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Xavier v. Missouri: Preview

Missouri is Xavier’s first opponent in not Puerto Rico.

NCAA Basketball: SEC Basketball Tipoff Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

It’s getting cold up here in northern Ohio, and snow has crept it’s hideous way into the weekend forecast. For the Musketeers of Xavier, though, the temperatures are warm, there’s a nice breeze, and that famous Puerto Rico water is shimmering blue and landlocked Orlando isn’t really that far from the ocean. Xavier lands at 2-0 with one good win and one win that looks good because it isn’t a loss. Their opponent tomorrow, Missouri, dispatched Alabama A&M by 55 in its only game thus far.

Team Fingerprint:

It’s a bit difficult to draw many conclusions from a win over a team that the Banners staff could give a run if Joel were shooting well, but that’s all the tape we have on Missouri to date. One constant in Kim Anderson’s teams is getting out on three point shooters, and they did that to A&M, holding the Bulldogs to 1-13 from deep. Keeping teams from shooting well is what the Tigers want to do. Even in their only game this year their recalcitrance to force turnovers showed as they came up with a rather pedestrian 15.

On offense, Missouri shot 67.5% from inside the arc and 50% from deep. The Tigers were a wretched shooting team last year, so apply the grains of salt to those numbers rather liberally. Expect slashing and outside shooting over a standard inside post presence. The only players Missouri has who match Rashid Gaston or Sean O’Mara for size are freshmen.

Starters:

Cleveland native Frankie Hughes is a freshman but took it upon himself to get up some shots against A&M. Hughes scored 23, took 14 shots, and was the key in the Tigers offense. Hughes was committed to Louisville and has the talent to cause problems for even high majors. 6-8 senior Russell Woods only used 12% of possessions last year, but he has all the size that the Tigers bring to bear. He’s effective from the floor, but he’s a nightmare from the line, where a coin flip would bring better odds. Cullen VanLeer fills one of the guard spots and shot 27% on the 110 threes he took last year. Kevin Puryear is a swing forward who excels from the line and excels getting there. Rounding it all out is 5-11 point guard Terrence Phillips. Phillips had a 26.9% assist rate last year, but isn’t a terribly efficient shooter.

Reserves:

6-6 freshman Willie Jackson was Hughes teammate in high school and shares his single-minded passion for scoring points. He’s a banger at this point, but he’s projected to be a good one. Jordan Geist played 22 minutes off the bench in the first game for the Tigers and scored eight on 2-6 from the floor. KJ Walton is a 6-3 guard who is pretty efficient from the floor and takes good care of the ball. A pair of 6-10 freshman Reed Nikko and Mitchell Smith both logged 15 minutes, but again, that was in a 55 point win.

Three questions:

Is Missouri any good? Even a 55 point win over a bad team still counts. Hughes and Jackson can both play some ball and Missouri has some size, even if it’s callow. The Tigers were awful last year though, and there is no reason to think that Xavier shouldn’t roll over them. With only one game played, there’s just no realy way of knowing if the Tigers have made any progress.

Can Xavier get depth? This is the start of three games in four days against teams that could be bound for the NCAA tournament. That may not be an issue most years, but right now Xavier is running on eight guys thanks to Myles Davis poor impulse control and Kaiser Gates knee. At some point, someone you’ve likely never heard of or cheer for because they seem scrappy is going to have to pull a Kevin Feeney and give some actual minutes.

How well can Xavier shoot? About the only thing that we know Missouri will do well is harass three point shooters. Xavier went 10-28 in their first two games for a 35.7% mark. That’s right about average, if not a tick below. There is no Jalems Farrnolds this year to bail out a team that can’t connect from deep. Missouri may chase Xavier off the arc and make O’Mara and Gaston beat them.

Three keys:

Get something from the freshman: Tyrique Jones looked like a Ford Ranger with hops against Buffalo. A bit more touch inside and he’d have logged a double-double. That won’t happen every game, but he can beat the Tigers up on the post. Quentin Goodin shot six free throws in his first four minutes in the second game. If both of those guys keep being aggressive, Coach Mack can go all eight deep.

Stop fouling: Is it the refs? Maybe. Is it that Sean O’Mara smacks everyone? Maybe. Either way, he and Rashid Gaston represent all of Xavier’s interior experience. They can keep racking up fouls at the unholy rates of 6.8 and 8.3 per 40 minutes. Yes, Gaston is nearly approaching the exceedingly rare double foul out per game.

Keep getting to the line: X has guys shooting 80%, 83%, and 100% from the line. Those three guys, Trevon Bluiett, Edmond Sumner, and JP Macura are also the team leaders in possessions used. Goodin is drawing 7.3 fouls per 40 minutes. Right now the Musketeers are getting a free throw attempt on about half of their field goal attempts. That’s up 8% from last year, and would lead the nation at the end of the season if things normalize like they usually do.