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Xavier v. Morehead St: Preview

A pair of 2-0 go head-to-head at Cintas, demonstrating the differences in teams with the same records.

Coach Mack explains to Matt Stainbrook that his contributions will be important tonight.
Coach Mack explains to Matt Stainbrook that his contributions will be important tonight.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Morehead State and Xavier both hold identical 2-0 records just a week into this young season, but the teams are about as disparate as they could be without someone sporting a loss. Xavier opened with a warm-up romp over Gardner Webb before turning to a tougher opponent. Tennessee is probably going to be playing meaningful games deep into March, and their skill level and Xavier's inability to execute combined to take the game all the way down to the wire before some clutch free throws by Myles Davis sealed the deal.

Morehead, on the other hand, opened with non-league Mid-Continent (Ky.), an NAIA squad. After that romp came an eight-point victory over East Tennessee State, a team not meaningfully different in the KenPom rankings from Gardner Webb. With a win over a team that Xavier would have only played in an exhibition and a narrow escape from a squad that the Muskies would have hosted for a tune-up game, Morehead's 2-0 record comes with all the solidity of a very warm marshmallow.

Team fingerprint:
Even with the scheduling caveats spelled out above, Morehead's offense has not been good. Their effective field goal percentage is 44.2%, 247th in the nation, thanks largely in part to their appalling 37.1% showing from inside the arc. They also turn the ball over on 22% of their possessions, which is pretty awful. Their only saving grace on offense has been their ability to crash the boards, grabbing offensive rebounds on an impressive 46.5% of their own misses.

Defensively, there have only been a couple of bleak spots for the Eagles. Their opponents have been able to shoot at will from three, but have only connected on 21.1% of those attempts. They've shut down the offensive boards and are forcing turnovers on 20.6% of opponent possessions. Their problems have come once the other team gets inside the arc, where they're in the bottom 100 in the country in 2P%, block%, and avoiding sending teams to the line. Despite their prowess on the glass, the interior is the soft underbelly of this defense.

Their tempo is almost exactly the national average, so don't be surprised to see Xavier dictating the pace of the game. Morehead gets almost 35% of their minutes off the bench (110th in the country) and is in the top 100 in experience. Their effective height of +1" is 105th in the nation but well behind Xavier's +2.7".

The player: 6'2", 195-pound junior guard Angelo Warner
The numbers: 20.0/6.0/2.5 on .464/.467/.875 shooting
More numbers: 141.4 ORtg, 58.9% EFG%, 5.4% steal%
The words: Warner was basically an overwhelming force in Morehead's first two games, shooting and scoring more than any of his teammates by a fairly wide margin. Warner is primarily a jump shooter as a guard, though his two-point jumper hasn't been all the good on the young season. He does not slash to the rim often preferring to shoot off the bounce. He's also active on the defensive end with six of the team's 23 steals on the year.

The player: 6'3", 180-pound sophomore guard Brent Arrington
The numbers: 10.5/2.5/3.5 on .500/.286/.833 shooting
More numbers: 150.8 ORtg, 23% assist rate, 5.9% steal%
The words: Arrington is also more of a scoring guard than a distributor, but he is almost strictly a catch-and-shoot guy rather than a threat to put the ball on the floor. Every one of his threes this year has come off of an assist, and he is well below the national average in percentage of shots taken at the rim. Like Warner, his ORtg and steal numbers have been the beneficiaries of the weak starting schedule.

The player: 5'10", 190-pound junior guard Kareem Storey
The numbers: 6.0/5.0/10.5 on .308/.250/.500 shooting
More numbers: 4 TO per game, 43.8% assist rate, 4.2% steal%
The words: A low, quick guard, Storey is primarily a slasher who looks to get into the paint to score or distribute. He is effective at getting to the rim, but his finishing has let him down so far this season. While his assist numbers are superficially impressive, 15 of those came against Mid-Continent, and he has 6 assists to 5 turnovers against ETSU.

