And so this is it. Xavier tipped off against Northern Arizona on November 14th at the start of a season that was always building to this moment. At most, there are six games to go. At least, college careers will end after just 40 more minutes. There are 64 teams that will enter Thursday wanting to believe that they will be the ones to cut the nets and lift a trophy. For Xavier, a roster overhaul since last year meant that just making the tournament seemed a reasonable goal at times. A blistering start foundered around Thanksgiving, just like always, and a home loss to Creighton on February 4th left the Musketeers 16-10 and very much on the bubble. Coach Mack's team closed strong though, going 7-3 before running into Villanova in the Big East tournament final. Now, the Musketeers are a six seed, battle tested by the Big East.
Their opponent will be the Mississippi Rebels. Ole Miss' season may have actually peaked in a loss. They were the only team this year to actually throw a scare into Kentucky, only losing by three in overtime. Down the stretch, the Rebels faded a bit, finishing by losing four of their last five and bowing out in their opening game of the SEC tournament. Any loss of momentum they may have been suffering though, has probably been erased by their rousing comeback from down 17 in the second half against BYU in the play-in game.
Offensively, Mississippi wants to score quickly. The average possession of the Rebels is 1.5 seconds faster than that of Xavier. Considering that teams only get, at the very most, 35 seconds, that's a huge difference. Mississippi actually shoots the ball rather poorly, but they turn it over on only 16.6% of their possessions and grab 35% of their misses, good for 52nd nationally. They're also excellent from the line, making 77.4% of their attempts. Most importantly, they shoot 33.7% from deep and take 32.9% of their shots from behind the arc. Those numbers are both well below the national average.
Defensively Mississippi tends to get torched from deep in an attempt to limit the damage inside. Teams shoot only 43.4% inside the arc against the Rebels, but make up for that by making 35.5% of their three point attempts. Mississippi doesn't force turnovers, doesn't grab defensive rebounds, and sends teams to the line on 41% of their field goal attempts. Mostly, Ole Miss plays defense just so they get some more chances to play offense.
|Jarvis Summers||Point Guard||Dee Davis|
|6'3", 186||Measurements||6'0", 160|
|These players are fairly similar in terms of rate stats, but have large differences in actual impact stemming from the fact Summers shoots on nearly 10% more of his team's possessions than Dee does. Summers has a slightly lower assist rate and Dee turns it over a bit more, but loses fewer possessions to missed shots as well.|
|Stefan Moody||Shooting Guard||Remy Abell|
|5'10", 179||Measurements||6'4", 185|
|If you watched Ole Miss beat BYU, you could not have missed the influence Moody has on the way the Rebels play. When he is on, things open up for them on offense, and when he struggles, they tend to have to search for shots. A lot of Moody's efficiency stems from his effectiveness at the line and his good, if not great, three point shooting. If he gets hot, he can be a very hard assignment.|
|Martavious Newby||Small Forward||Trevon Bluiett|
|6'3", 210||Measurements||6'6", 215|
|Newby is Mississippi's glue guy, excelling on defense and on the boards. While he is undersized for his position, he is second on the team in steal rate and is one of the top 150 defensive rebounders in the nation, despite being 6'3". Newby is not a tremendously efficient scorer but, like most of this team, does well from the free throw line.|
|M.J. Rhett||Power Forward||James Farr|
|6'9", 240||Measurements||6'10", 237|
|Rhett is a graduate transfer from Tennessee State just trying to keep his college career alive. He did a big part against BYU by scoring 14 of his 20 in the second half, but has not been a priority in the Rebels attack for most of the season. He finishes fairly well, but is not a major force on the offensive glass and often gets passed up in favor of the guards taking shots.|
|Sebastien Saiz||Center||Matt Stainbrook|
|6'9", 233||Measurements||6'10", 270|
|Saiz is not all that much more of a priority than Rhett, although he does get a few more offensive boards. He also blocks shots at a top 250 rate nationally which tends to land him in foul trouble, averaging 5 fouls every 40 minutes. He is also the worst free throw shooter out of Rebels who get more than 50% of the minutes, which at 64% is not a terrible option for his tram, but he will be the man X looks for if the situation arises.|
As for the bench, 6'6" Senior LaDarius "Snoop" White (why do you need a nickname when your name is already LaDarius?) averages 11.2/3.2/1.2 on .417/.414/.759 making him the Rebels best three point shooter. 6'9" Sophomore Dwight Coleby is the next man off the bench and he is good for 5.6/4.8/0.0 a game. Coleby is by far their most aggressive offensive rebounder and shot blocker, which also means he is their most aggressive fouler. Terrence Smith is a 6'4" Senior combo guard who shoots 37% from three and can spell either Summers or Moody without turning the ball over.
Anthony Perez is a 6'9" forward who is not afraid to step out and attempt a three on occasion, although he is not a great rebounder. For that they will go to Aaron Jones, who fouls at a slightly higher rate than Coleby, athough he is slightly more effective of a shot blocker. Ole Miss gets 37% of their minutes from the bench, which is a pretty high amount, so look for these guys to frequently filter in and out of the game.
-How healthy is JP Macura? This is going to be huge on both ends of the floor for the Muskies. If Macura can go, Xavier can run that 1-3-1 against Ole Miss's offense, which isn't going to burn it from beyond the arc. On the other end, Ole Miss basically concedes the arc on defense (as we saw against BYU in favor of choking off the paint), which also sets up nicely for JP. Xavier could really use a healthy JP in this game.
-Who guards Stefan Moody? At 5'10", 179, Moody seems like a reasonable matchup for Dee Davis. On the other hand, his shots% is 30.4%, he's the team's leading scorer, and if he gets warm he can absolutely kill you. That seems like the kind of matchup we usually give to Remy Abell. Ole Miss's other two starting guards are both 6'3", but one of them has an EFG% of 37.8% (Jarvis Summers) and the other only shoots once every ten trips down the floor (Martavious Newby). It's possible Dee's size disadvantage could be hidden on one either of those two guys.
-Who starts for Xavier? Does Myles run out there at the two? If so, is Remy or Trevon the three? If Coach Mack goes with three guards, will Remy start at the four? If not, does he go with James Farr's rugged game or Jalen Reynolds for two scoring posts? It should be noted that Mississippi never goes small, consistently keeping 6'9" players at both the four and the five all game.
-Make them earn their points. Reynolds Mississippi does three things well on offense, and none of them is shoot. They protect the ball, they hit the glass, and they make their free throws. They're 197th in the nation in 3P% and 207th in the nation in EFG%. They're not remarkably difficult to stop on their first shot, but Xavier has to make sure that their first shot is the only one they get. If Ole Miss starts getting second chances and trips to the line, Xavier might join BYU.
-Work inside out. Mississippi defends the paint well, but they do it at the expense of abandoning the three-point arc almost entirely. You don't need me to remind you that Xavier shooters run hot and cold, but they should have I Am Legend levels of solitude beyond the arc to work with. Xavier can get the best looks by dumping the ball to the post first and then rotating it quickly when the defense collapses. That extra moment of free time is sometimes all a shooter needs to get back into rhythm.
-Get Trevon going early. I can't shake the feeling that Trevon Bluiett is going to be key in this game. I don't really have any numbers to back it up, and it's not like someone on BYU jumped off the screen as a Trevon-type player last night. I don't think Ole Miss has a guy who is a good matchup to go against Trevon, and if he gets it going, he can help Xavier through to the second round.