Seton Hall and Xavier will clash for just the second time since the 1979-80 season, with their last meeting coming in the semifinal of the 2010 Paradise Jam, a 57-52 Xavier win one day after Jeremy Hazell broke a bone in his wrist. Seton Hall is looking to start a two-game road trip with a win after a disheartening loss to Butler on Wednesday night.
Chris Mack has his team playing impressive basketball at the moment, but the Musketeers are also looking to rebound from a loss after a 81-72 defeat at Providence last Saturday. In their non-conference schedule, Xavier lost three-straight games at the Battle 4 Atlantis against Iowa, Tennessee, and USC, but won ten games outside of the Bahamas. The Musketeers knocked off Wake Forest and Tennessee at home and Cincinnati and Alabama away from home. Xavier's only other Big East loss was a six-point defeat at Creighton, hardly a result to worry about.
Scoring guard Semaj Christon (17 ppg, 3.9 apg, 1.4 spg) and point guard Dee Davis (8 ppg, 4.7 apg, 1.2 spg) lock down most of the minutes in Xavier's backcourt -- they are the only two Musketeers to average over 30 mpg. Davis averages the second most apg in the Big East (4.7) due to playing a true point guard role. Davis is able to get dribble penetration frequently and is a quick passer once splitting the defense. Christon has scored more frequently (21.1 ppg, 59% FG) in Big East play when compared to his overall season thus far, and like Khyle Marshall, plays within the arc (just 12-26 from 3pt). Christon thrives going strong to the basket and using his body control (103rd best fouls drawn per 40 mins. rate) in both the half court and in transition. Providence's length prevented him from scoring in the first half last weekend, but he went on an 18-point roll after the break.
Freshman duo Myles Davis (6.9 ppg, 32/80 3pt, 40%) and Brandon Randolph (3.9 ppg) both see decent minutes in Xavier's backcourt off the bench, with Davis being slightly ahead of Randolph. Outside of opening night against Gardner Webb, Randolph has not scored in double figures including just 17 points in seven Big East games. Davis' production has also dropped in Big East play, but he has shown flashes of scoring ability by putting up at least ten points six separate times against Xavier's non-conference opponents. A former Seton Hall recruiting target, Davis contributes mostly through outside shooting (he has attempted 80 threes compared to 26 two-pointers) when in the game.
On the wing, 6-6 junior Justin Martin (10.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg) is able to drive to the basket as well as pose an outside threat (25/67, 37%). Like Christon, Justin Martin has been more productive than his average against the Big East (15.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg). Though not a focal point of Xavier's offense, Martin can act as a potent scorer - he led Xavier in scoring at the Dunkin' Donuts Center with 19 (8-11 fg) after scoring 18 against DePaul. When Martin isn't in the game , Xavier usually goes to a three-guard lineup.
Starting forwards 6-8 Isaiah Philmore (9ppg, 4.9 rpg) and 6-10 Matt Stainbrook (10.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.4 bpg) are Xavier's only two players that will be very reluctant to launch from outside the arc. Both forwards are good with playing with their backs to the basket, though Stainbrook is more of a threat in the paint. Xavier is not afraid to use Stainbrook early in possessions (like Teague) or after a mid-possession isolation, the 6-10 center is not an easy target to miss when on the block.
Philmore and Stainbrook are usually backed up by sophomore James Farr (7.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and freshman Jalen Reynolds (2.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg), but Reynolds was just indefinitely suspended on Tuesday so that he can focus on activities outside of basketball. As a result, expect Farr to pick up Reynolds' 10 mpg off the bench in the interim. Farr acts as a sub for Stainbrook off the bench but also plays alongside him as a long power forward.
Unlike Butler, Xavier is a very good offensive team despite struggling at Providence. The Musketeers rank in the top-4 of the Big East in 10 of 11 KenPom offensive statistical categories: AdjO (3rd), eFG% (3rd), TO% (4th), OReb% (2nd), FTA/FGA (3rd), 3pt% (4th), 2pt% (3rd), FT% (1st), steal% (1st), A/FGM (4th). The only category Xavier ranks outside the top-4 is how often they get blocked (block%, 9th).
As indicated by their 3PA/FGA (26.2, 318th) and their 3-pointer point distribution (21.8%, 283rd), Xavier does not rely on the three ball, but does work the ball within the arc frequently. Xavier loves to spread the court and use dribble-penetration to free players up, but can also really get after it in transition. The Musketeers have the 117th quickest tempo in the country, but the fastest in the Big East (along with quickest average possession length). Struggling in the half court, Xavier looked to get out in transition against Providence and scored nearly half their first half points within the first few seconds of a new shot clock. If Seton Hall defends on the break like they did against St. John's, they will give up a lot of easy buckets.
Contrary to their offensive statistics, Xavier ranks in the bottom-4 in 8 of 12 KenPom defensive statistical categories (it showed against Providence): AdjD (8th), eFG% (8th), TO% (10th), FTA/FGA (7th), 3pt% (10th), block% (8th), steal% (8th), A/FGM (9th). Xavier's inability to turn teams over leaves them 272nd in the country, but Matt Stainbrook (49th DReb%) has helped the Musketeers achieve the 24th best defensive OReb% in the country (how well they defend against offensive boards).
There will be two major battles to be won on Saturday: Fuquan Edwin vs. Semaj Christon and Gene Teague vs. Matt Stainbrook. Seton Hall is not as tall as Providence, and therefore their length won't be able to alter Christon's game as much, he will have to be defended by Edwin in a man-to-man. Up front, a recovering Teague (nearing 100%) will be out-muscled for one of the few times on the season. Like Teague, Stainbrook doesn't have much elevation, but is powerful when he puts his shoulder into a defender. This may default to a battle of who will pick up fouls first. Xavier may have the edge if their dribble penetration is able to draw fouls on Teague, Mobley, and Auda. Perhaps a wing player like Stephane Manga or Haralds Karlis will be used as a more physical defender on the ball against Christon and Justin Martin when they drive from the wing.
We should see a more free-flowing game than Thursday, but that would play right into Xavier's deadly transition game. The Musketeers have scored 80+ points in four of their last five games.
Xavier is 12-0 at home this season with an average margin of victory of 10.2 against Big East opponents and 14.6 against all competition. The Musketeers have not lost at the Cintas Center since March 2nd of last year.
KenPom says: No. 30 Xavier - 79, No. 104 Seton Hall - 67 (14%)
Projected Xavier starters:
6-0 Jr., G - Dee Davis
6-3 So., G - Semaj Christon
6-6 Jr., G/F - Justin Martin
6-8 Sr., F - Isaiah Philmore
6-10 Jr., C - Matt Stainbrook
When: Saturday, noon local time
TV: CBS Sports Network; Dave Ryan (play-by-play), Pete Gillen (analysis, 9-year Xavier coach, all-time winningest men's basketball coach)
Radio: 970 AM