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Xavier v. Toledo: preview, matchups, keys to the game in NIT action, baby!

It has been a long time since Xavier has had a home game at this point in the year. Let’s discuss the belligerents.

NCAA Basketball: Toledo at Buffalo
It says Toledo right on his shirt!
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

This isn’t exactly the preview that we were hoping to write. Xavier isn’t in the NCAA tournament this year. There will be no “Death. Taxes. Xavier in the Sweet 16.” this year. There, that’s out of the way. I love March and I love basketball. Xavier is playing in March and I’m here for it. Maybe this is the JV tournament, but someone has to win it. Might as well be the Musketeers.

Toledo also harbored hopes of making the NCAA tournament. Those hopes were dashed when the Rockets lost to Northern Illinois in the opening round of the MAC tournament. That doesn’t change the fact that Toledo is a very good team, with most computer metrics actually ranking them ahead of Xavier.

Team fingerprint:

Toledo plays slowly, if not as slowly as Xavier. One thing they do very well is shoot the three pointer. They’ll shoot it frequently and knock down 38.2% of them. Toledo also cares for the ball middlingly well for a team that passes as much as they do. What they don’t do at all is get to the line, and they aren’t terribly good at getting on the offensive glass. Think finesse, not brawn.

On defense the Rockets sit back, don’t pressure the ball, and challenge shots. They finished the year in the top 40 in both opponent’s two and three point shooting percentage. They’ll also absolutely stifle ball movement and dare teams to beat them off the dribble. If guards do get into the middle, Luke Knapke and AJ Edu are waiting to erase shots.

Personnel

UPDATE:

Willie Jackson is in concussion protocol due to a knock he picked up in the warmups to Toledo’s MAC tournament game. Marreon Jackson tore his labrum and will require surgery. Toledo is going to be outmanned today.

Starters

Starting matchups
Marreon Jackson Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Sophomore Class Junior
6'0", 175 Measurements 6'4", 194
11.7/3.9/4.2 Game line 10.9/3.1/4.8
42.8/35.9/77.2 Shooting line 36.2/28.6/68
Jackson is a very solid PG. He has a little bit of trouble with ball security, but nothing dramatic. He's a reliable shooter and takes more than half his shots from beyond the arc. If he drives, he's going all the way to the rim to finish; only about 1 in 8 of his shots is a mid-range attempt. He's an active defender and fairly effective for the line.
Jaelan Sanford Shooting Guard Paul Scruggs
Senior Class Sophomore
6'4", 200 Measurements 6'3", 200
15.3/4.2/3.2 Game line 12.6/5/3.3
42.3/32.9/83.1 Shooting line 47.7/39.8/75.3
Sanford has grown into a larger role every year he has been at Toledo, and this year he is the main dude. He leads the team in usage rate, scoring, and shot attempts. He'll dribble into shots at all three levels and is basically shameless in taking shots on. Despite a down year from beyond the arc, he's still a career 37% three-point shooter. Almost 40% of his attempts are in the mid-range.
Willie Jackson Small Forward Naji Marshall
Junior Class Sophomore
6'6", 215 Measurements 6'7", 222
8.5/8.9/1.5 Game line 14.4/6.7/3.4
50.7/50/68.1 Shooting line 39.9/27.3/71
A migraine limited Jackson to 8 minutes in Toledo's MAC tournament game; I don't know if they harbored realistic hopes of winning the auto bid, but he'll likely feel like he has let the side down at least a little bit. He's an incredible rebounder on both ends, both for a man his size and just in general. He's not a threat to shoot, but he gets to the rim hard and finishes fairly well. Not a shot hunter.
Nate Navigato Power Forward Tyrique Jones
6'8", 225 Class Junior
Senior Measurements 6'9" 235
12.6/3.5/2.6 Game line 10.9/7.6/0.8
47.3/45.5/86.7 Shooting line 61.2/0/65
It's a good thing Jackson boards so well, because Navigato can't be bothered. Unless Eli Harden gets major run, Navigato will have the worst rebounding rates of anyone on the floor tonight. They tolerate that out of a 6'8" dude, though, because he will be the best three-point shooter in the gym. He has made 78 threes this year at the gaudy rate you see above. To his credit, he plays to his skill set.
Luke Knapke Center Zach Hankins
Junior Class Senior
6'11", 245 Measurements 6'11", 245
10.7/6.6/2 Game line 10.7/5.3/1
56.5/41/69.5 Shooting line 68.3/0/61.8
Knapke is also an effective shooter, though not nearly as prolific as Navigato is. He also boards like an adult and is an excellent shot blocker. He's good around the rim, but he also has a surprisingly effective mid-range game. Also, he's big.

Reserves

Toledo gets about a quarter of their minutes from the bench, which isn’t a lot. They basically work with three dudes out of the reserve unit.

First up is Chris Darrington, a volume scorer who goes for 9.2/1.6/1 on 40/36.6/84 shooting. He’s a 6’1” guard who doesn’t distribute or board much; he’s out there to lift. AJ Edu exists on the opposite end of the size spectrum; he’s a 6’10” freshman forward who blocks shots at an elite rate. He struggles with foul trouble a lot less than most young shot blockers, but he’s not super-effective at the offensive end.

Filling the positions that aren’t PG or C is Spencer Littleson, a dude with a name that makes him sound like his father is employed as a squire. I don’t know what his dad actually does for a living, but Spencer is paying for college by being a catch-and-shoot threat who has hit 36 threes on the year.

Three questions:

- Can Xavier get up for this? We are, but the staff of Banners is unlikely to suit up for this game. The three seniors playing in their final games should be ready to go, but what of the players who came to Xavier to play in the NCAA tournament? It’s on Coach Steele, who seems up for it, to get his team ready to go.

- Can X guard the three point line? Toledo is going to fire away from behind the arc and hope that the Musketeers can’t keep up with them. If that seems like a recipe for disaster that’s because it is. Xavier has to challenge shooters or risk getting buried.

- How slow can the Musketeers go? The NIT rules will hamper Xavier’s recent plan to grind the game out and make every possession vital. Offensive rebounds will be hard to come by against the Rockets anyway, so Coach Steele’s plan to make everything take a lot longer might be hampered.

Three keys:

- Get on the offensive glass: Toledo is excellent on the defensive glass and fights shots. Xavier isn’t a great shooting team and tends to need Jones and Hankins on the glass. They’ll need to be at their best tonight.

- Contest hard: The Musketeers did well against a similar team in Villanova. The Rockets, however, shoot far better than the Wildcats do. The defensive scheme against Nova was sound, it will just have to be executed just as well today.

- Get the crowd involved: The Cintas crowd figures to be in just as much two minds as the rest of the fanbase is. Some early fireworks from Tyrique Jones or a Ryan Welage three pointer and then 45 foot long celebration could go a long way toward getting the place up and rocking.