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

With Christmas less than three weeks away and the start of conference play just around the corner, Xavier heads to Stillwater for the first true road game of the season.

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma State at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

The Big East-Big 12 Battle - of which this game is a part - has been a fertile hunting ground for Xavier in the two seasons they’ve participated. In 2019, 18 and 14 from Tyrique Jones and 11 assists from Quentin Goodin led Xavier past TCU in a defensive affair. Last season was the complete opposite, as the Muskies were 19-32 from behind the arc in flirting with dropping 100 on Oklahoma.

That night Nate Johnson (7-9 from deep) and Zach Freemantle (28 points on 12-14 shooting) led the way. They’re again the headliners heading into this game, as Johnson is 12-19 from three over the last 2 games and Freemantle has just 6 minutes on the year, recently back from foot surgery in August. With arguably their best player out, Xavier still managed to go 6-1 and bank good wins over Ohio State and Virginia Tech. Now they’re at something resembling full strength and looking to round into form for the Big East schedule.

Oklahoma State can be a tough place to get your legs under you. The Cowboys are a top-50 team in the KenPom, but they’ve had some trouble defending their home court. They dropped a tough one to Oakland early when they made one basket in the final five minutes to lose 56-55. Last time out they similarly fell out of a game late, Making two shots in the last 9:49 to turn a 90% win probability into a nine-point loss. OSU’s best win is a neutral-site game against NC State; Xavier will be the first top-50 opponent they’ve taken on.

Team fingerprint

It’s all about defense with Ok State. They’re 7th in adjusted defensive efficiency this year, and it starts with their ability to force turnovers. Opponents cough the ball up on 27.1% of their possessions, including live-ball turnovers on 15.2% of their possessions, both of which are 7th in the country. Should a team get a shot it, OSU still makes it tough sledding. They hold opponents to an EFG% of 42.6% (17th nationally), including 40.4% inside the arc (11th). They also block almost 20% of teams’ two-point attempts against them. This is all excellent; their defensive rebounding and free throw rate are both below national average. Generally though, they’re beyond stout defensively.

On offense, it’s a different story. They generate a lot of quick buckets from turnovers, but they’re still outside the top 100 in adjusted offensive efficiency. They play quickly and turn the ball over a lot, and they’re not a particularly good shooting team. They make fewer than 30% of their threes, though they don’t shoot very many of them at all. They’re excellent on getting to the offensive glass and to the line, and they shoot a solid 53.1% from inside the arc. They take a whopping 36.8% of their field goal attempts in transition; the average team will be somewhere around 28%. These guys love to run.

Players

As you might expect from a team that plays so quickly, Oklahoma State is deep. They get almost 40% of their minutes off the bench, 29th in the nation. They’re also very young, with only two seniors getting meaningful minutes despite a season in which there are a lot more seniors out there than normal.

Also, they’ve kind of got a weird lineup in terms of which roles the players fill, so all positions listed in the grid are approximate.

Starters

Starting matchups
Avery Anderson III Point Guard Paul Scruggs
Junior Class Senior
6'3", 170 Measurements 6'5", 198
9.3/2.1/1.8 Game line 11/3.7/4.3
38.2/33.3/68.2 Shooting line 37/33.3/76.5
Anderson is first and foremost a really tough defender. He's the tip of the spear for OSU's efforts to force turnovers and get out and go. He has taken steps backward in ball security and shooting this season and is below average in both. He has never been much of a distributor, and he continues that trend this season. He has at least 2 steals in 7 of the team's 8 games this year.
Bryce Thompson Shooting Guard Nate Johnson
Sophomore Class Senior
6'5", 195 Measurements 6'4", 192
9.8/2.6/1 Game line 14.6/3.6/1.3
41.1/29.6/66.7 Shooting line 54.4/47.7/70
At 9.8 PPG, Thompson is OSU's leading scorer. He leads the team in field goal attempts and splits them fairly even between all three levels. He's not a particularly strong shooter, even from the line. He rarely assists or turns the ball over and he's not super active on the glass. For a team's leading scorer, he's fairly uninspiring.
Isaac Likekele Small Forward Colby Jones
Senior Class Sophomore
6'5", 215 Measurements 6'6", 207
7.1/6/3.6 Game line 12/9.3/3.3
46.9/16.7/50 Shooting line 51/29.4/68
Likekele is the Colby Jones of Oklahoma State. He leads the team in assist rate, acquits himself well on the glass, and scores very well from inside the arc. He's only 1-6 from deep on the season. He's a good defender and gets to the line well, though he's only shooting 50% from there on the year and 63% for his career.
Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe Power Forward Jerome Hunter
Sophomore Class Junior
6'7", 215 Measurements 6'8", 210
6.1/6.3/0.9 Game line 5.8/6.7/1.7
53.7/0/41.7 Shooting line 23.4/16.7/90
Moncrieffe is an excellent defender who rebounds well at both ends. His offensive numbers are down from his freshman campaign, owing to a dip in free throw percentage and the fact that he's turning the ball over like he's got an NIL deal that incentivises it. He also commits 5.6 fouls per 40 minutes, which makes it difficult for him to settle into a game.
Moussa Cisse Center Dieonte Miles
Sophomore Class Sophomore
6'10", 225 Measurements 6'11", 231
6.9/5.9/0.6 Game line 3.8/2.8/0.3
53.7/0/55 Shooting line 64.3/0/29.4
A Memphis transfer, Cisse fits this roster really well. He's a dominant rebounder at both ends and one of the best rim protectors in the nation. Like a lot of big men with his statistical profile, he has trouble with ball security and is prone to foul trouble. Almost three quarters of this shots come at the rim, where he shoots 63%.

