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Xavier v. Missouri: Preview, Matchups, Keys to the Game

The architects of one of Xavier’s worst losses of last season come to the Cintas in a vital early test.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Missouri
Missouri humiliated Xavier last season.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

There were plenty of moments last season when the Xavier Musketeers struggled with various aspects of the game. Likewise, there was more than one ringing defeat. Perhaps at no point did those two ideas converge quite like they did on December 18th in the Mizzou Arena. Everything that was wrong with the Musketeers of the early season was on full display as Xavier shot 31% behind the arc, 57% at the line, and turned the ball over on 25% of their possessions while lost by a 71-56 scoreline that failed to truly tell how comprehensive was their defeat.

This season, things are a little different. For starters, this game comes far earlier in the season. Both teams enter 2-0 and have not really been tested. Secondly, the Missouri Tigers are much better this year than they were last. Last season the Tigers were ranked 96th when they spanked Xavier and finished the season 68th. This year they sit at 33rd and sport the 20th best defense in the nation.

Team Fingerprint:

That defense is stifling. Granted, Missouri has shut down Incarnate Word (yes, that’s a DI program) and NKU so far, but they have done it in bloodthirsty fashion. The Tigers are allowing only 36.5% shooting inside the arc and 24.4% outside. They’re also blocking 15% of opponent’s attempts and turning them over on another 22%. That’s 37% of the time that a possession ends without the ball even touching the rim. When it does hit the rim, Missouri collects it 80.2% of the time.

On offense the story is a bit different. Mizzou shoots the three nearly as badly (26%) as Xaiver does but does it a lot more frequently. The Tigers are likewise excellent inside and also shoot free throws well, but they turn the ball over on 18% of their possessions and are poor on the offensive glass.

Personnel

Starters

Starting matchups
Dru Smith Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Junior Class Senior
6'3", 203 Measurements 6'4", 194
8.5/2.5/4 Game line 6/1.5/2
33.3/25/80 Shooting line 29.4/33.3/0
A transfer from Evansville, Smith added 13 pounds (presumably of muscle) during his sit-out year. He's always been a good distributor with a little bit of ball security trouble, and he has the size to play the point at the high-major level. He's a good three-point shooter when he picks his spots rather than hunting shots. He has the ability to punish opponents who are lazy with the ball with impressively sticky hands on defense.
Mark Smith Shooting Guard Bryce Moore
Junior Class Senior
6'5", 220 Measurements 6'3", 194
9.5/5/0.5 Game line 6.5/1.5/1
42.9/36.4/75 Shooting line 37.5/40/83.3
Smith is a formidable catch-and-shoot threat; he was 49-109 from deep last year. He won't put the ball on the deck much, but he'll crush defenses when they help off of Missou's big men. You won't find him anywhere near the paint on offensive, but he's a reliable defensive rebounder.
Javon Pickett Small Forward Dahmir Bishop
Sophomore Class Senior
6'5", 220 Measurements 6'5", 178
6/6/1.5 Game line 4/7/2
41.7/25/50 Shooting line 30/20/20
With Coach Steele calling Paul Scruggs "probable" for tonight's game, I'm going to go out on a limb and say he won't start. If he doesn't, I think Bishop gets the nod over Schrand. Anyway, Pickett isn't a dynamic offense player, but he flies to the glass on that end. He was a volume guy without a lot of efficiency last year; his usage is way down this year in the early going, but his ORtg has jumped by almost 30 points.
Kobe Brown Power Forward Naji Marshall
Freshman Class Junior
6'7", 240 Measurements 6'7", 222
9.5/4/1 Game line 18.5/7/5.5
50/28.6/75 Shooting line 42.9/9.1/80
Incarnate Word flat out didn't want it against Brown in his debut. NKU slowed him down a bit more, but he has gotten to the offensive glass well as a freshman, probably owing to his THICC frame helping with positioning. He's 2-7 from behind the arc and hasn't matched up against someone with the skill set Naji has so far this year. This will be a big test for the freshman.
Jeremiah Tilmon Center Tyrique Jones
Junior Class Senior
6'10", 260 Measurements 6'9", 239
14.5/6/0.5 Game line 18.5/8.5/0
80/0/62.5 Shooting line 75/0/63.6
Speaking of big men, this is a legit battle between a couple of large fellas. Tilmon ate against Xavier last year, especially when the Muskies were forced into a zone. He draws and commits about 5 fouls per 40 minutes, whereas Ty commits about 3 and draws about 7. Whichever of these guys can get the other into early foul trouble will give his team a monstrous boost.

Reserves

Xavier Pinson may well be Missouri’s best player and he’s almost certainly the team’s best guard, and he comes off the bench for just over 20 minutes a game. He averages 11.5/3.0/5.5 per game and boasts a comical 52.0% assist rate and 15.1% TO rate. He’s not shooting it great this year so far, but he shot 40% from deep as a freshman. He gets to the line a ton and is a career 78% free throw shooter.

The rest of the bench is less stellar. Mitchell Smith is a 6’10” junior forward who is an excellent rebounder at both ends. Freshman forward Tray Jackson is 6’8” and a good defensive rebounder, but he has shot more threes than twos despite being a 0% career three-point shooter. Torrence Watson is a 6’5” sophomore who will back up the wings who is 2-10 from deep this year but shot 36% from beyond the arc as a freshman.

Three Questions:

- Can Xavier get on the offensive glass? The Musketeers would seem to have the horses to do the job in Tyrique Jones, Zach Freemantle, and Jason Carter, but no one other than those three is even mediocre on the offensive glass. Missouri thrives on one shot possessions and forcing misses. Xavier is going to oblige with the misses, they need to collect some of them and convert second chance opportunities.

- When will the shooting slump end? Some of Missouri’s ferocious three point defense is down to the fact the Incarnate Word Cardinals (1-17 in the Southland last year) aren’t loaded with talent. Some of it is also down to Mizzou just being a very good defense. Naji isn’t shooting 9.1% from deep for the year. A breakout from he and Paul Scruggs would do wonders to open this game up.

- How deep is Xavier? To this point the Musketeers have looked as if they have a long rotation. While Jacksonville may not be Incarnate Word, though, it’s possible the Musketeers haven’t been exactly taxed yet. Kyky Tandy doesn’t figure to be ready for this game and it’s yet too early to know if Paul Scruggs will be. That leaves Xavier needing more vital minutes from the likes of Dah Bishop, Dontarius James, and even Leighton Schrand.

Three Keys:

- Unleash Bryce Moore: Xavier Pinson is making the Tigers go right now. His assist rate is 52%, he’s shooting 71% inside the arc, and he’s using the ball almost 5% more than anyone else on his team. If Bryce Moore is the elite defensive weapon he appears to be, Pinson would be a great target for his attention.

- Take fewer than 20 threes: There’s simply no reason for this team to shoot more than that. Naji Marshall and Quentin Goodin are a combined 3-17 so far this season and are first and third on the team in attempts. They both could stand to back it down and leave the three point shooting in the hands of the occasional shooter in rhythm on a wing. Or maybe just feed the guys on the post.

- Get Quentin Goodin going: Q has quietly been pretty poor thus far this season. Xavier isn’t going anywhere without him, though, so it behooves Coach Steele to find a way to get him on track. Right now his assist rate is 12.2% and if you tally every time he has attempted to put the ball in the hoop, he’s shooting 26.3%. Xavier needs to get their point guard right.