Game Preview: Xavier vs. Seton Hall

Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier Aims to Stay Perfect at Home

After splitting road games at DePaul and Providence last week, Xavier returns to the friendly confines of the Cintas Center, looking to improve to 13-0 at home as they take on Seton Hall Saturday afternoon. The Musketeers compiled a home record of 91-13 (.875) in twelve seasons at the 10,250-seat on-campus facility as a member of the Atlantic 10 conference. In four Big East wins at the Cintas Center this season, Xavier has been an elite offensive team, scoring 1.21 points per possession, a rate that would rank fourth nationally if maintained over the entire season. Continued offensive prowess Saturday will limit the opportunity for a Seton Hall upset.

In terms of personnel, Seton Hall’s starting line-up nearly mirrors Providence’s, as four starters for the Pirates stand taller than 6-6. Despite the height, the Seton Hall is a weak offensive rebounding team, corralling only 27.5% of their own misses. Failing to close out defensive possessions with a rebound doomed Xavier in the first half against Providence, and the game against Seton Hall could be a chance for the Musketeers to reassert themselves as the best rebounding team in the Big East.

Of course, securing defensive rebounds requires a missed shot, and Seton Hall’s outside shooting may be a concern for Xavier. The Pirates have made 40.2% of their 3-pointers in conference play while attempting 2 triples for every 3 2-pointers. Xavier has struggled with three-point defense in conference play, allowing opponents to shoot an eye-popping 43.2% from deep. With a full week of practice between games, Chris Mack and his team worked on defensive communication, hoping to limit open 3-point opportunities. Holding Seton Hall under 33% from behind the arc is one key to victory.

Earlier this week, Chris Mack announced the indefinite suspension of freshman reserve Jalen Reynolds, for not fulfilling duties outside of basketball. In general, Reynolds’ absence will not be a huge loss for the Musketeers, as senior Erik Stenger has a similar skill set, albeit with a much lower ceiling. Reynolds appears for extended minutes only when Matt Stainbrook and Isaiah Philmore are in foul trouble.

Keeping the visitors off the free throw line may be difficult on Saturday, as the Pirates shoot one free throw attempt for every 2 field goal attempts, a rate that ranks 33rd nationally. Point guard Sterling Gibbs draws 7.2 fouls per 40 minutes and gets to the free throw line 8.4 times per game on average. In the loss to Providence, the Friars made more free throws (21) than Xavier attempted (16). That cannot happen again if Xavier wants to extend their home winning streak on Saturday.

After avoiding the injury bug for much of this season, Xavier survived a scare this week as Semaj Christon returned to practice Wednesday after injuring his toe in the contest at Providence. If not for Doug McDermott, Christon would have a strong case for player of the year in the Big East this season. The sophomore guard is averaging 21.1 points in conference games and has shown great defensive instincts in recent games. If the toe is not an issue, look for Christon to have another big game against Seton Hall.

After the game Saturday, Xavier has a quick turnaround, traveling to Villanova for a showdown on Monday night. Villanova has already played a pair of Saturday-Monday turnarounds, beating Georgetown and being at the wrong end of a Creighton shooting expose. Xavier, meanwhile, has dropped a pair of short turnaround games earlier this season in the Bahamas. Villanova steps out of conference to play a Big Five game with Philly rival Temple on Saturday.

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