Teams: Xavier (12-3) vs. Marquette (9-6)
Day: Thursday, Jan. 9
Time: 9:00 PM ET
Location: Cintas Center; Cincinnati, OH.
TV: FOX Sports 1
Former Xavier Musketeers all-conference stars Jordan Crawford and Tu Holloway didn’t have many poor nights while playing for the navy and white. The duo, which played together on a Sweet 16 team in 2010 did, however, both struggle against the Buzz Williams-led Marquette Golden Eagles. In meetings during the 2009-10 season and the 2011 NCAA tournament, Marquette held Crawford and Holloway to a combined 8-35 shooting (22.9%) in a pair of double-digit Golden Eagle victories. Xavier hosts Marquette on Thursday, and for the road team to spring an upset, Williams hopes to frustrate Xavier’s newest star guard, sophomore Semaj Christon.
The key to stopping Christon will include a similar strategy imposed against Crawford and Holloway; extended hedging on ball screens and forcing contested jumpers. The strategy could be especially effective against Christon, who is not a strong jump shooter. Marquette’s defense doesn’t have many weaknesses, led by a stout 2-point field goal defense of 41.6%, 14th best nationally. Shooters Justin Martin, Dee Davis, and Myles Davis must hit open jump shots to stretch Marquette’s defense and open room for Christon to create.
The Golden Eagles are also one of the few teams in the country that boasts a big man that outweighs Xavier’s Matt Stainbrook. 290 pound Davante Gardner leads Marquette in points (13.9) and rebounds (5.9) despite only playing 23.9 minutes a contest. Stainbrook, who has struggled in many games this season with foul trouble, may have his hands full with Gardner, who draws 6.3 fouls per 40 minutes. Other starting big man Chris Otule will also test the Musketeers’ discipline on defense, as he draws more fouls than Gardner, 6.5 per 40. Xavier has relied on Stainbrook and Isaiah Philmore during their seven game winning streak, but Marquette’s front court provides a tougher test than any of the previous seven wins.
While Marquette excels on the defensive end, their weak offense is the reason the Golden Eagles have struggled to a 9-6 start. In their two Big East games, Marquette is shooting a conference worst 25% from behind the 3-point arc while turning the ball over on a quarter of their possessions. Much like their game plan against St. John’s to open the Big East season, Xavier will have the best chance to beat Marquette by keeping them out of transition and forcing contested jump shots.
Despite an underachieving season thus far, Marquette’s worse loss has been a road loss to Arizona State. The Golden Eagles won a share of the Big East title last season, and are accustomed to the environment they will face at the Cintas Center. Based on Williams’ prior success against Xavier’s elite guards, and having the size to match up against the Musketeers’ bulky frontcourt, I think the Golden Eagles will spring an upset, handing Xavier their first conference loss as a member of the Big East.