Xavier v. Temple: Preview

Khalif Wyatt responding to one of his 20 makes from deep, not one of his 56 misses. - Harry How

The past is done and dusted; the new season starts today. Here's the breakdown of Xavier's first conference opponent.

The non-conference season has finally dragged to a dreary close - excepting only the February game against Memphis - for Xavier, which means Atlantic Ten play is set to begin. Despite carrying a 7-6 overall mark, the Muskies will be joining every other member of the conference at 0-0 when they take on Temple tomorrow. To catch up on what has happened in the A-10 since things first tipped off back in November, read Brad's excellent conference primer here.

For their part, Temple blasted through the first six games of their schedule like a hot knife through cold butter, knocking off opponents ranging in difficulty from a home win against Rice to a road victory over Villanova before having it all come to a halt with a 23-point loss against Duke. A December 19th loss to Canisius is the only real fly in the ointment for Temple right now, and their victory over Syracuse made this the fifth consecutive season during which they've beaten at least one top ten opponent. Their last time out, they lost at Kansas by seven points.

Team fingerprint: You know who likes taking care of the ball? Temple. They only turn it over on 15.8% of their possessions, good for 8th in the entire nation. That stinginess with the ball goes a long way toward elevating the efficiency of an otherwise nondescript offense. The Owls are below average from inside the arc, downright bad (30.5%) from deep, and just a tick below average on the offensive glass. They are excellent (73.4%) from the line, which also speaks to their commitment to letting the little things elevate their play.

Defensively, the Owls are 90th in the nation in efficiency. Their numbers on that end don't really jump off the page, but their rating is an accumulation of things done fairly well. Their main asset is a perimeter defense that is smothering both in affect (opponents shoot 31.1% from deep) and in opportunities (opponents get only 29% of their shot attempts from deep). They also defend the glass and force TO at rates just above the national average. Despite being in the middle of the pack in forcing TO, though, the Owls are 39th in the country in steal percentage.

As certain members of the Musketeers whose names rhyme with "Cleff Mobinson" have proven, being experienced doesn't necessarily mean you'll have a high basketball IQ. Temple definitely plays savvy ball, though, and they are the 11th most experienced team in the country. Temple gets only 27.8% of their minutes from the bench, a mark that leaves them 257th in the nation. Finally, their pace is near as makes no difference the national average of 67 possessions per game.

Starters:

The player: 6'4", 210 pound senior guard Khalif Wyatt
The numbers: 16.2/2.4/4.0, .381/.263/.851 shooting
More numbers: 28.8% usage rate, 29.1% assist rate, 5.7 fouls drawn per 40 minutes, 1.3 steals per game
The words: Definitely not shy about shooting, Wyatt is also an effective enough distributor of the ball. His main offensive problem seems to be his inability to recognize his limitations as a three-point shooter. Remove his 20-76 from deep and he's shooting a respectable 44-92 from inside the arc. Wyatt also excels at both getting to the line and converting once he gets there. Flaws aside, there's a reason Fran Dunphy wants the ball in Wyatt's hands so much, and that reason is that he is the best guard on the team.

The player: 6'2", 175 pound sophomore guard Will Cummings
The numbers: 6.1/2.4/1.9, .366/.318/.800 shooting
More numbers: 1.8 steals per game, 4.8% steal%, 22.5 minutes per game
The words: Cummings is something less than a gifted offensive player, but he makes up for that with his work at the defensive end. He is tied with Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson for the team lead in steals despite having played 113 fewer minutes. He doesn't factor into the offensive plans very often, but he is able to convert from the line when given his chances.

The player: 6'6", 225 pound senior forward Scootie Randall
The numbers: 12.5/7.5/2.6, .358/.247/.805 shooting
More numbers: 35.7 minutes per game, 14.6% TO rate, 2.3 fouls per 40 minutes
The words: Randall is one of those guys who seems like he's been around forever, but he is finally exhausting his eligibility at Temple. You'd think a dude who was hitting less than 25% of his threes would be encouraged to stay inside, but he actually leads the team in three-point attempts. Like Wyatt, his numbers inside the arc (33-66, 50%) are undermined by his appalling performance from beyond it (21-85, 24.7%).

