The top two finishers in the Big East will meet on Saturday night for a conference title. Marquette and Xavier have both exceeded expectations all season and have high-flying offenses. Who heads into the NCAA Tournament on a win? Marquette is a 1.5-point favorite, with the over/under at 156.5 points.
Let’s make predictions for Saturday’s Big East title game and break down why Marquette is set to finish the job.
Xavier vs. Marquette Prediction
Marquette seems like a team of destiny. If not nationally, then in the Big East. Aside from a rusty first half against St. John’s on Thursday, the Golden Eagles have looked every bit like a contender for a deep NCAA Tournament run with an efficient offense led by surging guard Tyler Kolek.
Against UConn, they brought the turnovers down, turned the defense up, and won a tight game against another contender for a deep tournament run.
Xavier has a loaded offense, but without Zach Freemantle, Marquette just has to survive the Musketeers’ barrage of shots. Shaka Smart’s team has the balanced offense to take advantage of Xavier’s shaky defense and do just that.
Kolek has caused all kinds of problems for Xavier this season (25-4-7, 15-8-5 in their two meetings). As the centerpiece of this Marquette offense, I’m expecting a big performance. Marquette has a strong chance to win the Big East on Saturday.
Xavier vs. Marquette Prediction: Marquette -1.5
Xavier vs. Marquette Odds
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Marquette enters as a 1.5-point favorite, sitting -124 on the moneyline. The over/under is 156.5 points.
Xavier vs. Marquette Key Matchups
Here are some key matchups that could decide Xavier vs. Marquette.
Xavier Shooting vs. Marquette Perimeter Defense
Marquette’s defense saved the day against UConn on Friday, somehow holding the Huskies scoreless for the final 2:30 of the game. The unit hasn’t been nearly as strong throughout the season. Opponents are shooting 35.8% from three-point range against the Golden Eagles, a well below average mark for Marquette, and the interior defense hasn’t been much better against a conference loaded with impressive forwards.
The strong shooters of the Big East may contribute to the 35.8% mark, but Marquette won’t get a break against Xavier. The Musketeers have one of the best offenses in the nation and shoot 40% from deep (5th among all D1 teams). Souley Boum, Jack Nunge, Adam Kunkel, and Colby Jones would all be the best shooters on many teams. Can a shaky Marquette defense keep tabs on all of them?
Only Boum made a huge impact from three against Creighton and it was still too much for the Blue Jays to handle. If the Golden Eagles’ defense gets totally assailed by threes, it might not matter how efficient their offense is.
If Marquette’s defense has one strength, it’s forcing turnovers. The Golden Eagles force more than 16 turnovers per game, putting them top-20 in the nation, and they forced 20 in their win over St. John’s in the quarterfinals. That’s going to make for an interesting matchup with a Musketeers team that leads the nation in assists.
One major reason for that mark is how much Xavier scores, but the efficiency of weapons like Boum and Nunge makes disrupting their passing the best way to disrupt the offense as a whole.
Marquette won the turnover battle both times it faced Xavier this season, but it was 10-7 in a close loss and 17-7 in a close win. Disrupting the Musketeers’ offense before the ball is even shot is the best approach.
After the way the Golden Eagles’ defense played in the closing minutes against UConn, I don’t doubt they can do it – that’s one factor in my Xavier vs. Marquette prediction.