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Xavier v. Baylor: Preview

This is Xavier’s first major test of the season, and it comes on the road.

NCAA Basketball: Sam Houston State at Baylor Sean Pokorny-USA TODAY Sports

The season, for most purposes, starts now. Xavier has played some good teams to this point, but Baylor is a step up in class that is something akin to going from playing in the Atlantic 10 to the Big East, or the AAC to [this joke deleted]. Baylor has beaten Oregon, VCU, Michigan State, and Louisville already, three of those on neutral courts. Xavier now gets them at home, where they dispatched the Ducks by 17.

Xavier hasn’t been slouching thus far, either, beating no one worse than the Tigers of Missouri, beating Clemson, and rolling a very good UNI team. The Musketeers have been recently bolstered by the addition of Kaiser Gates, which gives them the option of going to a lineup reminiscent of Golden State’s lineup of not quite as good as the Cavs death. This game is shaping up to be a genuine battle of Elite Eight contenders.

Team Fingerprint:

The Baylor Bears play slowly and they pound the ball inside. Only 24.6% of their points come from behind the arc and they’re fine with that, because they shoot 54% inside the arc and 69% at the rim. They’re going to feed the ball inside, and they aren’t going to be bothered if it takes them awhile to do so. The Bears are solid on the offensive glass, take care of the ball at a slightly below average, and they excel from the line. Short of outside shooting, they don’t have a weakness.

Defensively, there’s nothing that they don’t do well. They allow offensive rebounds on 27.3% of possessions, but even that is good for 98th in the nation. They don’t force a great deal of turnovers because they’re content to sit in the their shell and challenge every shot. Teams shoot 27.6% from deep, only 44.8% inside the arc, and get almost 16% of their shots blocked by Baylor. Teams only get to the line on 18.6% of their field goal attempts against the Bears. That’s good for second in the nation.

Starters:

Manu Lecomte Point Guard Edmond Sumner
Junior Class Sophomore
5'11", 175 Measurements 6'6", 186
12.4/1.6/5.3 Game line 14.6/4.9/4.6
.417/.324/.788 Shooting line .487/.200/.658
Lecomte is a prototypical point guard. He takes care of the ball, shoots free throws well, and puts his scorers in good positions. He's not a great shooter in his own right, but he can't be ignored completely behind the arc. Also, he's Belgian
Al Freeman Shooting Guard JP Macura
Junior Class Junior
6'3", 200 Measurements 6'5", 203
11/3.0/0.9 Game line 16.7/4.1/3.7
.460/.414/.813 Shooting line .430/.341/.962
Freeman and Wainwright both function as guards, but Freeman shoots the ball a bit more and far better from deep, so we'll call him the two. Freeman is Baylor's best three point shooter, but has only attempted 29. He also sports a turnover rate three times his assist rate.
Ishmail Wainwright Small Forward Malcom Bernard
Senior Class Senior
6' 5", 235 Measurements 6'6", 202
6.6/6.0/4.1 Game line 5.9/4.7/1.4
.424/.294/.867 Shooting line .429/.421/.333
Wainwright isn't shooting well from deep to start the year after shooting 41% last season. He is, however, stuffing the stat sheet every single game. He's a ball hawk on defense and rarely turns it over on the other end.
Johnathan Motley Power Forward Trevon Bluiett
Junior Class Junior
6'10". 235 Measurements 6'6", 215
16.2/8.2/2.0 Game line 17.7/6.1/2.7
.500/.250/.813 Shooting line .404/.277/.794
This matchup is going to be a real challenge if Trevon starts here. Motley is a monster on offense, relentless on the glass, and gets a lot of touches. He is, without question, the main cog in the Baylor attack.
Jo Lual-Acuil Center Sean O'Mara
Junior Class Junior
7'0", 220 Measurements 6'10", 245
9.3/8.4/0.4 Game line 8.1/3.4/0.6
.595/.286/.591 Shooting line .625/.000/.875
Acuil is Baylor's third most efficient scorer and is nationally ranked in (deep breath): EFG%, true shooting, OR%, DR%, TO Rate, block rate, fouls committed per 40, and free throw rate. The Bears have incredibly talented size in their starting frontcourt.

Reserves:

Baylor only goes nine deep, but all nine get time. First off the bench is Terry Matson, a 6-8 junior who has a 10.% offensive rebounding rate and shoots 87% from the line. 6-5 Jake Lindsey is a swing man who takes care of the ball very well and uses the fewest possessions on the team. His shooting numbers look good this year, but he’s only lifted a grand total of 19 times. Wendell Mitchell and King McClure are both 6-3 backup guards. Mitchell is a freshman who uses a lot of possessions, none of them terribly well. McClure is extremely efficient, shoots 35% from deep, and has an assist rate more than twice that of his turnover rate.

Three Questions:

- How strict is the whistle? This comes down basically to Johnathan Motley. Motley leads Baylor in usage by a large margin at at a 29.1% rate. He’s in the top 250 in rebounding rate at both ends, plays 30 minutes per game, averages 16 points, shoots 81% from the line, 50% from the floor, and stands 6-10, 230. That’s a very tall order for a front line that racks up fouls at rates previously not thought humanly possible. Tyrique Jones certainly has the physical traits to match up, but Jones commits 9.1 fouls per 40. If there’s a tight whistle, Xavier is hurt.

- Is Kaiser Gates ready for big minutes? This comes down a lot to what happens with the rest of the bigs and fouls. Thus far, Kaiser has played 12 minutes per game. If Jones, O’Mara, and Gaston are busy slapping the life out of Motley and Acuil, Gates is going to have to fill in down low. He’s been brought along slowly thus far, Coach Mack will have to decide if he’s ready to risk Kaiser for this win, or keep saving him for down the line even if it might mean a loss.

- Can Xavier shift the pace? X doesn’t play fast, but they play a lot faster than Baylor does. The Bears want to be deliberate and hammer the post. Xavier has scored in the 80s five times, Baylor has only done it against the artists formerly known as Dunk City. If Baylor slows the game to a walk, the Musketeers will have a hard time defending the post, if X can go, the Bears bigs won’t be able to keep up with the likes of Goodin, Sumner, and Jones in the open floor.

Three keys:

- Don’t fall behind early: The Bears will brutalize any team that gets behind them by continuing to feed the post and eat clock. Xavier cannot go size for size and a free throw parade undoubtedly favors the team shooting 76% from the line. If the Musketeers can stay in touching distance early, they’ve set themselves up for success.

- Don’t Foul: Right? Baylor is excellent from the line. Acuil is a bit of a disaster, but the other four starters and Matson are all bloodless finishers. X can’t start with their usual pattern of trying to beat opposing players into submission, or Baylor will be accepting free points all night.

- Beat the zone: Baylor will run a 1-1-3 zone that picks opponents up almost as soon as they cross the half court line. If this doesn’t make you wish for the level head of Myles Davis, nothing will. Baylor won’t get pulled out of position chasing the ball, but their 6.7% steal rate suggests they are more than willing to capitalize on any mistake. Xavier’s chance here is that their smaller lineup could open more chances for a short corner pass and then a flash to the bucket. JP Macura figures to be heavily involved on the wings and moving toward the basket if X is to have success.