Just a week ago - less than a week ago, really - Xavier was sitting at 7-6 and distinctly sliding. There were issues with both strategy and execution, and - after a handful of blown leads in winnable games - the season looked to be hanging by a thread. Now Xavier is 9-6, sitting atop the conference with a 2-0 record, and getting ready to head out on a brutal stretch of seven or their next ten games on the road. The team is still far from perfect, but it's amazing what a couple of wins will do for the disposition of the fan base.
St. Bonaventure is on the opposite side of things right now. After a 7-3 start to the season - disregarding for a second that their best win during that stretch was a five-point win over Niagara on a neutral site - they have put it in reverse to the tune of five consecutive losses. Perhaps not coincidentally, this came right as the Bonnies' schedule toughened up, with losses to NC State, Iona, and Colorado State before a 19-point demolition at George Washington and a surprisingly tight seven-point loss when they hosted VCU. It is into that very same arena that Xavier descends this Wednesday.
The Bonnies are a more than competent offensive team, ranking 89th in the country in adjusted efficiency. They don't have one real area of strength, but their free throw shooting (71.8%, 89th) and three-point shooting (35.5%, 91st) are both in the top 100 nationally. Surprisingly, they shoot a mediocre 47.5% from inside the arc. Taking care of the ball isn't a problem for the Bonnies, who only turn it over on 19.3% of their trips down the floor. They also rank 91st in the nation in OReb% at 34.7%.
Their defense, on the other hand, is really bad. Good news first: they force turnovers on 22.3% of opponents' possessions, good for 89th in the country. When they don't for TO, however, they're fairly porous. Teams shoot 49.1% from inside the arc and a staggering 38% from beyond it against SBU. They are also 202nd in the country in DReb% and 307th in terms of avoiding sending their opponents to the line. During the five-game skid upon which the team finds itself, the Bonnies are giving up and amazing 84 points per game.
That's not down to pace, either; Saint Bonaventure plays less than half a possession faster than the national average. They are also fairly deep, with 34% of their minutes coming off the bench, and very experienced. Only 24 teams in the country average more experience on the court than the Bonnies. They are 100th in the nation with an effective height of +1.2".
The player: 6'3", 195-pound junior guard Charlon Kloof
The numbers: 6.9/1.7/2.5 on .418/.346/.604 shooting
More numbers: 19.5% assist rate, 25.8% TO rate
The words: Kloof is not a prolific shooter (9-26 from deep), but he is consistent enough to hit when left open. In his 24 minutes on the floor per game, his job is to get the ball up the court and initiate the offense. His assist and TO rates are both best among the starting five, though neither is exactly elite. Also, he has a phonetically interesting name.
The player: 6'4", 200-pound junior guard Matthew Wright
The numbers: 7.7/2.1/2.3 on .385/.209/.833 shooting
More numbers: 2.8% steal%, 1.2 steals per game, 25% TO rate
The words: Wright is even less of a threat on offense than Kloof, despite his higher PPG number. While Kloof must at least be respected beyond the arc, Wright is little threat from anywhere other than the free throw line, where he is 25-30. Where he does excel is the defensive end. He leads the team in steals and is generally a menace to ball handlers as well as passing lanes. His size will make for an interesting matchup with Dee Davis (if healthy), Semaj Christon, or Brad Redford.
The player: 6'5", 205-pound senior wing Chris Johnson
The numbers: 13.1/3.5/1.5 on .452/.449/.714 shooting
More numbers: 113.9 ORtg, 11.5% TO rate, 52.3% eFG%
The words: Johnson is the most prolific shooter on the team, and for good reason - he's good at it. At 22-49 from deep, he is definitely a threat behind the arc, but he can also put the ball on the deck and get into the lane. The gap between his production and Conger's is due mostly to Johnson's trouble ever getting to the free throw line. Where Conger shoots 60 FT for every 100 FGA, Johnson only gets 31. Still, he is as dangerous from open play as anyone on the Bonnies' roster.
