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Xavier v. Auburn: Preview

Xavier heads to SEC country for the second time in a row. This time, the Tigers of Auburn are the opponent. They'll force turnovers and guard the perimeter, but will they ever score?

The face of a man who needs a snack.
The face of a man who needs a snack.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

The time around Christmas is chock full of soccer matches, but college basketball drops by the wayside. Xavier has played one game in the last week, will play one today, and doesn't play again for eight days after that. What that does is take a bit of the shine off the fact that the Musketeers have won three in a row, including their first true road game at Missouri.

Xavier plays another true road game today, and once again they are down in SEC country. Auburn enters the game as roughly the same kind of team Missouri was when Xavier went there. (At least in terms of rankings). The Tigers are 4-5 and, despite the bump the SEC will give their ranking, don't ever figure to count as much more than a rote win or a bad loss. Somewhat impressively, Auburn has figured out how to squeeze three more cupcakes on the schedule before conference play begins.

Team fingerprint:

Offensively this is a bit of a "if you can't say something nice" situation. Auburn is just flat awful at scoring the ball. Their offense is 222nd in the nation, well below where any Power Five conference team should find itself. Following the same stop light method as looking at Xavier's remaining schedule, the Tigers only have one category (FTA/FGA, where they are 81st) that is green. There are no yellow categories, and everything else glows the bright red of failure. The only thing concerning to Xavier will be that the Tigers chuck 40% of their shots from behind the arc. They only make 32.1% of those, though, so even that fear is mitigated.

Defensively, the Tigers are a bit better. They would have to be really, or they would be 0-9. Their defense ranks 98th, just a few spots down from Xavier's 95th. Auburn excels at turning opponents over, forcing turnovers on 22.3% of possessions. On possessions where opponents do get a shot, the Tigers hold them to 27.3% behind the arc. Both of those numbers are right on the edge of excellent. The entire defense isn't excellent though, because the Tigers get eviscerated inside the arc, where opponents make 55% of their shots. Only 31 teams in the nation are worse.

Players:

Antoine Mason Point Guard Dee Davis
Senior Class Senior
6-1, 216 Measurements 6-0, 160
15.8/2.3/1.3 Game line 9.1/1.6/6
.424/.250/.625 Shooting line .432/.345/.810
Mason has taken over for the dreadful K.C. Ross-Miller and added a spark to the Tiger offense. He shot a lot at Niagara and he'll shoot a lot here. Dee, meanwhile, continues to be the model of uncomplicated consistency.
KT Harrell Shooting Guard Remy Abell
Senior Class Junior
6-4, 212 Measurements 6-0, 200
17.6/2.6/1.0 Game line 9.0/2.1/2.6
.448/.407/.714 Shooting line .569/.333/.696
This will be an interesting matchup. Abell is one of the premier perimeter defenders in the Big East, and Harrell is a scorer who can shoot the ball well from deep. If Abell can contain Harrell, Auburn will really struggle to score at all.
Tahj Shamsid-Deen Third Guard Trevon Bluiett
Senior Class Freshman
5-9, 170 Measurements 6-6, 215
7.4/.9/1.7 Game line 14/4.4/1.9
.344/.294/.750 Shooting line .538/.436/.781
These two will not line up directly across from each other most likely, but the need to have Abell on Harrell will mean that Bluiett draws one of the other guards. Deen's job is to not shoot so much that either Harrell or Mason starts getting bored.
Jordon Granger Forward James Farr
Junior Class Junior
6-8, 210 Measurements 6-9, 237
5.9/4.1/1.2 Game line 5.1/7.0/1.7
.500/.421/.583 Shooting line .386/.250/.500
Granger is shooting how Farr wishes he was, but not nearly as frequently. Both bigs are going to step out and try to stretch the opponents defense. Between them they have a grand total of three double digit scoring games.
Cinmeon Bowers Center Matt Stainbrook
Junior Class Senior
6-7, 278 Measurements 6-10, 263
13.0/12.1/1.0 Game line 13.4/6.9/1.9
.459/.143/.473 Shooting line .707/.500/.730
What are you doing right now? Bowers is eating and rebounding. Despite standing 6-7, Bowers is second in the nation in DR% and 75th in OR%. He won't stop Stainbrook from scoring, but he will present a challenge.

Three questions:

- Will rust and travel matter? Xavier has been on the road for four games this year and gone 2-2. Technically three of those were neutral site games, but it seems like 2,700 miles counts as a road trip. Add to that the fact that Xavier hasn't played in a week, and it seems like a slow start could be in the works. Do that and get behind a team that shoots the three and defends it well and an upset becomes more likely.

- Larry Austin or Brandon Randolph? Over the last five games Edmond Sumner was averaging four minutes at the point guard position. That's not a lot, but it kept Dee Davis fresh and kept Austin and his 57% turnover rate off the court. Randolph, meanwhile, is coming off his best game as a Musketeer. Will Xavier try to phase in the freshman or just go with a two man rotation?

- Can Xavier get the ball to Stainbrook? Here's a bold prediction for you: if Matt Stainbrook takes at least ten shots, Xavier will win by double digits. Stainbrook is 14th in the nation in offensive efficiency but has taken a total of nine shots and two free throws combined over the last two games. Auburn will not stop him if he gets the ball, the Musketeers need to make sure he does.

Three keys:

- Pound the ball: This dovetails neatly with the third question. Xavier needs to force feed the ball inside until Stainbrook, Jalen Reynolds, James Farr, and Sean O'Mara become weary from lifting their arms for mostly uncontested (Auburn only blocks 5.1% of shots) layups. Stainbrook especially will find open shooters as need be, but Xavier's focus needs to be hammering the ball inside.

- Get second chances: Despite Bowers best efforts, the Tigers don't end possessions well. Xavier grabs offensive rebounds at a 35.9% clip. If they continue to do that they are going to get a lot of easy points. However, Xavier has taken some games off on the glass. That can't happen today.

- Stay focused: Christmas is coming, there have been four games in three weeks, and exams were just completed, this isn't exactly the best time of year for having the nose to the basketball grindstone. Auburn is going to try to force turnovers and a Musketeers team that isn't ready will play right into that.