“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.
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...
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.
-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.
-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.