The player: 6'6", 205-pound senior forward Demitrius Conger
The numbers: 14.0/6.9/2.9 on .427/.309/.823 shooting
More numbers: 2.5 OReb per game, 5.1 fouls drawn per 40 minutes, 5.26 FTA per game
The words: Conger played in Andrew Nicholson's shadow last year despite being the big man's equal in scoring efficiency. Asked now to step up and take a bigger role in the offense, Conger has responded with aplomb, pouring in baskets from near and far. His percentages have gone down without Nicholson to play off of, but he is still a shooter to be reckoned with. His relentlessness is typified by his huge offensive rebounding and free throw numbers. If not accounted for, Conger will tear apart an absent-minded defense.
The player: 6'8", 230-pound junior forward Marquise Simmons
The numbers: 7.4/6.2/0.1 on .538/.000/.714 shooting
More numbers: 11.8% OReb%, 22.2% DReb%, 13.1% TO rate
The words: Simmons is a fairly efficient offensive player, but - as his averages bear out - he is far from the focal point of the St. Bonaventure offense. He is fairly aggressive on the glass, using his size to great effect on both ends of the floor in that department. He's not a defensive wizard, but he has the bulk to give Xavier's front line trouble finding post position.
The most notable is gunner Eric Mosley, a 5'10" senior guard who comes off the bench to put up 10 PPG on .450/.450/.818 shooting in just 19 minutes per game. He also adds 2 assists and steal every time out. Of his 109 FGA on the year, 80 have gone up from behind the arc. The complete opposite of him is 7', 235-pound sophomore Youssoue Ndoye, who gets minutes based on his rebounding ability (24.8% DReb%) and defensive acumen (8.2% block%). He gets 5.7 and 5.4 on .508/.000/.615 shooting. Michael Davenport - a senior wing - and Jordan Gathers - a sophomore guard - come off the bench to combine for 24 minutes with no other notable statistics to their respective or collective credit.
-How effective can Brad Redford be in extended minutes? Even if Dee Davis is ready to go, there's no guarantee that he will be full speed or ready to get his full minutes. The Bonnies have big, aggressive guards who pursue turnovers to cover up for the flaws in the defense as a whole. If Brad Redford has to get 20-30 minutes against St. Bonaventure, this game could be a good barometer for what the Xavier faithful can hope for from him going forward. If he proves he can handle pressure and initiate the offense - two skills he has already flashed this year - Xavier's guard depth problems clear up a little bit.
-Can Xavier hold a road lead? The Muskies are 1-2 in true road games this year, but they could just as easily be 3-0. In both of their road losses, they have held leads that should never have been frittered away. With St. Bonaventure's defense being questionable at best, there is every chance that Xavier will once again find themselves in the driver's seat at some point in this game. Hopefully they have learned enough from their gutting losses to be able to batten down the hatches and bring one home.
-Will Jeff Robinson show up? As we discussed yesterday morning, Jeff Robinson may well be the answer to Xavier's questions for the remainder of the year. A 6'10" forward with range out to 15 feet or so when he's going well, JRob can be a matchup nightmare. The most encouraging thing about his game against GW wasn't the jumpers he knocked down but how aggressively he went through the defense for his monster two-handed jam. If he can flash that kind of power at the rim rather than floating aggressively around the periphery, he has the power to affect every game.
-Look for shooters. St. Bonaventure is bad at both preventing three-point attempts and keeping them from going in. They are, in fact, 313th in the nation in 3P% offense. I'm all for collapsing the defense with penetration and letting Travis Taylor go to work on the post, but the weakest point of the SBU defense is the perimeter. It's not likely that Brad Redford goes 7-8 from deep again, but Xavier should be looking for opportunities to kick out to get the shooters clear looks.
-Gang rebound. The Bonnies are a good shooting team, but their real offensive strength is getting in for second-chance points. In wins over Temple and GW, Xavier committed to the glass and finished defensive possessions by grabbing boards. When the Muskies' legs began to give out against George Washington, the Colonials threatened to make a game of it. If Xavier wants to pick up a big conference road win here, they need to get everyone to the glass and smother St. Bonaventure's rebounders.
-Don't try to be a hero. Xavier has had a tendency this year to go into long offensive droughts that let teams like Wofford stay with them in games that should be easy wins. There are no easy wins on the road in conference, so it's absolutely imperative that Xavier doesn't lay an egg for a long stretch tonight. Should things slow down on offense, the worst thing the Xavier players can do is try to kick start things with a solo effort. Keep the ball moving, trust the offense, and don't over-dribble or force shots. When the Muskies are assisting baskets rather than trying to get them on their own, good things happen.