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

Syndication: Cincinnati
The man himself.
The Enquirer/Michael E. Keating via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Coaching legend Skip Prosser is never too far from Xavier minds. They honored his memory first with a series against Wake Forest, the team he was coaching when he passed, and now against Winthrop, which is coached by his son Mark. Skip was a repository of basketball and life wisdom, and his fingerprints are still visible on the Xavier program. He is dearly missed.

Back on the mortal plane, Xavier just did Skip and every other supporter of the program proud by knocking off UC in the Crosstown Shootout. The game see-sawed briefly after the half, but Quincy Olivari couldn't be stopped or even really slowed down as Xavier made a decisive run in the second period. A couple of garbage time threes left the scorelines flattering UC more than their on-court performance deserved.

Winthrop comes into the game with an 8-3 record. They've gone on the road twice to high majors this year and lost them both, a season-opening drubbing by Clemson and a much tighter defeat at Georgia on Black Friday. They're on a four-game winning streak right now, with their last outing being a drubbing of Little Rock on the road.

Team fingerprint

This Winthrop team lives at the line; their FT rate is 49.1%, good for 4th in the nation. They also shoot 72.6% on FT as a team, which is respectable but outside the top 100. They're just a tick above average from inside and beyond the arc and right at average on turnover rate. They grab about a third of their own misses, which is solid but not spectacular on the offensive glass. They also love to grind out long possessions. It all adds up to the #79 adjusted offensive efficiency number in the country.

The defense is a weak link. They are downright bad on the defensive glass and only about average on the glass. They let teams shoot from deep more or less at will, though they have held opponents to just 31% from behind the arc. They're exactly average in 2P% defense and hardly block any shots. They're hanging around 250th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, which is not a good place to be.


This is kind of a weird team from a positional perspective. Their best three-point shooter starts at maybe center, their forwards are both the same height, and both forwards and the center are not only the same height but also not great on the boards. I suspect things shuffle into a more rational order when Alex Timmerman checks in, but he has only started twice, and zero times since Black Friday.

In the back court, their leading assist guy also leads the team in FGA despite being bad at shooting and their starting shooting guard weighs more than anyone but the backup center. It’s kind of wild. I did my best with the positions based on what KenPom lays out, but don’t be surprised if it looks different at times on the floor. Anyway...


Starting matchups
Kasen Harrison Point Guard Dayvion McKnight
Senior Class Senior
"6'2"", 190" Measurements "6'0"", 188"
11.5/3.5/3.7 Game line 9/5.1/5
42.7/32.3/70 Shooting line 41.2/23.5/80
Harrison leads the team in assist rate by a good margin, but he also gets his shots up, sitting second in FGA. He's a good finisher around the rim but significantly less of a threat if made to pull up or shoot from deep. He is a career 36.6% three-point shooter and he shot 57.1% on almost 3 attempts per game in conference play last year, so his 3P% is a little deceiving. He rarely turns the ball over and he's excellent at drawing fouls.
Nick Johnson Shooting Guard Quincy Olivari
Senior Class Senior
"6'4"", 230" Measurements "6'3"", 200"
10.2/3.8/1.6 Game line 17.2/4.5/2.1
41.2/33.3/58.5 Shooting line 45/46.2/77.8
Johnson also gets to the line well, but he's a career 55.7% shooter when he gets there. He's also dummy thick for a perimeter player. He's a good defender without fouling and a solid if unspectacular rebounder. He doesn't turn the ball over much, but he also doesn't distribute to a noteworthy extent. For a guy average double figures, he's just kind of there on offense.
Chase Claxton Small Forward Desmond Claude
Senior Class Sophomore
"6'7"", 185" Measurements "6'6"", 203"
2.2/2.7/0.5 Game line 15.6/4.1/3.6
34.8/0/66.7 Shooting line 43.8/22.9/68
This guy posted a 10.4% shots percentage as a freshman and hasn't gotten back above 9.2% since. He's at 7.3% this year, meaning he takes about 1 of every 14 of his team's shots when he's on the floor. That's staggering, especially considering he's a career 70.8% shooter inside the arc. He's a solid defender who can be prone to a little foul trouble, and he has a tendency to fall in love with the three even though that affection is clearly unrequited. Mostly he just kind of takes minutes and doesn't use possessions.
Kelton Talford Power Forward Gytis Nemeiksa
Senior Class Senior
"6'7"", 195" Measurements "6'7"", 220"
11.9/4/0.5 Game line 7.8/4.8/1.2
63/0/78 Shooting line 47/42.1/61.5
Talford leads the team and is in the top 50 in the country with. an FT rate just under 70%. He's also cashing out at a good clip, a big step forward from his career 64% mark. He's a good offensive rebounder who has been curiously absent on the defensive glass this year. DReb% has historically been a strength of his, so he may be set to bounce back. His ball security this year has been awful, with a career-worst 26% TO rate.
K.J. Doucet Center Abou Ousmane
Senior Class Senior
"6'7"", 230" Measurements "6'10"", 240"
14.5/3.8/1.6 Game line 8/5.6/1
52.6/48.9/78.3 Shooting line 52.3/0/50
Doucet spent his first two years at the JuCo ranks, crushing the glass and shooting 32% from deep. Having jumped to D1, he's now not boarding much at all but sniping from distance. I'm at a loss to explain that transformation. He comfortably leads the team in usage rate and shots% though, so they're happy to keep feeding him. He's not a great defender and can be prone to foul trouble.


