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Xavier v. Oklahoma: preview, matchups, keys to the game

Who would want to leave Cincinnati before you have to? Not the Muskies, who round out the non-conference schedule without leaving the loving embrace of the Queen City.

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma at Texas Christian
On some level you admire the confidence required to lean in on this look.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

For all that has changed since scheduling announcements for the 2020-21 season began, one thing that hasn’t is the fact that the Oklahoma game is one of the biggest on Xavier’s non-conference schedule. The Sooners are 2-0 on the season, having run UTSA off the floor in the opener and used a 13-2 run starting at the eight-minute mark in the second half to win a back and forth battle at TCU. In late November, 9% of the student-athletes in the school tested positive for the coronavirus, causing Oklahoma to cancel games against UCF and Florida.

Xavier has (to this point) avoided losing any games to Covid issues. The Muskies are tied for the national lead in games played with 6, and they’re the only team with 6 wins. After having some unconvincing moments in the first four games (which were played over just six days), they kept themselves in against a scrappy UC team before the gulf in class showed down the stretch. Thanks to some foresighted scheduling, the Muskies haven’t left Cincinnati to this point, a streak they will continue against Oklahoma.

Team fingerprint

It’s only two games of data, but let’s dig into it. The first thing that jumps off of the page is that this is an incredibly productive offense. If you filter out the preseason assumptions in the formula, Bart Torvik has Oklahoma as the second-best offense in the nation. They shoot more than 42% of their shots from behind the arc and are hitting 44.2% of them. That’s backed up by a 55.7% mark from inside the arc and a fantastic 83.3% as a team from the line. Their ball security is excellent. They’re only slightly above average at getting to the line (a product of chucking so many threes) and they don’t get to the glass super well, but there’s no question they’re deadly in the attack.

Defensively, they’re... okay. They don’t force turnovers or defensive rebound that well, hovering below the halfway mark in the nation in both categories. They do well in keeping opponents off the line, having allowed just 29 free throw attempts in 80 minutes of ball to this point. Their defense has been solid but not spectacular from inside the arc, but they more or less concede three-point range, allowing their opponents to take almost half their shots from distance.

OU has kept the tempo high this season, as you would expect from a Lon Kruger team. If they get a chance, they’ll get out and go.

Players

Starters

Starting matchups
Umoja Gibson Point Guard Dwon Odom
Junior Class Freshman
6'1", 176 Measurements 6'1", 180
5/0.5/2 Game line 6.7/4/4.5
27.3/28.6/100 Shooting line 42.1/0/66.7
Gibson has started both games, but he's kind of a placeholder. He's solid defensively, but he's not much of a shooter, doesn't dish out that many assists, and has one rebound on the year. He's also averaging more than 5 fouls per 40 minutes. He was a 37% three-point shooter in three seasons at North Texas, so there's a threat in there somewhere.
Austin Reaves Shooting Guard Paul Scruggs
Senior Class Senior
6'5", 206 Measurements 6'4", 196
20/7/6.5 Game line 13.7/4.2/7
42.9/40/83.3 Shooting line 46.8/20/76
After lighting the world on fire from deep in two years at Wichita State, Reaves took a big step back last year. Early on this season, he is in fine form. He's leading the team in points, rebounds, and assists so far. He has 13 assists to just 2 turnovers, and has drawn 15 fouls while committing 0. He's 20-24 from the line, which is a necessary boost to his productivity because his EFG% of 47.6% is below the national average. Xavier has to keep this guy off the line.
Alondes Williams Small Forward Nate Johnson
Senior Class Senior
6'5", 201 Measurements 6'4", 195
5.5/4.5/2.5 Game line 7.8/9.2/1.5
40/50/66.7 Shooting line 43.6/23.1/83.3
Williams doesn't get a ton of minutes - just 20 a game so far this year - and he doesn't use many possessions. He has been getting to the offensive glass well and making half his threes, but that's on two attempts and he's a career 29% shooter. He hasn't blocked a single shot and has just one steal on the year. He picked up four assists without a turnover against TCU.
Brady Manek Power Forward Jason Carter
Senior Class Senior
6'9", 231 Measurements 6'8", 227
21.5/5.5/0 Game line 7.8/9.2/1.5
53.6/60/80 Shooting line 43.6/23.1/83.3
Oklahoma fans have taken to calling Manek Prairie Bird, which... okay. No question he shoots the frick out of the ball, posting a 38% career mark from deep and a 60% rate this year. He's a reasonable but unimpressive rebounder and better than blocking shots than you might expect by looking at him. On his career, he has shot more threes than twos. Lose him behind the arc at your own peril.
Kur Kuath Center Zach Freemantle
Senior Class Sophomore
6'10", 220 Measurements 6'9", 225
9/4.5/0.5 Game line 17.2/8.5/1
77.8/0/80 Shooting line 58.4/36.8/42.9
Kuath is getting big minutes for the first time in his career, and the outcome has been a mixed bag. He's a good offensive rebounder and rim protector, but he has been weak on the defensive boards. He also isn't much of an offensive threat; while he has shot well, he has just 9 field goal attempts this year against 6 turnovers. Zach Freemantle needs to be alert against him on the offensive glass, but Bryan Griffin might also be a good matchup to body Kuath out of his limited sphere of effectiveness.

