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Xavier v. NKU: Game Preview

The Norse struggled last year, and look like they are headed in the same direction this year.

The face of a man who has his work cut out for him.
The face of a man who has his work cut out for him.
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off an impressive 16 point win over Michigan on Friday, Xavier will turn their attentions towards the Northern Kentucky Norse, who are 1-2 on the season, with a pair of losses in DI-A to West Virginia and Morehead State. NKU has not beaten a team in KenPom's top 200 in the past two seasons, so to say this is a step down from Michigan is like saying eating a live rat is a step down from dinner at the Ritz.


Team Fingerprint:

Basically, like a disaffected teenager with slumped shoulders often bemoans, NKU can't do anything right. They are 257th in offense and 304th in defense this season, and have very few spots where they even approach average. In fact, two of the areas in which Xavier excels, forcing turnovers and offensive rebounding, happen to coincide with two areas in which NKU is in the bottom 5 in the nation. Offensively, they are in the top 100 in the nation in rebounding, but shoot so poorly and turn the ball over so frequently as to negate any advantage gained. Defensively, they are about average in the shooting percentages they surrender, but do not force turnovers, give back 50% of misses, and foul a ton. All in all, there is not a lot to be positive about for this edition of the Norse.

Starters:

Lavone Holland Point Guard Edmond Sumner
Sophmore Class Freshman
6'2", 180 Measurements 6'6", 185
10.7/7.7/5.7 Game Line 13.3/3.0/2.0
.323/.250/.714 Shooting Line .429/.500/.715
Holland is a central part of NKU's offense and is a large part of why it is so inefficient. His shooting percentages are dreadful and he shoots on over a quarter of posessions, not ot mention he turnes the ball over 4 times a game. I am sure he is a nice kid, though.
Tyler White Shooting Guard Myles Davis
Sophmore Class Junior
6'3", 185 Measurements 6'2", 188
8.7/2.0/2.7 Game Line 9.7/3.3/3.3
.321/.250/.827 Shooting Line .304/.200/.929
If anyone is more prone to ill advised shots than Holland, it is White who shoots on almost a third of posessions for very little discernable reason. While not a primary ballhandler or major contributor assist-wise, he still manages 3.7 turnovers per game, showcasing his commitment to getting the other team plenty of chances to score in transition.
Cole Murray Small Forward Remy Abell
Junior Class Senior
6'7", 200 Measurements 6'4", 185
10.0/2.7/1.0 Game Line 8.0/1.0/2.0
.500/.500/1.00 Shooting Line .381/.333/1.000
Murray is NKU's only perimeter scorer who gets his buckets in any way resembling efficiently. He rarely is very involved, being under 15% in usage rate, and doesn't excel at distribution once he has the ball, but has shot well on the young season.
Dontae Cole Power Forward Trevon Bluiett
Junior Class Sophmore
6'6", 210 Measurements 6'6", 215
4.0/2.0/0.0 Game Line 14.3/7.3/2.0
.364/.364/.000 Shooting Line .429/.500/.714
Cole is undersized for a college big and has gotten crushed on the boards as a result. He shoots fairly frequently, but has struggled for minutes thus far this season due to his pedestrian output on the boards.
Jalen Billups Center Jalen Reynolds
Sophomore Class Junior
6'9", 233 Measurements 6'10", 238
12.7/3.0/0.7 Game Line 10.3/8.7/1.3
.737/.000/.769 Shooting Line .474/.000/.814
Billups is NKU's closest thing to a star player, being both their most efficient and leading scorer. What he is not, however, is even passable as a rebounder, resulting in a defensive rebounding rate of 7.3 (seven point three). Obviously, this is an issue.


Reserves:

NKU ranks 14th in the nation in bench minutes, but only has 2 players get 15 or more per game. Drew McDonald only gets 11.7 per game, but blazes away while he is out there and gets 6.3 ppg on .538 shooting from the field. Matt Rosenwinkel leads the way with 16 minutes per game, but uses it to little effect, garnering only 3 points and shooting on barely 10% of possessions. He looks like gangbusters compared to Todd Johnson, who gets 15.7 minutes per game and turns in a line of 1.3/1.3/1.7. I am honestly at a loss for words about that.


Three Keys:

- Focus: We're all grown adults here, so we can all admit this is a game that Xavier should be winning. The fact that the lone win the Norse have this year was over Tiffin by 12 is probably proof enough that the this is not the same level of competition as Michigan on Friday. Even an enormous let down most likely means Xavier wins a close game. That said, these are the kinds of games in which bad habits that prevent wins against good teams take root. Xavier must focus and keep execution sharp prior to Thanksgiving.

- Score inside: The Musketeers are somehow shooting 44.2% inside the arc a year after being one of the best teams in the nation in two point field goal percentage. Trevon Bluiett at 36.8% and Myles Davis at 38.5% aren't helping, but James Farr shooting 44% in 25 attempts or Jalen Reynolds only making 50% of his attempts isn't exactly great. NKU's tallest player is 6-8 and barely on the court for a quarter of the game. It's time to get this fixed.

- Play a clean game: Xavier players who would foul out in 40 minutes: Jalen Reynolds, Trevon Bluiett, James Farr, Larry Austin Jr., Kaiser Gates, Sean O'Mara, and Makinde London. STOP HACKING! More to the point, the Musketeers need to adjust to the way the game is being called before they lose a vital player in a big game. The Houdini act in Michigan won't happen every time.

Three Questions:

Is initiating the offense effecting Myles shot? Myles has the best assist rate of anyone on the team and an impeccable 7.8% TO rate. He's also shooting 2-10 from deep. That's not a major sample size, but it is enough to be worrying. Myles has had to handle the ball a lot more that year. It would be nice to see a game where Edmond Sumner and LAJ can handle the pressure and leave the bearded menace free to fire away.

Can JP keep it going? Did you have JP down for 13.7/3.0/1.7 on .458/.417/1.000 shooting this year? Probably not. That said, the longer Macura makes himself a legitimate threat on offense, the better off the team is. Macura is going to bring major effort to every game, the ability to impose himself on the offensive end and play solid enough defense to be on the floor is the difference between his being a heavy impact role player and a necessary part of the rotation.

Can Xavier rest the big guns? Thanksgiving is coming up. Looming around the penumbra of happy times with family is the scepter of another Xavier implosion. No Xavier player is getting more than 80% of the minutes available right now. Ideally, Makinde London, Kaiser Gates, and Sean O'Mara will see significant time tonight in a game that the starters and front line reserves have put away. If Xavier must play over Thanksgiving, they might as well do it while well rested.