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NCAA Tournament Preview East Region - First Round (11) Marquette vs. (6) Xavier

Friday, March 18 – 7:27 PM ET

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Xavier and Marquette – the two names refer to great Jesuits from past centuries. Now, the Catholic schools that bear these banners will meet to see who will advance in a different sort of heaven, the realm where hoops junkies find constant bliss.

The NCAA Tournament is the ultimate destination for college hoops fans; the Final Four is the mecca, but the Big Dance is the party everyone wants to reach. The journeys to Bracketville are many, and the two schools who will tangle in this 6-11 game prove as much. It’s fitting, since Xavier (Saint Francis Xavier) and Marquette (Jacques Marquette) made their names as explorers and missionaries in the 16th and 17th centuries. Now, in the 21st century, their respective basketball teams will try to plot a course to the second round of America’s favorite tournament.

Xavier is a No. 6 seed in the East Region in the 2011 NCAA tournament, and will play 11-seed Marquette in the first round at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland on Friday night. Xavier was 15-1 in the Atlantic 10 Conference this season, but was upset by the Dayton Flyers in the conference tournament’s quarterfinals on March 11. Marquette, 9-9 in the Big East this season, lost to Louisville in the conference tournament semifinals on March 10. As one can plainly see, these teams are studies in contrasts: Xavier dominated a modest league while Marquette was an average team in the country’s best and deepest conference.

The Musketeers are making their 22nd appearance in the NCAA tournament and are 19-21 all time; coach Chris Mack, in his second season with “The X” last year, took the team to the Sweet 16, also as a sixth seed. Xavier eventually lost in a double-overtime classic to second-seeded Kansas State. The Musketeers have advanced to the Elite 8 twice, most recently in 2008 when they fell to UCLA in the West Regional Final.

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Xavier averaged 72.6 points per game this year, giving up an average of 64.5; it shoots an average of 48.3 percent from the field. The Musketeers are led by junior guard Tu Holloway with 20.2 points and 5.5 assists per game. Sophomore guard Mark Lyons averages 13.8 points, and senior guard Dante Jackson averages 10.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. On the front line, junior center Kenny Frease averages 11.7 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.

The Golden Eagles of Marquette are making their 28th tournament appearance. Third-year coach Buzz Williams has brought them into the tournament in each of his seasons as the bench boss in Milwaukee. Last year, Marquette was upset as a 6-seed by Washington in the first round. Two seasons ago MU was also seeded sixth and lost to third-seeded Missouri in the second round. Marquette has advanced to the Final Four three times, most recently in 2003, and the school won the championship in 1977, as iconic coach Al McGuire won the final game of his career before moving on to a successful new life as a broadcaster.

The Golden Eagles average 76.1 points per game, allowing 69.1 points; they shoot 48.3 percent from the field. They are led by senior forward Jimmy Butler with 16 points and 6.1 rebounds, junior guard Darius Johnson-Odom with 15.9 points, and junior forward Jae Crowder with 11.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. This matchup will in many ways come down to the individual skills of Holloway and Johnson-Odom. The man who sticks more jumpers down the stretch and creates more opportunities for his teammates will likely tell the tale… a tale that might be told for quite some time at two schools that embrace centuries-old explorers.

By Matt Zemek
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer
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