Gibbs has turned out to be everything Seton Hall was hoping they were getting when he was sitting out last year after transferring from Texas. He's the team's leading scorer at 15.1 points per game, but he's also been great at getting his teammates involved and has a high assist rate. On offense, he's tough to stop because he's great at drawing contact and getting points at the free-throw line. He gets to the charity stripe at the seventh-highest rate in the nation, and has already attempted 167 free-throws on the year, which is twice as many as his next closest teammate. He's an aggressive driver, but he also has the range to step back and knock down the three where he shoots 34.5 percent. Davis will be faced with another tough defensive match-up after having to go up against Bryce Cotton last week. Though it was a disappointing loss for X and a poor defensive effort for the whole team including Davis, he didn't have a terrible individual effort overall. He didn't provide the team with enough of a lift to change the outcome, but he did have five assists, five rebounds and a steal with no turnovers, which is a decent line for him even if he was only 1-for-5 shooting with two points. His job is to take care of the basketball and get others involved, and he was pretty good at that against Providence. Gibbs is a better match-up for him, because he's not an explosive athlete like Cotton with elite quickness. Davis is one of the better on-ball defenders in the conference, especially against guards that have tried to be physical with him. Butler was able to slow Gibbs down last game by not fouling him. He only got two free-throw attempts, and as a result, scored just seven points, snapping his 11-game streak of scoring in double-figures. He was caught forcing the issues many times, and quit finding his teammates once he was frustrated. Davis matching up on Gibbs on defense will definitely be a fun match-up to watch.
Moderate Edge Seton Hall
Semaj Christon So (6-3, 190) vs Fuquan Edwin Sr (6-6, 215)
Edwin is a talented and very versatile wing that makes his mark with his effort and defensive ability. He's the second-leading scorer on the team at 13.1 points per game, and he's the school's all-time leader in steals, averaging 3.2 per game this season. He's had an up-and-down senior season that has been riddled with injury issues, but he's got the potential to go off for 20 or more points on any given night. He scored 35 against Mercer earlier this season, put 24 on Georgetown in a win three games ago, and scored 20 earlier in the week against Butler. He's a good 3-point shooter (38.3 %), and most of his big scoring efforts come on nights where he's able to get going from the outside. Christon suffered a toe injury in the loss at Providence, and he's been resting it and receiving treatment this week. He returned to practice on Wednesday, and will be good to go, but it's certainly something to keep an eye on as the game gets going. In that Providence game, he got off to an extremely slow start in the first half, and the Musketeers finally saw what happened when neither he nor Stainbrook played well at the same time. The hole they dug themselves proved to be too much to overcome in the second half, despite Christon coming to life and scoring 16 in the final 20 minutes. He's been playing really well, so it's hard to criticize his game, but there are some times where he's going to have to be a little more perceptive and take over when his team needs him. This game could very well be one of those situations. This Seton Hall team is dangerous despite what its record may suggest, and while the Pirates have shown the propensity to collapse down the stretch and give up big leads, Xavier would not be wise to play with fire like it did against Providence in a game that it can't afford to lose at home. The Pirates will likely play a lot of their base match-up zone, but they've also shown more man-to-man this year than in years past. Against the zone, Christon will have to make sure he's active and forcing the issue a bit to make sure he's getting looks, and in the man-to-man Edwin matching up with him in the halfcourt will be a fun battle to watch.
Moderate Edge Xavier
Justin Martin Jr (6-6, 205) vs Brian Oliver Sr (6-7, 225)
Oliver is on the floor for one reason, and that's to knock down 3-pointers. He's the best shooter on the team, hitting at a 44.8 percent clip from 3-point range, with over 77 percent of his shot attempts coming from beyond the arc. When the Pirates are playing well, threes are a big part of their offense, and Xavier has definitely struggled with defending the perimeter. Making sure they get a hand up on Oliver will be important. On the flip side, this could be a match-up where Martin really gains an edge for Xavier if he plays with his high-motor approach that he's shown of late. While the rest of the team struggled at Providence, Martin was showing plenty of fire and leading the offense, finishing with 19 points on 9-of-15 shooting. The best part about it was that he wasn't just hitting spot-up threes. He was shooting fadeaway jumpers off the dribble, and scoring around the basket. Oliver is a below average rebounder and an average defender that stays out of the lane almost completely on offense. If Martin plays physical and really attacks the glass at both ends, it could be a double-double type of night for him. Hitting a few threes on the offensive end against the Pirates' zone would be a big boost Martin could provide as well.
