Six games since Xavier spoiled Seton Hall's bid for a 3-0 start to Big East play, the two teams find themselves neck-and-neck in the conference standings and set for an important duel on Saturday in Newark.
Seton Hall (14-6, 4-4) is coming off a refreshing 80-70 win at Marquette that snapped a three-game skid and an all-time winless mark in Milwaukee over seven tries. A half-game behind Xavier in the conference standings, Seton Hall looks likely to add freshman guard Isaiah Whitehead to the fold after a nine-game absence due to a stress fracture in his right foot.
"Our guys have battled through injuries before, but I think this is the first time I've had a team that really responded and guys stepped up when one of our best players has gone out," said Pirates head coach Kevin Willard. "We're obviously not where we want to be, but we fought hard to get to this point in the season and if we can get Isaiah back I think it's only going to help us move forward."
The Musketeers (14-7, 5-4) have split their six games since the first meeting but have won three of their last four including a definitive 66-53 win at No. 21 Georgetown on Tuesday. Xavier was winless on the road in four tries prior to their win on the Hoyas' turf, which naturally gives them a boost of confidence heading into tomorrow. In Xavier's road losses to Butler and Villanova, their defense wasn't great, allowing 88 points in both games and 1.29 points per possession against the Bulldogs compared to 1.31 PPP versus the Wildcats. The Hoyas were held to .80 PPP on Tuesday.
"We have a young team in many ways, we're relying on players that their first experience of playing on the road in some challenging environments against some really well coached teams and teams that are talented," said Xavier head coach Chris Mack. "We are playing better, defensively I think our guys are a lot better than we were in the non-conference, despite our win-loss total in the Big East."
Matt Stainbrook against an even more experienced Angel Delgado will be a match-up to watch, with Delgado winning that battle in the first meeting. Stainbrook has reached double figures in every game but one since the first clash with Seton Hall including three 17-point outings. Once a sixth-man, guard Myles Davis has emerged on the scene and is now starting. Davis is averaging 16.6 ppg over his last five and is 11 of 28 (39%) from three.
Xavier was 3 of 15 from long range in the first game and that may stay around the same, the Muskies are ninth in the conference in three-point percentage (30%) and percentage of points from three (23%).
At point guard, Dee Davis' assist rate in conference play (37.1) is second in the Big East behind Providence's Kris Dunn and he sports a 14:1 assist-to-turnover ratio over his last two games.
"I think he can shoot the ball better, there's no mistaking it, but we want him to be a pass-first point guard and a guy that runs our show, able to recognize defenses of the opponent, get us in the right formation offensively and I think he sets the table pretty well," said Chris Mack. "His assist-turnover ratio has been spectacular here recently [...] He's doing a really good job of running our team, of pushing the pace, of finding shooters, and because of that, we've been pretty good here as of late offensively."
Three things to watch:
Xavier's defense on Sterling Gibbs. Remy Abell and the Musketeer forwards did a good job on Gibbs last time, holding him to 8 pts (3-11 fg) and 7 asts. I broke down three different times that Stainbrook was able to contain Gibbs and not allow him to drive into the lane in this film room piece. It's uncertain how much help Gibbs will get from his two (probably three) guards tomorrow, so his production is key.
Angel Delgado vs. Matt Stainbrook. Kevin Willard started big man Chier Ajou at the Cintas Center so that Delgado didn't pick up any early fouls, and it seemed to work. Angel has been better at avoiding cheap ones of late, so I'm not sure Willard needs to take that approach again tomorrow. Delgado edged the big man battle (12 pts, 6 rebs vs. 8 pts, 9 rebs) but was shielded from the offensive glass well, the Hall only had 13 offensive boards in the game. Angel Delgado is pulling in 13 rpg over his last four games. This will be a fun match-up to focus on.
More from Seton Hall's guards. Xavier held Hall guards to 2 points and 5 assists in the first half of the first game, with Gibbs, Sina and Carrington combining for 18 points, 9 assists and 7 turnovers on the day, a statline that Willard said hurt the team. Wing Trevon Bluiett and Dee Davis had good games, but Myles Davis and Remy Abell mustered only 13 points. I'd expect them to score north of that on Saturday. Jaren Sina and Khadeen Carrington meshed well with Sterling Gibbs in Milwaukee, making Seton Hall 22-1 when Sina scores nine or more points, according to Jerry Carino.
Series history (SHU 6-4):
Jan. 7, 2015, Xavier 69, SETON HALL 58, Cincinnati, Ohio
March 3, 2014, SETON HALL 71, Xavier 62, Newark, N.J.
Feb. 1, 2014, SETON HALL 68, Xavier 60, Cincinnati, Ohio
Nov. 21, 2010, Xavier 57, SETON HALL 52, St. Thomas, VI
Dec. 8, 1979, SETON HALL 70, Xavier 67, Bloomington, Ind.
March 16, 1957 Xavier 85, SETON HALL 79, New York, N.Y.
Jan. 10, 1956, SETON HALL 84, Xavier 73, South Orange, N.J.
Jan. 11, 1953, SETON HALL 86, Xavier 78, South Orange, N.J.
Jan. 5, 1949, SETON HALL 60, Xavier 51, South Orange, N.J.
Jan. 4, 1948, Xavier 41, SETON HALL 34, Cincinnati, Ohio
KenPom says: No. 41 Seton Hall 72, No. 19 Xavier 71 (51%)
Projected Xavier starters:
PG - Dee Davis
SG - Myles Davis
G - Remy Abell
PF - James Farr
C - Matt Stainbrook
When: Noon, Saturday
TV: Fox Sports 1 (Justin Kutcher, Bill Raftery)
Radio: AM 970, Sirius 134, XM 202
Opening line: Seton Hall -1.5