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Xavier v. Oakland: Preview, matchups, keys to the game.

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Xavier looks to keep things rolling at home when they take on the Oakland Grizzlies.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Oakland Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier has finally won a game convincingly. Last time out, the Musketeers smashed the Miami Redhawks 82-55. More importantly, the team put together their best effort of the season and looked for all the world like a very good Big East time rolling an overmatched MAC squad. If you were looking for encouraging signs, they were all there. The Muskies played good defense, continued their borderline elite defense, and only turned the ball over three times.

Oakland, meanwhile, has the resume of a buy game. It’s hard to disparage any DI basketball players, but this team is simply not very good. Last time out, they got pounded by 20 by a Northern Illinois team that had previously racked up two non DI wins. Amongst Oakland’s three wins also comes a non DI over Defiance and two unnecessarily close games against James Madison and Oral Roberts.

Team Fingerprint

On defense the Grizzlies are going to look to... I’m not sure. There are bad teams and then there is the 339th ranked defense in the nation. Teams have torched Oakland from inside the arc, outside the arc, and on the offensive glass. The Grizzlies only allow three point attempts on 28.5% of opponents possessions, good for sixth in the nation, but that’s most likely because teams can shoot 58.5% inside the arc. If Xavier is finally content to throw the ball inside and let the bigs work, Zach Hankins and Tyrique Jones could both go for 20.

On offense the Grizzlies aren’t nearly as bad, though only because it’s hard to fathom how they could be. The 133rd most efficient offense in the nation wants to play ponderously slowly, take care of the ball (better than all but eight teams in the nation), and bury threes. Oakland shoots 37.2% from behind the arc and takes 41% of their shots from there. The Grizz are ineffective on the offensive glass and inside the arc, but they are more than willing to take their time to get a good shot.

Players

Starting matchups
Braden Norris Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Freshman Class Junior
5'11", 180 Measurements 6'4", 194
8.9/1.9/4.3 Game line 13.8/2.2/4.5
0.75/0.833/0.786 Shooting line 0.354/0.265/0.72
So this dude is tiny, but dang can he shoot. He's a cool 12-14 from deep against D1 teams and 15-18 in all competitions. With a shots percentage of 9.2%, he looks for his own shot even less than Kyle Castlin does. He's also great at ball distribution and solid in ball security. It all adds up to the third-most efficient player in the nation, though you wonder if Q will be able to make his size advantage play here.
Jaevin Cumberland Shooting Guard Paul Scruggs
Junior Class Sophomore
6'3", 185 Measurements 6'3", 200
15.6/2.1/4.1 Game line 12/4.7/3.3
0.434/0.386/0.929 Shooting line 0.516/0.375/0.688
Cumberland plays Tu Holloway minutes and, like Tu, is cash from the line. His mid-range game is pretty bad, but he's a threat from deep and at the rim. He's also exceptional at both drawing and avoiding being called for fouls. He has 7 turnovers in 7 games despite playing more than 36 MPG.
Jordan Nobles Small Forward Kyle Castlin
Senior Class Senior
6'9", 195 Measurements 6'4", 193
7.7/3.1/3.7 Game line 5.4/3.7/0.6
0.455/0.348/0.857 Shooting line 0.542/0.4/0.615
Dude doesn't rebound at all and generally doesn't go hunting for shots, but he is a fairly efficient offensive player thanks to excellent ball security and good shooting and assist numbers. He's also a solid defender thanks to his long frame.
Xavier Hill-Mais Power Forward Naji Marshall
Junior Class Sophomore
6'7", 248 Measurements 6'7", 222
24.6/5.9/1.6 Game line 13/7.3/3.7
0.578/0.393/0.771 Shooting line 0.451/0.258/0.704
Hill-Mais is 18th in the nation in usage rate and 6th in shots percentage; everything Oakland does on offense flows through him. He doesn't mess around off the catch: 54 of his 67 made buckets have been assisted. He's getting the ball and looking to score it right away. He's a good rebounder, rarely turns the ball over, and draws a ton of fouls.
Brad Brechting Center Tyrique Jones
Junior Class Junior
6'11", 217 Measurements 6'9", 235
5.7/4.6/1.1 Game line 10.9/9/0.9
0.393/0.5/0.786 Shooting line 0.615/0/0.571
Brecthing derives some value from being a good rebounder on both ends, and his steal and block numbers are both good, lending the impression that he is at least a serviceable defender. What he isn't is very good on offense. His EFG% of 41.1% calls to mind the worst struggles of Banners favorite LAJ, and he isn't a very effective passer. He has taken more threes than shots at the rim, which isn't the traditional recipe for success for a dude who is pushing seven feet tall.

Not a lot going on as far as reserves go. James Beck is the pick of the litter, posting on ORtg of just under 100 on his way to 7.7 PPG. He's a 6'7" forward who does good work on the glass - especially at the offensive end - and has a knack for getting to the free throw line. His shooting line of .364/.000/.667 doesn't have Steph Curry hunting down his contact information.

Behind door number 2 is Kamari Newman, a 6'4" guard who basically only ever shoots the ball. In 6 games, he has 2 boards and 4 assists to go with his 28 attempted threes and just 5 attempted twos. He's shooting 30.3% overall.

Nobody else on Oakland gets more than 11 minutes per game or averages more than 2 points. Thanks to the success Braden Norris is having as a freshman - and some discipline for missing study hall - incumbent starting PG Brailen Neely just kind of wandered off the team three games into the season.

Three Questions:

- Is Xavier willing to grind? If the Musketeers force feed the ball inside, they’ll win going away. Xavier is 15th in the nation in shooting inside the arc, Oakland is 332nd defending in there. Further, Oakland allows an offensive rebound on 39.2% of opponent’s shots. The Musketeers sometimes struggle to play to their strength, but it’s there for the taking today.

- What of Ryan Welage? Welage played 81 minutes in the first three games and has played 55 in the four games (one of which went to OT) since. This is in large part because he struggles to play defense. Welage’s shooting shouldn’t be needed against Oakland, but he’ll have an opportunity to show that he can get himself on the court via other means.

- Can Xavier’s defense clamp down again? Oakland’s offense is like a slightly differently tuned version of Miami’s. Miami shoots more threes, but Oakland takes much better care of the ball. Xavier locked the Redhawks down in a demonstration that they can play some defense. Another defensive performance would go a long, long way toward making fans feel better.

Three Keys:

- Feed Tyrique and Hanky: Just throw the ball into the post and rotate. If it comes back out, let the big repost and throw it in there again. This shouldn’t be difficult.

- Don’t dribble into early shot clock threes: In some games and in rhythm these aren’t bad shots, but against one of the worst interior defenses in the nation and with two of the nation’s most efficient interior scorers, there’s no need. Anyone jacking a three on anything other than the most open of looks should enjoy a front row seat immediately thereafter.

- Rotate: Naji Marshall is playing 82% of available minutes thus far this season. He’s unquestionably a fit young man, but every minute wears come March. Dontarious James and Keonte Kennedy could use some more court time to find their way. Ideally, this would be another game where Coach Steele can get his big guns some time on ice.