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Xavier v. East Tennessee State: preview, matchups, keys to the game

The Buccaneers just knocked off Hiwassee College. Saturday looks to be a bit sterner of a test for them.

NCAA Basketball: East Tennessee State at Kentucky
This is their coach.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Finals week is (usually) the culmination of everything that has happened in a given semester. The game Xavier plays after finals week almost always isn’t. Graduating every senior that comes through the program since time immemorial means taking the student part of student-athlete at least kind of seriously, which in turn means basketball occasionally has to take a back seat.

Enter East Tennessee State. The Buccaneers are 6-3 on the year and riding a four-game winning streak, but they’ve only got one win in three tries against the KenPom top 150. That came on the home leg of an in-season series against NKU that saw them open the year at the Norse. I don’t know why they’re playing a non-conference opponent twice in two months, but there it is.

Team fingerprint

ETSU’s offense is derailed by the fact that they turn the ball over like someone covered it in Astroglide and also somehow lit it on fire. When they managed to hold onto the ball long enough to shoot it, they’re a miserable three-point shooting team (30.2%). They’re much better from inside the arc, ranking 49th in the nation at 55.5%. They’re okay but nothing special in terms of getting to the line and grabbing their own misses.

On defense, they go all-in to force turnovers, which they do on 23% of opponents’ possessions. If they don’t force a turnover, they basically concede the three-point arc and are fairly porous inside. They’re only mediocre on the defensive glass. If the Buccaneers don’t force a turnover, they’re pretty likely to give up points.

Players

Starters

Starting matchups
Jalan McCloud Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Senior Class Sophomore
5'11", 175 Measurements 6'4", 190
10.9/3.4/3.4 Game line 7.1/1.9/6.5
0.487/0.158/0.704 Shooting line 0.433/0.111/0.9
Like Quentin Goodin, McCloud is a great facilitator who struggles with his own shot. Unlike Goodin, McCloud shoots more than almost everyone else on his team.
Devontavius Payne Shooting Guard J.P. Macura
Senior Class Senior
6'2", 175 Measurements 6'5", 203
10.4/2.3/1.2 Game line 13/4.5/3.2
0.419/0.327/0.667 Shooting line 0.55/0.414/0.857
ETSU's backcourt is experienced, with Payne being another senior along McCloud. Payne is out there to steal the ball and shoot it a lot. He'll slash before he lifts from deep, but he's not afraid to do either.
Bo Hodges Small Forward Trevon Bluiett
Freshman Class Senior
6'4", 190 Measurements 6'6", 202
9.4/3/0.6 Game line 21.7/5.4/2.8
0.66/0/0.679 Shooting line 0.54/0.471/0.879
Hodges scores only at the rim where, surprisingly for his height, he also manages a 4.2% block rate. He's also effective on the offensive glass and is the most offensively efficient starter.
Desonta Bradford Power Forward Kaiser Gates
Senior Class Junior
6'4", 190 Measurements 6'8", 228
12.6/6.1/3.4 Game line 10/5.1/1.2
0.396/0.258/0.688 Shooting line 0.441/0.456/0.778
ETSU is starting a 6-4 four man against Xavier. Bradfrd is their leading scorer, a solid defensive rebounder, and aggressive to the rim, but his size is going to be a huge problem for the Buccaneers.
Mladen Armus Center Tyrique Jones
Freshman Class Sophomore
6'10", 230 Measurements 6'9", 237
4.7/4.9/0.3 Game line 9.9/6.1/0.6
0.517/0/0.667 Shooting line 0.714/0/0.613
Armus is 12th in the nation in offensive rebounding and blocks the occasional shot, but he's not an offensive threat at all. He also turns the ball over nearly a third of the time he touches it.

Reserves

Off the bench ETSU comes with 7-0 senior Peter Jurkin. Jurkin is an excellent defensive rebounder and more than adequate shot blocker. Unlike the other Buccaneer bigs, he’s also a threat to score in the paint. 6-6 senior forward David Burrell will also log significant minutes off the bench. Burrell is a very good rebounder, but is relatively hopeless on offense, posting an 87.2 efficiency rating thus far. 6-3 senior guard Jermaine Long is the other bench player likely to feature for ETSU. He’s a good defender with a steal rate in the top 250 in the nation. Of his 26 shots, 20 have come from behind the arc. He’s made four of them.

Three questions

-Will Xavier be rusty? The Muskies are going to be coming off of a week that is mostly focused on the books (ostensibly). X has looked like a machine since Thanksgiving; hopefully finals week hasn’t changed that.

-Will Xavier force turnovers? The Buccaneers are miserable at ball security, but X has basically not tried to force turnovers this season. If Coach Mack has something up his sleeve, this might be the ideal time to roll it out and get some early confidence in it. On the other hand, getting everyone up to speed and rolling with the basic defensive sets might be a higher priority at this point.

-Is this the perfect matchup for Xavier? Everything that ETSU struggles with, Xavier is set up to take advantage of. Everything that Xavier struggles with, ETSU struggles to exploit. It all sets up perfectly for a Xavier team looking to grab a win to get back into the swing of things.

Three keys

-Protect the ball. All ETSU can do on defense is force turnovers. Q has been really good at ball distribution, but he has had a couple of pretty notable hiccups in terms of ball security. If he can get the ball into the right hands without turning it over, Xavier will feast offensively.

-Lift! Xavier is an exceptional outside shooting team, but they actually rank outside the top 250 in the nation in three-point attempt frequency. This is the game to throw the usual caution to the wind and chuck ‘em from the cheap seats. East Tennessee State doesn’t really contest threes, so the opportunities will be there.

-Defend with positional discipline. A zone is probably going to feature at some point here, unless X just doesn’t need it. ETSU just isn’t a threat to score much from beyond the arc. As long as the Muskies pack it in and control the paint, the rest of the defending should take care of itself.