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Xavier v. Florida: Charleston Classic final preview, matchups, keys to the game

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Both teams have scrapped a bit to get here. Only one of them will leave with the silverware.

NCAA Basketball: Florida at Connecticut
The Gators have already fallen this year to a familiar opponent.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

I trust you all watched how Xavier got here. For those of you who didn't, X and UConn elevated the game of basketball for 50 minutes on Friday night despite some dodgy officiating threatening to drag the game back down. Xavier ultimately endured the longest, taking a one-point win in double OT.

Florida was trouncing St. Joseph's in their opener until Kerry Blackshear, Jr. got run for throwing elbows and the game almost turned on them. They held on and then proceeded to trounce a pretty good Miami (FL) team to earn a trip to the final. Blackshear was good for a cool 20 and 11 in that win.

Oh, both of these teams have played UConn. Xavier beat them in double overtime as you read above; Florida lost to them by 3 a week ago.

Team fingerprint

Almost exactly Xavier's, to be honest.

It starts on offense, where their efforts are hamstrung by a 30% success rate from deep. They are just outside of the top 100 in TO rate and offensive rebounding percentage, and they're having trouble getting to the line this year. They don't shoot too many threes, and they play slowly on offense. Their overall offense is 52nd in the nation; Xavier is 54th.

Florida's defense is 16th in the country to Xavier's 15th. The Gators more or less concede the arc and don't really chase turnovers, either. They do a good job of blocking shots and making life difficult inside the arc for offenses. They also are basically average in defending the glass, which is kind of remarkable for how well they do inside the arc in general. Despite Florida allowing teams to shoot an above average percentage of their shots from deep, they've done really well in 3P% defense so far.

Players

Andrew Nembhard Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Sophomore Class Senior
6'5", 193 Measurements 6'4", 194
9.5/3.5/5.7 Game line 4.8/1.7/3
30.6/30.8/84.6 Shooting line 27.8/25/44.4
Nembhard isn't a great shooter except from the line, but he plays a ton of minutes and distributes the ball well. His size makes him a handful on the defensive end. This will be one of the few guards Q faces that is bigger than him.
Noah Locke Shooting Guard Paul Scruggs
Sophomore Class Junior
6'3", 207 Measurements 6'4", 196
7.3/2.5/0.5 Game line 13.6/4.2/2.8
30.6/30.3/80 Shooting line 52.9/32/75
Locke is also a poor shooter and based on his other numbers, the only way he makes up for that is if he is an elite defender. He's likely to draw Scruggs, Xavier's best offensive player this season.
Scottie Lewis Small Forward Naji Marshall
Freshman Class Junior
6'5", 185 Measurements 6'7", 222
9.5/3.8/0.3 Game line 16/6.8/3.7
41.9/26.7/73.9 Shooting line 40/21.2/78.1
Lewis doesn't turn the ball over much at all, a desirable quality on a team that can get into trouble in that department. Despite his lack of height, he's also an accomplished shot blocker.
Keyontae Johnson Power Forward Jason Carter
6'5", 231 Class Junior
Sophomore Measurements 6'8", 227
12.7/6.8/1.3 Game line 7.7/6.3/1.2
58.2/46.2/60 Shooting line 36.8/33.3/100
Johnson is an excellent shooter wherever he touches the ball. He's also a great defensive rebounder who can get a bit turnover prone. He's dangerous.
Kenny Blackshear Center Tyrique Jones
Senior Class Senior
6'10", 241 Measurements 6'9", 239
13.2/9.5/2.3 Game line 14.5/9/0.8
48/38.5/78.8 Shooting line 51.6/0/56.8
Blackshear is Florida's highest usage player, and with reason. He can score from anywhere, passes the ball very well, and is an excellent rebounder. Look for him to step out and seen if he can lure Tyrique away from the bucket.

Bench

Florida is not deep at all. No one who doesn’t start plays more than 16 minutes. Forward Omar Payne blocks 9.3% of shots while he’s on the floor, rebounds like a demon, and is effective inside the arc. 5-11 Ques Glover is the only other Gator who averages more than five minutes per game. His numbers suggest that he’s on the floor because someone has to be. His offensive efficiency for the year is 80.5 and he is yet to come up with a block or steal. And that’s it for bench depth.

Three questions

-How does Xavier guard Kerry Blackshear? Blackshear is a lot of what Florida does on both ends of the court; there's no doubt he's their most important player. He's a big dude who can score from away from the rim, but he does most of his work in the paint. Florida is at their best when playing through him; Xavier will have a challenge on their hands in trying to disrupt that.

-Is Xavier's shooting for real? After hitting on just 30% of all jumpers in their first four games, the Muskies have (comparatively) caught fire in Charleston. They've been particularly good from deep, hitting 9-22 threes against Towson and 9-24 against UConn. Every point is going to matter tonight; the question of if X can now rely on their range a bit might be decisive.

-Will eight be enough? Xavier's rotation consists of the five starters, Bryce Moore, Zach Freemantle, and Dahmir Bishop right now. That's it. No backup PG, no second big off the bench. The versatility of the roster has allowed it to work so far, but Florida is the Muskies' toughest opponent yet. Until Kyky Tandy and Daniel Ramsey are healthy, X rolls with those eight dudes.

Three keys

-Run selectively. Florida doesn't like to play at a fast pace at all; they're currently the 12th slowest team in the country. They've also got basically no depth, coming 329th in bench minutes. Xavier doesn't need to turn this thing into a track meet, but they can take the Gators out of their comfort zone with opportunistic fast breaking.

-Make Nembhard a scorer. Andrew Nembhard is the straw that stirs the drink for Florida, but he's also a 30% shooter who is better for the team when he's facilitating. Hassling his teammates off the ball pushes him into hunting shots a bit, which ultimately ends up benefiting X. The more he is looking for buckets, the better this game is going.

-Finish. Xavier had UConn dead and buried twice but ended up needing two overtimes to finish the job. The Muskies have had a disturbing habit of letting opponents back into games this year, and it's hard to imagine they get away with that against Florida. It's hard to keep your foot on the gas for a full 40 minutes, but long dry spells caused by lackadaisical offense will put our boys behind the eight ball tonight.