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Marquette Basketball Big East Preview Primer: vs. #20 Xavier Musketeers

The Golden Eagles get a Sunday matinee showdown with yet another ranked Big East team

Lipscomb v Xavier Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Marquette Golden Eagles (13-6, 5-3 Big East) vs #20 Xavier Musketeers (14-3, 4-2 Big East)

Date: Sunday, January 23rd, 2022
Time: 1pm Central
Location: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Justin Lewis, 15.6 ppg
Rebounds: Justin Lewis, 7.6 rpg
Assists: Tyler Kolek, 6.4 apg

Xavier Stats Leaders

Points: Jack Nunge, 12.6 ppg
Rebounds: Colby Jones, 8.1 rpg
Assists: Paul Scruggs, 4.3 apg

KenPom.com Rankings

Marquette: #39
Xavier: #20
Game Projection: Xavier has a 51% chance of victory with a predicted score of 75-74.

Last Time Out: Xavier snagged an 80-71 victory down in Cincinnati back on December 18th. Here’s our recap of that game. The short version is Marquette gave up a 33-14 run spanning the end of the first half and beginning of the second half after taking an early lead. Marquette cut a 10 point Xavier lead down to just one with three minutes left, but wouldn’t score again for about the next two minutes. A late Xavier three put a bow on a game where their win probability never actually dipped below 67%.

Greg Elliott scored 18 points, while Justin Lewis put up 15 and Darryl Morsell added 14. Tyler Kolek had a 7 assist game, and Kur Kuath blocked 4 shots. Other than those seemingly good-looking numbers, not a whole lot went right for the Golden Eagles outside of the first 10 minutes. Xavier hit one of my favorite non-metric metrics for success: make more free throws than the other team shoots. They went 21-for-35 from the line, while Marquette went just 8-for-12 (more on this later). Xavier had a points-per-possession of 1.05, and shot 49% from the field.

Since Last We Met: Xavier lost two of their next three games after that, but that gets an asterisk: Both games were against Villanova. In between, they beat Butler by 15, and they followed up the home four point defeat to the Wildcats with a home win over Creighton and road win over DePaul. That Blue Demons game was in Chicago on Wednesday night, and without Javon Freeman-Liberty in the lineup for DePaul, Xavier needed to rally from down four, 65-61, with just under five minutes to go to get the 68-67 win.

Free Throw Margin Non-Metric Metric: Xavier plays to try and get a huge free throw margin. If you didn’t know any better you might think that their only goal was to shoot as many free throws as possible and give their opponent as few as possible. Their free throw shooting percentage isn’t particularly impressive — 71.8% which ranks #147 in the country — but they rank 15th in the number of free throws they shoot compared to other shots. They shoot a little less than 2 free throws per 5 shots they take, and only let opponents shoot about 1 free throw per 5 shots: they’re seventh in the country on the defensive end there. Xavier gets 21.1% of their points on free throws, 31st in the country on points from free throws.

Marquette is pretty middle-of-the-road when it comes to free throws. The defense doesn’t give up a ton, and the offense doesn’t get a ton. I’d expect to see another crazy free throw margin type game, it’s something that Marquette needs to overcome in order to win. I don’t have the numbers on it, but I do know that when you let the other team shoot 35 free throws, winning is extremely difficult.

Perfectly Balanced, As Most Things Should Be: Yes, this Thanos quote is overused and totally a gimme, but it just fits Xavier’s offense so well. They have four players scoring between 11 and 13 points per game, five players are averaging more than 4 rebounds per game, and three players have more than 2 assists per game. Jack Nunge leads the line with 12.6 ppg, which helps tell the tale of Xavier’s balance incredibly well: Nunge has started just one time all season. He’s followed on the stat sheet by Nate Johnson with 11.6, Colby Jones with 11.3, and Paul Scruggs with 11.0.

Balance is also apt to describe the Xavier turnovers. Seven of their eight main players average more than a turnover a game, with the exception coming in the form of Adam Kunkel. Xavier is #148 in the country in turnover percentage on offense, which isn’t great. They turn the ball over on about 18.4% of possessions, and they get the ball stolen from them on 10% of possessions (#249).

Marquette shoots for 32 deflections a game, and that’s a goal very much within reach on Sunday. The MU defense creates turnovers on 19.7% of possessions, so we could see MU get out in transition a lot against Xavier. It is worth noting that since Big East play started, Xavier’s turnover rate is just 13.7%, and that’s the fewest turnovers in the entire league.

Please, My Rebounds: It’s evident to everyone that Marquette has a bit of a problem getting rebounds. Against Seton Hall, Fiserv let out a collective groan every time Marquette gave up an offensive rebound. The numbers back up the eye test: Marquette is #310 in getting offensive rebounds and #298 in giving them up. That’s out of 358 Division 1 teams, and so yeah, that’s REALLY BAD. In Big East play so far this season, Marquette lets the other team grab eight more second chances than they get.

Xavier, on the other hand, is a good offensive rebounding team. They rank #89 on getting offensive rebounds and #45 on giving them up. I feel like a broken record saying that second chance points could be a real killer for Marquette, but it’s pretty much always true with just how bad the numbers are.

Stat Watch: Kur Kuath has a staggering 56 blocks on the season, and sole possession of 10th on the all time single season blocks chart. If he gets two blocks against Xavier he can tie Faisal Abraham for 9th on that list. I think it is very important to point out that this game is going to be played on January 23rd.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 6-4, going 3-2 against ranked opponents in this time and winning five straight overall

Xavier Last 10 Games: 8-2, with both of their losses coming against Villanova and with wins in three of the last four.

All Time Series: 54-26, Marquette leads.

Current Streak: Marquette and Xavier split the series last season with MU taking the second meeting, and Xavier won the game earlier in the season to take control of the streak. However, in the last seven matchups Marquette is 5-2 against the Musketeers.

Follow Along on Twitter

@AnonymousEagle - Hey, that’s us!
@GunvilleJohn - Your #1 source on MU’s ‘crazy freak lineup’ also the author of this preview
@MarquetteMBB - Official MU account
@XavierMBB - Official Xavier account
@BannersParkway - our SB Nation friends who follow Xavier
@becb_sbn - our SB Nation friends that follow the whole Big East
@BenSteeleMJS - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel MU beat writer