Despite the how wildly the landscape in the Big East has changed in just 12 months, history is repeating itself as we move into the homestretch, and not simply in that the ‘Cats are leading the pack.
For the second year in a row, the #10 ranked team in the country has had this game circled on their schedule for months, priding themselves as Jay Wright’s squad’s greatest obstacle in between them and another regular season title. Of course, last year it was the #10 Xavier Musketeers coming in to face the best team in the country, the #1 ranked Wildcats.
This year, although behind in the conference standings, the #10 Marquette Golden Eagles are of course ahead of the #14 Wildcats in the polls. Even though Xavier ended up winning the regular season title last year despite getting blown out at Wells Fargo and in the reverse matchup, this game against Marquette is undoubtedly the biggest game of the ‘Cats regular season slate.
But what about Marquette, anyway? Although they are led by Markus Howard, who despite Phil Booth’s hot streak is still the favorite for Big East Player of the Year and one of the best individual offensive threats in the nation this season, Wojciechowski’s offense is not just a one man show. Behind Howard, who is averaging 24.6 points per game, the Hauser brothers, junior Sam (15.7 ppg) and freshman Joey(10.4 ppg), are the second and third options. And as the brothers are 6-8 and 6-9 respectively, their complement to the 5-11 Howard’s game is vital to the 27th ranked offense in the country, via KenPom. But the Hausers are not only two big bodies inside. Like the ‘Cats, Wojo’s strongest lineups include four knockdown shooters, and the Hausers join Howard to form a trio of 40% shooters from deep.
On the defensive end, Marquette is anchored by the 6-foot-9 Theo John. If you’re trying to imagine what to expect from John on Saturday, think of the role DCR plays for Wright. His usage rate is low and he only plays 20 minutes per game, but he also averages almost two offensive boards and over two blocks per game. But Marquette are the 39th ranked defense in the country, via KenPom, and it’s impossible John, or anyone, could pull that off on their own. Outside of the obvious plus of having two mega-sized athletic wings on the floor most of the time in the Hausers, Howard’s defensive ability is often overlooked because of his size. But despite the apparent disadvantage of his height, Howard is a hard-nosed defender and one of the better on-ball guards in the Big East.
Outside of Marquette’s makeup, we can’t ignore the context of this game. Early this week, Marquette lost a one point game to St. John’s, 70-69. In that game, Howard, despite scoring 17 points, only shot 5-17. Howard is going to get his shots off no matter what, but if the ‘Cats can limit where and when he does and forces others to create more of the offense, they should have the upper hand. Even though Booth and Eric Paschall have never seen a shooting contest they didn’t like, if Wright lets them get into it with Howard and jack the pace of the game up, the Wildcats could potentially have trouble keeping up. The ‘Cats, coming off a tough OT win against Creighton, should have no problem finding motivation both to bounce back from a tough shooting night and to see off their strongest conference challenger.
Tip-off is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday.