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Xavier v. Alabama: Preview

Xavier heads back on the road in search of a resume building win against a very solid Alabama squad. Back to back Saturday wins would give the Musketeers a nice boost heading into the Big East schedule.

Tervor Releford leads the Crimson Tide attack.
Tervor Releford leads the Crimson Tide attack.
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

If there is ever a good time to have a week between games, it's when you are coming off a Crosstown Shootout win so complete that the walk-ons logged time. That, or a national championship, but we are getting well ahead of ourselves there. Xavier undoubtedly enjoyed this week, and film review must not have been the chore it was after every single game in the Bahamas. Now, however, a tougher test lies on the horizon.

Cincinnati, recent drubbing aside, is still sporting a very respectable 47th on the KenPom ratings chart. Xavier lies at 49th, and Alabama is sitting at 53rd. In other words, there's not a great deal to separate the three teams (other than the 17 points Xavier beat UC by). Alabama will enter the game 5-5, but that record reflects the fact that they have tested themselves far more than either of the squads from the Queen City. The Crimson Tide's losses have come to Oklahoma, Duke, Drexel, USF (not good), and Wichita State. Xavier has challenged three teams to this point with numbers roughly equivalent to those squads, and they've come away 2-2, thanks to splitting with Tennessee.

Team Fingerprint:

Alabama likes to play defense. They currently sit 36th overall in defensive efficiency, and they are brutally effective behind the arc, where they are seventh in the nation in three point defense. Inside the arc they land just above average in two point field goal defense, but they block 14.2% of opponents shots and steal the ball on another 11.6% of defensive possessions. Both of those numbers are solidly top 40. What Alabama doesn't do well defensively is keep other teams off the glass, allowing opponents to grab 34.1% of their misses.

There's a reason a team that plays defense that well is only 5-5, and one of those is that defense doesn't score points. Alabama is nearly as bad from behind the arc as they force opponents to be, isn't great from two point country, gets assists worse than 300 other teams, and doesn't get to the line well enough to capitalize on their solid shooting from there.

The Crimson Tide are neither exceptionally tall or exceptionally deep. Their bench will get only 28.4% of the available minutes despite relying heavily on the first person off of it. The Tide is also shockingly slow to the point od being basically sedentary. Only Clemson in the ACC plays defense as well and a tempo so slow as Alabama. Neither team is world renowned for being particularly aesthetically pleasing.

Starters:

These five guys will probably get the start on Saturday, but not all of them will play the most minutes at their spot. The Crimson Tide rotate a lot at the forward spots, so the starters may not even play half of the game.

The player: 6-0, 190 senior guard Trevor Releford.
The numbers: 17/3.8/2.7 on .486/.385/.935 shooting.
More numbers: 25.5% usage, 3.9% steal rate, 18% assist rate
The words: Rarely does a major teams primary ballhandler have more turnovers than assists, but Releford manages just that for the Tide. He makes up for it on the other end by being an incredibly efficient scorer who gets his without having to force shots. Only once in his last 20 games has Trevor not scored in double figures, and that was in a game his team won handily.

The player: 6-1, 205 sophomore guard Retin Obasohan.
The numbers: 14.5/3.7/2.4 on .418/.200/.771 shooting.
More numbers: 5.1% block rate, 5.4% steal rate, 91.2% FT rate
The words: Obasohan has to be one of the few players in the nation with his particular skill set. His block rate lands him at 220th nationally, and his steal rate lands him at 12th. That would be impressive enough, but he also scores 14.5 points on only 9.1 shots per game because of his proclivity for going to the line. If he was slightly better as a shooter, he'd be in the running for national player of the year.

The player: 6-5, 205 junior combo guard Levi Randolph.
The numbers: 9.8/4.7/1.6 on .443/.370/.720 shooting.
More numbers: 9.1% OR%, 8.9% DR%.
The words: Randolph doesn't do anything extremely well or anything extremely poorly. His rebounding rates are good for a guard and he shoots the ball fairly well, but nothing really jumps off the page. That's not to say that Randolph isn't a good player, just not spectacular. He will do his fair share of turning the ball over, but that's really the only glaring weakness in his game.

