How would you like to start a season? There’s hardly a better way than what Xavier did, using a 31-5 run in the first half to walk away from Morgan State and easing the game across the line from there. Sean Miller was able to identify plenty of things to work on, but the outcome of the game was hardly in doubt. It’s a game that won’t be discussed in March, which is the goal of any buy game.
The exact opposite happened to Montana. They came out competitive against Duquesne, hung around for about 7 minutes, then self-immolated. They gave up a 23-3 run and two separate 13-2 runs, the second of which lowered their win probability by 0% because they were already dead and buried. At one point in time they scored 7 points in 15 minutes. It was awful. Duquesne finished last year 280th in the KenPom and if they’re a top-10 team in the A10 this year, it’s only just. This was a bad game for Montana.
Hope develops anew each game, but it’s hard to imagine a sense in which Montana expects to take much from this game. By the same token, Xavier needs this to be nothing more than another tune-up for games ahead. After starting the game against Morgan State slowly, Xavier had ended it as a contest by halftime. The same is the goal here.
It’s hard to take too much from the beating that Montana took against Duquesne, but the one thing that jump off a page of things that are jumping is the fact that they allowed the Dukes to shoot 80% from inside the arc. They forced a few turnovers but were basically defenseless on the glass and permissive from behind the arc. They were elite in not giving up free throws, probably because most fouls come from the kind of good faith effort at defense that the stats don’t bear out.
As you might expect from a team that has had a win probability of over 10% for less than 8 minutes on the year, the offense was also poor. They got to the line an converted well, but they shot poorly from inside and beyond the arc. They were about average in TO%, but they didn’t do well on the offensive glass. The one positive is that they play so slowly that they limited the number of possessions fans had to suffer through.
|After 1 game, KenPom has Moody as the PG for Montana. I'm not sure that's accurate, but the whole team combined has just 10 assists, so cut the algorithm some slack. Moody is a career 38.5% three-point shooter who hasn't turned the ball over much. He's not much of a threat to make his way inside the arc or do much once he finds himself there.
|Whitney is kind of the opposite of Moody in that he rarely shoots threes and draws a ton of fouls. He also doesn't turn the ball over much, but his assist rate has fallen every season. We'll see how much headway he makes against Defensive Menace Kyky Tandy.
|Lonnell Martin Jr.
|Started, got 26 minutes, still looking for that first point. Rough. He's generally a fairly low-usage player, pretty anonymous on the glass, and inefficient when he does use possessions. He's a statistically decent defender, though that will likely be taxed against Xavier and particularly Colby Jones.
|Bannan crushes the defensive glass, has the ability to step out and shoot it, and got Duquesne's big men into foul trouble in the opener. With a team-leading 4 assists, he also demonstrated the ability to pass out of help if the situation calls for it. He's pretty secure with the ball for a big man. He's not a great defender, which is something Xavier might look to exploit through their big men.
|A Colorado State transfer, Thomas is a really good outside shooter for a man his size. He was never getting big run as a Ram, but he's a career 42% shooter from deep. He rebounds okay on the defensive end and gets to the offensive glass better than you'd think for a dude who just loves chucking threes. He's an okay defender, but not a guy who can anchor your system.
One bright spot was English guard Jonathan Brown, who came off the bench to post 8 points in 7 minutes. He hit all three shots he attempted, including two threes. Josh Vazquez is a senior guard who picked up 6 points on 1-6 shooting and a pair of steals in 16 minutes. He’s not a great shooter. Mack Anderson and Jaxon Nap are depth bigs who combined for 2/3/1 in 23 minutes. Only about a quarter of the team’s minutes came off the bench and again, it’s tough to take too much from these stats after one (fairly ugly) game.
-Should we be worried about the three-point shooting? Xavier is currently shooting 35.7% from behind the arc, just outside the top 100 in the nation. That’s not overtly sensation, but it is nearly 3 percentage points better than any X team in the last four years. If you take away Souley Boum’s 4-6 though, you’re left with 1-9 as a team, which I can tell you without even doing the math is bad. I’m not sure the team’s fate has been entirely revealed just 15 attempts in, but I’d really rather not watch X chuck hopelessly from deep for another year.
-Is Kyky the long-term starter? The season opened with Tandy on the floor because Adam Kunkel was still nursing an ankle issue, but there’s a sense in which that lineup works. Kunk off the bench as a flamethrower is a great weapon to have, and Kyky was all over the place on defense. If he can lock down and Miller is free to deploy Kunkel to chase buckets, the backcourt depth might make a lot more sense.
-What was with that ball security? I’m hoping Xavier’s issues with turnovers last time out were just first game nerves or something, because no team in the country is good enough to compete while sustaining the 24.6% TO rate X currently sports. We talked a lot in the preview about the lack of a veteran true point on the roster, and Desmond Claude and his 61.9% TO rate are not currently looking like the answer. There are a lot of weapons on this team, but if an opponent can speed X up and turn them over, Miller won’t have the chance to bring his big guns to bear.
-Feed the big lads. Montana allowed an 80% shooting percentage inside the arc in their first game. Zach Freemantle and Jack Nunge were a combined 10-15 from inside the arc and looked good playing together. In a brief run in the second half after Xavier’s second line had sputtered a bit, The two combined for three buckets and three assists - all to each other - in three trips down the floor while the second line was receiving instruction. These guys can dominate this game.
-Play clean. About the only thing the Grizzlies did well against Duquesne was get to the line and drill free throws. X committed 20 fouls and sent Morgan State to the line 22 times in the opener. There isn’t a lot that could make this one anything other than a walkover other than Xavier just playing really badly or Montana having an outstanding performance, but foul trouble and giving away free points is about the only predicatable stumbling block.
-Stay hungry. Jerome Hunter’s 5 offensive rebounds and 0 3PA and Kyky Tandy’s reshaped body and rebirth as a defensive asset got the notice, but the Muskies did a ton of little effort things to help themselves against Morgan State. Kam Craft had 3 offensive boards, Souley Boum had 5 steals, and the whole team generally flew around the court like they were trying to make the Sweet 16, not clobber a low-major in a buy game. I don’t want to harp on contrasts between this year and the last four, but how many teams did you see the team come out flat from the tip or the half and end up in a hole? These guys didn’t against Morgan State, and that effort needs to be here again today.