December 30, 2017 / 10:04 PM / 9 months ago

Preview: DePaul at Xavier

As its 2016-17 campaign appeared to be headed for disaster, a pair of double-digit victories in March against DePaul helped Xavier get back on track just in time to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. This season’s team seems unlikely to need a late lift, however, as the fifth-ranked Musketeers seek a ninth straight win Saturday when they host the Blue Demons.

Xavier improved to 18-6 last season with a 11-point triumph over DePaul before losing its next six games to put it on the tournament bubble, but the Musketeers ended the skid with a 14-point victory in the regular-season finale and beat the Blue Demons by 11 four days later in the first round of the Big East tournament. Despite a loss to Creighton in the conference tournament semifinals, Xavier used the momentum to pull off three consecutive upsets in the Big Dance before Gonzaga ended its season with a 24-point rout in the Elite Eight. This edition of the Musketeers improved to 13-1 for the second time in three years, putting five players in double figures during Wednesday’s 91-87 conference-opening win at Marquette. DePaul could not have asked for a more difficult start to begin conference play - facing the Big East’s two top-10 teams in succession - and predictably dropped its conference opener at home 103-85 to No. 1 Villanova.

TV: 2 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1

ABOUT DEPAUL (7-6, 0-1 Big East): With 11 points Wednesday, Eli Cain (12 points per game) moved within 24 points of becoming the 50th Blue Demon to score 1,000 for his career, but the junior guard is shooting only 36.7 percent from the field and 25.7 beyond the arc. Fellow junior guard Max Strus (17.5 points, 4.5 rebounds) has emerged as DePaul’s most consistent offensive force, reaching double figures in all but one game and averaging 24.7 points over his last three outings. Center Marin Maric (13.0, 5.6) is averaging 19.5 points and 7.5 rebounds since returning from a two-game absence due to an unspecified injury; over that same time, the Northern Illinois graduate transfer is 12-for-19 from the floor and 14-of-15 from the foul line.

ABOUT XAVIER (13-1, 1-0): Trevon Bluiett ranks fourth in the conference in scoring (20 points per game) and led the team in scoring for the 10th time this season with his ninth 20-point game Wednesday; he tallied 23 points to give himself 1,865 for his career, closing within 20 points of the top five scorers in school history. Fellow senior guard J.P. Macura (12.4 points, 4.1 rebounds), who topped 1,200 career points in the team’s previous game against Northern Iowa, sits fifth in the Big East in steals (1.6) and is one of five Musketeers averaging at least eight points and four rebounds. Sophomore Quentin Goodin stands atop the conference in assists (six per game) and ranks second in the Big East in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.55).

TIP-INS

1. Xavier has won the last six meetings to take an 11-9 lead in the all-time series.

2. Maric ranks 10th in the Big East in field-goal percentage (54) and is only one of two players listed at 6-10 or taller nationally to shoot at least 90 percent from the foul line (90.2).

3. Bluiett and Macura have combined for 3,080 career points, making them the highest-scoring active duo in Division I.

PREDICTION: Xavier 89, DePaul 76

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