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Getting to know the Xavier Musketeers

A preview of Wisconsin’s next opponent with Big East Coast Bias.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Xavier vs Florida State Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Wisconsin Badgers will face a different-looking Xavier Musketeers squad as they head to Cincinnati for Tuesday’s Gavitt Games match-up.

Wisconsin took a two-point lead over Xavier with 2:44 remaining in last season’s game before Trevon Bluiett and the Musketeers ramped up a 16–4 run to end the game 80–70 in their favor at the Kohl Center.

Last week, Xavier (2–0) disposed of IUPUI and Evansville at home to start its 2018–19 campaign under new head coach Travis Steele after Chris Mack took the same position at Louisville. Steele spent nine years under Mack as an assistant coach, with the title associate head coach granted to him after the 2015-16 season.

Bluiett, J.P. Macura, and Sean O’Mara have moved on after winning 104 games combined, including seven the NCAA Tournament.

In replacing the production from last year’s squad, look for the likes of Tyrique Jones, Paul Scruggs, Naji Marshall, and Ryan Welage to pick up the slack.

Notable Musketeers

  • Junior forward Tyrique Jones: 18.0 points per game, 69.6 percent shooting (16-of-23), 13.0 rebounds per game
  • Sophomore guard Paul Scruggs: 14.5 points per game, 5-of-9 from three-point range, 6.0 rebounds per game, 4.5 assists per game
  • Graduate forward Ryan Welage: 14.5 points per game, shooting 7-of-17 from three-point range, 4.5 rebounds per game
  • Sophomore forward Naji Marshall (Preseason All-Big East Honorable Mention): 9.5 points per game, 6.0 rebounds per game, 5.5 assists per game

To help us take a look at the refurbished Xavier squad, Big East Coast Bias’s Robert O’Neill answered some of our questions.

Through two games, how has this team transitioned without Blueitt and Macura?

Simply put, it’s been a group effort. Between Macura, Bluiett, Kerem Kanter, Sean O’Mara, and Kaiser Gates, Xavier lost nearly 50 points and 20 rebounds a game worth of production from last season. They also lost Mack to Louisville. To the Musketeers’ credit, they opened the year 2–0 with wins over IUPUI and Evansville, and they had a different leading scorer in each game. Graduate transfer Welage led the way with 24 in the season opener and sophomore Scruggs had 24 against Evansville. It’s obviously not easy to replace the amount Xavier lost, but they’ve done what they can so far.

Through two games, five players average more than 10 points per contest. Who are the main scorers that could influence Tuesday night’s game?

In addition to the two players I mentioned, Jones is definitely someone for Wisconsin fans to watch out for. He had 19 points and 20 rebounds in the win over Evansville and was ferocious on both sides of the ball. Quentin Goodin also had 14 points in 15 minutes in his season debut Saturday (he missed the season opener with a shoulder injury). The Musketeers also have shot threes at an above-average clip so far on the young season, with Welage and Scruggs leading the way from deep.

Do you think Wisconsin will match up well against Xavier? Where could there could be some trouble for the Badgers?

It’s really hard to judge either team based on the competition they’ve played, but I think Ethan Happ is a match-up nightmare for any team, especially if he’s going to play like he played against Coppin State. Happ led the Badgers in scoring against the Musketeers last year, and I think that will the case again on Tuesday. Brevin Pritzl and Brad Davison also excelled against Xavier last season, and they should be able to again as well.

For the Musketeers, I think the biggest key to a successful game is continuing to play how they’ve played, particularly on offense. Share the ball, take smart shots, and don’t commit turnovers.

Game prediction?

It’s so hard to get a good read on either team so far. Wisconsin wasn’t very good last year, but looks better this year. Xavier was great last year, but took a step back this year. I think I’ll go with the Musketeers because it’s very hard to win at Cintas Center, but Wisconsin winning wouldn’t surprise me at all either.