Xavier notched a win in the opening game against Miami (Oh), but it wasn't the win that some people were looking for. As opposed to the 30 point hiding the Musketeers tend to put on opening opponents, this one was an affair of fits and starts that required two second half runs just to put it away. Edmond Sumner and Jalen Reynolds each had start turns, but also combined to turn the ball over nine times. It ended 81-72, but it also ended with more questions raised than answered.
Enter Missouri. Last year Xavier went to Mizzou and led by only one with 15 minutes to play before burying the game later. This year, the Tigers are 2-0 after a nine point win over Wofford and a thrashing of Maryland Eastern Shore. (Yes, that is a DI program). Missouri probably isn't going anywhere this year, but that doesn't mean that they won't pose a threat. The team is currently shooting 42% from behind the arc and has held games to a glacial pace to maximize the impact of that. They do represent a chance for Xavier to grab another major conference out of conference win, though, and a chance to do it at home.
So far this year Missouri has relied on a slow pace and solid shooting from deep to beat two really bad teams. They won't turn the ball over (13.2%), the don't get blocked (1.5%), and their effective field goal percentage (57.2%) is excellent. Thus far they've gotten a quarter of their points from deep and slightly over another quarter from the line. If they have to pound the ball inside, they may struggle.
On defense the Tigers have focused on shutting down the offensive glass. Only a quarter of opponents misses have landed back with the shooting team. That's not excellent, but it's as close as Mizzou gets to being great at anything. Opponent's shoot only 40% inside the arc against them, but they also make over 36% from behind the arc. Those numbers are greatly skewed by the fact that the largest player to suit up against the Tigers so far this year is 6-8. They've not seen athletic size like the Musketeers have.
Players to watch:
With all of the caveats about sample size being tiny so far, these are the guys Missouri has been relying on. Kevin Puryear is a 6-7 freshman who has averaged 16.5 points per game so far. Throw in five rebounds per game, and you have the most effective player for the Tigers so far this year. KJ Walton is a 6-3 freshman guard who has been Missouri's most efficient player this year, posting an offensive efficiency of 144.7. Walton lives at the line, where he has gone 9-11 in two games. Walton doesn't start though, because Wes Clark and Terrence Phillips hold down the guard spots. Both are shooting over 50% from behind the arc, but neither come close to Walton's 32% assist rate.
Down low the Tigers don't have much, frankly. Despite who they've played, only Namon Wright, a 6-5 sophomore forward, ranks in the top 500 in OR% (11.9) or DR% (18.4). Wright adds 12.5 points per game with an 120.8 offensive efficiency. After him there's Russ Woods, a 6-8 junior who plays 14 minutes per game to get 5/2/.5, and Ryan Rosburg, a 6-10 senior who block 5.1% of opponents shots and averages 3/3/0. Jakeenan Gant has launched an amazing 15.9% of shots that have happened while he is in the game, but he's committed an equally astounding 12.4 fouls per 40 minutes.
- Where do Makinde London and LAJ fit on this team? London was the only scholarship player not to log a minute against Miami, LAJ managed to impact the game only in the fouls column. Both players sit behind the two most dynamic athletes on Xavier's team. Can they find a way onto the floor consistently?
- Can Xavier take care of the ball? The Musketeers looked solid in the first half against Miami before throwing the ball all over the place in the second. It ultimately didn't burn them against the RedHawks and it may not against Missouri, but Xavier needs to put the clamps on ball security. Missouri hasn't turned over their competition much this year at all, turnovers in this game will be a bad sign.
- Can the Musketeers guard the perimeter? Last year the answer was no. On Friday night, the answer was no again. Recent Xavier squads have lost way too many games they should have won because they got torched from deep.
- Force the pace: Missouri's tempo is 339th in the nation, Xavier is filled with guys who can fly up and down the court. Missouri can shoot from deep, but it remains to be seen if they have the legs to do that after 30 minutes of sprinting. Xavier doesn't lose much by trying to run, because James Farr and Jalen Reynolds aren't exactly dragging the pace. One thing to watch in that scenario would be how well the Musketeers can take care of the ball.
- Crush the glass: Missouri lacks both size and rebounding prowess. Their very mediocre opponents have held them to a 23.6% offensive rebounding rate. The Tigers have shut off the offensive glass thus far, but they haven't seen anyone like Farr or Reynolds or anyone with the relentless effort of JP Macura. Xavier should dominate the glass this game.
- Get Myles and Trevon going: Beating teams like Missouri and Miami should be possible without those two, but beating teams like Georgetown won't be. Both players felt a little bit disconnected from the flow of the game against the RedHawks. Getting them rolling in another early season game would be a good sign that the offense is coming together more cohesively.