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Xavier v. Lehigh preview, keys to the game

It’s finally game time.

NCAA Basketball: Miami (OH) at Xavier
JP in action in last year’s season opener.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Summer sucks. I know people fetishize it and make movies about how awesome it is and generally look at it as some sort of golden season, but... I don’t like it. It’s hot and muggy people’s pants fall off for no reason at all. Phones break. Guys get homesick or want more playing time and leave.

Now that’s all over, thank goodness. Basketball is back.

Not much has changed about Lehigh since we wrote about them in our season preview series. Lehigh isn’t exactly a buy game in the truest sense of the term, but they aren’t a team that should be challenging Xavier in a home game. The Muskies have a top-ten non-conference schedule; they’ll be challenged from the jump.

Lehigh’s biggest threat comes in the middle in the form of Tim Kempton, a 6’10” senior who dropped 17.7 and 9.5 last year. The Mountain Hawks also bring back three guards who averaged more than 10 PPG and hit more than 38% of their three-point attempts last year.

Three questions:

-Can the big men produce? Xavier’s combination of O’Mara, Gaston, and Jones combined for 8 and 14 against Ferris State and shot 3-11/0-0/2-11. That’s not a great line. The backcourt is talented, but we’re going to need something out of the big men.

-How does Xavier defend? You all remember the 1-3-1 from last year, which was a raging success for Xavier and helped hide some weaker perimeter defenders. Lehigh has some guys who can really pour them in from deep though, and the Muskies might need to push the defense out to check them. I Malcolm Bernard comes as advertised and the returning guys have stepped up defensively, Xavier will be a more versatile team.

-Is there enough depth? JP loves fouling. Sean O’Mara loves fouling even more than JP does. Tyrique Jones is not noted for his delicate, nuanced approach to basketball. Neither Myles nor Kaiser is active, and Xavier only has 10 scholarship guys to begin with. If the whistles are active early, we may see a lot of Tim Stainbrook tonight.

Three keys:

-Push the tempo. More possessions equals more chances for Xavier’s superior talent to come out. That’s kind of a simple concept. Xavier has a lot of guys who are going to excel in the open court; the more the horses run, the better for Xavier.

-Defend the post one-on-one. I’m going to assume there will be at least a little bit of man defense played tonight. With the shooters Lehigh can run out around the post, it’s going to be imperative to not dig from the perimeter too much. Gaston and O’Mara will probably draw the majority of the post defense assignments; they need to be able to defend without fouling or needing help.

-Bury it early. The more Lehigh hangs on, the more they’ll have a chance to stick a couple of late threes and make the game way too interesting. I’m all for fun and games, but the most important thing tonight is starting the season 1-0.