After rolling through its non-conference schedule with ease, No. 8 Xavier looks to remain one of the hottest shooting teams in the nation as it kicks off Big East action Wednesday night against host Marquette. The Musketeers come in on a seven-game winning streak and will look to improve upon last year’s mediocre 9-9 conference record.
Xavier didn’t make it easy on itself - winning its last three non-conference contests by 10 points or fewer - but put together one of its best halves in some time last time out at Northern Iowa, outscoring the hosts by double digits after going into halftime locked in a 29-29 tie. “This is a great win for our team. An absolutely great win,” Xavier coach Chris Mack told reporters afterward. “Our guys had a lot of respect coming in for the environment.” Xavier wold love nothing more than to keep the good times rolling heading into its Jan. 10 encounter with vaunted Villanova - and that starts against a Marquette team that reeled off four consecutive victories to close out its non-conference ledger. Sam Hauser’s 29 points led the way as the Golden Eagles trounced American 92-51 last time out.
TV: 8:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1
ABOUT XAVIER (12-1): The Musketeers have been sensational on offense through their first 13 games; they’re the only team in the nation ranking in the top five in both field-goal percentage (52.2 percent) and free-throw success rate (79.8 percent). But remaining one of the country’s most potent offenses will require team scoring leader Trevon Bluiett (19.8 ppg) to snap out of a mini-slump that has seen him average just 13.3 points over his previous three games. J.P. Macura (12.2 ppg) is the only other Musketeer averaging double figures in points and had a team-high 15 in Friday’s victory over Northern Iowa.
ABOUT MARQUETTE (9-3): The Golden Eagles’ offense is largely a three-pronged attack, with Markus Howard (21.8 ppg), Andrew Rowsey (20.7) and Sam Hauser (15.2) averaging nearly 57 of Marquette’s 83 points per game. Hauser has been the hottest of the three in recent games, scoring a combined 50 points while connecting on 13 3-pointers in victories over Northern Illinois and American; he comes into the Big East opener ranked fourth in the conference in total 3-pointers made (38) - Howard (45) and Rowsey (42) are first and second, respectively - and fourth in 3-point success rate (49.4 percent). But the Golden Eagles are struggling mightily on the boards, averaging just 31.9 rebounds per game - good for 330th out of 351 Division I schools.
1. Marquette won both meetings last season after losing the previous six encounters.
2. Xavier averages 29.9 defensive rebounds per game, 11th-most in the nation.
3. Marquette has also been sensational from the foul line, ranking 10th nationally at 78.4 percent; Howard is a perfect 36-for-36 from the stripe.
PREDICTION: Xavier 84, Marquette 76