By Andy Mac Williams, 1/28/2020

Xavier lost to Marquette in Milwaukee two weeks ago. It was ugly!! Markus Howard dropped 35 points on the Muskies(40% of their offense). He's leading the NCAA in scoring (28.3PPG) (31PPG in 8 BIG EAST outings). Howard's been a problem for everybody for 4 years. He's approaching 2500 career points. He's 5-2 vs XU. He's now the BIG EAST's All Time leader in made 3 pointers and the top scorer in Marquette history. Howard needs to be contained like at Butler last Friday (26 points on 27 shots w/ only 6 Fts-not 10 or 12 plus 5 turnovers). Markus is JOB #1 for XU. They need to crowd him-make him uncomfortable-make him give the ball up-pick him up in transition where an open "3" for him is like a lay-up. Make him run off a blizzard of screens in the half court working to create that step back space for tough 25 footers vs toeing the arc for 22 foot 3 inch 3 pointers. Bump him-wall up around him-keep him off the FT line and make his teammates shoot it more. Easier said than done!

Marquette is vulnerable on the road(1-3 BIG EAST giving up over 80PPG away). Howard's supporting cast seems much less efficient. Utah St transfer Coby McEwen is a great compliment to Markus in Milwaukee but pretty ordinary away. Mc Ewen is a strong 6-4 downhill guard at Pfizer Forum w/ some PG skills and a decent outside stroke.

6-9 Tank Theo John is a shot blocking summa wrestling beast at home. Away he often picks up early fouls and pouts. Xavier has to drive right at him and force him out. 7 foot back up Jayce Johnson(Utah transfer) is lanky and mobile, but not a muscle man that changes opponent's offenses and X must score heavily inside w/ Tyrique and Freemantle and Carter and get to the FT line a lot to counter MU's 3 point sniping(10 makes/ game at about 40%). 6-8 Soph Brendan Bailey is dripping w/ talent, but he's gone silent on the road. 6-5 Sr Sacar Anim(13PPG) is different-great defender and efficient shooter, but he differs to Howard.

MU's 4-4 in BIG EAST but Dr Jekyll-Mr Hyde home vs road. Xavier is 10-2 at home but just 2-2 home in BIG EAST. This is an urgent statement game for the Muskies. If X devolves to "Ground Hog Day" performance a la at Creighton and at Marquette, they will not take advantage of MU's road persona. Muskies need a fast start - first half lead (13-1 when that happens)-rebounding domination(11-2 when that takes place-and stingy consistent defense holding Marquette under 70 points(11-1 in those games).

Certainly, a lot to ask against MU with their good shooting and 78PPG overall production. Quentin Gooden practiced Tuesday and may play after missing Georgetown and Creighton w/ a sore knee. X offense has to be sharper in execution w/ low turnovers-better shot choices-longer possessions and more FT opportunities. The finish around the rim must be in 60% range and Xavier needs some fast break bunnies off live ball turnovers.

I'm still holding out for more 3 point FG juice. If Kyky Tandy, Freemantle and Bryce Moore could just find a way to get to 6 made threes between them/game? Those guys are now getting the minutes. Tandy was lost after two quick fouls at Creighton. He had knocked down 4 w/ 18 points at home vs Georgetown. Shooting spaced will be there against Marquette.

Ken Pom has Marquette favored 72-71. X is better than that at Cintas. Give me Muskies 68-64 with Howard held below his average and shooting inefficiently and not living at FT line.


The BIG EAST is a BEAST in 2020. It's a physical veteran dominated star guard loaded well coached rock fight virtually every game. BE is a strong 3rd in the power ratings behind BIG TEN and BIG 12 and way ahead of #4 ACC.

It's very probable that 6 BIG EAST teams will make the NCAA Tournament Field of 68. 9 BIG EAST wins before the BET at MSG should get an NCAA berth. XU finished 9-9 last season-in a 4 way tie for 3rd. In 2019 BIG EAST was #5 Conference behind ACC and SEC. Only 4 BE teams made NCAA including an 8-10 St Johns. X went NIT. In Year #1 of the NET( NCAA's proprietary anointed chosen analytical tool) Xavier finished the season at #67 in NET well off three NCAA bubble. After Week 13 last year X was 3-5 with an 83 NET.

In 2020 right now X is 2-5 BIG EAST with a 63 NET reflecting the league's better status. Muskies sank to 108 NET(3-8 BE) on February 9 in the wake of a 6 game losing streak then climbed to 67 w/ a strong finish. Bottom line IMHO if Xavier can get its act together and find a way to win 9 games before NYC, they'll grab an NCAA bid. 11 games remain. X needs to go 4-1 at Cintas. 5-0 would be primo. 3 road wins (in 6 games away) plus 4 at Cintas equals 9. 9 wins would give Xavier an NET somewhere between 35 and 45.

10 wins is a mortal NCAA lock out of the 2020 BIG EAST. An 8-10 team might go depending on win distribution and non-conference strength of schedule. X needs to climb into the Top 6-avoiding a Wednesday meaningless play-in game in NYC and salting away that NCAA spot before the BET. I put the remaining 11 games in 3 tranches.

TOP TIER: 2 left-at Seton Hall and home Villanova Goal(1-1).

MIDDLE TIER: 5 left-Marquette home- Butler(2) and PC(2). GOAL 3-2.

LOWER TIER: 4 left-at ST JOHNS, DePaul(2) at Georgetown. Goal 3-1.

That adds up to 7-4 w/ a bunch of NET Quadrant 1 wins and no bad losses. NCAA, here we come!! Better execution makes 7-4 down the stretch possible.

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