The trouble with finding the most important matchup for Xavier against Cincinnati is that UC’s offense is, charitably, a work in progress. The Bearcats are 235th in the nation in effective field goal percentage, 297th in three point shooting, 158th in two point shooting, and 297th in free throw shooting. Throw in pretty mediocre assist to field goal numbers and too many shots getting blocked and you have the 136th best offense. Out of that morass, no single strong player emerges.
David DeJulius uses the most possessions and posts an ORtg of 106.6. That’s bouyed largely good free throw shooting and great ball security. DeJulius leads the team in scoring, but mostly because he shoots a lot. Mike Saunders is probably the best shooter on the team, but he gets himself in foul trouble and turns the ball over enough that he isn’t a consistent presence. Mika Adams-Woods is great on the ball but terrible when it comes to shooting it. Viktor Lahkin can take a game over inside, but just as often he can be completely anonymous.
So how should Xavier combat an offense that is comprised mostly of parts that phase in and out of effectiveness? The simplest answer is to stay solid. Avery Anderson isn’t going to jump out of this group to drop 26. UC, deeply aware of how poorly they shoot, crash the boards aggressively and care for the ball at an elite level. Xavier’s defense isn’t predicated on taking the ball away, but it is set up to limit second chance points. A bad offense gets better when it gets more chances.
Xavier can also lean into their own strengths. Jack Nunge and Dieonte Miles block shots at an elite rate, Colby Jones, Dwon Odom, and Paul Scruggs (!) get a few. UC gets it thrown a lot and the way Xavier plays with backside help should let their guards slip down for a couple so long as the bigs wall up. Most of what X does on the defensive end comes from strong defense and staying vertical, not chasing shots. If the Musketeers start waving for blocks, they’ll give a bad offense more chances at the line.
The final thing Xavier needs to do is leverage their height advantage. The Musketeers are 31st in the nation in average height and their guards are much bigger than UC’s. DeJulius and Saunders are both listed at six feet. Adams-Woods is the giant of the Bearcat backcourt at 6-3. That leaves him two inches shorter than Paul Scruggs and not as tall as Colby Jones or Nate Johnson. Dwon Odom is the smallest player in Xavier’s guard rotation and he stands at 6-2. Using the bigger guards to bully UC out of what they want to do on offense will be key.
Cincinnati’s offense may not be great, but it can get points in bunches. The Bearcats have also feasted on weak defenses in nearly the same way that Xavier has this early season. The Musketeers need to stay solid on the defensive glass, block shots, and leverage their height to make sure that their dominant defense carries the day.