After a quick trip through the wilderness that culminated in missing three straight NCAA tournaments and becoming Nationally Invited Champions, Xavier is back in the big dance. Behind Sean Miller, the Muskies have surged to a 3 seed in the Midwest region, playing in Greensboro, NC on Friday.
Joining them there will be three of the following four teams, after the play-in games in Dayton are concluded. Here’s a quick first run through the scout on each of the potential opponents in Xavier’s way.
6 seed Iowa State Cyclones (19-13, 20 NET, 23 KenPom)
Iowa State played a staggering 21 Q1 games this season, going 10-11 in those contests. They won home and away against Baylor, Kansas State, and TCU, won at home against Kansas and Texas. They completed the hat trick against Baylor by beating them on a neutral site in the Big 12 tournament. This is a team with some serious wins on the resume.
They do it the same way the old Mick Cronin teams used to: a smothering defense and offensive rebounding. They’re second in the nation in defensive TO% and eighth in overall defensive efficiency. If you don’t turn it over, their defense isn’t that impressive and they foul a ton. Additionally, they aren’t very good at shooting the ball and turn it over a lot in their own right. This team will go as far as its ball-hawking defense carries it.
11 seed Mississippi State Bulldogs (21-12, 49 NET, 49 KenPom)
These guys were 11-0 at one point in the season and managed to work their way from that dominant position to on the ropes for NCAA inclusion by going 1-8 in their next 9. They snuck by Florida in OT in the opening round of the SEC tournament and probably salvaged their at-large hopes in so doing. They have 4 Q1 wins and 4 Q2 wins but 11 losses in the top 2 quads. They have stabilized by finishing a respectable 9-4 in their last 13; your guess is as good as mine regarding who this team actually is.
According to KenPom, they’re another stout defense that forces a lot of turnovers. They’re 6th in AdjD behind sitting in the top 25 in defensive EFG% and TO%. They’re really hard to score against. They also struggle to score themselves. They’re 164th in the nation in AdjO and 328th (!) in EFG%. They can’t shoot at all. They make 26.6% of their threes, worst in the nation. They’re also 347th in FT%. I mean, rough. These guys need rock fights to win; if they get down big, they don’t have the firepower to get back in.
11 seed Pitt Panthers (22-11, 67 NET, 77 KenPom)
Um... 7-9 in the top 2 quads, a loss in each of the lower two, pretty poor computer numbers. They’re 1-3 in March with their only win coming against a Georgia Tech team so dire that they fired their head coach as soon as the season ended. Their best win is at North Carolina? