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Xavier v. Morehead St: Preview, matchups, keys to the game.

Xavier must shake off the victory hangover to take on a Morehead St team unlikely to roll over.

NCAA Basketball: Morehead State at Auburn
Johni Broome is a legitimate talent
John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Victory hangover is a real thing. At least it is for fanbases. Most of Xavier Nation is still in the afterglow that comes with humiliating a program so badly they have to repackage a fluke season into being a “football school.” While UC frantically tries to pretend that the Shootout wasn’t both their best chance at a non-con win and a complete capitulation, Xavier has to try to come down off the high and get back to the very real work of finishing off what has so far been a brilliant opening to the campaign.

The Musketeers will look to do that against a Morehead State Eagles team coached by Preston Spradlin, which was surely the name of a rich villain in a late 1980s teen movie. Since Spradlin took over in the 2016-17 season the Eagles have been quite bad, though last year’s top 150 KenPom finish and tournament appearance suggest things are turning around. This season the Eagles have been pummeled by Auburn, UAB, and Mississippi State as they have tried to climb the high major ladder and have won four DI (and two non-DI) games against low majors. After Xavier they host Alice Lloyd College from world famous Pippa Passes, Ky.

Team Fingerprint:

Slow. On offense Morehead takes their time and then some, generally needing almost 19 seconds to end a possession. In those 19 seconds they like to try to find a three pointer, which they shoot reasonably well. They also tfind the other team, to whom they return the ball 23.5% of the time. Morehead’s 14.4% offensive steal rate is 356th, or just two spots above dead last in the nation. The Eagles shoot decently and follow their misses, but they undercut all of that by turning the ball over incredibly frequently.

On defense Morehead blocks an elite 15% of their opponents' shots and is also first in the nation not sending their opponents to the line. When they aren’t blocking shots without fouling, they are generally getting scored on. The opposition torches them from deep, gouges them in the post, and abuses them on the glass. Morehead is 144th in offensive efficiency and 164th in defensive.

Players:

Morehead starts and finishes with Johni Broome. Broome is a 6-10 forward who takes more shots and uses more possessions than anyone else on the team. He leads the Eagles in points (15.2) and rebounds (10) as well as blocks and shoots 58% inside the arc. He’s done well against good teams and bad this year. He’s a real player. Ta’lon Cooper is the one who gets the Morehead offense going. Cooper’s turnover percentage of 23% isn’t good, but his assist rate of 37% very much is. Cooper gets 9.3/4.9/6.9 and is a respectable outside shooter.

Morehead’s second leading scorer is Skyelar Potter. Potter averages 11.6/6.1/1.6 on 41% shooting. He’s nearly as good outside the arc as he is inside it and, like all of the Eagles, turns the ball over too much. Tray Hollowell is a 6-3 guard who plays 30 minutes per game and scores 10.8, but he’s dreadful with the ball. As Joel mentions below, Morehead State is decent once they get into the half court, but they turn the ball over way too much. Hollowell, a solid shooter, is perhaps the personification of that. Jake Wolfe, at 6-5, is the second tallest starter on the team. Wolfe is a good shooter but is one of four Eagles who turns the ball over 29.6% of the time or more.

Jaylen Sebree is a 6-7 bench forward who is decent on the glass and shooting the ball but, wait for it, turns it over too much to be truly effective. Drew Thelwell is a 6-3 guard who, in a fun twist on things, is a terrible shooter but takes care of the ball really well. The only other Eagle to appear in all 10 of their games is LJ Bryan, a 6-9 forward who rebounds really well and shoots 80% inside the arc but... well you know. Hilariously, Morehead also has Tucson Redding on the bench. Redding is amusing mostly for the fact that he turns the ball over 51.7% of the time he touches it. That’s less than ideal.

Three questions:

  • Who is healthy? Dieonte Miles and Cesare Edwards have missed two days of practice with the flu. Kyky Tandy is just now back from having the flu. In short, Xavier’s guys just cannot stop vomiting. Hopefully the bench depth is both ready to go and able to get on the court for meaningful time.
  • How do the post minutes get split? Right now Dieonte Miles starts and plays 15 minutes and Jerome Hunter starts and plays 23 minutes. Zach Freemantle (17 minutes) and Jack Nunge (22 minutes) both come off the bench. Having four good bigs is a nice problem to have, but Freemantle doesn’t have the defensive versatility of Miles and Hunter. He may be able to pull another Ball State against Morehead, but Coach Steele needs to start figuring out how offense and defense will balance each other against better competition.
  • What can Xavier exploit? Quite simply: the interior. The Eagles may block shots, but that leaves them very vulnerable to being crushed on the glass and prone to missing rotations. Xavier figures to have a huge advantage inside despite the shot blockers. Starting inside out could also lead to a three point barrage against Morehead’s poor outside defense.

Three keys

  • Don't blink. Xavier is playing really well and should be feeling good about their last ten games, and Big East play is just around the corner. Sandwiched between is this game with Morehead. Morehead State is #102 in the NET; Creighton just lost a home game to NET #179 Arizona State. Building a resume is often about avoiding bad losses, and that's the order of the day here.
  • Pressure the ball. Morehead State is actually not a horrible offensive team in three of the four factors; it's turnovers that cripple their production. When they can get the ball down the floor and get into their offense, they've got a couple of dudes who can hurt you. The obvious workaround here is to harass everyone with the ball until they just cough it up. Xavier has the personnel to make this happen, and they're halfway home and dry if they can do so.
  • Work out the rotation. Zach Freemantle has looked dominant in stretches since his return, but he has been limited by his still growing game fitness and the way officials respond to his enthusiasm. This is the last chance before conference play that Travis Steele will have to mess with personnel combinations before things tip off against Marquette over the weekend. It's the perfect time to shuffle the deck and see which lineups mesh the best in game action.