Marquette Golden Eagles (12-13, 7-11 Big East) vs Xavier Musketeers (13-6, 6-6 Big East)
Date: Saturday, March 6, 2021
Time: 8pm Central
Location: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Marquette Stats Leaders
Points: Dawson Garcia, 13.2/game
Rebounds: Dawson Garcia, 6.6/game
Assists: D.J. Carton, 3.4/game
Xavier Stats Leaders
Points: Zach Freemantle, 16.7/game
Rebounds: Zach Freemantle, 9.2/game
Assists: Paul Scruggs, 5.9/game
Game Projection: Somehow, Marquette has a 51% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 73-72.
Last Time Out: Ah yes, December 20th, back when Marquette had a postseason future, and you could take a road three point loss at the buzzer and just throw your hands up and say “well, a guy hit a crazy second chance shot, oh well.”
Marquette led by nine in the middle of the first half, and Xavier led by eight with just under six minutes to go. MU honestly had no business being tied with 25 seconds to go. Xavier was up six with a minute to play, but the Musketeers missed some free throws and fouled Koby McEwen while rained in a three-pointer to turn it into a four point play. MU made the initial stop on the final play of the game to force overtime, but got an unlucky bounce and tip to Adam Kunkel for the game winner. Oh well, or at least we could all say that at the time.
Since Last We Met: Things have gone south for Xavier. Not immediately, though. That game was on a Sunday, and on the very next day, the 8-0 Musketeers appeared in the AP poll at #21. That was their first ranking of the season...... and their only one. They would lose their next two games on the way to going 5-6 since Kunkel hit that shot to win the big stuffed animal. A three game winning streak in the middle of all of that did have the X-Men drifting back towards the top 25, but they have gone just 2-4 since. Quite honestly, Xavier is fighting for their postseason lives at this point. Bracket Matrix has them in 100 of the 107 projections that were tracked on March 4th, two days after looking lifeless for most of their 72-66 loss to Georgetown. They only project as a #11 seed, just five spots clear of the cut line, and a loss to Marquette, a Quadrant 2 loss with the Golden Eagles hovering in the 90s in the NET, might spell the end of their chances.
Tempo Free Fun: I don’t even know if it’s possible to properly evaluate what to expect from this game, at least not from a “here’s what happened last time out, this is what Marquette needs to do again/avoid this time.”
Neither team played anything resembling defense in the first meeting, with Marquette losing while scoring 1.28 points per possession according to KenPom.com. Both teams shot over 44% from behind the three-point line, including a 54% day from the Musketeers thanks to Paul Scruggs and Nate Johnson combining to go 9-for-14. Both teams were good at hitting the open man, with MU assisting on 53% of buckets and Xavier at an amazing 70% clip. But again: No defense being played, so that’s not surprising. In that same line of thinking, neither team turned the ball over all that much, with both sides posting a rate under 18%.
Xavier’s passing might carry over, because they’re actually #7 in the country in assist rate. Neither team forces turnovers on defense very much, so that probably will happen again. But the shooting for either team? Probably not going to happen again. It’s just not likely to happen that both squads do that, even if these are two of the four worst defenses in the Big East this season.
The biggest change for Marquette in terms of how they approach Xavier has to be the absence of the aforementioned Nate Johnson. The senior transfer from Gardner Webb was shooting 45% from three-point land this season (although “only” 36% in Big East games) and will miss the rest of the season with an injury.
As noted earlier, his 4-for-6 long range shooting was a pretty big reason why Xavier ended up with the win against Marquette back in December. He had started every game for head coach Travis Steele up until suffering the injury. It looks like Dwon Odom has been inserted into the starting lineup for Johnson, which is kind of a big deal all on its own. Odom started the first seven games of the year for Xavier and had been earning some rave reviews early. COVID protocols kept him out of the MU game earlier this year, and he had not gotten back into the starting five since. In fact, in Xavier’s first three games of February, Odom had played just nine minutes against Connecticut, five against St. John’s, and 13 against Butler. It certainly looks like Steele didn’t really want to use Odom all that much, but his hand has been forced now.
Without Johnson, Xavier doesn’t really have a reliable three-point shooter. Paul Scruggs is the next best guy on the team overall on the year.... but he’s only shooting 33.8%. KyKy Tandy is hitting 37% of his attempts, but the 22 minutes he played in the loss to Georgetown was the first time he’s cracked double digits in 2021. Scruggs is shooting 36% on threes in Big East contests, so the Musketeers at least have that going for them.... but he’s only 5-for-23 (22%) in their recent six game skid and 3-for-11 (27%) without Johnson on the floor in the last three games.
Marquette Last 10 Games: 4-6, with wins in three of their last four games. The four wins in this stretch of 10 games: Butler x2, DePaul, and inexplicably, North Carolina on the road.
Xavier Last 10 Games: 5-5, with losses in four of their last six games and two of the last three. Since January 11th, Xavier has beaten Butler twice and Creighton at home and that’s it.
All Time Series: Marquette leads, 53-25. Xavier is Marquette’s third-most played opponent since 1949-50, behind only DePaul and Wisconsin.
Current Streak: Xavier’s win in Cincinnati earlier this season ended a four game winning streak in this series for Marquette. The Golden Eagles have still won six of the last nine games, but one side or the other has swept both games in each of the past five 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