The player: 6'6", 215 pound senior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson
The numbers: 8.5/5.5/3.2, .406/.000/.658 shooting
More numbers: 20.3% assist rate, 4.2% block%, 3.5% steal%
The words: Hollis-Jefferson is the only member of the starting five that has not attempted a three-point shot. He is also a defensive jack of all trades, leading the team in steals and blocked shots. He fills the stat sheet at both ends, actually, coming second on the team in assists and generally filling in the cracks like you would expect a senior to do.

The player: 6'9", 230 pound sophomore forward Anthony Lee
The numbers: 11.3/7.1/0.6, .531/.000/.653 shooting
More numbers: 26.2% DReb%, 11.1 TO rate, 3.7% block%, 24.6 minutes per game
The words: Lee puts up big numbers in the middle despite not getting premium minutes at this point in time. He is an absolute bull on the defensive glass and - despite getting a fair number of touches on offense - has only turned the ball over 12 times all year. He's not the focal point of the offense, but he might end up being the player that Xavier has the biggest problem slowing down tomorrow.

Reserves:

Six-foot-nine senior forward Jake O'Brien isn't much in love with rebounding, but he comes off the bench gunning, grabbing 7.6 PPG in just 17.1 minutes thanks to a .456/.444/.636 shooting line. He is joint-second on the team in 3PM despite trailing Wyatt by 31 attempts and Randall by 40. Senior guard T.J. DiLeo gets 19.5 minutes per game off of the bench to spell Wyatt and Cummings but only has 3.1/1.8/1.3 to show for it. Dalton Pepper plays 11.4 minutes per game to little effect, and no other Owl plays more than 8 minutes per contest.

Three questions:

-Can Semaj and Dee get their game back? We spent a moment earlier in the week talking about the adjustments Semaj needs to make to get back to his productive best, and Dee Davis has also been up and down since a hot start. With Xavier desperately needing offensive production from anywhere, the Muskies' guards will be asked to initiate the offense against a stingy defense with ball-hawking guards. It's a big ask, especially when one considers that Semaj is a freshman, Dee wasn't asked to carry much of the load last year, and Temple is the most seasoned team in the league.

-Will Xavier commit to the post? Travis Taylor, you may have noticed, was the best offensive player on the floor for Xavier as the non-conference season wound down, but he had trouble getting consistent touches in the paint. Temple's interior defenders aren't pushovers, but the Muskies would be better served to start the game inside-out that the to try cracking Temple's stalwart perimeter D from the off.

-What's going on with Justin Martin? Martin began the season as a reliable if not exceptionally assertive scorer. He flashed good range and some silky finishing, getting his without ever looking like taking over a game. Lately, though, he has been back to his listless worse, settling for long jumpers, drifting through possessions off the ball, and generally only showing up to rebound. We really miss you, Early Season Justin; please come back.

Three keys:

-Stop turning the ball over. Temple is not a great offensive team, but they are absolutely not going to give possessions away. Xavier is also not a great offensive team, and they love giving possessions away. If the Muskies give Temple free possessions, this game will get out of hand in a hurry. For X to stay in this one, they have to make sure they're at least getting shots when they go down the floor on offense.

-Force jumpers. Despite being fairly bad at shooting, Temple has proven that they will gladly settle for long shots if the lane is clogged up. The Owls are also no great shakes on the offensive glass. If Xavier can pack the interior and allow Temple to spend more time chucking and less time shooting layups, they can hold the Owls to one and done on the offensive end. Temple shot 4-28 from deep in their loss to Canisius, proving they're willing to shoot themselves right out of a game if given the chance.

-Move the ball. The stagnation of Xavier's offense has become progressively worse as the season has progressed. Attacking the defense without ball reversal is a sure fire way to end up with forced shots, crowded lanes, and frustrated fans, and the Muskies have all of those in spades. Getting the ball around the perimeter opens up the post for Taylor, driving lanes for Xavier's slashers, and space for Xavier's shooters. More passing and less dribbling/staring at the dribbler will go a long way toward liberating Xavier's offense.

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