Big East Semifinal Preview: Xavier Musketeers

Since the Villanova Wildcats passed their first test of the Big East Tournament by beating the Providence Friars, 73-62, they will shift their focus to their semifinal matchup of the Xavier Musketeers. Although the Musketeers at one point lost six consecutive games in Big East play, first year head coach Travis Steele righted the ship. After many had written Steele and his team off midway through conference play, they finished their regular season slate winning six of their last seven, good enough for the #4 seed in the Big East Tournament.

The Musketeers made this type of midseason rebound behind their offense, which is ranked 50th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency per KenPom. Unlike the Wildcats, the Musketeers’ offense goes against sabermetric conventional wisdom and hinges on success shooting inside the three-point arc. They ranked ninth in Big East regular season play three-point attempts, and their leading scorer, sophomore forward Naji Marshall, is shooting only 28.9 percent from deep. Sophomore guard Paul Scruggs and senior forward Ryan Welage are both shooting above 40 percent from behind the arc and are capable floor spacers for the Musketeers, but this threat from deep is used mainly to open up their team’s inside and midrange scoring game.

Although Marshall affects all phases of the game for the Musketeers, averaging 6.7 rebounds, and 3.3 assists it is his scoring at 14.9 points per game that makes the greatest impact for his team. With Marshall struggling coming back from an ankle injury – he scored only 11 points on 4-12 shooting in the Musketeers’ 63-61 quarterfinal win against Creighton – it is not outrageous to think the Travis Steele’s team could struggle Friday night. One of the benefits of having an offense with five scorers averaging double-digits is that even with the top dog not at the top of his game, there is a chance someone will keep them above water. In their Big East regular season finale against St John’s, sophomore guard Paul Scruggs scored 22 points, and against the Blue Jays last night senior forward Zach Hankins did the same.

Although the Wildcats will need to put up one of their better defensive efforts of the season against the Musketeers, if head coach Jay Wright’s squad is on from behind the arc, the math says they should have the firepower to outgun their semifinal opponents and move one step closer to another Big East Tournament title at 6:30 p.m.