Xavier is through the first three games of the schedule unscathed with one potentially big win in hand, almost exactly mirroring last year's progress at the same point. Of course, form there on in last year, X played .500 ball and missed the postseason entirely, so it's not all happy recollections for the Muskie faithful. This year's squad seems to have more depth and more talent than the one of a year ago, and Xavier fans are hoping that's enough to carry the program back to the Sweet Sixteen where it belongs.
The next hurdle on that path is the Miami RedHawks. MU has begun this season with road games against admittedly respectable opponents Notre Dame and Arizona State. They hung with Notre Dame in the season opener, but their November 12th trip to ASU left them nursing a 36-point defeat on the flight home. Xavier marks their third consecutive road date before they host the mighty Somethings (Quakers? I don't know) of Wilmington College this coming Saturday.
As you've likely surmised, Miami's fingerprint is one of a team that's not very good at basketball. One of the things that has carried over from the Coles era is the pace at which Miami plays, which is very slow. Their 66.4 possessions per game is good for 301st in the country, owing a little bit to the general increase of the pace of the game at large. They also play with a fairly shallow bench, getting only 27.5% of their minutes from reserves. Effective height is usually an advantage for them at +1", but - as noted in earlier game previews - Xavier's effective height dwarfs that.
Miami's defense is absolute rubbish, and it starts at the three-point line. Only half a dozen teams allow opponents to shoot more freely from behind the arc, and only two have seen opponents connect on a higher rate. Inside the arc things aren't much better, as Miami's opponents have shot 55.6%, which only narrowly trails the 57.1% number they've posted from the line. Miami also forces turnovers at a sincerely subpar rate. Their work on the defensive glass is 51st in the nation, but that could be because opponents don't need to worry about second-chance points when so many of their first chances are connecting.
On offense, Miami plays slowly but rarely turns the ball over. They're also a very good (78.8%) team from the line, but very bad at getting there. They only shoot 46.9% from two and 23.8% from three, so their offensive efficiency is not what scholars refer to as "good". Offensive rebounding has also been a problem with them; their 15.7% OReb% is 347th in the country. There's a reason these guys are 0-2.
The player: 6'0", 179-pound senior guard Quentin Rollins
The numbers: 1.0/4.5/6.0 on .200/.000/.000 shooting
More numbers: 23.2% DReb%, 50% assist rate
The words: Rollins is, as the fact that he has taken 5 shots in 2 games might attest, more of a distributor than a scorer. While he has assisted half of the buckets his teammates have scored while he has been on the court, he still has a very poor ORtg due to the fact that he can't score and his alarming tendency to turn the ball over like it was coated in stinging nettles.
The player: 6'1", 201-pound sophomore guard Reggie Johnson
The numbers: 23.0/1.0/1.5 on .552/.417/.900 shooting
More numbers: 2.5 steals per game, 6.7% TO%, 32.2% shots%
The words: Johnson is pretty much the opposite of Rollins in that he will lift from anywhere at any time with little compunction. Every one of his 5 threes on the year has been off a catch-and-shoot situation, but he is also shooting extremely well on two-point jumpers (55.6%). Johnson plays 85% of the team's minutes and leads the team in that category and in scoring, both by wide margins. What (insert your favorite Xavier stalwart here) is/was to Xavier, Johnson is to Miami.
The player: 6'7", 187-pound freshman forward Jaryd Eustace
The numbers: 5.5/5.0/1.0 on .167/.000/.778 shooting
More numbers: 17.5% DReb%, 2.0 fouls per 40 minutes
The words: Eustace is incredibly active on the defensive glass but almost invisible on the offensive glass as Miami's action pulls him away from the paint. He has just as many three-point attempts as shots at the rim and has been generally ineffective on the attack in his freshman campaign. If X starts three guards again, his size might cause matchup problems on the wing.
The player: 6'7", 207-pound senior forward Will Felder
The numbers: 8.5/6.0/1.5 on .316/.333/.600 shooting
More numbers: 66.8 ORtg, 20.7% DReb%, 3.5 TO per game
The words: Felder is tied for Miami's second-leading scorer, but his points have come in an extremely inefficient manner. Not only is he shooting really poorly from the floor, but he has a serious turnover problem right now. Felder shot fairly well last year, so it's probably a question of just getting into rhythm and playing some competition more his level. Like Eustace, he spends more time away from the basket than you might anticipate for a man his size.
The player: 6'10", 240-pound senior center Blake McLimans
The numbers: 8.5/4.5/1.0 on .375/.231/1.000 shooting
More numbers: 6.7% block%, 8.0% OReb%, 103.9 ORtg
The words: The Michigan transfer is the prime example of how Miami's offense uses its bigs: he has 1 shot at the rim this year, 2 two-point jumpers, and 13 three-point attempts. Despite that unorthodox deployment as the biggest guy on the court, he still leads Miami with an OReb% of 8.0% (which is still fairly meagre). He is also the best shot-blocker on the team, for what that's worth.
Six-foot-three guard Geovonie McKnight comes off the bench, but he is getting first-team minutes on his way to a fairly inefficient 7.5 points on .353/.000/.600 shooting. Will Sullivan is a 6'3" guard who has six points on four shots so far this year. He has a decent ORtg (103), but his usage rate is a mere 9%.
-Is the three-guard lineup here to stay? Xavier came out with Christon, Davis, and Randolph all in the starting lineup against Morehead State. Early foul trouble for Randolph kept that group from getting too much run together, but it will be interesting to see if it was a gimmick lineup to answer Morehead's guard-focused attack or if that is what Coach Mack sees as the best way to get the most out of his depth. How X comes out in the next three or four games, beginning tonight, will tell you a lot about what Mack sees as the identity of the team.
-How does Xavier matchup? One of the things that really troubled the Musketeers last season was the stretch four, and Miami plays three large forwards that love to shoot it from beyond the arc. The Muskies are going to be tasked with improving their poor showing against long-range shooting bigs this season, and while Miami's forwards are not the best the Musketeers are going to play, this is going to be a good early test for the defense.
-How is Justin Martin? Martin said that last week's game was a product of his working out the kinks after his head injury - though he did execute well from the line. His ability to score the basketball is not as vital to this team as it was to least year's, but his length and potential scoring ability would be welcome on any squad. If he can come off the pine and put the biscuit in the basket for Xavier, the team's offensive potential goes off the charts.
-Execute from the line. There's not a whole lot of resemblance between Miami and, say, Georgetown, but one of the immutable factors in a basketball game is the free throw line. The basic mechanics of knocking them home from the stripe are the same no matter where you're playing (assuming the floor is set up to meet basic NCAA standards). If Xavier can hit FT in this game, it can theoretically hit them against anyone. While execution from the stripe might not end up being a deciding factor tonight, having a good showing from fifteen feet would certainly set the foundation for not giving away wins later on.
-Start early. Like missing your free throws, starting the game in a hole can end up having a detrimental result on your tournament resume. Xavier has come close to making a habit of getting up through the gears rather slowly this season. With the amount of talent X has to deploy at both ends of the court, there's no reason they should be tied with early-season cupcakes at the under-12. Miami should be informed early on that they're not hanging around in this game.
-Set the table. Xavier has four games in six days next week, which is going to require some meaningful contributions all up and down the roster. Getting things in order in the Miami game would be a big boost for X heading into the Battle4Atlantis. Cleaning things up at the line, avoiding silly turnovers, and getting the bench guys in and the starters a breather to keep their legs for the long week ahead will stand the team in good stead going forward.