Slight Edge Xavier
Isaiah Philmore Sr (6-8, 237) vs Patrik Auda Jr (6-9, 235)
Auda is a face-up forward with good size and strength, similar to Philmore in a lot of ways but a little more athletic. He averages 9.3 points per game, and gets most of his points by scoring at the rim or getting to the free-throw line, which he does at a really high rate relative to how often he shoots. He's also a strong rebounder and a decent post defender. Philmore found himelf in a little bit of foul trouble against Providence, but when he was on the court he actually played pretty well. He definitely showed some toughness on the glass and scoring inside in the second half, even though he only scored six points on a 2-for-2 shooting performance with six rebounds. This is another position where these two teams match-up pretty well. Each of these guys play a similar style, being true power forwards with some size and strength but also being comfortable with facing the basket and handling the ball a little bit. Auda is coming off of his worst performance of the season at Butler where he played just 15 minutes and went 0-for-6 from the field with just two rebounds. He really struggled to finish shots right around the rim in that loss, and couldn't find much success working in the post against Butler's defense. X needs to be physical and sound on the defensive end early in this one and hope to keep some of the Pirates like Auda, who are struggling, from finding their rhythm and getting back on track. Playing without fouling will be important to that, especially in this match-up against Auda.
Matt Stainbrook Jr (6-10, 263) vs Gene Teague Sr (6-9, 270)
Teague is a physical beast roaming the paint for the Pirates. His numbers (26.1 mpg/10.6 ppg/8.7 rpg) are nearly identical to Stainbrook's (25.9 mpg/10.8 ppg/8.6 rpg), and they are both true back to the basket centers. Teague gets to the free-throw line a lot, in part because he's a poor shooter at just 59.8 percent, but he's also difficult to stop on the block, finishing off shots at the rim at a 77.1 percent clip. Against Butler, he overpowered the Bulldogs' smaller frontcourt when he got his opportunities, finishing with 13 points on a 6-of-7 shooting performance with six boards. Stainbrook hasn't quite been himself over the last three games. He's still made an impact with his passing and his rebounding, but he's struggled to finish around the rim. Against Providence, he eventually scored 11 points, but it came on a frustrating 4-of-13 day with three turnovers to go with his nine rebounds and three assists. When the Musketeers were playing their best ball during that eight-game winning streak, Stainbrook did not have to score a lot for them to be successful. He provided a reliable option that when the offense got a little stagnant or the other team was making a run the Musketeers could throw it into him and he'd deliver. That's what they're missing from him most right now. He's struggled to finish around the rim and has been bothered by length, physicality and unfriendly whistles over the last three games, making him an unreliable option on offense right now. This match-up could be very important to the outcome of the game. With both teams matching up rather well at each position, either of these important centers drastically outplaying the other, or even worse getting the other in foul trouble, would give their respective team a major advantage.
Xavier Bench vs Seton Hall Bench
Seton Hall Head Coach Kevin Willard has dealt with a lot of injuries and mixing-and-matching lineups this season, but right now he seems to have a pretty set eight-man rotation. Junior forward Brandon Mobley ( 6-9, 215) actually plays starter-like minutes (27.1 points per game) while spelling Auda and Teague. He likes to play on the perimeter on the offensive end with 43.8 percent of his shots coming from 3-point range, despite only making 28.1 percent of them. He's also a decent rebounder and shot-blocker. Freshman guard Jaren Sina (6-2, 180) is next off the bench, backing up Gibbs, Edwin and Oliver for 25.2 minutes per game. He's going to be a scoring machine in the future, but right now he's mostly just a 3-point shooter that's only hitting 33.9 percent of his attempts from long range. He's had a couple of big scoring nights off the bench, though. Finally, senior center Aaron Geramipoor (6-11, 245) sees nine minutes a game typically, but could receive a few more in this one to bang inside with Stainbrook. The Musketeers' bench was dealt a blow this week when Jalen Reynolds was indefinitely suspended from the team. That likely means a few extra minutes for James Farr and Erik Stenger. After scoring eight points in 18 minutes against DePaul, Brandon Randolph saw just two minutes of action against Providence. Also, Myles Davis hasn't scored more than six points since the win over Alabama. In other words, Xavier has depth to turn to for some rest and in an emergency, but for the most part Coach Mack is rolling with his starters at this point.
While Seton Hall is only 3-5 in Big East play, it's worth noting that the Pirates went to Providence and beat the Friars 81-80 in double-overtime, and went to Georgetown and beat the Hoyas by 10, 67-57. They have good size, decent talent, and they rely on the three, which is always dangerous. It's almost hard to give an exact reason why Xavier will win other than the simple fact that the Musketeers are slightly more talented, and they've been playing much better than Seton Hall for the majority of the season. Plus, they're at home. This game will likely go one of two ways for Xavier following the loss at providence - 1. The Musketeers will take care of business early on and pull away for an easy second half win where they show improved intensity on the defensive end. 2. They'll play tight on offense and still struggle on defense. If it's the latter then this game will be a war, and is far from a guarantee, even at home. More than likely though, with a week to regroup and focus on the defensive struggles, the Musketeers will come out and take care of business before the Cinas faithful. There should be some great individual match-ups either way.
Score Prediction: Xavier 81 Seton Hall 71