Xavier faces their hardest test thus far when they welcome the tournament hopeful Racers to town.
|TV:||FOX Sports 1|
|Radio feed:||55 KRC|
With three games down, Xavier has overmatched all of their opponents so far this season by a pretty wide margin. The tests have gotten progressively more challenging, and Murray State's arrival at Cintas will be no exception. The Racers were shocked by Eastern Kentucky in last season's OVC tournament before winning the CIT. So far this season, they have gone 1-1 in Division 1, losing an 11-point lead to Houston in the season opener before rebounding and pummeling Middle Tennessee on the road and NAIA's Brescia at home.
Murray State is a small, somewhat offensively conservative team. They play at an effective height of -2.7", not quite as small as Stephen F. Austin, but not a big team by any stretch of the imagination. Contrary to what their nickname may suggest, they do not play at a terribly fast pace, taking fast break points where they can, but preferring to take their time and protect the ball. They actually do quite well at not turning the ball over and not giving their opponents opportunities to block many shots, which is a large part of their game plan given that they have not been terribly proficient at outside shooting, getting to the line, or offensive rebounding this season. The Racers will try to make ever possession count by getting the best look they can without taking undue risk.
Defensively, they are 13th in the nation in effective field goal percentage, meaning they force other teams into bad shots regularly. They do not, however, force turnovers at anything above a fairly average rate and opponents have grabbed 37% of their own misses so far against Murray, which, I probably don't have to tell you, is a lot. Murray's defense will need to limit second chances if their tournament aspirations are to come to fruition this season.
|Cameron Payne||Point guard||Dee Davis|
|6'2", 180||Measurements||6'0", 161|
|Payne led Murray State in most meaningful statistical categories as a freshman, and he's off to a good start this year. His usage rate, assist rate, and steal% are all in the top 100 in the nation, and he plays more than 80% of the available minutes. Only a slow shooting start (13-30 in D1 games) has kept him from being dominant from the word go this year.|
|T.J. Sapp||Shooting Guard||Remy Abell|
|6'3", 190||Measurement||6'4", 195|
|Sapp is off to a slow shooting start this season, after posting pretty respectable numbers last season. The case with both Abell and Sapp is that most of their value is added defensively, where Sapp averaged 2.6 steals per game a season ago. It is also not historically prudent to send Sapp to the line, where he converted at an 80% rate last season.|
|Jeffery Moss||Small Forward||Trevon Bluiett|
|6'4", 188||Measurement||6'6", 215|
|Moss was an essential cog to the Racers last year, and has continued to be so far this season. While playing in 90% if the team's minutes this year, he has been one of the top 150 players in the nation at not turning the ball over, a vital part of Murray State's gameplan. He did, however, struggle with Houston's Jherrod Stiggers, a player similar in size to Bluiett.|
|Jonathan Fairell||Power Forward||James Farr|
|6'7", 265||Measurement||6'10", 247|
|To say that Fairell has struggled with foul trouble this season would be the understatement of the year. In 22 minutes against D1 opposition this season, he has committed 9 fouls, which has greatly hampered his effectiveness on the boards, where he was Murray's enforcer last season. Fairell, when not being called for fouls, was one of the nation's best offensive rebounders last year so look for him to try and refind that form against a Muskies backline that has been suspect at times this season.|
|Jarvis Williams||Center||Matt Stainbrook|
|6'8", 215||Measurement||6'10", 270|
|The numbers speak for themselves on the year Williams is having so far. The Green Bay transfer greatly benefits from Fairell's partnership down low, due to his leanness, but often uses his superior quickness to his advantage in the low post. He hasn't attempted a 3 pointer in his season plus at Murray, but is nothing short of devestating inside the arc when on his day. Murray has relied heavily on Williams so far this season, and they will be hoping for more against Xavier.|
Sophomore Guard Justin Seymour is the pick of the bunch here, having played significant minutes in every game this season. Seymour has averaged 8.3/2.0/2.0 on a .400/.375/.600 shooting line so far, which paints him as more of an initiator than instant scoring option off the bench. Freshman guard Kendrick Flomo and Junior forward Tyler Rambo are the only other players to play more than 40 minutes off the bench this year for the Racers, who are 329th in the nation in bench minutes this year.
-Who is the killer? The last two games, Xavier's opponents have been able to linger further into the game than most fans were comfortable with before the Musketeers finally put them out of reach. The Xaviers of recent times have always had a talismanic player who would step up to put games away, and with the tests only getting tougher from here, now would be a great time for that player to make himself known.
-What do you do at 4? Thus far this season has been a bit of a sputtering start for both James Farr and Jalen Reynolds. Farr has had his struggles at both ends of the floor well documented here and, if not for the presence of Jonathan Fairell on the floor, we would still be floored by the fact that Reynolds is averaging 8 fouls per 40 minutes (Fairell is averaging twice that). Against a team with an interior scorer like Jarvis Williams, it would be a wonderful time for one of these two to be able to be counted on for stops when Stainbrook is out.
-Can this really keep up? Xavier has won three games so far by being nearly irrepressible on the offensive end of the floor. Matt Stainbrook and Trevon Bluiett in particular have seemingly scored at will, with Myles Davis and J.P. Macura not far off the pace. Can X keep throwing 80+ on the board as the schedule becomes a bit more treacherous?
Control the glass on both ends. As stated earlier, Murray State has not been particularly good at creating second chances for themselves on the offensive glass. Combine that with the fact that they seem to take great joy in offering their opponents the same opportunity on their defensive end, and you have the downfall of the Racers so far this season. Xavier hasn't crushed the boards at either end by any means this season, but Murray's care of the ball on offense and dedication to forcing bad shots on defense mean the Musketeers can not afford missed opportunities in the rebounding game.
Take care of the ball. Against Stephen F. Austin, Xavier's execution was, at times, extremely sloppy offensively. With the weapons Xavier has at their disposal, the impetus is on Dee Davis and Brandon Randolph to initiate and execute the offense in a way that gives Xavier's big guns their best chance to put points on the board, and Davis's 5 turnovers against SFA are not a great harbinger in that regard.
Force the interior. Xavier has a size advantage over Murray that they will need to exploit to get the most out of this game. Jarvis Williams is a terrific offensive player, but gives up beef on whoever he is guarding from X's frontline and Jonathan Fairell's struggles with the whistle have been documented above already. Those are the only two players 6'7" or above who have played in more than 10% of Murray State's minutes in D1 play this season. If Xavier can feed Stainbrook, something they failed to do regularly enough against SFA, and get the Murray bigs into foul trouble, it will be a long day for the Racers.