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Xavier zips up Northern Iowa (again) to move to 6-0 on the season

Xavier smothered this game before it even began to deny UNI a chance at revenge.

NCAA Basketball: Northern Iowa at Xavier
UNI didn’t get many looks this clean today.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Other than the occasional double dip from the end of the conference season to the first round of the conference tournament, rarely do you see teams play back-to-back games against each other. It almost never happens in the regular season. With six days to prepare for the return leg after Xavier beat Northern Iowa by eight in Orlando, this game was a prime opportunity for the respective coaching staffs to flex their game planning muscles.

Two media timeouts into the game, it was clear who had won that battle. Whatever adjustments Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson made, they weren’t a match for Coach Mack’s strategic chops. UNI shot 2-10/1-5/0-0 and turned the ball over 5 times before the under-12 as Xavier raced out to a 20-5 lead and basically ended the game less than a quarter of the way in.

Fifteen trips down the floor. Five points surrendered. Body bags.

It’s all kind of futile if you’re not scoring the ball, and Edmond Sumner made sure Xavier got off to the right start there. Xavier’s quicksilver point guard scored or assisted 13 of the team’s first 18 points. If Sumner can score from outside of the lane, he’s unguardable, and he was today. He finished with 14/4/7 on 6-10/2-4/0-0 shooting and only turned the ball over twice today.

JP Macura matched Sumner stride for stride, needing only nine shot attempts to drop 18/4/3 and adding 3 steals for good measure. His final shooting line was 6-9/3-6/3-3, and he led Xavier with 9 second-half points today. Also, zero fouls.

The story was that defensive effort in the first half though. Against D1 teams other than Xavier, UNI is averaging a very respectable point per possession despite having played a couple of tough defenses. Against Xavier, they’re putting up .79 PPP, and in the first half, Xavier held UNI to just 12 points in 32 possessions.

There are a lot of ways to establish dominance, and Xavier employed about all of them. They were hawking the ball for free possessions, forcing UNI into a 24% turnover rate and dominating the glass to the tune of 50%/84.4% offensive and defensive rebounding rates. They also hunted down every shooter, holding the Panthers to just .326/.333/.571 shooting.

About the only fly in the ointment for Xavier was Trevon’s 3-12/2-6/0-1 shooting line. He was good for 8/8/1 with 2 steals, but at some point in time he’s going to have to start knocking down jumpers like he’s capable of. His EFG% on the year is down to 43.3%, well below both the national average and his career mark.

Xavier’s bench continued to look good today (6/6/1 for Tyrique Jones in 11 minutes, 7 and 3 on 3-4/1-2/0-0 shooting from Quentin Goodin), and it got a man deeper with the belated season debut of Kaiser Gates. The sophomore forward was held back by a fairly mild knee operation late in the offseason; his unimpressive line today was far less meaningful than the mere fact that he’s back.

Sitting at 6-0 on the year, Xavier has ripped off 20 consecutive non-conference regular season wins and 26 straight non-conference home wins. The Muskies still haven’t taken on an opponent outside of the KenPom top 130, and - with North Dakota State and at Baylor on the docket this week - won’t see a break in the gauntlet until hosting Eastern Washington on the week of Christmas. This schedule is designed to test X; so far, they’re acing it.