Edmond Sumner FR (6-6, 183) vs Haanif Cheatham FR (6-5, 190)
Sumner is making his return 16 days after suffering a concussion in the Villanova loss on New Year's Eve. He may not start, but expect him to play starter minutes. He's averaging 11.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.1 assists in 23.8 minutes per game, while shooting 44.9 percent from the field and 40.6 percent (13-32) from 3-point range. Xavier went 3-1 without him in the lineup, but averaged an inflated 14.8 turnovers per game. This is a good time for him to return, as Marquette's guards do a good job of pressuring the ballhandler on defense. Also, the Golden Eagles aren't very good at getting out on jump-shooters, and the threat of his penetration may collapse them even more, creating extra space for the Musketeers' shooters on the perimeter. Expect a lot of success out of XU's ball-screen actions in this one. Cheatham is a long lead guard that excels at getting to the rim off of the bounce. He has an innate feel for finding creases in the defense, or anticipating how driving lanes will open up. He's also a solid spot-up shooter. He's scored 10-or-more points in six of the Golden Eagles' last seven games (13.6 ppg over that stretch). For the season, he ranks fourth on the team in scoring at 11.4 points per game, and is shooting 52.4 percent from the floor, including 13-of-24 from 3-point range. He'll play off the ball when Traci Carter is in the game, but he's in this slot because I think it's likely he's matched up with Sumner. Also, when Carter leaves the game, he will slide over and play some point. This should be a fun matchup between two talented freshman guards.
Myles Davis (6-2, 188) vs Traci Carter FR (6-0, 175)
Davis was named to this week's Big East Weekly Honor Roll after scoring 14 points and dishing out a season-high seven assists against DePaul. He's 8-for-16 from 3-point range over the last three games, and he's averaged 14.6 points and 5.3 assists over that stretch. For the season, he's averaging 11.1 points (41.1% FG, 40.3% 3PT), 3.6 assists, and 3.1 rebounds in 28.3 minutes per game. Carter is a distributing point guard and tough defender that possesses just enough scoring ability to keep the defense honest. He's averaging 5.1 points, 4.9 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 24.3 minutes per game. He's shooting 32.1 percent from the field, including 11-of-36 (30.6%) from 3-point range. He'll attack the lane, but he's almost always looking to pass without even considering shooting. Xavier has to be aware of this and not completely collapse its defense on him when he does get in the lane. He'll hit an occasional spot-up three if left open, or a floater in the lane, but a lot of his offense comes in transition from creating turnovers on the defensive end.
Moderate Edge Xavier
Remy Abell SR (6-4, 197) vs Sandy Cohen SO (6-6, 200)
After playing poorly in the St. John's game, Abell played 26 minutes and went 0-for-5 from the floor with five rebounds and two assists in the win over DePaul on Tuesday. He did turn in a tremendous defensive effort against Billy Garrett Jr, though. He was 3-for-3 from beyond the arc when he dropped 21 points on Butler two weeks ago, and has attempted just one 3-pointer in the two games since. It would seem maybe slowing down and finding the open spot on the perimeter might be a good way for him to get back in the flow offensively. He's averaging 7.3 points and 2.3 assists in 27.4 minutes per game. Cohen is a smooth and crafty wing that scores most of his points on spot-up jumpers, but he knows how to play and score in other ways. He's averaging 8.8 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.2 steals in 28.8 minutes per game, while shooting 47.2 percent from the field, including 39.7 percent (23-58) from 3-point range.
Trevon Bluiett SO (6-6, 208) vs Henry Ellenson FR (6-11, 245)
Bluiett has scored in double figures in 15 of Xavier's 16 games, and is coming off a career-high 24-point effort against DePaul on Tuesday. He broke out of a three-game shooting slump by hitting 5-of-11 attempts from 3-point range against the Blue Demons. For the season, he's averaging 15.1 points, 6.8 boards, 2.2 assists and 1.1 steals in 30.7 minutes per game. This is going to be a tough defensive matchup for him in the post and on the glass, which may force Xavier to go to the 1-3-1 zone if Marquette is able to exploit the mismatch. Ellenson is a freshman of the year and All-America candidate. He leads the Golden Eagles in scoring and rebounding with averages of 15.7 points and 9.8 boards in 32 minutes per game. He's reached double figures in scoring in all but one game, and has already produced 10 double-doubles this year (ninth most in the country). He's impressively skilled for his size, but as a defense you're still better off turning him into a jump-shooter. He's only shooting 30.9 percent on spot-up jumpers for the year, including 24.6 percent (14-57) from three. On post up possessions, he's shooting 55 percent. He's a strong rebounder on the defensive end, and is capable of starting the break and even going coast-to-coast himself. If this matchup comes to fruition, look for Xavier to try and find Bluiett on throwbacks in pick-and-pop situations. Marquette's bigs hard-hedge on screens and recover, which makes them susceptible to these actions, especially with two bigs in the same lineup (similar to how we've seen with Xavier in the recent past).
