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Xavier v. San Diego St: preview, keys to the game, et cetera

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It’s a quick turnaround for Xavier and the people covering them, but the Muskies are looking to put it together over 40 minutes in the consolation bracket in Maui.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Auburn
Travis Steele begs his team to play even a little bit of defense, even on accident.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier is in the consolation bracket in Maui, which - considering how close they came to beating Auburn - is probably small consolation to most Muskie fans. X’s worst 5 minutes of the game were basically all in overtime, as they got outscored 11-2 and turned the ball over 4 times to moonwalk out of a game that was tied (obviously) when OT began. If you want something like an autopsy, you can click through here.

The opponent awaiting them will be the San Diego State Aztecs. SDSU got run out of the dang gymnasium by Duke in their first game of the tournament, which I suspect is a fate a lot of decent teams will suffer this year. Before that, they took care of business against Arkansas Pine Bluff and Texas Southern, two teams as bad as Duke is good. None of the results of the first three games of the year have told us too much about this team.

Team fingerprint

SDSU wants to play fast. Their average offensive possession is in the 15-second range, within the top 50 fastest in the nation. They get to the line a ton and shoot well but not prolifically from three. They’re not great inside the arc, though, and their rebounding is fairly average. Ball security is good, which is something Xavier is apparently not super willing to affirm at this point in the season.

Their defense is just outside the top 50 in the country, thanks largely to their ability to force tough shots. Teams struggle to get convertible looks on either side of the arc, and SDSU forces turnovers at a solid rate to boot. Where they can’t hold their own is on the defensive glass, surrendering exactly a third of opponents’ misses as offensive rebounds. They also put teams on the line a ton, where Xavier was 21-24 against Auburn.

Personnel

It’s hard to find updated season averages the day each team played, so we’re just going to freestyle this.

Devin Watson is the point guard, and he has been playing really well. He’s shooting the heck out of the ball from inside and beyond the arc and leading the team in assist rate. Not a high usage rate guy though.

The guys who are high usage rate are wing Matt Mitchell and big man Jalen McDaniels. Mitchell is 3-14 from deep on the year but 10-18 from inside it and gets to the line a ton. McDaniels is a paltry 11-28 from inside the arc but he also lives at the free throw line. These guys are a combined 25-34 from the stripe, which is a pretty good return from two games. Also, McDaniels is a great rebounder and very solid defender.

Jeremy Hemsley and Jordan Schakel work the wings. Hemsley is a machine from inside the arc but 3-11 from deep on the year, while Schakel is 5-11 from beyond the arc and 0-4 from inside it. Between the two of them, they’re a functional offensive player.

The bench isn’t deep, with just 28% of the team’s minutes coming off of it. Nolan Narain is an interesting big who can really board it but has a turnover problem, and the Mensah brothers are both 6’10” freshmen who rebound well and don’t do a ton else.

Three questions

-Will someone emerge to carry the load? Maybe having Quentin Goodin lead the team in shots percentage isn’t the best idea; early returns certainly haven’t been positive. Xavier has plenty of guys who can score, but none of them has definitely proven to be the go-to guy. Whether or not the team needs one to succeed is another question, but to this point there hasn’t been one dude demanding the ball and doing something with it on a regular basis.

-What happened to all that talk about this team being good at defense? It currently isn’t. They can block shots and clean the defensive glass; beyond that, they aren’t doing anything well on the defensive end. This team doesn’t have the offensive firepower to be this bad on defense.

-Who sets the pace? Xavier plays a ponderous game and San Diego State likes to run. The Muskies were kind of successful in keeping Auburn out of transition except for when they were just handing over possession. It would behoove X to keep this one in the half court.

Three keys

-Value the ball. For goodness sake, 22 turnovers are going to kill your offense every time. X had a turnover rate of nearly 30% against Auburn, with Naji and Q each coughing the ball up 7 times and Scruggernuts throwing away 4 more. Xavier’s offense was fine when they kept the ball; they just didn’t enough.

-Stay on the glass. SDSU is a weak rebounding team; this is definitely where they can be had. Hankins and Jones have been beastly at both ends, Marshall has cleaned the defensive glass, and Ryan Welage has been fairly effective on the offensive end. There’s plenty of hay to be made in this department today.

-Focus. The game is (at least) 40 minutes long. Xavier is still yet to put together a complete game on the year, but they’re getting closer every time. A young team with a young coach putting it together on the fly is really approaching a breakthrough; a consistent effort from horn to horn is going to be the next step.