Reserves

Sophomore guard De’Vion Harmon is off to a blistering start, posting a game line of 17.5/3/3 through two outings. He’s 4-9 from deep and has stuck a remarkable 4-5 from mid-range and 5-6 at the rim. He’s getting buckets from all over and not turning the ball over at all. Helping him out in the backcourt is freshman Trey Phipps, a 6’2” combo guard averaging 7.5/1/3 and shooting 5-11 from deep. All his points have come from behind the arc and only 3 came against TCU.

Closer to the rim, 6’7”, 225-pound sophomore Jalen Hill is averaging 5.5/5/0.5. He crushed the offensive glass against UTSA before having a much more muted performance against TCU. His usage rate of 10.9% hints at the fact that his role is not to force himself into the game. He has committed 6 fouls in just 39 minutes this year.

Nobody else has appeared in both games for the Sooners.

Three questions

-Is Austin Reaves’s scalding form for real? Reaves is in the form of his lifetime - or at least his Sooners career - right now. He’s all over the stat sheet, but it’s hard not to observe that half of his points have come from the free throw line. None of his shooting numbers beyond the free throws are that impressive, and his huge assist and rebounding numbers are way out of line with his career norms. If Xavier can avoid fouling Reaves, will he be able to make an impression on the game?

-Can Xavier weather the barrage? Xavier had a string of coaches that favored the pack line defense, leading Muskies fans to immediately check the three-point shooting numbers of any opposing team. Coach Steele’s defenses have been a little more aggressive in charging down the arc, but it’s almost assured that this Oklahoma team is going let it fly from deep and connect on their fair share. How Xavier reacts to that could determine the result of the game.

-Who controls the pace? Both teams love to get out and go on offense, but Oklahoma’s defensive possessions are also fast while Xavier’s are some of the longest in the nation. Neither offense seems inclined to slow the game down, but Xavier’s defense is definitely trying to force teams into the half court. It’s not clear that doing so will necessarily force Oklahoma out of their game, but it will certainly take a tool off the shelf for the Sooners.

Three keys

-Jason Carter v. Brady Manek. I think this is the matchup you’ll see, as Manek is the bigger threat of OU’s bigs and Jason Carter is the better defender of Xavier’s. Carter is generally the glue that holds Xavier’s whole operation together, and his contributions often go unrecorded on the stat sheet. If he can get into Manek’s beeswax and mark him all over the floor, it will be a fruitful outing for JC even if he only goes for like 6/2/2 again. Xavier needs him to blanket Manek.

-Win the freebie war. Neither of these teams is any great shakes on the glass, and neither forces (or commits) a huge amount of turnovers. It’s hard to see too much space between this teams on quality alone, so it’s likely to come down to who can earn and make the most of extra shots via the glass and ball security. Xavier has struggled with this at times this season; they can’t afford to tonight.

-Keep the ball hot. One early and striking difference between this year’s team and the last couple has been how much the ball moves on offense. The Muskies are currently 25th in the nation in assist rate, and more of those seem to be coming off of crisp ball movement than from one dude dribbling the stripes off of it and then making a pass to a scorer. I’m not convinced Oklahoma’s defense is much to write home about; I think Xavier can have success if they put it under consistent stress.