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Xavier v. Alabama: preview, matchups, TV listings, keys to the game

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Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you've heard this one before: Xavier is riding high heading into a Thanksgiving tournament after having spent the early portion of the year playing about 10 miles from 275. The catch is that this year one of those games was off of the 275 in Michigan, and X has actually played a team that will have a chance at an at-large bid. Still, the thought of a Thanksgiving tournament sends shudders through seasoned Muskie fans.

Alabama, on the other hand, has a 2-1 record. They beat Kennesaw State (KenPom #336!) by a baker's dozen in the opener and knocked off a much better Louisiana-Lafayette team by a regular dozen last Friday. Sandwiched between those games was an 80-48 decimation at the hands of Dayton. Bama is looking to pick up some momentum and a few good wins this weekend behind first-year head coach Avery Johnson.

The essentials
Game time: 12:00 PM
Location: Orlando, FL
TV: ESPN2
TWC 27
DirecTV 209
DISH 143
Cinci Bell Fioptics 29
Radio: 55KRC

Team fingerprint

Johnson loves to go fast. I asked DJC from the cleverly titled Alabama Basketball Blog about how the Tide will try to exploit Xavier's greatest recurring defensive weakness. Here's what he told me:

Although we made 15 of 25 from 3 point range in our last game against Louisiana Lafayette, that's generally going to be the exception rather than the rule. Coach Johnson is running an entirely different system than Coach Grant did, and I think we're going to get blown out of a lot of games this year that probably would have been close but ugly game type losses in recent years. We try to get shots up as quickly as possible on offense, but we don't have the talent to match a deep team running that many possessions in a game right now... Once [Johnson] gets some players that can run his system we should improve, but we'll have to take our lumps this year.

Alabama has shot very well from deep this year, but it should be noted that a 15-25 game will really skew the sample three games into the year. They've struggled at times with turnovers and scoring inside the arc and have been downright bad on the offensive glass.

On defense, the Tide goes all out to try to force turnovers, which they do at a very good clip. The upshot is that they're a sieve from behind the arc. They do defend the paint fairly stingily, and their 15.3% block% is 23rd in the country. They are 285th in the nation in DReb% though; if Xavier can get shots onto the rim, they should be able to exploit a fairly sizable rebounding advantage.

Starters

Dazon Ingram Point Guard Edmond Sumner
Freshman Class Freshman
6'5", 205 Measurements 6'6", 185
9.3/6.0/4.3 Game Line 13.0/3.5/2.3
.545/.000/.500 Shooting Line .483/.444/.667
Ingram is Alabama's reigning Mr. Basketball, although he seems unlikely to repeat at this point. He uses his length to his advantage in getting to the hoop, since he is averse to taking outside shots, and can score an distribute well in the lane. He hits the defensive glass really well for a guard and has active hands on defense as well, getting just shy of 2 steals a game.
Retin Obashan Shooting Guard Myles Davis
Senior Class Junior
6'2", 210 Measurements 6'2", 188
14.0/1.7/1.0 Game Line 10.3/3.0/2.5
.464/.500/.714 Shooting Line .344/.267/.938
When he has the ball in his hands, Obashan is a guy who is typically looking to score. He doesn't get a lot of assists, offensive rebounds, or really any offesnive stat other than points, which he gets pretty efficiently. He is also a good defender, having a knack for getting Alabama the ball through steals and blocked shots.
Arthur Edwards Small Forward Remy Abell
Senior Class Senior
6'6", 217 Measurements 6'4", 185
7.7/4.0/1.7 Game Line 9.0/1.0/2.3
.474/.455/.000 Shooting Line .423/.286/.909
Edwards is a graduate transfer from New Mexico who has struggled with injuries the past two seasons. His effectiveness from three point range is newfound, having been woeful from deep as a Lobo, and his overall offensive game is not geared to being a major focal point. He has only gotten 21 minutes in each game this season due to fouls and ineffectiveness.
Shannon Hale Power Forward Trevon Bluiett
Senior Class Sophomore
6'8", 233 Measurements 6'6", 215
11.0/3.3/0.3 Game Line 14.3/9.5/2.8
.367/.500/.667 Shooting Line .400/.476/.778
Hale actually lost his starting job for almost two months after the Xavier game last season, but has come back well this year. He likes the three for a big guy, but was 0-4 on the season before his 5-6 last game against Louisiana-Lafayette. He really struggles at times with turnovers and was responsible for 6 against Dayton. Hale is often the guy who Alabama is looking to get the ball to, but has been a little inconsistent with his output this season.
Jimmie Taylor Center Jalen Reynolds
Junior Class Junior
6'10", 248 Measurements 6'10", 238
6.0/4.7/0.3 Game Line 10.5/8.0/1.5
.583/.000/.444 Shooting Line .429/.500/.773
Taylor is the consumate defensive big: not much more than an afterthough on offense, but a massive asset on defense. He was a top 500 rebounder at both ends last season and is a terrific shot blocker. When he does get the ball on offense, he is not a threat to spot up and tends to turn the ball over frequently.


