In what is becoming an annual meeting, Xavier rallied in the second half to beat Wake last season and stay undefeated. I am sure you all knew that, but it will be the jumping off point for our abbreviated history lesson here. Since then, X has gone on to what some would consider the best season in program history, which ultimately ended in heartbreak last March (don’t they all).
More recently, Xavier returned to Cintas Center after a road trip that fell somewhere between disastrous and merely unpleasant and snapped a two game losing streak by beating Utah. The losses at Baylor and Colorado brought up questions about Xavier’s ability to take care of the ball, make free throws, and guard the perimeter that were not completely put to bed against the Runnin’ Utes, so there are still certainly lingering effects.
|A nightmare of a lead guard to try to defend. Sumner is lethal in the open court and an explosive finisher. He spent the summer working on his jumper; when he's hitting that, he can't be guarded. His length and athleticism help him make up for the occasional lapse on the defensive end. Has struggled to get his jumper to fall this year, but is finishing well enough at the rim to be a threat.
|JP is a lot like Pistol Pete with better hair, right down to the fact that he's not going to stop shooting just because he's missing. Had a really bad stretch in Xavier's losses, but bounced back a bit against Utah. When he's not trying to expand his YouTube reel, he flies to the offensive glass, patrols passing lanes, and generally makes a nuisance of himself.
|Malcolm transferred in from FAMU and we're still trying to figure out exactly what he is at this level. He defends really well and puts in a shift on the glass. His offensive performances have been all over the place so far, but I guess there's the potential he gets hot and makes someone look silly.
|Tre is more or less a jump shooter masquerading as a scorer, but dang if his jumper isn't the stuff people used to write poems about. He can hit from all over, and he has great footwork and a quick release that help him score even when the opponent knows what he's about to do. He's strong enough to defend most fours, and he does good work on the defensive glass. Was quiet most of the game against Utah before putting up 12 in crunch time like nobody's business.
|A transfer from Norfolk State, Gaston looked vulnerable offensively against the early stages of Xavier's schedule. He's always been good on the boards and woke up with 14 and 11 against Colorado before flip flopping those numbers against Utah. He might be Xavier's hottest player right now.
|O'Mara isn't going to put anyone on a poster, but he has solid footwork in the post and can score to either hand. He has struggled the past three games, but he is usually a reliable below the rim scorer. His rebounding is split almost evenly between the offensive and defensive glass.
|A freshman guard that I really like, probably even more than Coach Mack does. He's still learning game speed against elite teams, but he picks his shots well and provides good length and athleticism in the back court off the bench. A really solid defender.
|Tyrique is a junkyard dog on the court right now. He goes after the ball like he can only secure more playing time by securing more rebounds, and it's not clear that he's wrong. His offensive game lacks nuance at this point, but he's a beast on the glass and the best shot blocker on the team. Also, he would foul out in about 16 minutes if Coach Mack left him out there.
|Kaiser is coming back off of off-season knee surgery and plainly doesn't have his legs back under him right now. He is capable of defending 1-4 and scoring from all three levels, when he is healthy. He is starting to show signs of being back into the swing of things, but still is not 100%.
The Musketeers are a really good offense with a couple of fairly meaningful limitations. Let's discuss what kind of props the offense up first: Xavier is an incredible offensive rebounding team. They grab just over 36% of their own misses. That helps them to be the #23 team in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency despite being right around average in EFG% and TO rate and just a hair above average in free throw rate. Xavier is probably a better shooting team than they've shown so far, but the numbers reflect the season at hand. As far as strategy goes, Xavier usually plays four around one and keeps the ball moving to get scorers into spots where they have an edge on their defenders. Coach Mack is a magician with set plays.
On the other end of the floor, Xavier does everything well within about 20 feet of the bucket. They are an exceptional defensive rebounding team, contest shots well, and force a reasonable amount of turnovers. The Achilles heel of this team is three-point defense; they’ll concede the arc to the extent that teams take almost 40% of their shots from deep. If you can make it rain, you’ll have the chance to do so.
Other Things to Consider
- Senior guard Myles Davis is still MIA for Xavier this year, clearing up some legal troubles from this summer. He is not expected to rejoin the team before Big East play starts.
- Gaston, O’Mara, and Jones have real trouble not assaulting opponents on the floor. None of the three commit fewer than 6 fouls per 40 minutes.
- Xavier had been downright bad at the line for two and a half games before going 10-10 down the stretch against Utah. Still something to watch for, especially with Gaston and Bernard.