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Xavier v. Cincinnati: Crosstown Shooutout preview, matchups, keys to the game

Here we go.

Syndication: The Enquirer Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer via Imagn Content Services, LLC

It’s hard to say where to start with this. If you’re on this website, you already know. Xavier hates Cincinnati, Cincinnati hates Xavier. Sometimes they fight. This is a legitimate rivalry game between two teams whose campuses are within walking distance of one another. There’s no love lost between these programs and it bleed over on the court.

Xavier has handled business in the run up to this game. Aside from the neutral-site loss to a stunningly good Iowa State team while the roster was ravaged by the flu, Xavier’s record is unblemished. The Muskies were one of just two teams with 3 Q1 wins when the NET debuted, and they remain one of only a handful of teams to hold that distinction. X is fresh off of absolutely rolling Ball State in their final tuneup game before the Shootout itself. This is a team executing very well right now.

UC has also gotten off to a good start to the season. Wes Miller has taken over the smoldering wreck of a program left behind by the brief John Brannen era and immediately turned it around. They used a 22-3 run early in the second half to pull away from Illinois on a neutral site and played a very good Arkansas team to the final minute before succumbing. Their only real blemish is a home loss to Monmouth; aside from that they’ve more than held serve in the early going.

Team fingerprint

Like the UC teams of old, this team is built on defense. If you wipe out preseason assumptions baked into the formula, they’re 12th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Bart Torvik, one spot worse than Xavier. They’re second in the nation in defensive EFG%, holding teams to just 40% inside the arc and 25.9% beyond it. They’re only about average in forcing turnovers and defending the glass, but you can afford to allow a few extra shots when you’re stifling shooting percentage the way the Bearcats are. They block a ton of shots, but they’re also a little bit foul prone. They’re also very good at forcing other teams to slow down and play in the half court on offense. This is an excellent defense.

Their offense also exists. Their ball security is excellent, which is necessary because they shoot just 29% from behind the arc and a mediocre 50% inside it. They get to the offensive glass really well, grabbing a third of their own misses. While they’re bad from behind the arc, they’re exactly average in three-point rate. Also, they shoot 65.5% from the line, which is 299th in the country.

Players

Starters

Starting matchups
Mika Adams-Woods Point Guard Paul Scruggs
Junior Class Senior
6'3", 185 Measurements 6'5", 198
7.1/2.6/3.8 Game line 11.4/4.3/3.8
30.7/23.5/76.9 Shooting line 40.2/32.4/73.9
Adams-Woods has never been a great shooter, but he's really struggling this year. He's shooting just 42% at the rim and 36% on all twos. He almost never turns the ball over and has the best assist rate of any player on either team coming into the game at just over 27%. He's a better perimeter defender than DeJulius but can occasionally get into foul trouble.
David DeJulius Shooting Guard Nate Johnson
Senior Class Senior
6'0", 190 Measurements 6'4", 192
13/2.7/2.3 Game line 14.6/3.2/1.1
40.6/26.2/83.3 Shooting line 53.5/49.1/68.8
Of everyone freed up by new coaching, I think DeJulius sticks out as the one who is thriving the most. His ORtg has jumped 10 points and his usage is way up from last year. He's a driver who doesn't work all the way to the rim, but his mid-range game is superb. He takes almost half his shots from that level and is hitting them at a 49% clip. His assist rate is a little down, but his ball security is top-notch.
John Newman III Small Forward Colby Jones
Senior Class Sophomore
6'5", 205 Measurements 6'6", 207
5.5/3.9/1.3 Game line 12.9/9.5/3.6
30.9/22.2/46.2 Shooting line 54.4/38.1/67.7
Newman starts and gets good minutes, but his statistical impact is minimal. He's not a good shooter at all from any level of the floor and he doesn't distribute much. He is a solid but unspectacular offensive rebounder and a hair below that on the defensive end. He plays good defense, but he also fouls 4 times every 40 minutes he's on the floor. Also, he's below 50% from the line.
Jeremiah Davenport Power Forward Jerome Hunter
Junior Class Junior
6'7", 210 Measurements 6'8", 210
11.1/5/0.5 Game line 5.6/5.9/1.3
39.7/34/77.8 Shooting line 24.1/17.2/87.5
Of all the members of the UC starting 5, Davenport is the biggest threat from deep at 17-50 on the year. Other than DeJulius, he's the target of most of UC's work on the offensive end. He gets after the offensive glass at a high level and is holding his own on the defensive end. He also posts a block rate of 2.8% while limiting foul trouble. Paradoxically for a 4 who gets on the offensive boards like he does, he takes more than two thirds of his shots from deep.
Abdul Ado Center Dieonte Miles
Senior Class Sophomore
6'11", 255 Measurements 6'11", 231
4/4.7/0.8 Game line 3.3/3.1/0.3
68.2/0/54.5 Shooting line 52.9/0/36.4
Ado has been one of the best shotblockers in the nation since he came on the scene in 2018 at Mississippi State, but he has taken it to another level this year, posting a block rate of 11.2%. He also crushes the glass at both ends, providing a real anchor for UC's team. He has been prone to foul trouble this year - racking up 4.9 per 40 minutes - and he turns the ball over a ton. When he can hold onto the ball, he's scoring at an elite level around the rim, albeit in limited usage.

