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Xavier at Colorado: Preview

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Xavier comes off a loss to a top 10 team on the road to meet another solid opponent away from home.

NCAA Basketball: Colorado State at Colorado Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

“And the hits just keep on coming.” I loved A Few Good Men as a kid, and the way Tom Cruise delivered that line has forever stuck in my brain. Before Xavier’s misadventure on the road at Baylor there were warning signs that the team was not clicking over on all cylinders. After it, there’s some concern that there may be legitimate gaps in the armor. As comforting as it would be to now thrash Eastern Washington at home, the Musketeers instead travel to Colorado to take on a Buffaloes squad sitting 54th on the KenPom and possessed of a brutal shooting defense. Instead of things getting easy, the hits just keep on coming.

There is a semblance of good news in that, though. To truly regain some confidence and get this season back rolling (and it was no means fully derailed by one road loss to a top 10 team), X is going to have to beat someone legitimate. Like Conor McGregor, the Musketeers need to come back after a loss and flatten someone to get the swagger back. In that way, this meat grinder of a schedule is a blessing for Coach Mack in his staff, as the absolute slap in the face in the AP poll. Xavier has historically been at their best when their coach can convince them that they are doubted. This could be an opportune time for that.

Team Fingerprint:

Smother you. Colorado attacks shooters wherever they find them. The Buffaloes allow teams to shoot only 27.5% from behind the arc, 43% inside it, and block 11.7% of shot attempts. When the ball comes off the glass, Colorado attacks it there as well. All this shot challenging means they don’t force a lot of turnovers, but they do force a lot of one on one playmaking. Opponents get assists on only 41% of their made baskets.

Offensively, Colorado lacks finesse. They don’t shoot well from anywhere, they don’t shoot from deep often, they turn it over, and they play a healthy amount of iso ball. When they get the ball on the rim, though, they attack it. Colorado grabs almost 38% of their own misses, 25th in the nation and two spots ahead of X.

Starters:

Derrick White Point Guard Edmond Sumner
Senior Class Sophomore
6'5", 200 Measurements 6'6", 186
14.0/4.0/3.5 Game line 15.1/4.6/4.3
.520/.316/.737 Shooting line .483/.222/.688
A really versatile, really good guard. Turnover problems knock his efficiency down a bit, but he defends without fouling, scores really well from inside the arc, and is a good distributor. He's not much of a jump shooter, but he'll get to the line and do damage there.
Josh Fortune Shooting Guard JP Macura
Senior Class Junior
6'5", 212 Measurements 6'5", 203
10.4/4.0/1.6 Game line 15.5/4.4/3.4
.431/.345/.879 Shooting line .382/.319/.912
Didn't Providence have a guy named Josh Fortune? Yes. Is it this guy? Also yes. Fortune isn't a primary option on offense, but he plays really well when he has the ball. He's more than adequate with his jumper but also draws fouls and trips to the line like a slashing wing. He has some turnover problems, but besides that he's a really good two-way player for Colorado.
George King Small Forward Malcom Bernard
Junior Class Senior
6'6", 225 Measurements 6'6", 202
10.6/6.8/0.5 Game line 5.1/4.5/1.3
.478/.346/.667 Shooting line .385/.364/.333
King is a solid shooter, especially from inside the arc, and he really boards the ball well on the defensive end. He's not going to set the world on fire with his offensive play due largely to some turnover issues. If he can avoid throwing the ball to the wrong team, he's a quietly reliable player.
Xavier Johnson Power Forward Trevon Bluiett
Senior Class Junior
6'7", 230 Measurements 6'6", 215
14.4/6.3/1.0 Game line 18.4/6.3/2.5
.456/.368/.679 Shooting line .421/.333/.821
Another tough matchup for Trevon. Johnson is a selective but effective jump shooter, but his real value is going towards the rim. He scores the ball pretty well and draws a ton of fouls, basically living at the free throw line. He's also just a notch below elite on the glass and never turns the ball over.
Wesley Gordon Center Sean O'Mara
Senior Class Junior
6'9", 245 Measurements 6'10", 245
7.1/9.5/1.6 Game line 7.4/3.3/0.5
.368/.000/.652 Shooting line .619/.000/.700
My goodness, this guy can really board, ranking in the top 100 rebounding percentage at both ends of the floor. What he can't do is score, as evidenced by his shooting line. He was really efficient on the offensive end in his first two years, but it went downhill last season and hasn't bounced back this year. He'll eat glass, block shots, and avoid turning the ball over.

Reserves:

Colorado only has average depth. Off the bench 6-9 Tory Miller comes out gunning. His 90 ORtg suggests that maybe he shouldn’t, but only White uses the ball more when on the floor. 6-2 guard Thomas Akyazili is 0-10 from behind the arc which drags down his efficiency, but he uses the ball well when he’s inside. Deleon Brown is a 6-4 guard who can shoot it from deep. He and 6-10 Lucas Siewert are both freshman and represent the start of a good base for the Buffalo future. Siewert is a pick and pop four who would really prefer to not have to grab a rebound. Bryce Peters is another decent three point shooting freshman who remains, at least at this point, pretty one dimensional.

Three Questions:

- Can Xavier bounce back? I’ll grant this is a pretty generic question, but it stands. Xavier scored 27 points in the last 20 minutes they played and watched Baylor run away from them. No one other Trevon Bluiett could get any real offense going and the team put on a clinic on why kids should practice free throws. That’s a lot to overcome immediately in another challenging road game.

- Is Quentin Goodin ready for the big time? Q played eight minutes in the last game despite Ed looking ready for a break at several points. A large part of this was that Goodin got sped up by Baylor’s zone and couldn’t effectively initiate offense. The two assists were a good sign, the two turnovers were not. Goodin in attack mode is a force to be reckoned with, Goodin out there thinking is not.

- Has Xavier ever had anyone like JP Macura? The shooting line last week was brutal. 2-16 impresses no one. To go with that though, JP threw in six rebounds, three assists, three steals, and a block. A lot of players would tend to retreat into a cage if they were in the midst of shooting like that. Not Macura, he attacked the entire game and even managed to instigate a minor scuffle in the closing moments by diving for a loose ball. Maybe jacking 16 shots wasn’t the answer, but God bless JP, he just kept doing him.

Three Keys:

- Force the ball inside: Colorado suffocates three point shooters. Xavier is going to lift from deep, but it would behoove them to work inside out. Colorado has Gordon, Fortune, White who all block shots at at least a 3% (Gordon is 5.5%), so Gaston’s erratic work around the rim may continue. Sean O’Mara can work against this group though, especially if he is ready for the second man, usually White, and find someone spotting up.

- Take care of the ball: Xavier was absurdly wasteful with possessions against Baylor. The Buffaloes don’t intend to force turnovers, so when they do their defense becomes even more dangerous. This comes down to Edmond Sumner initiating well and not getting moving too quickly in an attempt to force his offense. He’ll get to the line either way, throwing the thing all over the place just short circuits the rest of the offense. Ed’s turnover rate is actually up about 2% from last year. That needs to change soon.

- Get to the line: At the very least, shooting terribly from the line again will make it easy to diagnose what happened if X loses again. In reality, Colorado allows free throw attempts on 32% of opponent’s shots. That’s an exploitable number if Xavier doesn’t let themselves get turned into a jumpshooting team. Surely they won’t shoot 57% from the line again...right?