The player: 6-8, 245 junior forward Nick Jacobs.
The numbers: 10.7/4.9/.2 on .495/.000/.607 shooting.
More numbers: 4% block rate, 27.2% shots rate, 14.6% DR%.
The words: When Nick Jacobs gets on the court, he lifts. A 27.2% shots rate means that he's taking over a quarter of his teams shots when he is on the floor. When you take into account the fact that he shoots only 49% from the floor despite taking 50% of his shots at the rim, you can see why that is an issue. Jacobs fancies himself a jump shooter, but he's not a good one. A starter, he averages only 24 minutes per game despite committing less than three fouls per 40 minutes.

The player: 6-10, 240 freshman center Jimmie Taylor.
The numbers: 3.1/4.2/.1 on .611/.000/.529 shooting.
More numbers: 14.9% OR%, 15.4% DR%, 7.6% block rate.
The words: Taylor starts, but only plays 16 minutes per game. I don't know if he's out of shape, annoying to watch, or is just that bad on offense, because his rate numbers don't paint the picture of a bad player. Taylor rebounds on essentially the same level as Jalen Reynolds, blocks shots, and doesn't foul an exorbitant amount. What he does do is shoot infrequently (1.8 times per game) and turn the ball over nearly 20% of the time he touches it.

Reserves:

Chief among the bench players for Alabama is Rodney Cooper, a 6-6 forward who plays all the minutes that the starters aren't getting. In that time he goes for 7.3/4.9/1.9 but only shoots 36% from the floor. That heinous number doesn't keep Cooper from lifting nearly eight times per game. Get yours, Rodney. Algie Kay is a 6-4 guard who also grabs a fair amount of time off the bench. Kay is the antithesis of Cooper, scoring his 7.8 on only five shots per game and letting his 72% mark at the line garner him the rest. Kay attacks the rim relentlessly, getting 55% of his shots there. Carl Engstrom and Shannon Hale back up the bigs when Cooper isn't playing, but neither manages even three points or rebounds per game.

Three questions:

- Can Xavier score? Alabama plays great team defense (and Obasohan plays elite individual defense) and Xavier isn't exactly an offensive powerhouse. Assuming this won't be the second straight Saturday that features a 68% mark from deep, the Musketeers are going to have to work their offense to get points. If Stainbrook is involved and converting early, things could open up a bit for the Musketeer shooters to do their thing.

- Can anyone stop Myles Davis? Right now Davis is posting an 118 offensive rating and making 47% from behind the arc. That translates into 9.5 points off only 6.1 shots per game. If Alabama decides that stopping Davis is what Obasohan is going to do, that leaves either Trevor Releford or Levi Randolph matched up with quicksilver guard Brandon Randolph when Xavier goes small. If Obasohan takes Semaj Christon, Davis will shoot over Releford or go around Levi Randolph. Xavier's first year guard is really starting to create matchup issues.

- Can Xavier win on the road? The Musketeers have played four games away from home this year and have gone 1-3 in those contests. The one win, you may recall, came last week and was contested in their home city. This, however, is as true a road game as you can get. Xavier utterly collapsed the last time they traveled, they won't want to do it again.

Three keys:

- Make Alabama defend: If you simply stand around and hope the threes fall against the Tide, you'll lose. Anthony Grant's team eats stationary three point shooters like the first batch of Christmas cookies (the ones before you get sick of all things sugar). Xavier absolutely has to move the ball and make the Alabama defenders work.

- Score quick buckets: Along those same lines comes the fact that Alabama wants to make every single possession meaningful. If Xavier can score quickly or get out in transition when possible, they can keep the game from becoming the kind of trudge that suits a team that plays suffocating half court defense.

- Carry some momentum: It's been a week, but the team that walked off the court after the Crosstown Shootout looked like world-beaters. A good start, especially from everyone's favorite enigma, Justin Martin, and that momentum could carry over into what would be a very valuable road victory.