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Xavier v. Bryant: preview, matchups, keys to the game

After taking (and dishing out) some beatings on their travels, Xavier is back home for a six-game homestand at Cintas. First on the docket is Bryant.

NCAA Basketball: Continental Tire Main Event Consolation Xavier vs Saint Mary’s
HOORAY FOR BASKETBALL
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

“All wins” - to paraphrase Nelly - “ain’t good wins, but no wins ain’t good.” Xavier managed to pick up a good win against a Saint Mary’s team that I dearly hope is going to round into form at some point, but the Ws over Robert Morris and Jacksonville aren’t going to move the needle when March comes around. Bryant is different than those teams, but it is by degree, not orders of magnitude.

The Bulldogs are coming off a season in which they went 15-13 against D1 opponents and crashed out in the first round of the conference tournament. Now under the watchful eye of Phil Martelli, Jr., they’re off to an unimpressive start to the season. Their signature win at Florida Atlantic is more than cancelled out by losses against KenPom 300+ teams Manhattan and Boston University. You generally think of the America East as a one-bid league, and Bryant is doing nothing to dispel that.

On the first of December, Xavier will host Houston with a chance to pick up a signature non-conference win. Their job until then is to bridge the gap with perfunctory victories. That starts with Bryant.

Team fingerprint

They’re really bad at offense, 279th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, to be exact. Their ball security is really good, landing inside the top 100 with a 15.7% TO rate. The rest is a nightmare. They’re an average three-point shooting team that takes about 40% of their shots from beyond the arc, but they’re absolutely awful from two-point range (where they take about 60% of their shots, if my math holds). They’re bad at getting to the line and awful - 63% - once they get there. It’s hard to go downhill from there, but their effort on the offensive glass gets there. They only grab 18.5% of their misses, which is 355th out of the 363 D1 teams. It’s bad.

Their defense is comparably palatable, though by no means world-beating. They’re actually 13th in the nation with a defensive EFG% of 40%, which is objectively excellent. The rest of the four factors are significantly worse. The bottom of the barrel is their 273rd ranking in TO rate; they just don’t force them at all. They’re 233rd in the country in both free throw rate and DReb%, probably owing to the fact that they only have one dude taller than 6’6” and nobody taller than 6’8”. On the other hand, they block a ton of shots, probably because they play big guards and only get 10 minutes per game from guys under 6’4”. This is a weird roster.

Speaking of which...

Players

Starters

Starting matchups Sherif Gross-Bullock Point Guard Dayvion McKnight Senior Class Senior 6'5", 215 Measurements 6'0", 188 17.8/6.7/3.2 Game line 7.2/4.2/4.2 39.1/37.5/70 Shooting line 46.9/20/71.4 This guy loves to dribble into his own shot. Of his 24 made baskets inside the arc, only 5 of them are assisted, and only 12 of his 18 threes are off a dime. He has taken a huge step back in offensive efficiency from last year, in which he was also dribbling the spots off the ball before shooting. He gets to the line okay and is a solid defensive player. Still, maybe get the ball moving a bit. Tyler Brelsford Shooting Guard Quincy Olivari Senior Class Senior 6'4", 183 Measurements 6'3", 200 7.2/1.3/1 Game line 12.2/4.8/1.8 53.8/41.2/88.9 Shooting line 35.3/32.1/64 For what it's worth, 18 of this guy's 43 points this season came against a non-D1 team. He's a solid but not special shooter who doesn't offer much else on the offensive end. His defensive numbers look good, though I'll confess to have not specifically scouted that area of his game on film. Daniel Rivera Small Forward Desmond Claude Junior Class Sophomore 6'6", 210 Measurements 6'6", 203 10.2/7.5/1.5 Game line 16.4/3.6/3.8 45/20/31.6 Shooting line 47.8/31.3/72.2 Rivera spent last year at Saint Louis without playing; prior to that, he was at Odessa College. He did there mostly what he's doing at Bryant, which is defend exceptionally well and crush the glass. He's not a very good shooter from anywhere, including the line, and he can be a little foul prone. He'll probably draw Des and be a pretty good matchup for him on Xavier's offensive end. Connor Withers Power Forward Gytis Nemeiksa Senior Class Senior 6'8", 200 Measurements 6'7", 220 6.3/4.7/0.7 Game line 10.2/5.4/1.2 42.4/36.4/66.7 Shooting line 51.3/40/70 Despite being the tallest dude on the roster by 2 inches, Withers isn't actually a very good rebounder by rate. He also drifts deep on offense, taking twice as many threes as twos on the youngs season. He's a respectable rim protector, but he fouls 6.9 times per 40 minutes, which really takes some of the shine off of that. He's also averaging about 1 assist per 40 minutes in D1 play, which is not great or even good. Earl Timberlake Center Abou Ousmane Senior Class Senior 6'6", 220 Measurements 6'10", 240 12.2/9.7/4.5 Game line 7.4/4.6/0.6 55.8/0/62.5 Shooting line 47.1/0/41.7 A big man trapped in a slightly smaller big man's body, Timberlake does his best to bang in the paint and on the glass, but it's tough sledding to be a 6'6" center at this level. He's actually a pretty good ball distributor from inside to out, leading the team in assist rate so far this year. He'll eat space in the middle, but it will be up to Ousmane to make the size difference tell.

