A theme of the early going of Xavier's season has been that the challenges continue to get sterner and sterner as the season steams on towards conference play. That trend will continue when the Musketeers clash with the UTEP Miners on Friday in the second round of The Wooden Legacy.
Both teams will be trying to maintain unbeaten records while also both facing their biggest challenge thus far. UTEP took care of Princeton by 6 immediately before Xavier beat San Diego by 11.
UTEP is shooting 38.9% from behind the arc, which is obviously bad news considering how poorly Xavier has defended the three this season. The good news is that they rarely shoot from there, launching only about 1 in 5 of their field goal attempts from long range. They're not a very good shooting team from two-point range, but they get to the glass well and avoid turning the ball over.
Defensively, they pack the middle and dominate on the boards. They don't get out to contest the three-ball too hard, nor are they committed to forcing the turnover at an above-average rate. With an effective height of +4.8", they are one of the few teams in the nation that will have the size advantage over Xavier's monstrous front line.
|Cooper plays much the same role for UTEP as Davis does for Xavier. He looks to work first as a distributor, and seeks his own shot more rarely.As the numbers show, Cooper passes as little less efficiently but scores a bit more efficiently than Dee. While not a pure scorer in the mold of Cameron Payne, Cooper is still a tough matchup for Davis in that he is vital to UTEP's offense running smoothly.
|Morris is a Kent State transfer who has started the season in a miserable slump from the field, including missing his last 8 field goals over UTEP's last 2 games. He hasn't been setting the world on fire from a rebounding or distributing standpoint, either, so it will be interesting to see if UTEP tries to find a hot hand to prey on Xavier's ailing perimeter defense.
|Washburn has been a staple in UTEP's lineup for 4 seasons, ranking in the top 10 in school history in minutes and the top 20 in points scored. Washburn is a capable offensive player, although his shooting numbers are down this year, but he has been on the CUSA All-Defensive team the last 2 seasons, which will be an interesting test for Xavier's young dynamo Bluiett, who hasn't seemed challenged thus far this year.
Hunter is the go-to guy for UTEP, ranking 10th in the nation in usage this year. Coming off his CUSA Freshman of the Year campaign last year, he has assumed the mantle for the Miners this year shooting 15, 12, and 14 times in the Miner's 3 games thus far. Hunter attacks the boards on both ends and gets fouled 7.5 times a game. He is a definitely a challenge for Xavier's forwards and it will be essential to handle him in order to control this game.
|For someone who is 7'1", Willms does not make as major of an impact on defense or rebounding as one would likely expect. He isn't even UTEP's leader in blocks and is only pulling a shade over 3 boards a game. While he is sure to affect a lot of shots due to his sheer size, Stainbrook may be able to use his superior strength- he outweighs Willms by 40 pounds- and intelligence to still get his way down low.
Off the bench, Senior forward Cedrick Lang leads the way, going for 12.0/7.7/1.0 on a .684/.000/.714 line. He is top 100 nationally in both effective field goal and true shooting percentage, and logs 28 minutes a game. Obviously, he will factor as well as Freshman guard Omega Harris, who is impressing with an 8.3/3.3/1.7 line this season while shooting 80% from beyond the arc. With opponents shooting almost 40% from three point against Xavier this year, Harris will be one to watch. Beyond that point, no one averages more than 10 minutes a game off the bench, although 6'11" Junior center Hooper Vint leads the team with 3 blocked shots this year.
-Will UTEP force the arc? With the size of their titanic front line considered, it's no wonder the Miners focus on getting the ball into the middle. Xavier can go nearly as big, though, and the Muskies have been miserable at defending the three-ball this year. UTEP can really shoot it; the question is how often they're going to choose to do so.
-How long is Dee's leash? Dee Davis has been spectacular at the point at times this year, but he has also not shaking his penchant for choosing the Hollywood ball over the safe pass and occasionally embarking on hopeless drives into the middle. Brandon Randolph has really come along at the point and - while he doesn't split the defense open quite like Dee can - really avoids the turnover and still distributes the ball well. If Dee is passing to both teams, how long will Coach Mack let him go?
-Where's the defense? The Musketeers have actually done a lot of things pretty well defensively, but allowing teams to shoot 39.6% from deep really takes the shine off of most of them. Watching yesterday's game was particularly frustrating as San Diego seemed to have plenty of choices if they wanted an uncontested look from long range. The time to shore this up is now, because the Big East is not going to be as forgiving if Xavier can't get stops.
-Check the arc. Should UTEP decide that today's the day to really open things up from the outside, Xavier has to commit to making those shots contested. Defensive rotations are about effort and communication, and those are two things that never slump if you put in the effort. X needs to do just that.
-Get bodies to the glass. This is going to be an interesting matchup on the boards, because the Miners have two elite rebounding bigs and a seven-footer. Gang rebounding is going to be important for Xavier, especially on the offensive end. The more real estate the Muskies contest when the ball comes off the rim, the better their odds of claiming it will be.
-Keep the pace moving. Xavier has the guards to get out and run the floor after misses and makes, and attacking a big defense before it's set can lead to easy baskets. X is also a lot deeper than UTEP, so a pace that leaves players gasping for air can be to the team's advantage. Running for running's sake can be futile, but forcing the defense to hustle back every time and taking easy baskets when they don't should be a focus for Xavier today.