It's rare for it to happen at this point of the season, but when two teams match up that so closely mirror each other in regards to one team's strength offensively be the other's on defense, it always makes for exciting basketball. That just so happens to be the case in this second-round meeting between the Xavier Musketeers and the Marquette Golden Eagles.
We know Xavier, they've become a March Madness staple in recent years, proving to be perhaps the most underrated program in the nation as far as postseason accomplishments are concerned. Marquette continuously seems to be running hot and cold but once again finds themselves on college basketball's grandest stage, though in the underdog role in this particular game.
Follow along after the jump for a breakdown of the teams meeting in tonight's East Region action and for a diagnosis of who will be coming out on top.
Xavier Musketeers, 6-seed East Region
It's a difficult task finding many teams that have been more consistent in the last five years than Xavier. The Musketeers have won 20 games and reached the NCAA Tournament every year since 2006 and along with Michigan State are the only programs to reach the Sweet 16 in each of the last three years. Led by Atlantic-10 Player of the Year Tu Holloway, there's a good chance that it could be year number four in just a couple of days. Some may toss out a loss to Dayton in the conference semi-finals as a red flag, but let's not forget prior to that contest, the Musketeers had won 16 of 17 games including convincing wins over fellow tournament bound teams Richmond and Temple.
Xavier is an efficient offensive team but one that likes to operate inside the arc, as the X-men shoot just 33% from beyond the arc. Few schools have been better shooting from mid-range and up close than the Musketeers however, as their 52.1% mark on two-point field goal attempts during the regular season was the 18th best mark in the country. Their offense features a great deal of versatility, though the primary areas for shot attempts comes in spot-up and pick and roll situations. The trio of Holloway, Mark Lyons and Dante Jackson are responsible for handling the basketball here, with Lyons shouldering the greatest deal of the load by Jackson and Holloway scoring at a more efficient rate (better than one point per possession for each).
The propensity that this team shows for going to the pick and roll set is certainly unique at the college level. A whopping 22% of Xavier's possessions this season were categorized as this play type and with a scoring rate of .984 points per possession, the Musketeers ranked in the top 30 in the country in scoring efficiency in this specific set, but with a usage rate that is on eclipsed by two teams in the top 100. So that boils down to Xavier not only running this set significantly more often than anyone else in the NCAA Tournament field, but doing it at a much more efficient rate as well. This is one of the spots where Holloway really shines, ranking as one of the top pick and roll ball handlers in the country according to Synergy Sports Technology, and accounting for nearly two-thirds of the Musketeers possessions here.
The Musketeers have proven to be a solid defensive team as well, mixing between straight man-to-man and zone sets to confuse opposing teams. They don't particular standout in any general metrics other than ranking among the nation's elite in regards to limiting offensive rebounds by the opposition, ranking 28th overall thanks in large part to the play of frontcourt duo Kenny Frease and Jamel McClean. Xavier is an above average team at defending in transition, something that will work in their favor against a Marquette team that scores well on the break, but the Musketeers are only average at best defending low-post scorers and spot-up sets.
Marquette Golden Eagles, 11-seed East Region
Marquette didn't dominate their conference to the degree that Xavier did - of course the Big East is significantly tougher than the A-10 - but the Golden Eagles enter the NCAA Tournament having managed wins over Notre Dame, Connecticut, Syracuse and West Virginia on their way to a 20-win season.
Playing at a modest pace, the Golden Eagles were one of the most efficient scoring teams in the country during the regular season, finishing 20th at the Division 1 level in adjusted offensive efficiency according to data from Ken Pomeroy. They do a lot of things well, but save for transition scoring, nothing particularly great. Marquette hits the offensive glass well enough, doesn't turn the ball over a great deal, is respectable shooting the three but significantly better inside the arc relatively speaking (over 50% on two-point field goals). Spot-up sets are by far and away the team's most prevalent offensive play-type with Darius Johnson-Odom and Jimmy Butler seeing a lot of touches here and proving to be the team's top weapons here. Johnson-Odom may not have the best perimeter shooting percentage on the team, but easily takes the most shot attempts from this range and it shows in his adjusted field goal mark of 58.4% in the spot-up setting. Butler gets his shots in a variety of ways, leading the team in scoring at 16 per game and proving to be just as good moving off the ball as he is when it is in his hands.
Interestingly enough, despite typically being a team that is guard-heavy without much of a frontcourt presence, the Golden Eagles are one of the most efficient low post scoring teams in the country this season - they just rarely post. Chris Otule and Davante Gardner deserve the credit here as Marquette is in the 94th overall percentile in this regard.
At the opposite end of the floor Marquette is a mixed bag. They avoid sending opposing to the line often, but are a weak perimeter defending team, allowing opposing teams to shoot better than 36% from the outside. They are also only average at best defending low-post touches, but given that these don't make up a large percentage of Xavier's offense, neither should be a tremendous problem. What will be pivotal to the outcome of this game and something very interesting to observe is the fact that the Golden Eagles have the single best pick and roll defense in the country, which as previously mentioned, is one of the stronger offensive sets for the Musketeers.
Things look pretty evenly matched on paper, but Xavier has two all important deciding factors weighing in their favor: Tournament experience and star power with Holloway. It'll be a hard fought game to be sure, but the X-men will be moving on to the round of 32.