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Xavier v. George Washington: Preview

Xavier has a warm up for their road trip to Richmond on the weekend with their mid-week game against A-10 foe George Washington. Don't be confused by the Colonials' 3-2 conference record; all three of their wins (and one of thier losses) have come against the bottom five teams in the league. Their only true conference test has come against Richmond, where they lost by ten. This is a team whose wins have come over such luminaries as Towson (by six at home), Holy Cross (by one at home), and Marist (a twenty-point romp at a neutral site). Losses against Navy, Boston U, and UNC Wilmington aren't going to impress the selection committee and have contributed to GW's 209th ranking in the RPI. X is up to 27th after their win over Temple.

Despite their myriad flaws - which we'll get to in a minute - GW does some things right. It's also important to remember that this is an extremely young team, with their players averaging 1.23 years of experience. They are also rather deep, getting 35% of their minutes from the bench (96th in the country) and exceptionally tall - their effective height of +2.7" is 29th in the country. They take care of the ball well, with only about 19% of their possessions ending in turnovers. If things break the right way for this Colonials squad, they could be a legitimate conference contender in a couple of years.

For now, they struggle on both ends of the court. Putting the biscuit in the basket (as it were) has been particularly vexing for the Colonials; as a team, they post a frankly grim shooting line of .403/.328/.611. That shooting percentage is 300th in the nation, and their FT% is 332nd. Nemanja Mikic is leading the team in 3P% at .447; if you remove his contributions, the rest of the team is shooting .227 from behind the arc. Needless to say, that's not good. The Colonials are able to turn more than 35% of their missed shots into offensive rebounding, a number good for 74th in the country and some silver lining in the dark cloud of missed FGA.

Defensively, George Washington's zone more or less holds, allowing teams to shoot .474 from inside the arc. While that mark is near-as-makes-no-difference the national average, they allow opponents to connect at a .365 clip from beyond the arc. They make up for this obvious flaw (that is, when they're not getting run off the court by one of the service academies) by forcing turnovers on a quarter of opponent possessions and being above average at keeping other teams off the offensive glass.

What is interesting about GW's defense is how little teams have even tried to get inside. Forty-one percent of opponents' field goals have been attempted from beyond the arc (20th most in the nation) and opponents have gotten 36.5% of their points from three (12th in the nation). The Colonials are also 66th in the nation in percentage of opponents FGA blocked.

George Washington's offensive atack, such as it is, begins with Tony Taylor and his 13.4-3.3-4.3 per game. The 6' 1" junior from Sleepy Hollow is not only his team's leading scorer but also its leading assist man. His .406/.645/.321 shooting line is a close match to the .402/.667/.355 posted by second-leading scorer Dwayne Smith. A team can survive having one volume shooter leading the line, but having your top two scorers hovering around 40% from the floor and worse than Kenny Frease from the line is how you get to 10-9 against the 230th toughest schedule in the nation.

Keys to the game:
-Heat check: Xavier has shot the three ball very well of late without really making any strategic adjustments. Instead, they have just been executing well on open looks. A continuation of this trend will go a long ways toward cracking a very adequate GW zone.

-Patience: George Washington does a good job of keeping teams 20+ feet away from the basket on defense. Xavier needs to let the possession develop rather than get frustrated and turn the ball over or launch a bad shot. Scoring after forcing the other team to play 30 seconds of defense is a good thing.

-Bury it early: I know this is a recurring trend on here, but there's no reason for Xavier to let GW hang around in Cintas with a big conference road test this weekend. Get ahead, take care of business, and enjoy the second half.

Toughness factor: You've probably gathered that I'm not altogether impressed with the George Washington basketball team; you are correct. This is not a game - especially at home - that Xavier should be allowing to become a challenge. This one is a 1.