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Xavier v. Northern Iowa preview

A in-season, out-of-conference rematch! Xavier defends the cornsword at Cintas against UNI.

NCAA Basketball: Buffalo at Xavier
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier and Northern Iowa last played each other less than a week ago, so there’s not a lot to preview here that we didn’t see six days ago. By way of reminder, Xavier knocked off UNI 67-59 in a frankly uninspiring performance from both sides. Xavier won the middle 20 minutes by a score of 41-19 and did enough in the first ten and the last ten to win the game.

Other than sucking down a whole ton of turkey, not a lot has happens in the Thanksgiving week for teams that aren’t playing in exempt tournaments. Both teams will have had a chance to review the film, discuss what went wrong and right, and throw in a couple of tweaks. The players are familiar; we’ll break this beast down by way of three questions regarding the last game and three keys to this one.

Three questions:

Was the shooting a product of tired legs? The teams combined to shoot 27-61/15-46/27-39, with Xavier in particular struggling to be able to put a shot from outside the paint into the bucket. UNI is a heck of a shooting team when going well, and Xavier struggles to contest the arc. On the other hand, you wouldn’t back Tre, JP, and Ed to shoot a combined 4-18 from beyond the arc again. A few more jumpers going in would change the complexion of the matchup.

Can Xavier dominate the glass again? Xavier wasn’t great on the offensive glass, but they gave Northern Iowa next to nothing in terms of second chances. O’Mara, Gaston, and Jones all stayed out of foul trouble for the Muskies, clearing plenty of space near the bucket to keep the Panthers from doing much damage from their own misses.

Will anyone control the basketball? Both teams turned the ball over a ton in Orlando. Xavier coughed it up on 20% of their possessions, but Northern Iowa did so on nearly a quarter of those. Xavier was especially effective in preventing shots during the second half run that iced the game; better ball security might lead to a different outcome.

Three keys:

Blood Kaiser Gates: Xavier is currently extremely thin on the front line. Gaston, O’Mara, and Jones are all insistent on racking up the fouls and the early season officiating has been more than happy to oblige. Kaiser isn’t a true post, but he could help lessen the strain and give Bernard and Bluiett more time at the three when Xavier goes big. Gates won’t be in game shape quite yet, but the next two games present a great chance to get his legs back under him.

Make some jumpshots: The Musketeers rather famously went an entire half without making a jumper earlier in the season and currently have the 14th most efficient offense in the nation despite shooting a frankly shocking 28% behind the arc. Can Xavier beat UNI without the three pointer? They did it shooting 5-22 just six days ago. Xavier let the Panthers back in that game, though, by not being able to kill the game by making the threes UNI was willing to let them take. There will be opportunities again, converting them would go a long way to alleviating mental strain late.

Dominate on the glass: Xavier isn’t the rebounding team they were last year, but they should be head and shoulders above the Panthers. A large part of the reason that Xavier won was they controlled the rebounding game. 12 offensive rebounds and a 78% rate on the defensive end will cover for a multitude of shooting sins.