Reserves

A lot of them, not least of which are the Boone brothers. Kalib is a 6’9”, 210-pound post who is finding his way back in after missing the first two games of the year with a shoulder injury. He’s averaging a scalding 9.3/1.3/0.7 in just 13 minutes per game right now. He lives at the rim and is shooting 63% from the floor. Keylan is 6’8”, 200 and spends more time around the perimeter from his brother. He’s shooting .472/.435/.769 this year on his way to 6.8/4.6/1 per game.

Bryce Williams is a 6’2” senior guard who also missed the first two games of the year, though it was through suspension. He averages 8.5/2.3/3.8 and leads the team in assist rate and assists per game. He’s not a great shooter, but he is cash from the line. He’s also a really good defender.

The deep depth is provided by sophomores Rondel Walker and Tyreek Smith. Walker is a 6’4” guard who racks up a steal rate of 4.7% to lead the team and rarely fouls. He isn’t a very strong offensive player with a shooting line of .357/.227/.818. Smith is 6’7”, 220 and crushes the offensive glass. He blocks a ton of shots and is shooting 16-21 from inside the arc.

These five guys combine for over 80 minutes per game, which is a lot for a second unit and shows both how much Coach Boynton trusts them and how much his manic pace requires substitution.

Three questions

-How much Zach Freemantle can we expect? Xavier’s top rebounder and scorer from a year ago is averaging less than a minute a game this year. If he can get his legs under him, he’s the perfect fit how this roster is set up. If Xavier can run him at the four, they’ll have some lineup options that will be really tough matchups for opponents. That’s all predicated on getting Freemantle back up to speed and comfortable in a different position. At a Big 12 team is a tough place to do that.

- Who dictates the pace? Oklahoma St’s offense is 36th in terms of average time, Xavier’s defense is 330th and forces offenses to take nearly three seconds longer that the Cowpokes want to. X is deep, but isn’t built to play a breakneck pace. OSU is deep and is built to play fast. Controlling the speed of the game will be paramount.

- Can Xavier take care of the ball? Oklahoma St is seventh in the nation in forcing turnovers on 27.1% off opponent’s possessions. Xavier throws the ball at an alarming 21.2% rate. The two could easily combine to spell disaster for the Musketeers. X will have a hard enough time scoring, handicapping themselves, and kick starting the Cowboy offense, by turning the ball over will turn this into a mess in no time.

Three keys

- Stay out of foul trouble: Dieonte Miles, this means you. Miles is Xavier’s defensive security blanket/Swiss Army knife. He can guard all five spots in a pinch, erase shots, and work the offensive glass. He also tends to smack anyone within his prodigious wingspan. Jerome Hunter, Cesare Edwards, and Kyky Tandy also commit more than four fouls per 40 minutes. Xavier can’t afford to shorten their rotation against a deep team that wants to run.

- Take, and make, threes: OK St is ferocious in terms of interior defense. Xavier has climbed to 32.2% from behind the arc and will absolutely need more than that to fall tonight. In Nate Johnson and Adam Kunkel they have guys that can light a team up from deep. X will need one of them, and someone else, to be a threat from deep to loosen up the paint.

- Hammer the offensive glass or surrender it entirely: The Cowboys can be had on Xavier’s offensive glass. They don’t defensively rebound well as a team at all. Xavier grabs near as makes no difference a full third of their own misses. Second chance points could be had of Colby Jones, Jack Nunge, and Jerome Hunter (all in the top 305 in OReb rate) get after the boards. However, the reason that OSU is susceptible to offensive rebounding is because they want to rake it and run. If Xavier overcommits, they could get torched by fast break points. Coach Steele could employ the same strategy he did against Va. Tech, send his team back, and dare the Cowboys to beat X in the half court.