Reserves

I said DeJulius looked like the player thriving the most under Wes Miller, but 6’0” guard Mike Saunders also has a claim to that title. After looking out of his depth as a freshman, he’s averaging 9.2/2.7/2.2 on .456/.471/.697 shooting as a sophomore. He’s also super active on the defensive end, leading the team’s qualifiers with a steal rate of 2.9%. He’s also averaging 4.8 fouls per 40 minutes.

In just 15 minutes a game off the bench, 6’11”, 245-pound post Viktor Lakhin averages 7.3/5.4/0.4 and shoots 60% from the floor. He’s an excellent rebounder on both ends and holds his own as a post defender. He can be prone to turnover issues and - like many of his colleagues - is prone to foul trouble. Also getting 15 minutes per game is big man Ody Oguama. He’s almost the exact opposite of Lakhin, averaging 6.0/4.7/0.6 on much lower usage. He’s a bit better in protecting the rim, also crushes the glass at both ends, and almost never turns the ball over (or uses it at all, really). He also averages around 5 fouls per 40.

I swear to you this is true: ESPN has Lakhin, Oguama, and Mason Madsen getting exactly 15 minutes per game and Haydan Koval getting 14.9. So when you keep reading that someone is getting 15 MPG off the bench, just know I’m being accurate, not lazy.

Anyway, Madsen is a 6’4” whose role I can’t entirely discern. He is shooting pretty poorly (.325/.231/.500) and isn’t exactly tearing up the defensive end. He doesn’t board or distribute at a high level. He just kind of fills 15 minutes. Having written this, I’m terrified he’s going to go ham tonight. Koval is a seven-footer who followed Miller from UNC Greensboro. He’s just good enough as a shooter that you need to check him to the arc, and he’s a good shot blocker (as you might expect from a man of his stature). He hasn’t found his touch around the rim as yet this year, but he doesn’t gobble down a ton of possessions when he’s out there.

Three questions

-Who wins the coaching battle? Travis Steele is heading into his fourth Crosstown Shootout; Wes Miller will be the third UC coach he has faced in those four games. It’s hard to overstate the job Miller has done this year, stepping aboard the scuttled wreck of a program that Brannen left behind and not only holding it together but somehow bringing it back above water immediately. Guys who weren’t producing last year suddenly are putting up big numbers, and the team is playing with opponents that would have run them off the court a year ago. Miller is the real deal, but it has become increasingly clear to all but the most recalcitrant member of the #FireSteele crowd that Travis Steele is the same. There should be a good deal of punch and counter between these two.

-Who can find a way to score? If you rinse out the preseason stuff from the Torvik rankings, these are the 11th- and 12th-best defenses in the country. They’re also offenses 89 (Xavier and 163 (UC). Both of these teams can lock an opponent down at an elite level, and neither has shown an early propensity for scoring in bunches. I’m sure the coaches will have a plan to crack open the other team, but whoever can actually get that to work will have a leg up.

-Can Xavier stay hot? Riding a scalding Nate Johnson, X has gone from well below average in three-point shooting to just a hair above it in the blink of an eye. UC has a great defense and Xavier going to need to stretch it to open up driving lanes and room for the bigs to work. If they can't stick some jumpers, it could be tough sledding closer to the rim.

Three keys

-Push the pace. UC holds teams to an EFG% of 39.6% on the year, second in the nation. That number jumps to almost 45% on transition attempts. That's still pretty stout, but it's an improvement. There aren't easy buckets to be had in this one, but Xavier will make it even more difficult if they force themselves to take on a UC defense that is back and set every time down.

-Protect the ball. The freebie war in general is going to be huge in this game, but Xavier's biggest issue in it has been ball security. Even in trouncing Ball State the Muskies couldn't stop coughing the ball up at every turn. If they do that in this game, they'll be handing a UC team that struggles to score in the half court a chance to get some easy baskets.

-Be the tougher team. Coach Steele said in the presser that the better team doesn't always win this game, but the tougher team always does. Some facets of Xavier's execution have wavered this season, but their effort and intensity rarely have. If this turns into a rock fight, the Muskies will win if they have the bigger rocks.