Well, here we are. To quote Major League, “Guess there is only one thing left to do. Win the whole [freaking] thing.” This may not have been the whole thing we wanted at the start of the year, but the team is bought in, the coach is bought in, the new coach is bought in, and this NIT run has been surprisingly joyful. From the ashes of a disappointing season has come a genuinely fun three game stretch. Xavier just needs one more to finish it off.
They will try to get it against a Texas A&M team that firmly believed they had done enough to get into the big tournament. Buzz Williams gave an impassioned speech about how opaque and flawed the selection process is. While he was right, that didn’t keep his team out of the NIT. To prove their point, the Aggies have won by 12, 15, 15, and 16 in the NIT. None of those games have been a contest in the second half.
A major talking point out of Xavier’s semi-final win was the way the ESPN coverage seemed to be stilted toward the Bonnies. Buzz Williams is an ESPN contributor. Just something to keep in mind.
Texas A&M doesn’t play particularly quickly or shoot terribly well. Offense is not their strength. Offensive rebounding is though, and they do it better than most teams in the nation. In addition, the Aggies will get to the line a lot. They won’t convert particularly well there, but they get there a lot. A&M also gets a weirdly high amount of their shots blocked.
On defense, things are almost completely different. The Aggies are 27th nationally in in defensive efficiency. They attack the ball relentlessly, only seven teams forced more turnovers and only two teams stole the ball at a higher rate. They also don’t give up a very high percentage on threes, but that seems almost immaterial. Texas A&M can be beaten on the defensive glass, because they basically ignore it. They’ll also cut down on the passing lanes and force players to go it alone. This is not a defense to be trifled with.
|Wade Taylor IV||Point Guard||Dwon Odom|
|6'0", 186||Measurements||6'2", 182|
|Taylor is an interesting case. He sported a .300/.247/.791 shooting line in SEC play and yet took it upon himself to shoot on 37% of A&M's posessions with him on the floor. This commitment to lighting possessions on fire kind of nullifies the things he does well, which are creating turnovers without committing many and setting up his teammates.|
|Tyrece Radford||Shooting Guard||Adam Kunkel|
|6'2". 200||Measurements||6'4", 180|
|Radford does his damage from deep, but is sneaky effective at the rim for a guy his size. He gets to the offensive glass pretty well, too, and is not prone to turnover trouble.|
|Quenton Jackson||Small Forward||Nate Johnson|
|6'5", 173||Measurements||6'4", 192|
|Jackson is A&M's leading scorer and can get buckets in many ways, but does most of his damage creating for himself by driving. He uses his length to disrupt passing lanes on defense and is one of the best in the country at getting himself to the free throw line and converting.|
|Manny Obaseki||Power Forward||Colby Jones|
|6'4", 189||Measurements||6'6", 207|
|Obaseki is really another guard and does not typically play starter level minutes. Still, the Aggies are 11-1 since entered the starting lineup and he provides a glue guy presence without using many possessions.|
|Henry Coleman III||Center||Jack Nunge|
|6'8", 243||Measurements||7'0" 245|
|Coleman is not quite as tall as some of the bigs he comes up against, but his willingness to bang around and fight for everything that comes off the rim makes up for that. He boards well at both ends and converts around the basket at a similar rate to Zach Freemantle. Coleman really does not block shots as well as some of the bigs Xavier has seen recently.|
The Aggies’ bench is deep and Williams will rely on them to give good minutes, in a complete flip from St. Bonaventure. Hassan Diarra is a point guard who can score in spurts, such as the 17 he put on Notre Dame, but also went 5 games without scoring and tends to struggle with turnovers. Hayden Hefner will slot in as an undersized 4 and is adept at shooting the ball from deep, having hit on 41% of his threes in SEC play. Andre Gordon is another backup guard who is a threat to score at all three levels and is another Aggie who is adept at turning the opponent over. Ethan Henderson is a big who will provide defense and rebounding without taking many shots, and Aaron Cash is slightly smaller, but rebounds at a bit higher of a level and also rarely shoots.
- Can Xavier get on the glass? The Aggies don’t defensive rebound at all. They hammer the offensive glass brutally. Xavier is sort of ok at both. They will need to either keep the Aggies off the offensive glass or match them second chance point for second chance point.
- Who wins the turnover battle? The Musketeers have been excellent at protecting the ball since conference play started. A&M turns everyone over. In the NIT they’ve forced a turnover rate of at least 24% in three of the four games. They turned Alabama over 19 times, Tennessee 17 times in a loss. Twice this year they’ve forced a turnover rate over 40%. If Xavier starts getting sloppy, this gets ugly.
- Does Jack Nunge have one in him? By the end of Big East play, Nunge looked exhausted, as if the weight of the team were wearing him down. In the NIT, Coach Hayes has greatly cut back his minutes and Nunge has responded with offensive efficiencies of 151. 178, and 184. If he’s got 30 minutes in him one more time, this would be the time for it.