The player: 6'11", 265-pound senior center Chad Posthumus
The numbers: 8.5/8.0/0 on .533/.000/.500 shooting
More numbers: 18.2% OReb%, 24.9% DReb%, 0 assists
The words: Despite the fact that he's only started one of Morehead's games, I'm penciling in Posthumus here. He has a career MO of being a massive rebounder and not much else, and he is continuing that this season, successfully converting only a quarter of his FGA categorized as "at the rim" events. He also isn't much to write home about on defense, still awaiting his first blocked shot. He'll be a big but not particularly skilled obstacle for Xavier's post players.

The player: 6'10", 260-pound junior center Billy Reader
The numbers: 6.0/6.0/1 on .429/.000/.000 shooting
More numbers: 9.7% OReb%, 18.4% DReb%, 0 blocks
The words: Another big body who is a rebounder and not much else for Morehead. Despite their size and the relative ease of their opponents so far, neither Reader nor Posthumus has a usage rate of even 20%. Reader has also been struggling to finish at the rim and has remarkably been able to avoid even a single free throw attempt.

Six-foot-four guard Bakari Turner hasn't started a game yet, but he is second on the team with 12.5 PPG. He has the team's highest usage rate, which is good, because he's only shooting .391/.231/.571. Drew Kelly is a 6'6" forward who has started one game and is averaging 9.5/4.0/0.0. His OReb% of 20.1% is the most notable part of his stat line. Freshmen DeAndre Leatherwood and Greg Dotson both put up big numbers against Mid-Continent and did nothing against ETSU.

Three questions:
-Who can go for Xavier?
This is going to be a continuing theme until the Muskies return to full strength. Dee Davis and Justin Martin are both battling back from head injuries, and discretion is obviously the better part of valor where those are concerned. UT was the first major hurdle on Xavier's schedule, and beating them while short-handed bodes well for X, but Coach Mack is going to want to have a chance to set his rotation before the big games down the road arrive.

-Who is Xavier's second-best guard? I have to feel that, if Dee Davis had been healthy for the season opener, he would have been holding down a starting spot through the early part of the year as Myles Davis and Brandon Randolph got their feet wet. Instead, Dee is out, Randolph has been mercurial but undeniably impressive, and Myles has been Xavier's best shooter and proven he can handle the big moment. Suddenly Dee's return to the floor doesn't feel like a presumptive return to the starting five.

-Can Xavier's young forwards stay out of foul trouble? James Farr has been unexpectedly smooth on the offensive end (those 42 minutes of experience last year really paid off!) and Jalen Reynolds's athletic abilities have been on clear display, but both have had trouble staying on the court. Farr is averaging an astounding 12 fouls per 40 minutes of playing time, and Reynolds has done him one better with a jaw-dropping 17.1. While they come by their fouls in different ways - Reynolds by enthusiastically pursuing every loose ball, rebound, and opponent shot like a well-meaning puppy, Farr by having defensive posture more wooden than Chuck Norris's "acting" - it would behoove them both to find a way to keep their hands clean so they can contribute to Xavier's frontcourt depth.

Three keys:
-Climb aboard the Stain Train. Matt Stainbrook's back-to-the-basket game in the post gives Xavier an incredibly valuable dynamic on offense, as he is able to get his own basket consistently enough that opponents have to help to him. That opens up the lane for Xavier cutters, and Stainbrook has shown himself to be a willing and skilled passer from the high and low posts. The Muskies had a tendency to ignore Travis Taylor for long stretches of game time last year; doing the same to Stainbrook would be just as bad an idea.

-Control the boards. Other than their ability to rebound, Morehead's offense is pretty bad right now. Given enough second chances, they will eventually hurt Xavier on that end of the floor. The Muskies' bigs have been an absolute gang on the glass so far this season; keeping up that level of intensity should shut off the Eagles' most direct path to staying in this game.

-Take care of business. If we're talking about this game on Xavier's at-large resume in three and a half months, it will only be as a bad loss. There are plenty of tough opponents down the road for Xavier, but the next three games - Morehead, Miami (OH), and Abilene Christian - are all must-haves for the simple fact that a loss in any of them would be a massive blight on Xavier's record. As a fan, I can look down the road and mentally pencil in those three games. As a team, Xavier needs to come out strong, execute, and remove all doubt in this one before moving forward.