with MU picking up the W in the regular season finale. That gives MU the victory in seven of the last 10 meetings, but it’s important to note that last season was the first time in six years that the two teams split.

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