Xavier has long been the plucky underdog come March, punching above their weight with the heavy hitters of college basketball and making run after run into the second weekend of the tournament in consistent defiance of the odds. Not anymore. Xavier begins NCAA Tournament play today as a member of the Big East, a power conference with a rich basketball history and 11 entrants into the field over the past two seasons, and sporting a two seed, the highest in program history. Over the course of the past 20 years, beginning with the move from the MCC to the A-10, Xavier's profile has continued on the trajectory Skip Prosser set it on and today brings another step to becoming a nationally recognized power. We might not be the underdog every neutral will side with anymore, but this is where we were heading all along.
Weber State's offense is predicated on getting a clean look and knocking it down. No team in America has been blocked with less frequency than the Wildcats, who shoot 56% inside the arc as a team. The shoot the tree pointer very frequently and knock down 36% from outside and owe most of that to Jeremy Senglin, who went for 44% over his 229 attempts this season. Their major weaknesses on offense are turnovers, which they commit more than 278 of the teams in DI, free throw shooting, where they shoot 67% as a team, and offensive rebounding, where they get back only just over a quarter of their own misses. When they can take care of the ball, they will look for one good shot and if that doesn't fall, typically they are done. If by some disaster X is losing late, there is a slew of options to foul on this team and realistically hope they miss.
Defensively, Weber State almost refuses to accept opponent turnovers, ranking 320th in the nation in forcing them. They are also pedestrian at defending the arc, giving up 35% shooting from deep. They make their hay by hoping for an opponent miss and then securing the board, two-handed Taurean Prince style. Opponents only get 25.2% of their own misses back, but it should also be noted the Wildcats don't have a player over 6'9" on their roster. Weber State's opponents only shoot 45% inside the arc, which is curious because they are bad at blocking shots. Overall, Weber State seems like a good matchup for X on defense, as they likely were not facing down big men like Farrnolds in the Big Sky.
|McKay Cannon||Point Guard||Edmond Sumner|
|6'0", 185||Measurements||6'6", 183|
|First of all, what a sensational name. Second of all, Cannon starts at the point but only plays about 20 minutes per game. He leads the team in assist rate, but he's very turnover prone and not much of a threat to score if he's not shooting a three. Cannon is an active defender, but he tends to gamble for steals and is fairly foul prone as a result.|
|Jeremy Senglin||Shooting Guard||Myles Davis|
|6'2", 195||Measurements||6'2", 188|
|Senglin can score near the rim and at the mid-range, but what he really likes to do is rain threes. About 60% of his shots come from beyond the arc. Senglin isn't just a catch-and-shoot guy, either; he's very comfortable creating his own three-point shot by pulling off the bounce. He doesn't do much else on offense other than get buckets, and his FT% is curiously low for a guy who shoots so well against live defense.|
|Ryan Richardson||Small Forward||Remy Abell|
|6'4", 185||Measurements||6'4", 185|
|Richardson doesn't even crack 20 minutes per game, which makes his inclusion in the starting lineup a curious one. He's a decent shooter who doesn't distribute much and turns the ball over a tick too much to be an efficient offensive player. He doesn't rebound and is a nondescript defensive player. He hits his free throws but never gets to the line, which kind of ruins that as a positive.|
|Joel Bolomboy||Power Forward||Trevon Bluiett|
|6'9", 235||Measurements||6'6", 215|
|Bolomboy is a monster in the paint with rebounding percentages easily in the top 100 on both ends of the floor and a shooting percentage over 75% at the rim. He can step out and shoot it enough to make opponents respect him, but he makes his bones closer to the rim. Perhaps most concerningly, he has shot over 200 free throws on the year and draws nearly 7 fouls per 40 minutes of playing time.|
|Zach Braxton||Center||Jalen Reynolds|
|6'9", 250||Measurements||6'10", 238|
|This guy doesn't get a lot of touches in the offense since Bolomboy is gobbling down possessions on the post, but he is a good offensive rebounder who can score at the rim and in the mid-range. He draws a lot of fouls, but he also commits a bunch of them. Think a mid-major Sean O'Mara and you're starting to get the idea on Braxton.|
The first man off the bench is 6'7" junior forward Kyndal Hill. He's a good rebounder at both ends of the floor who averages 8.3/5.9/0.9 on .623/.100/.758 shooting; he's a threat at the rim and from the mid-range. Dusty Baker is a 6'4" sophomore wing who averages 5.5/2.4/1.8 on .379/.387/.810. He's a horrible finisher and decent at mid-range, but he's a lethal catch-and-shoot player from behind the arc.
Freshman guard Cody John grabs decent minutes off the bench and rewards his coach's faith with 4.6/1.6/1.6. He's a bad shooter - including 7-50 from deep - and turns the ball over too much. Richaud Gittens is the last cog in the machine; he gets 20 minutes off the bench to no great effect on the offensive end. His usage rate is only 14.9%, but he's just hair below average in offensive efficiency.
-Win the freebie war. Weber State's offense is soft on the glass and struggles with ball security, while their defense does not force turnovers very well. There's no reason the Muskies should not be harvesting extra possessions on one end of the floor and making the best use of them on the other. This game can be won in efficiency on the glass and in the turnover war.
- Contain Senglin. The Wildcats junior guard is the focal point of the offense and destroys teams from behind the arc. If he gets going, he could carry Weber State past a lot of teams. This seems like a job for Remy Abell, as Senglin is good sized, but not to the point that he would overwhelm Xavier's chiseled specimen of a guard-guarder. Weber is going to need someone to go absolutely crazy to carry the day. Senglin is their best chance to do that.
- Score from behind the arc. Weber State tries to limit looks from deep. Only six teams in the nation have allowed fewer attempts from behind the arc this year, and only barely a quarter of opponents points against the Wildcats come from back there. The one thing that lends some hope is that teams do shoot over 35% when they do get a look from three point range. Xavier is a mediocre three point shooting team that doesn't exactly dominate inside the arc either. Freeing up some easy points from deep would lessen the strain on the Musketeers late in the game.