Now that No. 14 Xavier has come out of an unusually tough stretch of its early season relatively unscathed, the Musketeers will look to take advantage of a stretch of home games against lesser opponents - beginning with Wednesday’s showdown with Kent State. Xavier took on three nationally ranked teams in succession and went 2-1, a stretch capped by a satisfying 89-76 triumph over rival Cincinnati.
The Musketeers’ eighth win in 11 years in the Crosstown Shootout wasn’t without some controversy, as Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin exchanged heated words with Xavier forward J.P. Macura in the post-game handshake line. After the fracas - during which Cronin had to be restrained and led away by an assistant coach - Cronin suggested that Macura wouldn’t play if he were a Bearcat; that comment put Xavier head coach Chris Mack on the defensive. “J.P.’s my guy,” Mack said after the game.. “J.P. will fight for every inch on the basketball court. He’s a great kid, and I‘m not going to let anyone control the narrative on who they think J.P. Macura is. To say ‘he wouldn’t play for me’ - I think that’s disrespectful.” Kent State has bounced back from a three-game losing skid with back-to-back victories over Norfolk State and Cleveland State.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
ABOUT KENT STATE (5-3): The Golden Flashes are led offensively by junior guard Jaylin Walker, who averages 17.7 points - tied for sixth in the MAC - but is dealing with an ankle sprain suffered during a recent practice that has kept him out of the past two games. Center Adonis De La Rosa has picked up the slack in Walker’s absence, averaging 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in Kent State’s previous two victories. Kent State comes into this one averaging 13.5 offensive rebounds per game, ranking in the top 30 nationally.
ABOUT XAVIER (7-1): Musketeers leading scorer Trevon Bluiett (20.8 ppg) shook off a two-game mini-slump with emphasis against Cincinnati, pouring in 28 points on the strength of five 3-pointers; he’s shooting 47.2 percent from beyond the arc so far, good for seventh in the Big East. Kaiser Gates (11.1 ppg) is right behind him at 46 percent from deep and is coming off a 10-point, 10-rebound showing in the win over the Bearcats. Macura (13.6 ppg) was held to seven points in that one but asserted himself well in the previous two games, averaging 21 points against Arizona State and Baylor.
1. Musketeers F Tyrique Jones leads the Big East in field-goal percentage (69.8) and was a perfect 4-for-4 from the field versus Cincinnati.
2. Xavier ranks 13th among Division I teams in made free throws (167).
3. Nearly half of De La Rosa’s points in the previous two games have come from the foul line, where he has gone 17-of-19 over that span.
PREDICTION: Xavier 86, Kent State 70