Last Thursday Xavier was steaming out to a 7-0 start by absolutely demolishing a team that is either a solid mid-major or the absolute class of the low majors. The Musketeers rolled NDSU by 30 and didn’t even look mildly troubled in doing it. Fast forward a week and Xavier has lost two straight and looked really troubling in doing it. Baylor and Colorado both capitalized on terrible Musketeer second halves to pull away or take the lead. Xavier’s offense countered by disappearing almost completely while the defense melted under the pressure.
Now, Xavier has another challenge coming up. The good news is that this one is at home, the bad news is that Utah is very nearly as good as Colorado. Depending on who you listen to, X is either tailspinning or just needs a quick puff of air back in the sails. The Utes, meanwhile, are 6-1 but have beaten two DII teams and then four teams ranked below 220. Their last win came 87-80 over Utah Valley, when they allowed Brandon Randolph to score 14, I’m assuming all on right handed drives. Utah’s only other game against top level competition was a loss at home to Butler just after Thanksgiving.
Defensively the Utes don’t allow a ton of three pointers, but teams make a frankly astonishing 41% of them. That is, and this isn’t a misprint, a higher percentage than teams shoot against Utah inside the arc, 40.4%. Some of that anomaly surely comes from the level of competition Utah has faced, but it’s impressive nonetheless. The Utes block 11.1% of the shots put up against them and allow offensive rebounds on only 25% of shots, but are more than happy to not force any turnovers.
On offense the Utes grab boards on 39.6% of their missed shots and shoot 55% inside the arc. One thing that Utah does that will seem very strange to students of Xavier’s game is this weird thing where the clock stops, they all line up, and then someone throws the ball in the hoop. There’s usually some cheering and the guys teammates will slap him on his hands in a congratulatory manner. Other media members tell me this odd ritual is called “making free throws” and Utah does it 75% of the time. Crazy, huh? Between that and the offensive rebounding the fact that the Utes shoot only 33% from deep seems less of a concern.
|Devon Daniels||Point Guard||Edmond Sumner|
|6'5", 200||Measurements||6'6", 186|
|Daniels is a really efficient offensive player, for a freshman and just in general. He distributes pretty well and shoots over 73% from inside the arc. He's got some turnover issues, but by and large he's doing pretty doggone well for himself.|
|Parker Van Dyke||Shooting Guard||JP Macura|
|6'3", 190||Measurements||6'5", 203|
|Your basic standing shooter. He doesn't turn the ball over hardly at all and doesn't do much inside the arc, but he's hitting really well from deep, which is kind of what he gets paid to do. I mean, not paid. It's a scholarship. I'm not making allegations here.|
|Lorenzo Bonam||Small Forward||Malcom Bernard|
|6'4", 195||Measurements||6'6", 202|
|Bonam can play just about anywhere on the perimeter, but boy howdy does he eat at the rim. More than half his shots come from that range, where he's shooting a cool 84.2%. He doesn't rebound much, he's not a great jump shooter, and he doesn't foul. Basically he gets to the rim and scores; what's not to like?|
|Kyle Kuzma||Power Forward||Trevon Bluiett|
|6'9", 225||Measurements||6'6", 215|
|He's not bashful to take the ball on. Kuzma is putting up a good game line, but he's a volume scorer against real competition. He opened up a can on Northwest Nazarene though. Kozma is a good rebounder and puts in a shift defensively, and he's going to lift until he gets his points.|
|Tyler Rawson||Center||RaShid Gaston|
|6' 10", 225||Measurements||6'9", 239|
|I like this guy's game. He's a solid offensive rebounder and a good defensive rebounder, he's good for a three a game, and he scores well around the rim. He's also not a bad rim protector and makes his free throws. They don't get him the ball a lot, but maybe they should.|
Utah mainly runs three guys off the bench. Jojo Zamora plays 24 minutes per game and is third on the team in scoring. Zamora is a backup, in some sense, guard who shoots 40% from deep and 90% from the line. Seven footer Jayce Johnson has started some games and plays a foul limited 15 minutes per game. Both of his rebounding rates and his block rate would be high in the national rankings if he had enough minutes to qualify; he’s a monster on the offensive glass. The third of the bench triumvirate is Gabe Bealer at 12 minutes per contest. Bealer is a glue guy of sorts, though his .381/.286/1.000 shooting line and 28.3% turnover rate speak mostly to a space filling swingman. No one else off the bench even approaches 10 minutes in the average Utah game.
-Is the three ball falling? There’s a sense in which this is a break from our usual questions, as this isn’t really a question of strategy. It’s more a nod to the fact that (a) we know Xavier is going to keep lifting from deep and (b) Utah’s opponents are shooting 41% from beyond the arc this year. If someone who isn’t Trevon Bluiett can hit a few threes, Xavier could run away with this one.
-Where does Malcolm Bernard fit in? The senior guard has gotten his turnover numbers down, but he frankly has offered just over nothing on the offensive end in tough games. If Xavier is getting buckets from four positions, they can afford to carry a defensive specialist. They aren’t right now, which puts Mal in limbo.
-Can Xavier win on the glass? The Muskies will likely win the free possession war simply because Utah doesn’t secure the ball or force turnovers that well at all. The more pertinent question will be how well Xavier does in keeping the Utes from getting second chances on missed shots. Utah murders the offensive glass; they way they shoot from inside the arc, it would behoove Xavier to not let Utah get too many stickback attempts.
- Get production from two of three post players: Xavier has been getting production from one of O’Mara, Jones, and Gaston pretty consistently. Against good teams, that’s not enough. Rashid going for 14/11/0 can’t be accompanied by a grand total of the 13 minutes from the other two. O’Mara scoring eight on seven shots can’t come with a 1-5 from Gaston and nothing from Tyrique. Two of the three need to show up in the same game.
- Find a second scorer: Right now Trevon Bluiett is option one. That’s good, and he’s a great option one for any team in college ball. Who is Xavier’s second option right now? JP is mired in 5-25 shooting slump, Ed Sumner’s offensive numbers are down across the board, and Sean O’Mara is efficient one game, invisible the next. Utah can shut down some offenses, X needs to find a second guy who can put the thing in the hoop.
- Rotate: This one lands more on the coaching staff and the bench players. Right now, only 95 players in the nation play more than Sumner, and Trevon and JP are both logging 34+ minutes. This has shown in the last two games, when Xavier has mentally and physically tired in the second half and thrown leads away. Quentin Goodin, Tyrique Jones, or Kaiser Gates needs to play some long and quality minutes to get the Big Three a rest.