Norfolk State picked up a win in last season’s NCAA Tournament to gain the right to be Gonzaga’s first speed bump on their path the the title game. It was by far the less famous of the program's two NCAA Tournament wins, with their shocking upset of 2 seed Missouri in 2012 laying claim to that title. Anyway, they only bring back about a third of the minutes from their trip to the Big Dance, but will put a perfect record on the line when they step into the Cintas Center on Sunday.
Robert Jones is in his 9th season at the helm for the Spartans, but I would be lying if I said that his team had developed a playing identity during that time. This season’s team shoots the ball pretty well (56.4 efg%), but is hamstrung by their 21.3 turnover rate, which features an eye popping 12.6% of possessions ending in a non-steal turnover. Still, they pose a threat if they get hot from deep and rode such a streak to an 18-2 run against Bowling Green to lead the Falcons by as many as 15 in the second half of their impressive 90-84 road win.
Defensively, they sell out to force turnovers, a strategy that, when it fails, often leads to wide open shots for their opponents. They surrender a scorching 35% from three and are no better than mediocre on the glass, which leads to a lot of second chance points and keeps them from being very effective in defending teams that take care of the ball.
(NB: Norfolk State has played 5 games, but the first two of them were against teams not participating in Division One basketball this season. Their stat lines are a little bit inflated by that, but I’ve done my best to reference only D1 games in the text below.)
|Christian Ings||Point Guard||Paul Scruggs|
|6'2", 185||Measurements||6'5", 198|
|Ings is kind of hard to nail down. Is he the guy who dropped 31 on William & Mary fon a cool 12-15/2-2/5-5 shooting line? Is he the guy who backed that up with a 3-12 showing against Bowling Green? He has had a game with 5 dimes and 0 TO this year, as well as one with 1 and 3. His shooting line is a bit inflated right now; he's a career 30% shooter from behind the arc. He consistently gets to the line, though he's not great at converting them.|
|Joe Bryant Jr.||Shooting Guard||Nate Johnson|
|6'1", 220||Measurements||6'4", 192|
|My man is shorter than Dwon Odom and weighs just less than Dieonte Miles. In addition to being dummy thicc, he's a very good shooter. He shot 41% from deep last season and is a career 86% free throw shooter. He's having some turnover issues early on this year, but he's a relentless shot hunter who can score at all three levels. He also has the capacity to be a disruptive defender.|
|Daryl Anderson||Small Forward||Colby Jones|
|He's posting a 72.7% EFG% against D1 opponents, though that's on just 11 attempts. He's a one-dimensional offensive player, though that dimension is his career 46% three-point mark. He doesn't rebound much at either end and will have his work cut out for him to contain Colby Jones.|
|Nyzaiah Chambers||Power Forward||Jerome Hunter|
|6'7", 230||Measurements||6'8", 210|
|Two fun facts about Chambers: he's a consistent offensive rebounder, and he's never finished a season averaging fewer than 5.6 fouls per 40 minutes. He has stepped up his game another level this year, averaging 8.6 fouls per 40. He's also turning the ball over a lot, which has been a consistent theme in his career. He has decent block percentage numbers, though a cynic might note he has committed 4.5 fouls for every block he's made against D1 teams this year.|
|Kris Bankston||Center||Dieonte Miles|
|6'8", 230||Measurements||6'11", 231|
|Bankston is an incredibly reliable scorer in the paint. He shot 81% from inside the arc as a 194-pound sophomore at Little Rock before a back injury cost him a season and forced him to rebuild his game. He came back as a little more of a bruiser, but he's still a 72% shooter from two-point range on his career and he's off to a flying start this season. He's a good rebounder, especially on the offensive end, and an active defender.|
Last season’s play in game hero Jalen Hawkins maintains his role as a gunner coming off the bench, but has been limited to one game thus far, going for 13/5/0 against BGSU. The star against the Falcons was another bench guard Tyrese Jenkins, who went 5-6 from deep on his way to 17 points and is shooting 6-8 from beyond the arc this season. Cahiem Brown is a 6’5” do it all guard who is averaging 9.8/4.0/1.8 on the young season and is a focal point of the offense whenever he steps on the floor. Chris Ford is the biggest player on the roster at 6’8” 235, but hardly rebounds at all and has yet to make a field goal against a DI opponent.
Can Xavier keep Norfolk from killing them from deep? Anytime an opponent comes in ranked 22nd in the nation in 3p%, Xavier fans have reason to be at least mildly concerned. The Spartans only shoot the three on about 20% of their possessions and Xavier would do well to keep that number as low as possible against a team that is much smaller on the interior.
Who controls the pace? Xavier likes making opponents work hard to find a look on defense, coming in with the 36th longest time per defensive possession nationally. Norfolk State is the 58th fastest offense, shooting on average about 3 seconds faster than a typical Xavier opponent. The longer the possession lasts, the more chances Xavier has of triggering one of the mistakes that has plagued the Spartans so far.
Is it time to get deeper? Xavier has only player 8 players so far this season, although some of that has been due to health concerns for Tandy, Stanley, and Freemantle. Xavier has also not been overly dominant in any of their three games thus far, so if they get a decent cushion early, it may be time to get some minutes for Tandy and Edwards in order to expand the rotation options.
Turn them over: Xavier has been neither excellent nor terrible at causing turnovers thus far, but Norfolk State does it to themselves a lot. If Xavier can keep them from establishing any sort of rhythm by turning them over, it will go a long way toward flummoxing the Spartans offense.
Make the glass pay: Norfolk State has been pedestrian on the glass against a who’s who of pretty bad teams so far and Xavier just got done crushing a Big Ten title hopeful in the rebounding department, so anything short of total domination probably is not a good harbinger for Xavier.
No let down: Thursday night was a fraught, emotional contest against an in state foe. The demons of 07 were purged and there was a collective outpouring of joy and relief as Xavier put the game away. None of that matters to the game on Sunday and Xavier needs to make sure they have the proper application to avoid slipping up.