Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Marquette vs. Xavier: The Battle For Jesuit Supremacy

Now that Selection Sunday has come and gone, it's time to fret over MU's next matchup.  The golden eagles drew an 11-seed in the East region and take on 6-seed Xavier in Cleveland at 6:30 CST on Friday.

This is a tough contest for both teams, as these two squads match up pretty well with each other.  Let's get into the pros and cons of the 2010-11 X-Men.

What they do well

- Get to the free throw line.  The musketeers are taking 24 free throws per game and their FTA/FGA ratio is 45%, 32nd in the country.  Tu Holloway alone gets to the free throw line almost 9 times a game and is shooting 87% from the charity stripe.
- Score inside.  Big man Kenny Frease is their inside presence, scoring 12 ppg.  At 265 lbs he's got muscle to throw around in the low post and can give an under-sized 4- or 5-man fits.
- Win basketball games (props to Charlie Sheen).  These guys have only lost twice since conference play began.  They've got a ton of confidence right now, and with all of the tournament experience they have (3 consecutive trips to the Sweet 16) they certainly won't be rattled by the big stage.
- Defend the two-ball.  Opponents are shooting under 44% from inside the arc against them.  They'll switch between zone and man-to-man defense on you which can either force you to take outside shots or bad two-pointers.

What they don't do well

- Force turnovers.  Xavier only forces their opponent to turn the ball over on 19% of defensive possessions, 246th in the country.
- Shoot three-pointers.  As prolific of a scorer as Tu Holloway is, he only shoots about 35% from beyond the arc, and he's the best on the team.
- Pass the rock.  Of the 7 guys that play meaningful minutes, only 3 of them have an assist/turnover ratio over 1.

Keys to the Game

- Stop Tu Holloway.  This guy is far and away the best player on Xavier.  He averages 20 ppg, 5.5 apg, and 5 rpg, all while playing about 38-39 minutes a game.  Game plan for this guy is a little different than playing a one-man show like Providence, because while you can focus on Holloway, you can't take your eyes off Frease.  MU will need to play good man-to-man defense to keep the X-Men off balance.
- Stay out of foul trouble.  Xavier draws a lot of contact from the opposition, so guys like Crowder and Otule will need to keep their hands off to prevent putting them on the foul line and putting ourselves on the bench.
- Speed up the tempo.  Marquette averages about 1.5 possessions more per game than Xavier.  If we can press on defense and score in transition, we can throw the musketeers of their game plan.
- Beat them on the boards.  These teams match up pretty evenly in rebounding, but MU's offensive boards as a % of total is much higher than Xavier's (36% vs. 33%).  If we can keep them off the glass, we can score put-back shots on offense and score in transition off of defensive boards.  We match up pretty evenly with these guys as far as size goes, so Crowder, Otule, and Gardner will have to win the position battle in the paint against these guys.

Ken Pomeroy is predicting a one point victory for the golden eagles.  Regardless of how confident that makes you feel, any game decided by a point will be an absolute dogfight until the end.  While Xavier is a tournament-tested team, we're a Big East-tested team who knows how to play those close games against tough competition.  When it's all said and done I think this will feel more like an 8-9 matchup than 6-11.  Let's just hope we can come out with a win and another date with Syracuse.

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