Here we go. Playing in the Big East means that big games come Xavier’s way far more often than they used to. Any week can feature two games against top 25 teams or a matchup with the #1 team in the nation. That there are more consequential games on the schedule, though, does nothing to take away from this one. The Crosstown Shootout will go a long way toward determining how fans feel about the season. Now, 10 months later, some of the sting of losing to Wisconsin is mitigated by Edmond Sumner’s dunk. The 2010-11 season where Xavier lost the Shootout by 20 is one best left back there in the past.
This season, Xavier enters on what now passes as a skid for the program. Three straight losses to teams in KenPom’s top 20 came before a win over Georgetown that didn’t feel completely comfortable until the last two minutes. The Musketeers simply haven’t found themselves after the return, and subsequent departure, of Myles Davis. UC, meanwhile, challenged themselves with a non-con that included Lipscomb, Brown, and FDU before entering AAC play. The Bearcats have beaten Iowa St. and SMU and are currently riding a nine game winning streak.
The Bearcats are the Bearcats. That means that the defense carries the water. This year, they’re doing it by allowing an effective field goal percentage of 42.6%, good for fifth in the nation. Teams shoot 30.9% from deep, 40% from inside the arc. In case you were wondering if those are encouraging numbers for a team that already struggles to shoot, they aren’t. For good measure, only two teams in the nation block shots at a higher rate and the Bearcats turn teams over at a 19.7% clip.
On offense UC isn’t quite as intimidating. They shoot better from deep than Xavier (who doesn’t?), but they are by no means great. They instead focus on not turning the ball over, getting it inside, and getting on the offensive glass. They also play incredibly slowly. In short, this is the prototypical Mick Cronin team.
|Troy Caupain||Point Guard||Edmond Sumner|
|6-4, 210||Measurements||6-6, 186|
|Caupain has finally reached his last year of eiligibility. He's not shooting as well from the line as he did last year, but he's improved everywhere else and he doesn't turn the ball over.|
|Kevin Johnson||Shooting Guard||JP Macura|
|6-3, 185||Measurements||6-5, 203|
|Johnson isn't a great shooter and doesn't use many possessions. He is a good defender, though, and could be used on Trevon if Bluiett is too willing to stand outside rather than use his size in the lane.|
|Jacob Evans||Forward||Trevon Bluiett|
|6-6, 210||Measurements||6-6, 205|
|Evans plays a ton and does a little bit of everything well. If Trevon drives, he can bother Evans. If he stands outside, Evans will sag and hunt blocks.|
|Gary Clark||Forward||Malcolm Bernard|
|6-8, 225||Measurements||6-6, 202|
|Gary Clark never runs out of energy, blocks shots, and is relentless on the offensive glass. If Bernard struggles with his size, Tyrique Jones may see a lot of time.|
|Kyle Washington||Center||Rashid Gaston|
|6-9, 230||Measurements||6-9, 239|
|Washington is an NC State transfer who face Xavier in the play-in game in 2014. Since then, he's turned into a complete monster. Rashid can handle him, but he's the only one on Xavier who can.|
6-5 freshman Jarron Cumberland is first off the bench. He’s essentially as efficient as anyone UC has and he’s solid both from the field and from behind the arc. Tre Scott, another freshman, plays down low and is great on the defensive glass, not as much on the offensive. He’s no threat from deep. 5-10 sophomore Justin Jenifer comes in to spell Caupain when he needs it. Jenifer doesn’t shoot the ball a lot, but he does distribute it well. 6-8 Qadri Moore is essentially the exact opposite. When he comes in he lifts from everywhere and throws the ball around with abandon.
- How will the crowd be? UC has been playing well this year, but they haven’t been drawing well. You know this game will be packed, but how engaged the crowd will be is always something of a question if the Bearcats don’t start well.
- Can X take care of the ball? The Bearcats defense is great this year, but that’s predicated more on shutting down shooters than forcing turnovers. They do that relatively well, but the Musketeers could conceivably avoid piles of turnovers if they are sensible.
- Is Xavier ready? Myles returned and Xavier dumped three straight. Then, Myles left and Xavier somnambulated their way through the early stages of a win over Georgetown. Coach Mack knows how much this game means, but his squad has looked at their best in awhile now.
- Get to the line: UC doesn’t allow a lot of free throw attempts and Xavier doesn’t generally convert them well, but the Musketeers are going to need easy points where available tonight. Getting calls and converting from the line is paramount. Getting on the offensive glass and getting the ball back up will go a long way toward that.
- Drive the ball: Xavier is immensely better when Edmond Sumner and Trevon Bluiett get in the lane. Once they get there both can finish well and Ed has excelled at finding big men who get open. That means Rashid Gaston needs to finish and Sean O’Mara needs to catch the ball.
- Shoot 40% from deep: Xavier hasn’t lost a game this year when they have made 40% of their threes. In both of UC’s losses this year, their opponent has made exactly 40% of their threes. The team hasn’t been shooting well this year, but they’ll need to if they want to win this game.