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How to beat (or lose to) UC

The Shootout is almost upon us; let's talk about it.

NCAA Basketball: Cincinnati at Houston
"Breath check: can you tell what I've been gobbling?"
Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

It's Shootout Week, as indeed it has been all week, and the game itself is quickly approaching. Xavier is 6-3, with three of the best losses a team could possibly compile. It's almost impossible to not be proud of those losses (or so I've been told on Twitter).

All hyperbole about good losses aside, Xavier has lost to three teams whose KenPom rankings average less than 11. Cincinnati's is currently 71. No doubt a setback here would be a giant black mark on the Muskies' record; it would take Xavier from having no losses outside of Q1 to having 1 all the way down in Q3. It's a fraught occasion.

So what does X have to do to avoid the embarrassment of a loss at Cincinnati? We've pored over the numbers to isolate a couple of elements of the game plan X should focus on.

Eschew the three-point line

Teams that beat UC are shooting 20-46 (43.4%) from behind the arc, but they're avoiding falling in love with the three. They're taking only 26% of their shots from behind the arc; in games that UC has won, opponents have taken 36% of their attempts from deep. That's the difference between being 3rd in defensive three-point rate and being somewhere in the 130s. Xavier is a team that can shoot it well from deep but manages to stay focused on forcing the ball inside the arc. They need to keep that up in the Shootout.

Keep Cincinnati off the line

UC's three biggest free throw rate games are all easy wins, and two of their other three wins are above their season average in free throw rate. Only Louisville has managed to keep UC off the line and still win, and that's probably because they're not putting in enough effort on defense to consistently foul. I guess another key could be "be better than Louisville," but you and your four grandparents (living or dead) could easily clear that bar. UC is not a good free throw shooting team, but they get better results in games in which they get to the line a lot anyway. Only 24 of their 100 made FTs have come in losses; don't give these guys free chances at points.

Shoot really well

I've really gone and split the atom here, haven't I? Run the Make Shots Offense and good things will follow. Of the four factors - free throw rate, EFG%, TO rate, and OReb% - on offense, the three teams that have beaten UC have been all over the place in three of them. Only EFG% is consistently high. It doesn't matter if you crush the boards or handle the ball well or get to the line; you beat UC when you shoot well. Fortunately, Xavier is 7th in the nation in offensive EFG%.

Clog the paint

Cincinnati has won six games; in all six of those, they've shot 50% or better from inside the arc. Their three losses, by contrast, are their three worst two-point shooting games. They shoot 42.6% from inside the arc in losses but a scalding 59.3% on twos in wins. That's the difference between being in the top 10 in the nation or ranking 340th. When UC can get their shots inside the arc, they drill them and win. When they can't, they redefine hopelessness, no matter how well they're shooting from deep.

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We'll have the preview up as the cherry on top of this sundae of Shootout content. In the meantime, tell all your friends to watch for these four things Saturday and come away looking like a genius.