Bucknell transfer big man Alex Timmerman is the first one off the bench. He's 6'10", 270, far and away the biggest guy on the roster. He doesn't block many shots, but he gets after the glass on both ends and averages 10.5/6.1/0.8 per game on a 57.1/33.3/88.9 shooting line. That FT% is particularly important, as he gets to the line fairly frequently. The 3P% comes on 3 attempts, so he's not a huge threat to step out and snipe.

On the other end of the size spectrum is Sin'Cere McMahon, a 6'1" senior guard averaging 8.3/1.8/1.5. He shoots better from deep at 38.6% than he does from behind the arc, and the bulk of his attempts are from out there. He's a bit of a gunner and he doesn't distribute much (5.6% assist rate), but he has earned his confidence from behind the arc and already has 4 games this year with 3+ made threes.

Providing further perimeter depth are wing Noah van Bibber and guard Xavier McElvy. Van Bibber is shooting a cool 39% from deep against D1 teams and averages 6.6/2.2/0.1. McElvy averages 4.5/2.8/0.5 and rebounds really well at both ends for a guard. Van Bibber dropped 22 on Holy Cross less than a week after the Crusaders knocked off Georgetown; he can ruin your night if allowed to.

Three questions

-Can Xavier play a complete game? The level of intensity X had during the Shootout was by and large acceptable, but even in the game their coach described as the most important one they play, the team blinked hard out of halftime. It probably won't take Xavier's best 40 minutes to beat Winthrop, but it also won't take their worst 40 to lose it. The team has to demonstrate a capacity to play from whistle to horn before conference play begins.

-Where has Xavier's defense gone? After locking down a very good Houston offense, the Muskies allowed 166 points in 148 possessions to Delaware and Cincinnati. That's a raw efficiency of 1.12 PPP allowed, which isn't actually very good. In fact, it would put Xavier below 300th in the nation on the season. The offense is yet to spring to life as a well-oiled machine; Xavier needs to be able to lean on the defense.

-Whither Trey Green? Green was out sick against Houston and got limited run in the two games since, meaning he's averaging just three minutes per game in the last three games. Prior to that, he had a three-game stretch where he averaged almost 9 points and 4 assists per game. Hopefully the illness was to blame for his sluggishness, because the Muskies could use him on both ends.

Three keys

-Don't settle for threes. Winthrop will absolutely pack the middle and dare teams to shoot over them. That would have been great for Xavier last year, but this year's team - despite Quincy Olivari's best efforts - just isn't that good at shooting it. Xavier has the height advantage inside; if they play inside out, cleans looks at three will come. If they start from distance, they're sowing the seeds of their own demise.

-Keep Winthrop off the line. The Muskies defense has actually been pretty stingy with giving away free throws, but this figures to be one of its toughest tests all season. Winthrop shoots basically 1 free throw for ever 2 field goals they attempt, which is a staggering rate. If X defends with discipline, they'll cut off one of Winthrop's steadiest forms of production. If they get slappy, it might be a parade to the free throw line all night.

-End it early. Winthrop is not meaningfully worse than Delaware or Oakland, and we all know how those games went for Xavier. At their best, these Musketeers can run away and hide in a game like this. At their worst, they'll lose. Coming off of the high of the Shootout win, this game represents an opportunity to establish real momentum heading into Big East play.