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Xavier v. Buffalo: Preview

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Last season, the Bulls won the MAC and gave Miami a run for their money in the NCAA’s. What do they bring to the table now?

NCAA Basketball: Lehigh at Xavier
JP angrily confronts Tyrique about stealing his tights look.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo, like Xavier, comes into this game on the heels of a season opening victory that was a bit more difficult than they would have liked. The Bulls actually trailed Niagara at halftime before rallying and winning by 10. They got Nate Oats off to a winning start, but will be hoping for a more complete performance in order to compete with Xavier at Cintas.

Team Fingerprint:

Although one game is an awfully small sample size to go on... I am gonna anyway. Buffalo relied on their excellent shooting numbers to carry the day against Niagara, shooting 40% (8-20) from deep and 53% overall. Their 10-17 mark from the line will not thrill Oats, but they had bigger issues when they had the ball. 17 turnovers and only 8 of the 31 available offensive rebounds against a team outside the top 300 are real issues that will need worked out quickly against a Xavier team theoretically better suited to take advantage of the extra posessions.

Defensively, Buffalo blocked 8 shots, created 16 turnovers, and only allowed Niagara to shoot 49% from the floor. Niagara did get off 16 threes, making 6, which is a chink in the armor X might be able to exploit, but second chances were hard to come by, whit Niagara getting back only 27% of their own misses. Buffalo played at a slightly slower pace than the Xavier-Lehigh contest, but their game was also not competitive until the final whistle.

Starters:

Last game, the big stars were Willie Conner and Blake Hamilton. Conner had 20/3/1, posting a 126 efficiency rating thanks in large part to his 4-6 effort from deep. He had several big scoring games last season, including 22 and 25 in the first two games of the MAC tourney, and is a threat from deep after shooting 34% from there last season. Hamilton posted 11/8/5, which is especially impressive considering he fouled out in 26 minutes of action. Hamilton is going to be a player to watch in the MAC this season, having a wide range of abilities on the court including rebounding, distribution, and scoring from all over. The rest of the starting lineup was different levels of disastrous against Niagara, with freshman guard Davonta Jordan acquitting himself the best of them. Jordan got 6/2/7, which is a solid line for a freshman point when you don’t consider that he turned the ball over 4 times and fouled out in 23 minutes. Sophomore big Nick Perkins might have his hands full with Sean O’Mara, should he get the ball, and went for 11/8/3 against Niagara. Perkins boarded and scored decently in limited time last year, but shows a real penchant for turnovers so far. Last was 6’10” center Ikenna Smart, who only managed 11 minutes despite starting and not getting hurt. Smart was 1-1 from the field and grabbed one rrbound, block, and turnover. Obviously they will need better from him against Xavier.

Reserves:

The big star off the bench was 6’8” freshman Quate McKinzie, who debuted with 13/4/2 with 3 blocks, no turnovers, and 6-7 shooting from the floor in 23 minutes. Obviously, that was a heck of a debut for the young man, who showed a willingness to both get into the paint and stretch the defense from three on offense. The other big bench contributor was another big in 6’10” center Raheem Johnson, who managed 6 points and a rebound in 11 minutes. In the backcourt, where star CJ Massinburg will still be missing, Dontay Caruthers and Nikola Rakicevic combined for 30 minutes of play that resulted in 4 points on 2-5 from the field and 0-3 from the line and a solitary assist to 3 turnovers. The good news was that they managed 4 steals combined, the bad news is that Ed Sumner is likely better than whoever Niagara has.

Three Questions:

How much 1-3-1 do we see? Buffalo was a pretty poor outside shooting team last season at 33.7% and Xavier only had 8 guys Coach Mack was comfortable putting on the court against Lehigh. All that would seem to make Xavier’s 1-3-1 zone a logical choice for this game, especially given the turnover troubles the Bulls had and the absence of experienced hand Massinburg. Does Xavier swarm Jordan with a 1-3-1, or put Bernard or Sumner on an island with him and see if he can handle it?

Is the post an option? Sean O’Mara and RaShid Gaston both were effective against Lehigh, but simply failed to garner the touches to control the game. With Buffalo’s three main bigs struggling for effectiveness against Niagara, it seems it might behoove X to look inside a bit more frequently and let the bigs take their chances.

All Ed, all the time? A quick look at the boxscore reveals that Edmond Sumner logged all 40 minutes for Xavier on Friday night, being a pivotal player in ultimately bringing the game home. While obviously Coach Mack has faith in his star point guard, will the chance for Ed to take a break come up this game? With such a short rotation and a long season ahead, I am sure Xavier will be trying to get Ed a rest soon enough.

Three Keys:

Limit turnovers: A large part of Xavier’s struggle to put Lehigh away was the fact that they failed to take care of the ball properly. 17 turnovers is far from what Coach Mack wanted to see, which he pointed out after the game, and for X to gain some momentum before heading to Orlando, they need to clean it up.

Bench Production: X got 7 points and 3 rebounds from the bench last game. Last season Xavier’s incredible bench was a large reason for their success and, once Kaiser Gates and Myles Davis return, will be just as deep and talented this year. However, without those two guys and a tournament and Nothern Iowa looming on the schedule, Xavier really needs to get something from the non-starters to meet early tests.

Move the ball: Xavier’s assist to made basket ratio was down a little bit from last season, making this concern statistically quantifiable, but beyond that the offense was simply a bit stagnant for stretches against Lehigh. Combined with some sloppy passing was just a bit of hesitancy as Xavier tried to pick up where they had left off with a much different cast. As the trust and chemisty develops, the ball will move more freely, but it would be nice to see some progress in that regard against Buffalo.