It's simple what's at stake for 12-2 (2-0) Seton Hall on their trip to Xavier on Wednesday.
A chance to have the best start in conference play in a decade and a half, since a 1998-99 Tommy Amaker team with a young Shaheen Holloway on it. Before that? A P.J. Carlesimo-coached team started 3-0 and then won the Big East Tournament in 1992-93. Wednesday is also a chance for Seton Hall to hold onto their No. 19 ranking, unlike what happened when they received a top-25 spot in 2012 and then traveled and lost to South Florida -- a debacle that has to be in the back of the minds of Kevin Willard and Shaheen Holloway.
Aside from those accolades, this is an opportunity for Seton Hall to notch their first true road win of the season. Let's face it, USF's Sun Dome was no different an atmosphere than the Paradise Jam and the opponent was weak. Kevin Willard used the trip to USF and then Georgia as a two-game prep for this pair of road games at Xavier 10-4 (1-1) and then Creighton 9-6 (0-2). Willard sounded like he regretted how the team used its time around USF and Georgia, so it'll be note worthy to see how prepared Seton Hall is on Wednesday.
For Xavier, they're looking to steady the ship. Their non-conference season has had its ups, like beating some solid teams in Stephen F. Austin, Long Beach State and Alabama, but also its downs, like when they met the Beach again at the Wooden Legacy in Anaheim and lost. Xavier also lost to a poor Auburn team in double overtime. So far in Big East play, the Musketeers started with a win over Georgetown at home, but then dropped a game at DePaul, continuing their inconsistent play.
Xavier has missed the NCAA tournament just once since the 2004-05 season.
One of the first things that must be mentioned about the Musketeers is their offense. Xavier scores the 19th-most points per game at 79.9 and have the 14th-most efficient offense according to KenPom. Their two and three-point percentages are both top-25 and the Muskies play at the 89th-quickest tempo in the country.
Chris Mack's squad is led in scoring by 6-foot-6 freshman wing Trevon Bluiett (13.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg), who will challenge for the conference's freshman of the year award. Like Seton Hall, Xavier is balanced with three other players averaging in double figures including Indiana transfer Remy Abell (10.1 ppg, 2.1 apg), who starts at two-guard and brings much-needed defensive prowess.
Experienced senior Dee Davis (9.5 ppg, 5.4 apg) logs most of the minutes at point guard and sports the 48th-best assist rate in the country. Myles Davis (10 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2 apg) is an impact sharpshooter off of the bench and shouldn't be overlooked. Myles has made the most threes at the best percentage on the team (26-54, 48%) and averages in double figures. Bluiett is equally as potent (23-58, 39.7%) from beyond the arc including his 4-of-10 effort against DePaul on Saturday.
6-foot-10 senior behemoth Matt Stainbrook (12.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.1 apg) will play the majority of minutes at center while forward tandem James Farr (5.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg) and Jalen Reynolds (8.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg) support him like they did a season ago. Stainbrook started the season with a bang but is only averaging 8.1 ppg and 6.5 rpg over his last seven games.
Just a sophomore, Reynolds has shown signs of breaking out with outbursts of 16 points at Auburn and 17 against Georgetown. Farr is less of a threat offensively but has reeled in nine or more rebounds on five occasions this season including 14 against Murray State. Farr has the 10th-best defensive rebounding percentage in the country and will battle Angel Delgado on the blocks.
From Dee Davis to Matt Stainbrook, Xavier prides its offense in ball movement, shown in their 60.9% A/FGM ratio that is 45th-best in the nation. When defending, the Musketeers haven't been as air-tight as Chris Mack would like. Xavier is just 238th in three-point defense and 219th in overall defensive efficiency. Remy Abell is their best defender and may guard Gibbs.
Three things to watch:
Seton Hall's defensive effort, especially early. Xavier can get after it on the offensive end, and I think Seton Hall will want to avoid fouling in bunches like they did trying to guard Villanova. Will Willard look to shut down the interior or lock down on outside threats like Bluiett and Myles Davis? We've seen him have game plans focused around one or the other. Willard has stated that he has allowed the pace to speed up a bit in the beginning of games to get his guys going, but I'm not sure that will be required between two offensively capable teams.
Trevon Bluiett. The top-50 athletic freshman started his career by scoring in double figures in six straight games, but has only done so three times over his last eight. The freshman can fill it up, as seen by his 19 against DePaul, and probably would have been guarded by Isaiah Whitehead, which would have been fun. Stephane Manga may get a third start in a row and has the size to match up defensively while Desi Rodriguez gets the job later in the game.
Xavier's three-point defense. The Musketeers have allowed two of their last three opponents to shoot 50-percent from the field (DePaul 10-20, Florida Gulf Coast 8-16) and have allowed opponents to shoot 33-of-76 (43.4%) from beyond the arc in their losses. Seton Hall didn't get their outside shot going in a slug fest-like atmosphere when facing Villanova, but they torched it from outside (10-23) against a tough St. John's defense and have done so on quite a few occasions on the season. This weakness could leave the door open for the visitors to heat up on the road.
Series history (SHU 6-3):
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. 30 Xavier 73, No. 29 Seton Hall 69 (35%)
Projected Xavier starters:
PG - Dee Davis
G - Remy Abell
G/F - Trevon Bluiett
F - Jalen Reynolds
C - Matt Stainbrook
When: Wednesday, 7ET
TV: CBS Sports Network (Tom McCarthy and Alaa Abdelnaby)
Radio: 570 AM
Opening line: Xavier -7