No. 9 Xavier likely won’t face another stiff test until a Jan. 10 encounter with Villanova - but that won’t stop the Musketeers from building a case for a top-five ranking as they look to extend their four-game winning streak Saturday against visiting East Tennessee State. Xavier boasts one of the top scoring margins in the nation and is coming off a 96-69 rout of Colorado.
The Musketeers’ revenge tour was an overwhelming success - they earned decisive victories over Baylor, Cincinnati and Colorado, all of whom had beaten them last season. “We circled those on our calendar,” said Xavier guard Trevon Bluiett, who had 25 points in the triumph over the Buffaloes. “Those were our get-back games.” The Musketeers will look to build on their plus-20.8 scoring margin - the eighth-best mark in the country - as they entertain an ETSU team that has overcome an up-and-down start with four consecutive victories. Bo Hodges was 8-for-9 from the field en route to 18 points as the Buccaneers cruised past Hiwassee College 94-48 last time out.
TV: 2 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
ABOUT EAST TENNESSEE STATE (6-3): The Buccaneers weren’t exactly an easy out in their only other serious test of the campaign - they trailed by just six points at the half against then-No. 7 Kentucky before ultimately fading in the second half en route to a 17-point defeat. Desonta Bradford leads ETSU in scoring at 12.6 points per game but is still looking to get his shot right; the senior guard is shooting below 40 percent from the field and has dropped to 25.8 percent from beyond the arc after missing all five of his attempts over the past two games. The Buccaneers are turning the ball over an average of 14.9 times per game, ranking them 261st out of 351 Division I schools.
ABOUT XAVIER (9-1): The best teams in the nation often have at least one go-to scorer - and Bluiett has embraced that role for the Musketeers, coming into the weekend ranked third in the Big East in scoring (21.7 ppg) while racking up six games of 25-plus points - one more than he had all of last season. That includes three consecutive performances of at least 25 points, during which he has shot better than 50 percent from the floor while burying 12 3-pointers and connecting on 21-of-24 free throws. Xavier has been one of the most dangerous teams in the nation so far; only Virginia Tech has shot better from the field than the Musketeers, who come into this one hitting 54.6 percent of their attempts.
1. Xavier has three players in the top nine in the conference in foul shooting (Sean O’Mara, 88.5 percent; Bluiett, 87.9 percent; J.P. Macura, 85.7 percent.)
2. The Musketeers rank 22nd nationally in rebounding margin at plus-8.7 per game.
3. ETSU ranks tied for second in the Southern Conference in steals per game (10).
PREDICTION: Xavier 96, ETSU 76