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Xavier v. Northern Iowa: preview, matchups, keys to the game

Xavier’s final non-conference game is a road trip to Cedar Falls to meet an accomplished mid-major.

NCAA Basketball: Northern Iowa at Xavier
More of this, please.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier beat Northern Iowa by 30 last year. Weirdly, it was over two games in the span of a single week, but that’s how things go sometimes. This year, Xavier comes into the game scalding hot - winners of 11 of 12, with the only loss coming on a neutral site against #3 Arizona State - but also curiously cold, needing a furious rally to beat East Tennessee State and then holding on down the stretch against Marshall with only Quentin Goodin and a bunch of centers healthy.

UNI comes in at 8-3 and 84th in the KenPom, on a steady rise from their preseason rank of 129. They’re battle-tested already, with wins over SMU and NC State and losses to UNC, Nova, and Iowa State, all away from home.

Team fingerprint

Slow. Only half a dozen teams play offense more slowly than UNI does; the Panthers eat up more than 23 of the shot clock on an average possession. It’s probably just as well that they limit possession, because their offense is a drag to watch. They’re technically above average in three-point shooting and ball security, but they don’t rebound, shoot from inside the arc, or get to the line very well at all. It all adds up to a package that is 197th in the country in adjusted efficiency.

As you might imagine of a team that is that bad on offense and has won more than zero games, they’re pretty good at defending. They don’t force turnovers at all, but they are comfortably in the top 50 in EFG%, DReb%, and keeping opponents off the line. If Xavier’s offense is out of synch tonight, this one could be ugly.

Players

Starters

Starting matchups
Juwan McCloud Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Sophomore Class Sophomore
5'11", 170 Measurements 6'4", 190
10.5/1.9/2.5 Game line 7.5/2.4/6.2
0.368/0.326/0.636 Shooting line 0.423/0.077/0.852
McCloud is mediocre behind the arc, doesn't care for the ball well, and his A/TO is negative. None of that is ideal for a point guard.
Isaiah Brown Shooting Guard J.P. Macura
Sophomore Class Senior
6'7", 180 Measurements 6'5", 203
6.3/2.7/1.6 Game line 11.9/4.4/3.1
0.397/0.361/0.667 Shooting line 0.5/0.353/0.838
Brown plays like a swingman and is a solid three point shooter, though he's a bit lost offensively other than that. Despite being 6-7, he's a poor rebounder.
Tywhon Pickford Small Forward Trevon Bluiett
Freshman Class Senior
6'4", 202 Measurements 6'6", 202
9/9.6/1.3 Game line 20.4/5.3/2.8
0.35/0.245/0.762 Shooting line 0.491/0.442/0.879
Pickford is built like a guard and rebounds like a machine. He's a possession ender on the glass, if not a great shooter. He's also a remarkably clean player, committing barely a foul per 40 minutes.
Klint Carlson Power Forward Kaiser Gates
Senior Class Junior
6'7", 218 Measurements 6'8", 228
10.1/5.8/2 Game line 9.7/5.3/1.3
0.425/0.333/0.692 Shooting line 0.427/0.435/0.8
Another decent three pointer shooter who is less accomplished inside the arc and rebounds at a mediocre rate. UNI runs these guys at you in droves.
Bennett Koch Center Tyrique Jones
Junior Class Sophomore
6'10", 239 Measurements 6'9", 237
14.1/7.7/0.4 Game line 9.8/6.4/0.6
0.582/0/0.803 Shooting line 0.706/0/0.611
Koch has the highest usage rate on the team, the highest free throw percentage, and is a pretty good rebounder. He's a definite concern inside, and he knows to stay there and work.

Reserves

Reserve guard Spencer Haldeman plays as much as the starters on some teams. He’s an elite three point shooter that would probably start if he didn’t turn the ball over a quarter of the times he touched it. And that’s about it. UNI has played 11 games, only those six players have seen the court in all of them. The Panthers get barely a quarter of their minutes per game from the bench, and Haldeman gets 21 of those. Picking up the other 30 minutes of court time falls to Austin Phyfe, a 6-9 center with limited offensive game, and, in only the last three games, Wyatt Lohaus, a shooter who, since his return, is getting just over nine points per game on 5-11 behind the arc.

Three questions

-Who is healthy? Coach Mack said he expects JP and Kaiser to be back and rolling but that Naji is still touch and go. Tre was nursing a knee problem against Marshall, and it showed in his shooting. Each of these dudes - and especially the seniors - has proven they don’t need to be 100% to lace up and get out there, but it would be nice to not be carrying any injuries into Christmas.

-Can X right the offense? In the past two games, Xavier has been in an offensive free fall, plummeting from second in the nation in adjusted efficiency all the way to seventh. UNI is not going to be an easy team against which to arrest that shameful slide, but the offense needs to be hitting on all cylinders when conference play rolls around. A little health would help.

-Who controls the pace? For as slowly as UNI goes on offense, their defensive possessions are among the fastest in the nation. I’m at a loss to explain this. X likes to get out and go and is generally more effective in transition. If they can score quick buckets and force the Panthers to try to keep up in a track meet, it’s going to be a good day for the Muskies.

Three keys

-Check Spencer Haldeman. He’s only 6’1”, 175, but he happens to be hitting 54% of his three-point attempts, which you don’t need to be told is quite good. He isn’t a high-usage player, but he had a quarter of UNI’s points in their win over SMU. He’s the kind of player who can get hot and bury a game, and Xavier is no stranger to seeing a shooter do just that. This is not a guy to let get free.

-Win the freebie war. Extra offensive chances come from either grabbing offensive rebounds or forcing turnovers. Neither of these teams is very turnover prone, and neither forces many turnovers at all. UNI can be shut down on the offensive glass; if Xavier holds them to one attempt per trip while also scraping together a couple of second chances on the other end, those extra shots will make a difference in the game.

-Win out of the half. UNC buried the game by outscoring UNI by 9 in the first 10 minutes of the second half. Nova opened it up by getting stops in 7 straight possessions to start the second half. Of Northern Iowa’s losses, only Iowa State didn’t dominant them from the half, and Iowa State was down with 9 minutes to play. If Xavier comes out of the locker room with a bang, UNI doesn’t have the firepower to storm back as the game winds down.