Over the next few days, we will be previewing the Villanova Wildcats’ 2019-20 basketball schedule. We’ll continue with the kick off of the Big East games, looking at the Xavier Musketeers, the Marquette Golden Eagles, and the Creighton Blue Jays.
2018–19 Record: 19–16 (Big East 9-9)
Head coach: Travis Steele (2nd season)
Key Players: Naji Marshall, Quentin Goodin, Paul Scruggs, Tyrique Jones, Jason Carter, Bryce Moore
Key Departures: Zach Hankins, Ryan Welage, Kyle Castlin
This past summer, Xavier’s fanbase had a taste of what ‘Nova Nation underwent on the heels of the 2018 National Championship: anxiously awaiting the NBA draft decisions of four key players. While ‘Nova Nation ultimately received the equivalent of the sledgehammer to the face, Musketeer fans were ecstatic to learn that Naji Marshall, Quentin Goodin, Paul Scruggs, and Tyrique Jones would all be returning for another run.
The Musketeers, despite getting off to a rocky start last season, went on a bit of tear in February and March as the team grew more comfortable under first year coach Travis Steele. Knocking off Creighton, Providence, Seton Hall, and Villanova in quick succession, the Muskies clawed to .500 in conference play before ultimately being bounced in the semi-finals of the Big East Tournament (by Villanova). Regardless, it was clear that Xavier had hit its stride as the season wound down.
The Musketeers project to be solid on both sides of the ball with an efficient offense premised on smart guard play and an improved front court. With the addition of Carter and Moore, both of whom can stretch the floor with an outside shot, the Musketeers should be able to implement a balanced offense with a much quicker pace than the sub-300 Muskies we saw last year. Xavier rode an efficient 2P% to a Top-60 AdjO rating last year but was continuously dragged down by putrid outside shooting. The Musketeers could not establish a reliable outside threat, severely limiting their options on offense and contributing to the deliberate and glacial pace.
Xavier was sub-100 on defense last year, generating very little turnovers and steals and forcing opponents to beat them from outside. In three meetings against Xavier last year, the Wildcats won twice. While one of the games saw Villanova shoot a blistering 44% from deep, the other win (and the loss) saw the ‘Cats struggle from deep, going 19-65 collectively.
The Musketeers are a veteran team and will undoubtedly be in the mix for the conference crown as the season winds down.
2018–19 Record: 24–10 (Big East: 12-6)
Head coach: Steve Wojciechowski (6th season)
Key Players: Markus Howard, Theo John, Sacar Anim, Koby McEwen
Key Departures: Joey Hauser, Sam Hauser, Joseph Chartouny
One of the surprising developments at Marquette this off-season was the departure of brothers Sam and Joey Hauser, who announced their intentions to transfer from the program in early May. These decisions, somewhat out of the blue, were a helluva blow to a Marquette team reeling from a first round bludgeoning at the hands of Murray State and looking towards maximizing one more year of star guard Markus Howard, who had elected to return to campus just a few weeks prior.
While Howard was the headline maker, the Hausers were vital pieces of a Marquette team that finished the year Top-50 in Offense and Defense efficiency last year and who, together, accounted for nearly 40% of the team’s possessions. The brothers were a nice complement to Howard and helped Marquette space the floor and facilitate what, at times, was an all-world offense. Ultimately, Sam Hauser elected to transfer to the Virginia Cavaliers while his brother chose to join Tom Izzo’s Spartans in East Lansing.
So, where does that leave Marquette? Well the team returns Markus Howard, who, prior to Hausergate, was projected to have another incredible campaign. Last year, Howard accounted for 36.7% of Marquette’s possessions (5th in the country) and 36.7% of the team’s shots (7th in the country). The offense, somewhat comically, runs through Howard. While Howard is still a dynamic and videogame-esque guard at times, he will face a new challenge this year trying to operate within an offense that is missing two of its strongest facilitators from last year.
Howard will nevertheless be joined by Sacir Amin and Theo John. Anim, the 6’5 Senior guard, dropped 18 points on Villanova in February just to be held to 2 points in their subsequent meeting three weeks later. However, the guard averaged 8.3 points per game and shot nearly 40% from deep. As for John, Villanova fans will likely remember the 6’9 Junior center’s bizarre ejection from the Big East Tournament, which arguably paved the way for Seton Hall to advance. John was a big part of the Golden Eagles’ improved defense last year, a portion of their game that is typically lacking, averaging 5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. Finally, like Xavier, Marquette also brings in a veteran transfer in Utah State’s Koby McEwen. McEwen, who averaged 16 points per game last year, is a solid and multifaceted guard who can score both off the dribble and from deep.
Theo John(#4) and Sacar Anim(#2) on Marquette were both ejected from the game for this altercation.— Pros and Joes (@ProsAndJoesPod) March 16, 2019
Worst case of refereeing in the history of basketball. pic.twitter.com/cfTJXWKr7Y
Overall, the questions following Marquette all season will be whether Markus Howard can carry this team on his back. While he has some nice pieces around him (both new and returning), none replace what was lost with the departure of the Hausers. We saw Marquette hit a wall towards the end of last season and, while Howard still put up decent point totals, his efficiency took a hit as he was asked to shoulder nearly half of the team’s possessions.
Creighton Blue Jays
2018–19 Record: 20–15 (Big East 9-9)
Head coach: Greg McDermott (10th season)
Key Players: Ty-Shon Alexander, Marcus Zegarowski, Mitchell Ballock, Davion Mintz, Jacob Epperson
Key Departures: Kaleb Joseph, Martin Krampelj,
Creighton had a disappointing campaign last season, missing out on the NCAA tournament and ultimately bowing out to TCU in the NIT. The Blue Jays finished .500 in the conference after a mini-run in February wherein they bounced Marquette (away) and Providence before narrowly falling to Xavier in the Big East Tournament. Villanova swept the Blue Jays last year, but required overtime to squeak by at home. Overall, it was meh.
The Blue Jays return Ty-Shon Alexander, a 6’4 junior guard, who averaged 15.7 points per game, and dynamic point guard Marcus Zegarowski, who shot over 40% from deep last year and averaged nearly 4 assists per game. Mitch Ballock, a 6’5 junior guard, also returns having shot 42% from three and 46% from the field. The Blue Jays are balanced and dynamic on offense and finished last season ranked Top-50 in AdjO and Top-10 in effective FG%.
However, Creighton’s defense was a liability last year and does not project to be markedly better this season. The Blue Jays finished 83rd in AdjD but ranked sub-270 in both effective FG% defense and block %. They played relatively quickly, chucking and ducking with little to no emphasis on getting stops. That said, the offense is likely to be efficient from both inside and outside the arc so, if the shots are falling, the Blue Jays will not shy away from getting into a shootout, something that should give Villanova fans agita.