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2018 NCAA Tournament first round: Xavier v. Texas Southern preview

Xavier’s tournament run begins tomorrow with a team with plenty of experience against the top teams in college basketball.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Nashville Practice
This guy can dunk!
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier’s hopefully long run in March/April begins tonight with the Tigers of Texas Southern. While the Musketeers are setting their sights on San Antonio, Texas Southern will have a much simpler goal: win a single game. After surviving the play-in game, and a trip to Dayton in the winter, the Tigers find themselves facing the prospect of making history to move on.

Standing in their way are the top seeded Musketeers. If Coach Mack were worried his charges would not take the chances of an upset seriously enough, he need only point toward Buffalo’s demolition of Arizona as an example of what can happen to the unwary. Many Xavier fans are already worried about Missouri in the second round, but first, there is business to be handled.

Team Fingerprint

Texas Southern is better on offense than they are on defense, but that still only means they’re the 182nd best offensive team in the nation. Where the Tigers are elite is getting to the foul line. Only seven teams see a higher ratio of field goal attempts to free throw attempts than does Texas Southern. Once they get there, though, they shoot a very mediocre 72.1%. The Tigers are pretty safe with the ball and they shoot a respectable 36% from behind the arc.

Defensively, TSU is horrible. You don’t get to be 299th in the nation by doing anything well, and these Tigers prove that. If you had to say they had a strength, it would be that they are a bit above nationally average in keeping their opponents from getting to the line. Beyond that, assuming Trayvon Reed isn’t blocking a shot, they get torn apart from any and everywhere. To wit: the Tigers defensive possessions last 16.3, 15th fastest in the nation. That’s not because they are forcing turnovers though, because they rank 302nd in the nation at that. In short, they get scored on really fast most of the time.

Personnel

Starters

Starting matchups
Demontrae Jefferson Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Sophomore Class Sophomore
5'7", 150 Measurements 6'4", 190
23.4/3.2/4.5 Game line 8.8/3/4.9
0.425/0.395/0.818 Shooting line 0.447/0.295/0.812
Xavier had problems with ASU's Trae, so I can't imagine a dude literally named Demon Trae is going to be any easier to handle. This dude loves to dribble; he has made 200 shots and only been on the receiving end of an assist on 64 of them. Mostly he's going to hunt shots off the bounce and then shoot them. He's also a pretty solid ball distributor. He'll probably be hampered by the fact that the last time Xavier shared the court with someone this size, the dude tried to fight JP Macura.
Cainan McClelland Shooting Guard J.P. Macura
Freshman Class Senior
6'4", 165 Measurements 6'5", 203
2.6/1/0.6 Game line 12.2/4.4/3
0.348/0.34/0.708 Shooting line 0.459/0.347/0.843
I don't know why this guy is starting; he has basically no impact on the game. His usage rate is barely 11%. He has made 24 buckets all year. He doesn't board or lock down. He's just kind of... there.
Derrick Bruce Small Forward Trevon Bluiett
Junior Class Senior
6'3", 175 Measurements 6'6", 202
13.7/3.8/2 Game line 19.5/5.7/2.5
0.395/0.399/0.826 Shooting line 0.442/0.423/0.861
This dude dribbles more than Jefferson does and shoots much, much worse. He dribbles into mid-range jumpers and barely hits a quarter of them. He scores less than half of his layups. Weirdly, he hits almost 40% of his threes, mostly off the catch. There's probably a lesson in there somewhere. He's a good shooter who just takes loads of bad shots. Also, he doesn't pass much.
Donte Clark Power Forward Naji Marshall
Senior Class Freshperson
6'4", 195 Measurements 6'7", 218
18.6/5.3/2.6 Game line 8.1/4.4/1.7
0.403/0.286/0.77 Shooting line 0.531/0.357/0.75
Other than playing tons of road games, Texas Southern should be known for shooting off of the dribble. Donte Clark is another follower of that trend; he has miserable shooting percentages at all three levels. He draws a lot of fouls and is solid from the line, but he is a kind of mediocre rebounder and doesn't do a whole lot else out there. At least he doesn't turn it over much.
Marquis Salmon Center Kerem Kanter
Senior Class Senior
6'8", 215 Measurements 6'10", 240
5.1/6.1/0.3 Game line 10.4/4.5/0.5
0.6/0.333/0.567 Shooting line 0.573/0.333/0.784
Salmon is the single best player in this game named after a fish. He is a good rebounder at both ends, especially on offense. He's a strong scorer at the rim and is all of 1-3 from deep. He's not much of a defender and he gets called for more than 5 fouls per 40 minutes. He is not even close to being the best center on the roster.

Reserves

The best center on the Texas Southern roster is former Auburn Tiger Trayvon Reed. My man is a 7’2”, 240-pound junior good for 9.7/8.8/0.4 on .684/.111/.650 shooting. He’s a monstrous rebounder at both ends and has a block% of over 10%. He’s a dang colossus.

Beyond that, it’s almost literally anyone’s guess who Mike Davis might bring off the bench. Six-foot-five forward Lamont Walker will probably feature. He is a good defensive rebounder and an intermittent threat from deep. Six-four wing Robert Lewis missed the middle of the season through injury, but he’s back now and averaging 18 minutes per game since his return. He dropped 14 on Texas Christian, for what that’s worth.

Three questions:

Will there be a hangover? The last game Xavier played featured a collapse for the ages and a terrible performance from Trevon Bluiett. The Musketeers can’t carry that with them into the NCAA tournament. A nice quick start would go a long way toward allaying fears.

Where is Kaiser Gates? Gates was excellent when Xavier buried St. John’s, a one man offensive handicap as the wheels came off against Providence. If the Musketeers are going deep into this tournament, they need Kaiser to be at his best. Last year, Gates stepped up in the Big Dance. Doing that again would be a boon to Xavier’s chances.

Can Xavier stay fresh? A runaway win would give Xavier a chance to rest some of the big guns. It may not be necessary for everyone to spend a long time cooling their heels, but it would also be good to see Trevon and JP staying far away from the 35 minute mark.

Three keys:

Be aggressive- Texas Southern is there for the taking defensively. Xavier is one of the best offensive teams in the nation. Mike Davis is going to have a plan to slow the Musketeers down, but he’s not going to have the horses to execute it. X needs to come out and hammer the Tigers early.

Bury the game- Along with that comes the killing instinct that Xavier has lacked at times this year. There is no reason for this game to be close at halftime, let alone in the second half. On the other hand, the Musketeers tend to switch off at the most inopportune of times. Letting the Tigers even sniff history would unnecessarily energize them. Xavier needs to get the job done early.

Stay classy- If this isn’t always the goal, I don’t know what is.