by Ryan Peloquin
The Xavier Musketeers will come to the Main Line for their first conference matchup versus the ’Cats this Monday. Although they boast a 15-5 record thus far, Xavier has been a mixed bag.
With no signature wins, Xavier could impress the selection committee with a win against the ’Cats, who ESPN projects will fall to 11 following their beat down at the hands of Creighton.
Xavier is not ranked, but they did receive votes for the AP poll last week and Ken Pomeroy has the Musketeers as the 30th best team in the country.
Xavier is ranked 34th in RPI though they have lost two of their last four, including a disappointing 81-72 loss at Providence College last Saturday.
Although the Creighton loss was alarming, the Nation should be aware that Creighton’s performance was a statistical anamoly.
There is no doubt Creighton can compete for the Big East Championship, but they will never hit 21 3-pointers again and, if they did, they could beat most of the NBA Eastern conference.
Nevertheless, Villanova bounced back from their Blue Jay disaster with an overtime win at Marquette and it should be noted that after getting jobbed on an offensive foul call at the end of regulation, the Wildcats were resilient enough to take care of business in the extra time.
Jay Wright’s game plan for this one will be to contain sophomore guard Semaj Christon. The stellar sophomore is Xavier’s offense, averaging 17 points per game and hitting nearly 50 percent of his field goals while netting at least 27 in three of his last five games.
Christon makes his living inside the arc, connecting on only 12 3-pointers this year, and will look to get to the rim and the free throw line early. Based on his skill set, look for redshirt-sophomore guard Dylan Ennis to attempt to lock him up.
Christon likes to score, but he lacks the playmaking ability of the elite guards, tallying just under four assists per game coupled with 2.1 turnovers per contest.
Other than Christon, the ’Cats need to pay attention to the solid Musketeer frontcourt. Junior center Matt Stainbrook holds down the paint.
At 6-foot-10-inches and 260 pounds, sophomore forward Daniel Ochefu will have a difficult time moving him from the block.
Stainbrook ‘s stature has paid dividends for Xavier as he is averaging 10.9 points per game and 8.6 rebounds per game. Christon’s penetration leads to easy buckets for Stainbrook.
Junior forward Justin Martin accompanies Stainbrook in the front court and will certainly be highlighted on Jay Wright’s scouting report.
The 6-foot-6-inch junior is putting up 10.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest, but has come on strong recently.
In his last five games, Martin has averaged 16.6 and 7.4 and it appears he has saved his best performance for conference play. James Bell is likely to draw Martin on game day.
In terms of defensive game plan, do not be surprised if Coach Wright employs more zone than usual. The Musketeers do not opt for the three ball often, as it accounts for only 21.8 percent of their scoring (281st in the nation).
Villanova will look to pack in their defense to protect the rim and hopefully make Xavier trigger happy from beyond the arc early.
Offensively, it will be much of the same for Villanova. Christon is probably Xavier’s best on the ball defender, averaging 1.4 steals per game, so sophomore guard Ryan Arcidiacono could be quiet in this one.
Otherwise, it will be much of the same for the ’Cats. They will pound it inside with redshirt-junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston and work the in and out game with from beyond the arc. Senior guard James Bell was a monster against Marquette and it was a good sign that the majority of his 30 came from inside the arc and from the free throw line.
The less he has to rely on the three ball the better, and it appears he is making strides to become a more dynamic scorer. There is no reason he can’t put up numbers against the Xavier defense, which ranks 101st in the nation.
Although Villanova should handle Xavier, this will be a tricky matchup. The Musketeers are hungry and on the cusp of the Top 25. Despite the loss to Providence, a win against Villanova could catapult them into the rankings.
Fifth year Head Coach Chris Mack is looking to forge the Musketeers’ place in the Big East, and knocking off one its most storied programs in their first conference matchup would certainly mean something. Mack is hoping he can point to this game to justify a Musketeer berth in the NCAA Tournament.