Xavier’s defense isn’t bad. Let’s get that out of the way to begin with. That isn’t the same as being good enough to handle Oklahoma’s offense. The Sooners rock into the Cintas on the back of 105 and 82 point efforts in their two games this season. One of those was against a TCU team with tournament dreams. And so Xavier, with their not bad defense, now faces their toughest test of the non-conference schedule and their first game against a team from a major conference.
Xavier’s defensive issues are more a factor of personnel than scheme. The defensive framework is the same one you expect from the Musketeers. They will surrender a few too many three pointers, stay compact in order to prevent easy paint touches, and try to contest every shot. Only 29 teams have blocked a higher rate of shots, only eight have allowed opponents a lower shooting percentage (36.9%) inside the arc. That is the scheme, and that is what Xavier does.
Xavier’s problems, such as they are, have come because of how they line up. Zach Freemantle is probably Xavier’s most important offensive piece. He has, however, been a liability in on the ball defense so far this season. Teams have been isolating Freemantle by attacking him with high screens and forcing him to hedge or chase a rolling big. Unfortunately, Zach hasn’t solved this. There is more in depth tactical breakdown in the podcast, but essentially Freemantle hasn’t been squaring his hips on the hedge. This leaves him vulnerable to being attacked on the high side with the dribble or the low side with the roll. That leaves him reaching. Xavier’s defense then has to adjust to make up for the breach at the top or Freemantle’s reach lands him in foul trouble.
The other problem that Xavier has is grabbing defensive rebounds. Tyrique Jones was a one man possession stopper last season, but he’s not walking back through those doors. Bryan Griffin (26.2% DReb rate) has filled in admirably, but he’s not been on the floor long enough to make a significant impact. Freemantle (21%) and Jason Carter (20%) are both holding their own but aren’t getting enough help to get Xavier back to the offensive end. A team defensive rebounding rate of 70.7% is only good for 177th in the nation.
Oklahoma is uniquely positioned to exploit those flaws. In Austin Reaves and Brady Manek they have a high-low combination that will pull a Xavier big away from the basket. If that is Freemantle, who figures to draw Kur Kuath to begin with, he could land himself in foul trouble early. Watch for Travis Steele to try to set the defense to keep Jason Carter on Manek at all times. The draw for Reaves figures to be more difficult, but Nate Johnson seems the likely initial call. Pressure might be important in keeping the Sooners from setting early offense.
Offensive rebounding should be less of a concern. The Sooners haven’t been as active on the offensive glass, in part because they don’t miss that often. If Xavier can extend the defense out they will leave themselves weak under the bucket but could prevent Oklahoma from initiating what they want to do. Bryan Griffin is a defensive rebounding menace that could possibly hold down the back line on his own.
Either way, Xavier’s defense will face a serious test today. Oklahoma is high-major good and their offense is their best weapon. Coach Steele will have to figure out how to use Zach Freemantle in defense and shore up his defensive rebounding for the Musketeers to have a chance. As far as non-conference games go, this should be a good one.