Reserves

Former St. John’s forward Rafael Pinzon is first off the bench, but he gets starter’s minutes. He’s a 6’6” wing averaging 12.0/2.7/0.7 per game and just gunning his little heart out; his usage rate is over 25% and his shots percentage is over 30%. He hasn’t been super efficient, with an ORtg of 87.0 and EFG% of 44.8%. He’s playing good defense without fouling, but mostly he’s out there to just huck.

Miles Latimer is also a 6’6” wing, but he’s averaging 3.8/2.7/0.7 per game. He’s shooting even worse, with a 38.6% EFG% in D1 play. You might also recognize tournament legend Doug Edert, who functions as deep bench help on this team. He’s got 23 points on the season, 11 of which came against NAIA Fisher College. He’s the only player on the roster getting consistent run who is under 6’4”.

And that’s pretty much it. Bryant is 333rd in the country with about 22% of their minutes coming off the bench. Timberlake and Gross-Bullock will play huge minutes and the other three starters will mix with Pinzon to cover most of what's left. Latimer and to a lesser extent Edert will pick up some leftovers, but this is mostly a six-man team.

Three questions

-Who is Xavier's center? I've left Abou Ousmane in the starters grid, as keen-eyed observers will have noted, but Sasa Ciani was Sean Miller's pick against Saint Mary's. Xavier doesn't have a ton of truly big guys or dudes who dominate on the glass, so the bruising presence of Ousmane certainly fills a need on this roster. As long as he's fouling 9 times every 40 minutes though, Coach Miller is going to have some juggling to do up front. Ciani's 125 ORtg and 20.4% DReb% in limited run are starting to make a compelling case for an expanded role.

-What is the real Bryant? The Bulldogs have a win as impressive as anything Xavier boasts on the young season, having gone into Florida Atlantic and come out with a win. They've also struggled at home against a bad Howard, lost at home to a dreadful Manhattan team, and gotten boat raced by Boston University, a team that was last good in the late 1950s (which UC fans assure is still very relevant today). Their head coach was placed on a leave of absence three weeks ago and "resigned" last Monday, so it's perfectly reasonable that they'd be a little inconsistent, but the warning signs are there that they can occasionally punch above their weight.

-Can anyone on Xavier shoot? The Muskies are shooting threes at about the same rate they did last year, but they're making them at a rate that suggests that word of the coaching change hasn't filtered down to the roster yet. Last year's team was 16th in the country in D1 experience and 26th in average height; this year's is 175th and 202nd in those categories. This team is young and small; making a few threes would really help ease some growing pains.

Three keys

-Start sorting the guard rotation. Des is the only returning guy, the leading scorer, and a capable distributor. Dayvion McKnight can get his own shot with a slick mid-range game and leads the team in assist rate, but he's not going to stretch the defence from deep. Quincy Olivari is running in sand a bit, but he has the capacity to provide some much-needed floor spacing with his shooting. Trey Green is pure electricity in ways both good and bad. Sean Miller somehow has to sort through these disparate skill sets on the fly to know who to use and when once the conference season starts. The time for experimentation is running short already.

-Own the glass. On Xavier's defensive end, Bryant isn't going to cough the ball up much, but they will miss plenty of shots. It's important for X to keep them to one and done down there. It's even more incumbent that the Muskies - facing one of the top EFG% defenses in the nation - generate the occasional second chance of their own. Bryant has shown a knack for forcing misses and X hasn't bathed itself in glory from deep or the stripe; the ball coming off the rim is going to be one of the most frequent and important events in this game.

-Put it to bed early. Florida Atlantic looked to have done just that by grabbing an 11-2 lead against the Bulldogs, but then they surrendered the next 11 points of the game. They couldn't establish a gap after that, and a 13-2 Bryant run early in the second half put the Owls down for good. If Xavier is going to get to where they want to be, they should be notably better than FAU and orders of magnitude better than Bryant. This isn't a pure cupcake game, but the Muskies need to make it clear from the start which team is the high-major.