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Sunday conversation: Xavier v. Northern Iowa preview

Let’s talk about X!

NCAA Basketball: Lehigh at Xavier
Why talk to a Musketeer when you could be talking about them?
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Joel

Sunday Conversation? UNI preview?

whynotboth.bmp

Yeah, I still roll with bitmaps. Anyway, Jeremy Morgan and Klint Carlson are the big guns for UNI. We'll probably get back to Morgan in a minute, but Carlson is a lefty stretch forward who can really score it from all over. I bring him up first because I wanted to ask you guys, have we been underrating the decreasingly doughy Trevon Bluiett as a defender? He gave Henry Ellenson a hard way to go last year, and he clearly not only wanted Jarron Blossomgame but also outplayed him. I think Tre is good at defense.

Brad

He also did an excellent job with four fouls in the game against Missouri. I'm not ready to call him good yet, if only because of sample size, but he's clearly no longer a liability.

Joel

If he can defend, that really locks up some good things for us. Suddenly he can take big wings, which frees Malcom - who has been a revelation, by the way - to take the opponent's best guard. This time around, that's Jeremy Morgan. Both Carlson and Morgan can hit from outside and execute from the line, but it's Morgan who is going to have the ball in his hands to initiate the offense. If Bernard can slow him down, it's really going to jam up Northern Iowa's offense.

Speaking of their offense, my word do they go slowly. They're 340th in the nation in tempo and 265th in offensive possession speed. They love to go slowly. As you might expect, they never turn it over and don't get to the offensive glass at all. Xavier sped up and turned over Clemson; can they repeat the trick here?

Brad

It will be interesting to see if they can. In theory, X should be a bit more fresh and a bit quicker than they were on Friday. On the other hand, part of the reason Clemson had to speed up was JP's barrage. It isn't terribly likely we'll have a guy go for 23 in the first half again.

Bryan

I think part if the reason X can speed teams up is just because of how athletic we are with the guys we have in the backcourt. O'Mara is the closest thing we have to a real plodder and even he is getting up and down better this year. That played against Clemson and I think it will against UNI as well. They may not turn it over as much, but I don't see anyone being comfortable with our length and speed if our guys stay engaged on defense.

That being said, Clemson seemed to think they could beat X at their own game, which I m sure UNI will not even attempt to do. They know what they do well, and will be trying to stick to that, so I think it will be interesting to see how that plays out over 80 minutes.

Joel

UNI's defense has basically lived on turnovers so far this year, which isn't great news. Why have we been so sloppy with that? Can we clean it up today? If they're not turning you over, they're more or less average on D. I think ball security and defending the arc (where Northern Iowa takes more than half their shots) will be the big keys for Xavier.

Brad

We've somehow managed to not mention how odd it is that Xavier plays their next two games against the same opponent. This could end up being a huge boost come seeding time if UNI is a top mid major again.

Bryan

I am not sure I have seen it happen before outside of conference play ending and the tournament beginning. It will be interesting to see what adjustments the teams make during the week.

Joel

Also, do you hold back on some wrinkles today just to have them next week? Or do you go Tito Francona style and try to win the game in front of you? No matter what happens, in Coach Mack I trust. He’s a legit genius and might be a wizard; I’m confident he’ll pull the right strings.

Three questions

-Can Xavier stop the barrage? UNI loves to shoot threes to an almost comical extent; more than half of their attempts come from beyond the arc. They also hit more than 40% of them. If Xavier’s defense can be had, it’s from deep. Keeping UNI from grabbing 12 points from 4 trips down the floor at some point during the game will be a big subplot.

-How does the whistle blow? Neither of these teams is especially deep, but Xavier gets more than a quarter of its points from the line (76th-most in the nation) while UNI gets about 15% of theirs (295th). The Muskies offense depends on getting to the line; having the same ticky-tack whistle as we’ve seen this year would be nice.

-Can Xavier dictate the game? UNI often plays with 6’7” forward Klint Carlson as the biggest man on the floor, and they get a lot of their offense from this look. Xavier may have trouble defending that, but that also leaves Northern Iowa vulnerable to O’Mara and/or Gaston at the other end. Can the Panthers force Xavier to go small to chase them, or can Xavier make UNI come out of the little lineup to control the paint?

Three keys

-Execute on offense. For a 4-0, Xavier has given the fans plenty to fret about on the offensive end. Sloppy passing, mediocre finishing, and horrible slumps at the free throw line have all factored in to slowing the attack down. Against an explosive offense like Northern Iowa’s, Xavier needs to play from ahead.

-Establish the post. This goes hand-in-hand with the above and the game-dictation question. RaShid Gaston has looked good on the post and Sean O’Mara has looked downright unstoppable when he gets the ball in deep position. If those two get their chances to eat, Xavier runs away with this game.

-Play with discipline. UNI loves to play slow, and its three-point shooting prowess can really make each possession hurt. Trying to answer them three-for-three is a recipe for giving up a big, slow run. Whatever happens on defense can’t translate to the offensive end; Xavier needs to stay in the game plan and trust that that will be enough to keep the Panthers in touching distance when they get hot.