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Xavier v. Baylor: preview, matchups, keys to the game

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Xavier looks to rebound from a tough loss by taking on one of the better teams in the nation.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Baylor
Not a matchup that has gone well for X in the past.
Sean Pokorny-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time when Xavier routinely spit the bit in Thanksgiving tournaments, but winning a couple of them in a row had raised the bar to the point at which last week's 1-1 showing was a bit jarring. Now Xavier is back home for a couple of really solid matchups this week, the first of which is against Baylor.

The Bears are undefeated on the year, crushing a trio of patsies at home before picking up good neutral site victories over Wisconsin and Creighton. At 5-0, the Bears are 18th in the KenPom.

Team fingerprint

Baylor loves to slow the tempo on both ends of the floor. Defensively, they get it done with a mix of zone and man that largely depends on their length. Aside from the 5'11" Manu Lecomte at point, they're huge everywhere, often going 6'9", 6'8", 7'0" across the front and occasionally mixing in a 6'5" shooting guard. They don't force turnovers, but they do everything else on defense, shutting down the glass, allowing no clean looks, and rarely putting opponents on the line. These guys can defend.

They can also score it a bit, which I guess is to be expected from a team that hasn't lost yet. They don't have one outstanding specialty on offense; they're just pretty good at everything. Pertinently, they shoot the three well, but they don't shoot it particularly often.

Players

Starters

Starting matchups
Manu Lecomte Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Senior Class Sophomore
5'11", 175 Measurements 6'4", 190
19/2.4/3.4 Game line 6.7/1.5/5.7
0.415/0.432/0.946 Shooting line 0.484/0/0.909
Manu Lecomte has been in college since his debut on Nov 8th of 2013. In that time he's developed quite a game, shooting well from behind the arc and the line, and distributing the ball well. One of his time statistical comps? 2004 Lionel Chalmers.
King McClure Shooting Guard J.P. Macura
Junior Class Senior
6'3", 215 Measurements 6'5", 203
10.2/2.6/0.8 Game line 13.8/5/3.5
0.436/0.467/0.667 Shooting line 0.614/0.333/0.828
McClure has shot the ball well in limited attempts, and he has the length to be disruptive on defense. He's the kind of glue guy that you'll find on every successful team.
Nuni Omot Small Forward Trevon Bluiett
Senior Class Senior
6'9", 205 Measurements 6'6", 202
7.4/4.4/2.8 Game line 21.3/6.2/3.3
0.4/0.357/0.857 Shooting line 0.562/0.513/0.867
Good from the line, impossibly long on defense, good on the defensive glass, and willing to step behind the arc. This guy is the prototypical Baylor forward.
Tristan Clark Power Forward Kaiser Gates
Freshman Class Junior
6'9", 240 Measurements 6'6", 215
8/4.4/1.6 Game line 10/4.5/1.2
0.594/0/0.4 Shooting line 0.409/0.421/0.667
Guess what? He's long and a good shot blocker, he rebounds well, and he's effective shooting the ball. Baylor is loaded with guys like this.
Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. Center Tyrique Jones
Senior Class Sophomore
7'0", 225 Measurements 6'9", 237
14/11.2/0.4 Game line 11/6.8/0.8
0.483/0.4/0.625 Shooting line 0.703/0/0.583
Acuil's block rate is less than half what it was last year, though still impressive at 4.5%, but now he's in the top 50 in both rebounding rates and has increased his usage by 10%. He's a well rounded double double machine.

Reserves

Terry Matson is Baylor‘s first big contributor off the bench. He’s a big man, 6-8, who plays like a big man. He’ll step behind the arc, but only rarely. He’s a monster on the glass as well. Mark Vital is the next cog off the bench. He’s a 6-5 swingman who does a little bit of everything, none of it exceptionally well. He’s going to play a lot of minutes, but won’t stand out a great deal unless Xavier falls asleep on him. Then there’s Jake Lindsay he also stands 6-5 and also does a little bit of everything, but he does it all pretty well. If not for foul trouble he will get more playing time, and likely be one of the Bears major contributors.

Three questions

-How does Xavier score? X has been the best team in the nation in 2P% this year and in the top 30 in percentage of points scored from the line. Baylor defends really well both inside and beyond the arc and never sends people to the line. How Xavier chooses to attack will be a pivotal strategic decision. It's hard to take what the defense gives you when they usually give nothing.

-Can Xavier revive their defense? Yesterday we looked at whether Baylor would be able to replicate the success that Arizona State had against Xavier‘s pack line defense. It’s not likely that the Bears will shoot the ball as well as the Sun Devils did, but they have a couple of options that could cause problems for the Musketeers. Xavier will need to find a way to contain the arc against the Bears and prove that they can’t consistently be beaten by being gunned to death from deep.

-How deep is Xavier? You have to scroll down pretty far on Xavier’s KenPom page before you find someone who has a usage rate over 18% and plays a significant amount of minutes. That, obviously, excludes the starters, but Xavier isn’t getting a whole lot from their bench. Karen Kanter uses the ball a lot when he’s in but barely plays a quarter of the minutes. Paul Scruggs plays more minutes, but doesn’t use the ball nearly as frequently. For Xavier to have success in the long run some combination of Kanter, Scruggs, and Naji Marshall He’s going to have to start contributing both in minutes and in usage.

Three keys

-Stay in the offense. When ball movement dies, so does Xavier's production. A stagnant offense plays right into Baylor's hand and will kill the energy in Cintas. Hero ball won't get Xavier far tonight.

-Push the pace. Baylor isn't that deep and they love to play slowly, largely because they are incredibly effective defensively in the half court. The way around that is to get stops and get out and go. Easier said than done, but keep an eye on transition points as a barometer of how the game is going for Xavier.

-Stay even on the glass. Baylor has dominated the glass this year, while X has been uncharacteristically mediocre. If that continues tonight, the Bears will feast on extra chances to score.