Slight Edge Marquette
Jalen Reynolds JR (6-10, 238) vs Luke Fischer JR
Reynolds had six points (2-6 FG) and seven rebounds in 19 minutes against DePaul on Tuesday. Last year, he struggled in both games against Marquette, scoring six points on 3-of-11 shooting at the Bradley Center, and four points on 2-of-2 shooting at the Cintas Center. He's averaging 9.9 points and 6.7 boards in 19.8 minutes per game. His athleticism could cause some problems for Fischer if he's aggressive in attacking him. Fischer is a back to the basket, low-post player with good size and touch around the rim. He's averaging 13.7 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in 29.6 minutes per game. Most of his points come on post-ups, but his teammates also do a good job of finding him in a finisher position for lobs or easy points at the rim. Despite his ability to change shots in the paint, he's a below average defender that gets lazy when fighting for positioning. He's a good offensive rebounder, but does a poor job on the defensive glass.
Slight Edge Xavier
Xavier Bench vs Marquette Bench
Senior big man James Farr (6-10, 244) is going to be a big key for the Musketeers in this one. He hasn't played well of late, causing Mack to call him out for his attitude and effort after the win over DePaul. With Marquette's size, his production and overall presence would be a big boost for Xavier. JP Macura (6-5, 203) had 13 points (5-6 FG, 1-2 3PT), four rebounds, three steals and two assists against DePaul. He was an instant spark at both ends in that game, and the Musketeers could use the same in this one. This could be a good matchup for him, especially if XU is forced to play zone. Plus, he came off the bench and buried three 3-pointers at the Bradley Center last year. Sean O'Mara (6-10, 247) could also play an important role in this game. With Marquette's talented frontcourt, foul trouble could become an issue for the Musketeers. Fortunately, O'Mara has provided quality minutes off the bench in recent games. He finished with nine points (2-3 FG, 5-6 FTs), three rebounds and an assist in 13 minutes against DePaul. Kaiser Gates (6-8, 217) could also see some time simply because he's been playing well lately. He had a career-high 11 points and hit two threes in the win over DePaul, while impressing with his lateral mobility on the defensive end. For Marquette, sophomore guard Duane Wilson (6-2, 185) started the first three games of the year before being moved to the bench, but he's remained a heavy contributor, averaging 12.6 points, 3.0 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 28.5 minutes per game. He's shooting 42.4 percent from the field and 34.7 percent (33-95) from 3-point range. He's used the second most possessions on the team after Henry Ellenson. Junior wing JaJuan Johnson (6-5, 195) is a long and athletic wing that can get to the rim off the bounce, and he excels in transition. He's averaging 7.1 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.4 steals in 18.9 minutes per game. Junior forward Wally Ellenson (6-6, 210) is an All-American high-jumper that brings energy and effort in short spurts. He's averaging 1.9 points and 2.7 rebounds in 9.2 minutes per game.
Slight Edge Xavier
This Marquette team is a lot different than the one the Musketeers faced last year. A season ago, the Golden Eagles played incredibly slow and relied on Matt Carlino and Duane Wilson to do pretty much everything on the offensive end. This year, their offense is more uptempo and multi-dimensional, with several pieces capable of making plays. They have a potent post attack in Fischer and Ellenson, and guards that can create in Cheatham, Wilson, and to an extent Carter. When they're hitting threes (34% as a team, 185th in the country), they're a really tough matchup. Cohen, Wilson, and Cheatham are the biggest threats from deep. On the defensive end, Marquette does a good job of pressuring the ball and creating turnovers without fouling, which is a very rare combo. After having to resort to a lot of 2-3 zone last year due to personnel, the Golden Eagles are now playing almost exclusively man-to-man (93% of the time). They don't do a very good job of defending jump shooters, and they're not very good at keeping opposing teams off of the offensive glass. The Ellenson's are the only good defensive rebounders on the team. If X is hitting shots at all on the offensive end, it should have no problem putting up big points against this Marquette defense because of the way they sell out on the help side. Good spacing and ball movement - something the Musketeers have excelled at this year - will yield open looks. Also, the Golden Eagles aren't great at defending ball screens due to all of the scrambling and recovering with the two bigs in the lineup. There are a few individual matchups that could give Xavier some problems on the defensive end (Ellenson, Cheatham, maybe Fischer), but it would seem a switch to the 1-3-1 would likely solve those issues, and Marquette doesn't have the skill to break down the zone.
Predicted score: Xavier 82 Marquette 71