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Xavier v. USC: Preview

USC didn't beat Wichita State on a fluke. This team is loaded with big time scorers and will give Xavier's defense its toughest test yet.

Xavier needs a lot more of this.
Xavier needs a lot more of this.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier came to the AdvoCare Invitational looking for non-conference wins over marquee opponents. Alabama didn't really offer that opportunity which was fortunate, because Xavier didn't play a game that wouldn't have beaten most good teams. The second round was supposed to offer a shot at the paper tigers of Wichita State, but the vaunted media darlings proved once again that they fold in the face of decent competition in succumbing to USC 72-69. There's a silver lining here though, in that USC is now ranked #42 in the KenPom, just 19 spots below the Musketeers.

USC got here because freshman Bennie Boatright went off against the Shockers. They got such a high KenPom ranking on the strength of dominant wins over lower level opponents and a solid victory over New Mexico. The winner of this game will take on the winner of Notre Dame/Monmouth and Dayton/Iowa in the Advocare Invitational final on Sunday.

Players to watch:

USC has six guys averaging double figures, so there are a number to choose from. Jordan McLaughlin is a 6'1" guard who is just pouring home points from everywhere right now and is second on the team in assist rate. Leading the team in assist rate is 6'4" junior Julian Jacobs, who is also a sneaky-effective rebounder despite his height.

Elijah Stewart is maybe the team's best mid-range threat and Katina Reinhardt is a very good three-point shooter. All four of those guys are guards or wings by trade.

More imposingly sized but no closer to the rim is Bennie Boatright, but the problem he poses is that he's 6'10" and can score from anywhere. He has hit a dozen threes already this year and is shooting almost 57% from inside the arc. The team's true big is 6'11" C Nikola Jovanovic, an elite rebounder on both ends who protects the rim and can score from the post.

They have a lot of good players, is what I'm saying.

Team Fingerprint:

USC wins on defense. Opponents shoot only 39.5% inside the arc against the Trojans and only 28.8% from deep. A large part of that comes from the fact that USC blocks 17.9% of the attempts that go up against them, good for ninth in the league. All that adds up to an EFG% against of just 40.8%. The Trojans don't turn opponents over very much at all, preferring to simply rely on their suffocating shot defense to do the job. Thus far, it has.

Offensively, Andy Enfield's team buries 42% of their shots from behind the arc, where they put up about 36% of their field goal attempts. They also hammer the offensive glass to the tune of a 38.7% offensive rebounding rate. The Trojans will turn the ball over on about 20% of their possessions, and they'll get rejected a fair amount of the time as well. Essentially, they chuck from deep or take their chances grabbing a board from a miss. Their effective field goal percentage of 56.4% is 34th in the nation and means the misses aren't as prevalent as they could be.

Three Keys:

- Defend the arc: Alabama shot 17.9% from deep, but got up 28 attempts. If Xavier allows that many to USC, they'll lose and lose badly. Xavier has allowed teams to take nearly 45% of the field goals against them from behind the arc. They percentage on those has only been 32.8%, but the rate has to come down for Xavier to be successful.

- Make something, anything, from inside: Xavier's 45.2% mark from inside against the Crimson Tide somehow raised their two point field goal percentage on the year. Edmond Sumner was 0-3 and is now 45% on the year, Jalen was 4-7 to get up to 45%, Remy Abell was 0-5 and is now 41% on the year. None of those numbers are good and they, just like the exterior defense, need to improve.

- Get back: USC plays fast and shoots from deep in transition. Xavier can't get sucked in on the offensive glass and surrender open looks in three on two situations. This might mean a dip in the offensive rebounding numbers, but USC is looking for open shots already, writing them an open invitation isn't the way to go.

Three Questions:

- Can Xavier beat another quality team? The Musketeers looked amazing against Michigan and decidedly less so against more middling opponents. USC presents another chance to step the game up and win. Does Xavier play to the level of the opponent and only do what they need to win, or are they inconsistent and prone to an ugly loss?

- Will Jalen finally get going? Last year Reynolds had an offensive efficiency of over 114. This year, he's barely over 100. Last year he shot 62% from inside the arc, this year it's 45%. Losing Stainbrook was undoubtedly a blow to the team, but Jalen seems to have taken the brunt of it. Only against Michigan was he truly the force he's capable of being. It's time to see that again.

- Can Xavier turn the Trojans over? USC is prone to coughing the ball up, and the Musketeers force turnovers on 21.2% of opponent's possessions. Xavier may try to disrupt the USC offense by gambling for steals early and keeping the Trojans from bombing away from deep. That could open chances on missed rotations, or it could lead to a lot of Remy Abell layups on the run out.