It's become sort of a weekend tradition here on Big East Coast Bias. As the month of March arrives, so does a Saturday. And Saturdays as of late have meant Q&As, and this Saturday is no different.
This time around, as No. 9 Creighton prepares for a matchup against upset-minded Xavier, I talked with head honchos over at Banners on the Parkway, SB Nation's Xavier blog. They run an awesome ship over there, and they asked me questions and I gave them answers, too. You can check that out right here.
BECB: From last year to this year, Xavier has taken an enormous leap offensively. They were 125th in the country scoring 103.2 points per 100 possessions, and now this season they are 36th in the country, scoring 112.8 points per 100 possessions. While factoring in the fact that the D-1 average has increased by four points or so, what has been the biggest difference in this Musketeer club offensively?
Banners: Matt Stainbrook. His ORtg is 111, he rebounds at a borderline elite rate on the offensive end, and uses 24.1% of Xavier's possessions. Once Semaj Christon had a second guy to play off, especially a potentially dominant big, it was going to open the floor up a great deal. Justin Martin has also come on in Big East play. When Xavier has all three ticking, they are tough to stop.
BECB: At 19-9 with a 9-6 record in conference play, Xavier seems to be in the right side of the bubble when it comes to being in the NCAA Tournament. As we've seen though, college basketball is all sorts of unpredictable. With the fact that Xavier plays Creighton and Villanova in two of their final three games of the season, just how important is it for the Musketeers to handle their business in this final stretch?
Banners: Winning against Seton Hall should, in theory, be enough, but no one really likes to let the committee come up with reasons to leave them out of the tournament. As much as I hate RPI, the committee uses it, so we have to look at it. Xavier is 48th right now, but that's going up as the season ends as long as they beat Seton Hall. Creighton is 6th and Villanova is 4th. Chances for wins like that are why we left the Atlantic 10.
BECB: There's no denying that Semoj Christon is the primary force on offense for this team. But who is someone that is a significant enough contributor for the team, but just not getting enough publicity at this point in time?
Banners: I mentioned Justin Martin above, but I think he's probably the answer here. He's teased Xavier fans with his prodigious talent for the last two year, but he didn't really take off until conference play this year. You won't hear much talk about him at all, despite the fact he goes for 11.1/4.8/1.0 on a shooting line of .460/.392/.719.
There's a Russian fable about an imp that is always in the corner of your vision but disappears when you try to look directly at it. JMart is kind of like that for Xavier fans. Count on him at your own risk.
BECB: The last time that these two teams faced off, Matt Stainbrook went off for 15 points and 11 rebounds, and shot 70 percent on 10 attempts. With the lack of a true big man for the Bluejays, do you expect the 6'10 forward to get his again the second time around?
Banners: First off, Matt hails from the home of Banners on the Parkway, Cleveland, Ohio, so my impartiality regarding him is in question. Given the grief that our great city tends to take nationally, Cleveland guys stick together. Realistically, yes, I think Stainbrook will score almost at will if he gets the chance.
If Xavier stays close and keeps feeding the big lefty, he could even improve the numbers he put up in the first game. Coach Mack is playing a shell game with him on defense though, because he cannot defend 22 feet from the bucket.
BECB: Let's put you in the shoes of head coach Chris Mack. What's your game plan for this game against the Bluejays, both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball?
Banners: Offensively, I just keep doing what we do. No Bluejay is quick enough to guard Semaj, and no one can contain Stainbrook in the post. Xavier's offense isn't just better than it has been this year, it's one of the best in the nation. There's not a lot of tweaking that needs done there. Defensively... we have a problem. Xavier's packline defense has been just destroyed from behind the arc since conference play began.
Prior to playing St. John's, teams were hitting for more than 40% from deep. Add to that the fact that teams were taking 36% of their shots from back there and you can see how Xavier had huge issues. Combating that against Creighton is just going to be an exercise in damage control. I'd pressure the ball on the way up the floor and then aggressively overplay outside. Dougie is going to get his, but I take my chances with the other guys trying to score inside against Jalen Reynolds and Stainbrook.
BECB: Can we get a prediction for this game?
Unlike Banners co-editor Joel D., who thinks Xavier can score with the Jays, I don't see this as a win for the Musketeers. I call too much Creighton from deep and 83-74 win for the Bluejays. I really want to be wrong, though.