Xavier is heading to Nashville as the one seed out of the West region in this year’s NCAA tournament. The Muskies will take on the winner of the play-in game at 7:20pm ET on Friday on TBS. Should Xavier do what every other one seed in the tournament’s current format has done and win their first game, they’ll move on to face the winner of the Missouri v. Florida State matchup with a Sweet 16 bid on the line.
Despite being part of a much larger event, the four teams that end up playing in Nashville will be effectively taking part in a single-elimination tournament over the span of the weekend. Xavier will face at least one and as many as two of the four teams listed below. We’ll give you a quick rundown on what each offers.
#16 Texas Southern Tigers (15-19)
Don’t let the record deceive you; Texas Southern isn’t a complete insult to the concept of basketball. Coach Mike Davis schedules them tough, opening the season with 13 consecutive road games to pay the program’s bills and get the team ready for conference play. They went 0-13 in those games before going 12-6 in the SWAC and then winning the conference tournament.
The Tigers love to play fast, ranking 35th in the nation in tempo and 14th in defensive possession length. Their defense is porous; it’s almost like they let the opponent score just so they can get back to offense. Their offensive strategy is reliant on getting to the free throw line, where they get almost a quarter of their points. They’re an average shooting team and no great shakes on the glass.
They’re led by 5’7” sophomore guard Demontrae Jefferson. He’s good for 23.4/3.0/4.5 per game and shoots 39% from deep. Donte Clark is a 6’4” senior forward who goes for 19 and 5 per game as a volume scorer. Their best three-point shooter is Derrick Bruce, who hits 40% of his tries from beyond the arc.
#16 North Carolina Central Eagles (19-15)
By KenPom ranking, NC Central is the worst team in the tournament. They would have been the worst team in last year’s tournament. In fact, since KenPom.com launched in 2002, no team with a ranking worse than NCC’s has made the tournament. This, then, is something of an underdog tale. They won the MEAC tournament, bouncing comparative juggernaut KenPom #246 Hampton in the final, and are riding a five-game winning streak.
NCC plays really slowly, likely to compensate for the fact that more possessions just reveal more of their flaws. They turn the ball over a ton and can’t really shoot that well, though they are persistent on the offensive glass. On defense, they foul a lot, don’t force turnovers, and don’t defend the glass. It goes without saying that they’d be the worst team to ever win a tournament game.
Their big gun is 6’9” junior forward Rasean Davis. He’s 17th in the nation in EFG% thanks to shooting 200-303 from inside the arc on his way to averaging 15 and 8 on the year. He’s a good rebounder on both ends and blocks a good number of shots. Their next best player is their sixth man, 6’6” stretch four Pablo Rivas. He’s the proud owner of a 116.5 ORtg and can score from all three levels... against MEAC competition.
If Xavier slides by the winner of the play-in game, they’ll be face with whichever of the two teams below prevailed.
Missou wasn’t what they wanted to be this year. Star recruit and consensus lottery pick Michael Porter injured his back two minutes into the season and didn’t come back until their final game. Despite that, they played WVa tough in the non-con and picked up KenPom tier A wins at South Carolina and Alabama and home to Tennessee and Kentucky in SEC play. Their 20-12 record was good enough for an at-large bid and may belie their true talent level.
They are just inside the top 50 on defense and just outside it on offense on the year. Forcing turnovers is a weak spot, but they do an excellent job in making shots tough to come by, leading to a opponents’ EFG% of 46.4%, 14th in the nation. On offense, they’re loose with the ball, but they can make it rain from three - 39.2% as a team, with 45% of their attempts coming from beyond the arc - and they get to the glass well.
Michael Porter is a 6’10” freshman forward. When he’s healthy, he scores from all over and has plus athleticism, but there’s no doubt he’s still shaking off the rust. Kassius Robertson is a 6’3” senior guard who averages 16.2/3.0/2.4 and shoots 43.6% from deep. He’s joined in averaging double figures by 6’11” freshman big Jontay Porter and 6’7” senior wing Jordan Barnett. Those two combined to average almost 13 boards per game, both shoot over 38% from three, and have combined to hit 122 of 299 three-point attempts.
#9 Florida State
The Noles got here as an at-large bid. They played the 331st-toughest non-con schedule in the nation, picking up a good win against Florida and not much else. They beat UNC and Clemson at home and Va Tech and Louisville on the road, going 4-7 in KenPom tier A games in ACC play.
FSU is the Diet Xavier of the ACC. They play fast and execute well on offense, but they play defense like they’re banking on their ability to outscore the opponent. Their offense works best inside the arc; they’re a mediocre three-point shooting team. They don’t turn the ball over a ton, and they run to the glass. On defense, they’re porous from behind the arc and don’t defend the glass well, but they’re tough to score on inside the arc.
Forwards Terance Mann and Phil Cofer are the cornerstones of the team. Mann averages 13 and 6 and Cofer 13 and 5. Mann does it more inside while Cofer can step out and stick threes at a 39.5% clip. Senior guard Braian Angola also averages 13 points per game. He’s a 6’6” slasher who excels at getting to line and hits 84% of his FT.
Nashville should present a good test for Xavier. According to barttorvik.com, Xavier is the favorite in the pod and holds a 63.3% chance of advancing. Missouri and Florida State have almost matching chances of taking two games, with 18.8% and 17.7% chances, respectively.
From the Xavier perspective, the 1-16 game should be perfunctory. I think Missouri represents a much worse matchup for X, as they are a really good three-point shooting team and not shy about launching, and they have a wild card in Michael Porter. Pretty much every game from this point forward is going to be a tough one; Xavier’s only mission this weekend is to pick up the first two of the six wins they’re looking for.