Reserves

Alabama goes four deep on the bench, with Riley Norris being by far the biggest offensive threat. Norris is most comfortable on the wing where he gets 9 points per game on .538/.600/.769 shooting and he is also the Tide's best offensive rebounder, hauling in almost 10% of their misses. Justin Coleman also gets 9 points per game, but is at the other end of the efficiency spectrum, shooting .269/.267/.900 when he is on the floor. Being a bad shooter is really his only real flaw on offense, as he fits well as a distributor at point guard, assisting the most frequently on the team while rarely turning the ball over.

Further down in the pecking order you will find 6'9" freshman Donta Hall, who will probably be a player who Bama employs to try and keep X off the boards. Hall is the only player on Alabama with a defensive rebounding rate over 20 and blocks shots even more aggressively than Taylor. The other reserve big we are likely to see is Michael Kessens, who fouled out of last year's meeting and has stepped it up to a rate of over 10 per 40 minutes, which is a surprising show of aggression from a Swiss person. Kessens does have good interior game, but has been really held back by the whistle so far this year.

Three questions:

- Can Xavier shake off Monday night? The Musketeers looked apathetic/flat/lazy or whatever else you want to call it against NKU. The Norse didn't present much of an issue, but you can bet the same effort against Alabama will result in the dreaded Thanksgiving loss. Look at the number of minutes JP Macura gets early to see whether the team has emerged from the malaise. An energized JP generally means an energized team.

- Can Xavier score inside? The Tide reject shots well and only allow opponent's to make 44% of their shots from inside the arc. Xavier has been appalling at scoring from inside despite having Jalen Reynolds and James Farr on the team. The Musketeers also aren't going to gun teams to death from outside and have been relying on getting to the line. At some point, Xavier is going to have to score from closer to the rim. Alabama presents a tough test.

- Is this going to be another Thanksgiving disaster? Xavier is 1-3 in the their last four games on Thanksgiving. Last year's not entirely stirring win against San Diego is the lone exception. The Musketeers have been wretched over the holiday recently, and that tends to start on the day itself.

Three keys:

- Take care of the ball: Xavier takes care of the ball pretty well, but Alabama turns opponents over a bit better than that. If Xavier can't score inside, they'll need to very careful with the ball before they find themselves both in a hole and unable to get easy buckets. Edmond Sumner has occasionally sped up to the point of reckless and the Tide guards are going to be all over him.

- Smash the glass: Alabama does not rebound well and Xavier is one of the best rebounding teams in the nation. That seems like a simple equation, and it should be. The Musketeers may not score easily inside, but they continue to get second and third bites at the cherry. If that continues, and the Crimson Tide don't suddenly discover offensive rebounds, Xavier retains their biggest advantage.

- Use the bench: When Coach Mack said after the Michigan game that he thought his team could go 10 or 11 deep, the NKU performance wasn't what he had in mind. In a holiday tournament, depth is going to be tested. Someone from the London, Gates, O'Mara group needs to be at least useful, and LAJ may have to expand his offensive repertoire some in order to get more consecutive minutes spelling Sumner.