What year is it? Sean Miller is head coach at Xavier and the Musketeers are taking on St. Bonaventure in an intercollegiate basketball game. Time is a flat circle.
While Miller holds the title of head coach, he won't be at the reins tonight. That honor will go to Jonas Hayes, whose steady hand at the till has been a Godsend during what must surely be one of the weirdest coaching transitions in recent college basketball memory. Whatever comes of the end of this season and the new Miller Era, I doubt it will soon be forgotten among Xavier fans how vital Hayes has been in trying times. What will be etched in records as well as memory will be that he has guided Team 100 past Florida and Vanderbilt to earn this matchup against the Bonnies in the world's most famous arena.
Speaking of St. Bonaventure, they're in the NIT final four by a route with some similarities to Xavier's. They started the season 8-1 and peeked into the polls, but they suffered a disastrous two month stretch the likes of which a mid-major can't absorb. They went 4-6 and left the chances for 3 Q1 wins and 3 Q2 wins on the table. By the time they righted the ship to go 6-2 down the stretch, 4 of those wins came in Q3 or Q4. They managed to pile up a decent record, but the gaps in their resume relegated them to the NIT.
Incomprehensibly shallow. I know we usually start this section talking about offense or defense, but the defining characteristic of St. Bonaventure is their complete absence of depth. They get 9% of their minutes off the bench, which is last in the nation by a comfortable margin. If you go 10 percentage points up from St. Bonnie, you get to Saint Joseph's, who are 352nd in the nation with 19.1% of their minutes off the bench. Another 10 percentage points puts you at 222nd, with Rice. In an average 40 minute game, the Bonnies' starters each get an average of 3 minutes and 36 seconds of rest. It's incredible.
Their offense is 73rd overall. They are excellent at ball security, which is good because turnovers lead to a lot of running that you can ill afford if you're only getting 200 seconds of rest per game. They don't rebound or get to the line very well, though they are solid when they get there. They are about average from inside the arc - though they're weirdly elite at not getting their shots blocked - and poor from beyond it in terms of both volume and success rate. As you might expect, they keep a fairly low tempo.
The Bonnies are 78th nationally in defense. They block a ton of shots, 15.1% of their opponents' two-point attempts, which is 9th in the nation. Amazingly, they're also elite in terms of avoiding putting opponents on the line. They're a tick above average in forcing turnovers and defensive rebounding and exactly average in defensive EFG%. They will absolutely stand inside the arc and watch teams shoot as many threes as they'd like to; only 6 teams give up a higher proportion of their points from behind the arc.
|Lofton is nails from the line but doesn't shoot well from anywhere else. He does care for the ball well and initiates the offense without making a mess of things.
|Holmes is another guy who isn't an accomplished shooter. He's good at the line, bad from the floor, and basically bang average at everything else.
|Welch is a good three point shooter who gets up a lot of shots. He's very effective on the defensive glass for a guard, but he turns the ball over way too much for his assist rate. When he gets going he's a real problem.
|Adaway is listed as a forward here for formatting, but he's essentially a fourth guard. He's the Bonnies leading scorer and can get it effectively at all three levels without turning the ball over hardly at all. If he's using a possession, it's to shoot.
|Osunniyi is the only player on the Bonnies who ranks nationally in rebounding or blocked shots, and he does both in abundance. Like every other starter on the team, he plays over 30 minutes. Unlike the other starters, he really struggles at the line but is excellent inside the paint.
Abdoul Karim Coulibaly is the only bench player to appear in every game. He averages less than 10 minutes per game. Coulibaly has a higher shots percentage than anyone else on the team, so when he is out there, he’s putting it up. He gets his 3.7 points per game in the paint, and will get on the offensive glass effectively.
Excluding the game Osunniyi missed injured, no other Bonnie has played double digit minutes since February 4th. That was Quadry Adams, and he’s hurt now. This team is not deep at all.
-Which Zach Freemantle will show up? When asked about Freemantle's recent - if modest - uptick in form in coming off the bench, Jonas Hayes responded, "That's Zach Freemantle." With all due respect to the interim man in charge, that has often not been Zach Freemantle this year. Xavier's preseason all-league forward has looked more engaged on the defensive end and more effective on offense during the NIT. A big night from him could put Xavier into the final.
-How does Xavier attack Osunniyi? St. Bonaventure's senior center is the anchor of their defense and far and away their most effective shot blocker. Lining up across from him is Jack Nunge, who is 9-14 from behind the arc in March. If Nunge stats hot, his shooting can pull Osunniyi towards the arc or force St. Bonnie to adjust their defense. Opening driving lanes for Colby Jones and Dwon Odom could be key.
-Can Xavier make their depth pay? In their six March games, the Bonnies have gotten more than 13 minutes off the bench exactly once. In that same time, Xavier has had 10 instances of an individual player getting more than 13 minutes off the bench. The Muskies have way more depth than St. Bonaventure, but that has been true of every team the Bonnies have played. It will be on Coach Hayes to make that a strategic advantage.
-Find the hot hand. The Bonnies do a really good job of not surrendering points from inside the arc or at the line; they're borderline elite in both categories. You may recall that Xavier has had trouble scoring from deep, and that one of their more consistent shooters is down with a torn ACL. The answer here is Nate Johnson, Adam Kunkel, or Jack Nunge. X has to figure out who is hitting and feed him to crack open the defense.
-Play even at the free throw line. Both defenses do a good job at defending without fouling, but only Xavier's offense has a habit of drawing a lot of fouls anyway. As I'm sure you're aware, the Muskies are not a good free throw shooting team; the Bonnies are. X will probably shoot more free throws than their opponent tonight; it would be a boost if they could finish with as many points from the line as St. Bonaventure earns.
-Keep the ball hot. Against a team that packs the middle and blocks a lot of shots, attacking a set defense is a surefire way to end up with like .8 points per possession at the end of the game. Xavier has to put the defense in rotation with quick ball movement and penetrate-and-kick action. There's not much to add here; if Xavier forces shots against the first side, they'll find it really difficult to score.