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Xavier v. Butler preview, matchups, keys to the game

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Barely 24 hours ago, Xavier was undefeated and riding high. Now Xavier is down its most dynamic player and heading into a pivotal early home conference game in an effort to avoid dropping to 0-2 in Big East play.

He looks like a reserve for some unnamed team Hickory beat in Hoosiers.
He looks like a reserve for some unnamed team Hickory beat in Hoosiers.
Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Starting a conference season 0-2 isn't a death knell for a team that began with aspirations for the league title, but it's certainly not an enviable position. Xavier, Butler, Villanova, and Providence had pushed themselves to the top of the pack in the Big East in non-conference play, and a coincidence of the schedule brought them together on the first day of conference play, with Nova and Providence coming away winners.

Now not only are Butler and Xavier fighting to avoid 0-2, but they're going to be doing it against each other. Butler will be at an ostensible competitive disadvantage as the road team, but Xavier will be only 48 hours removed from seeing dynamic freshman point guard Edmond Sumner carted off the floor at Villanova on a stretcher after taking a terrifying spill early in the game.

This is going to be a matchup of two very good teams. Neither has its back to the wall just yet, but both will be very motivated to avoid going down 0-2 in the Big East.

Team fingerprint:

Butler makes its bones on offense. Particularly, they are an incredibly efficient machine in the half court. They are 2nd in the nation in TO% and 15th in two-point field goal percentage. On occasions that they do miss, they're 31st in the country in OReb%. They're only a mediocre three-point shooting team, but mostly they can do just about anything they want to on offense, which is why they're 9th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency.

On the other hand, they're uncharacteristically slack on the defensive end. They are really bad at forcing turnovers, but other than that they aren't particularly poor in any one area. They're a tick above average in defensive rebounding and a tick above average in defensive field goal percentage both inside and outside the arc. They will allow a lot of looks from deep if that's your thing, but the whole package adds up to a defense that's barely above the middle of the 351-team D1 pack.

Starters:

Tyler Lewis POINT GUARD Myles Davis
Junior Class Junior
5'11", 169 Measurements 6'2", 188
8.3/2.4/4.1 Game Line 10.3/3.4/3.2
.400/.324/.868 Shooting Line .390/.370/.939
Lewis is the traffic controller for Butler. He doesn't look for his own shot much, but he is really good at getting the ball to where it needs to go for the Bulldogs. He is also excellent at avoiding turnovers and generally what you're looking for in a ball-control point.
Kellen Dunham SHOOTING GUARD JP Macura
Senior Class Sophomore
6'6", 200 Measurements 6'5", 203
15.0/2.2/1.3 Game Line 9.2/2.8/2.1
.384/.299/.940 Shooting Line .463/.310/.786
In his last five games, Dunham is shooting 9-57/2-30/13-14, which is obviously horrendous. He's generally a good shooter who relies on his jumper from mid-range and beyond the arc more than he likes getting to the rim. He's slumping now, but so was Nova before they played Xavier. Let's not write him off just yet.
Roosevelt Jones SMALL FORWARD Remy Abell
Senior Class Senior
6'4", 225 Measurements 6'4", 185
14.2/7.6/4.9 Game Line 6.9/1.5/2.3
.507/.000/.652 Shooting Line .388/.323/.778
Jones has a shooting form that looks like a glitch in a video game and can't really score from outside about 12 feet, but he has a really unorthodox effectiveness to his game. He's a solid defender, a good offensive rebounder, and distributes the ball well without turning it over.
Andrew Chrabascz POWER FORWARD Trevon Bluiett
Junior Class Sophomore
6'7", 236 Measurements 6'6", 215
12.1/4.8/2.3 Game Line 14.4/7.2/1.9
.544/.259/.765 Shooting Line .411/.425/.780
Chrabascz has really moved his game inside the arc as he has spent more time at Butler, only taking a couple of threes a game this year. He's not a good rebounder at all, but he has a nuanced game in the mid-range and the low post.
Tyler Wideman CENTER Jalen Reynolds
Sophomore Class Junior
6'8", 246 Measurements 6'10", 238
9.8/6.0/0.5 Game Line 9.9/6.1/0.8
.667/.000/.646 Shooting Line .516/.500/.696
You can be forgiven for being disappointed in how similar the game lines are for these two players. Wideman has been the more efficient player as well. He takes just over 5 shots per game, working mostly around the rim. He also beasts the glass on both ends and rarely turns the ball over.

Reserves:

This is not a deep team, but what it lacks in quantity is at least partially made up for in quantity. Kelan Martin is a 6'6" wing and a bench scorer of the highest order, getting 14.7/5.7/1.1 per game. He splits his shot attempts almost exactly even between the rim, mid-range, and beyond the arc and is very comfortable getting his own shot.

The other bench player of significance is 6'3" St. Bonaventure transfer Jordan Gathers. He is an efficient scorer, hitting over 50% of his twos and threes, but he doesn't look for his own shot on a regular basis. Weirdly, he is only 5-13 from the line on the year.

Three questions:

-How does Xavier rally? The question on everyone's mind begins here. Xavier lost Edmond Sumner against Villanova and then was clearly out of sorts for the rest of the game while Nova took full advantage. The Muskies are good enough to win games without Sumner, but they're not good enough to do so without being sharply focused. Tomorrow's game will be a good case study in how well Coach Mack can get the team reset.

-Who handles the point? Do you want to take Myles and his shooting stroke and put him on the ball for 30 minutes? Or do you feel better about LAJ and his 70.5 ORtg and 35.4% TO% just because he's technically a point guard? Or do you get crazy and have JP or Remy on the ball? Don't worry, it's just a top-10 conference opponent trying to avoid losing two games in 48 hours; no big deal.

-Can Jalen step up? Jalen when over 20 minutes played in 4 of the team's first 5 games. He has done it once since, when he dropped 18 on Auburn. Inconsistency is a luxury the it's not clear the Muskies can indulge in right now; Xavier needs all hands on deck against Butler, and Jalen is as capable of controlling a game as anyone on the roster.

Three keys:

-Get back the defensive identity. Butler is a good three-point shooting team, but they're nowhere near as prolific as Villanova is. Butler scores by protecting the ball, scoring from the paint, and hitting the offensive glass. Xavier defends by causing turnovers, crowding the paint, and clearing the defensive glass. This game represents a chance for Xavier's defense to get back to doing what it does.

-Hassle Tyler Lewis. First of all, he was on that NC State team that beat X in the First Four and I haven't quite gotten over that. More pertinently, when Lewis plays well, Butler can beat anyone (including Purdue on a neutral site). When he posts an ORtg of under 100, Butler is 1-2 with their only win being at the buzzer against UC. He doesn't look like much, but making Lewis's life difficult tomorrow could be a big boost for Xavier.

-Share the load. We've heard a lot about Xavier's depth this year; now is the time to demonstrate it. This isn't losing Tu Holloway from one of the Tu+4 teams, nor does it leave Xavier with just one or two threatening players. Nobody has to step up and be a hero; X just needs to have every man do his duty while Coach Mack rights the ship.