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Xavier v. Florida: Preview

Florida's RPI is 28th, and they sport the 24th toughest schedule in the nation (both according to Jerry Palm's collegerpi.com). They are definitely one of Xavier's toughest opponents of the year, and a win over them would certainly look good for the Muskies at the end of the year. I haven't seen Florida play this year, so I'll be using garden variety season stats for them to try to get a feel for who they are as a team. I will also be using the somewhat more advanced statistics available from Ken Pomeroy at kenpom.com for further analysis.

Florida's top two scorers are their guards, 6'2" Kenny Boynton and 5'8" Erving Walker. Boynton is a volume shooter who scores 12.3 per game despite shooting .380 from the floor and .263 from behind the arc. Walker is considerably more efficient in getting his 13.6 PPG, shooting .470 from the floor and a Redfordian .448 from behind the arc. Both players shoot better than 70% from the line.
Florida's 6'10" center Vernon Macklin is a force to reckoned with inside, getting 10.6 points and 6.3 rebounds in just over 21 minutes per game. Six-nine Chandler Parsons and 6'8" Alex Tyus combine for 19 and 11 to round out Florida's front court. Parsons makes only half his free throws, and Macklin sports a horrendous .393 mark from the stripe. Tyus, however, leads the team with a .774 clip.

Florida plays big, with only one reserve under 6'6" getting more than 3.5 minutes per game. Their top ten players in minutes include seven players 6'6" or over, their two starting guards, and one bench guard getting two points per game. They rank 12th in the nation in effective height, a statistic that measures how many of a team's minutes go to big/small players, with more weight given to players farther away from average height. Almost a third of their minutes come off the bench, which is right around national average.

Perhaps owing to their height, Florida plays a slow-paced game that focuses on getting the ball inside. Thirty percent of their field goal attempts are from outside the arc, good for 228th in the nation (they shoot .315 from outside, good for 250th in the nation). They score 59% of their points inside the arc and pull down an offensive rebound on 42.5% of their missed shots, a clip eclipsed by only five teams.

What I see in Florida is a team very much similar to Xavier. Both teams count on one efficient guard and one volume shooter from the outside. Both teams play big, with Xavier being 6th in the nation in effective height. Players getting more than five minutes off of Xavier's bench measure 6'9", 6'8", 6'6", and 6'8". Florida is a little looser with the ball, ranking 229th in turnovers per possession to Xavier's 72nd. Xavier's bench is less productive, providing only 18.5% of the team's minutes.

We don't like to predict a result to any particular contest around here because of the myriad of unpredictable factors that go into a basketball game. Instead, we'll outline a few things that X needs to do to win the game, and then rate its winnability on a scale of 1-5. A rating of 1 indicates that X just needs to show up with Johnny Mazza ready to take the game, a 3 is a basically even match, and a rating of 5 says that we're going to need to play really well and get a little lucky to come out on top.

Keys to the game:
-Control the glass: Florida is a dominant offensive rebounding team with meaningful height. Xavier is going to need all five guys in good defensive rebounding position to make sure that Florida doesn't get extra possessions. Big Kenny and McLean both need to show up and bring their man games with them.

-Stay out of foul trouble: Florida's big men can come at you in waves; Xavier's just don't. If Frease and McLean have to spend significant amounts of time on the bench early, this one could get ugly. Lyons, Holloway, and Jackson need to avoid silly fouls so they can help out on the post and keep the guards out of the paint. We'll let Kenny Boynton and his .263 3PT% lift from outside all day.

-Protect the basketball: With the Gators figuring to get a few free possessions from the offensive glass, the last thing we want to do is gift them even more chances by being loose with the ball. Winning the turnover battle would be a huge bump for X in this game.

-Push the pace: Florida wins by getting five guys involved on both ends of the court. Cheek and Tu are capable of getting the ball out and running, McLean is obviously athletic enough to keep up, and even Big Kenny is sneaky-adept in the full court situation. Against a team that has turnover troubles and relies on its bigs making hay on the glass, an up-tempo game can be beneficial.

Winnability factor:
Florida is a tough opponent with a couple of good wins to go with the surprising egg they laid at home against Jacksonville, but X is at home and has shown signs of finding an offensive stride. I give this one a 3.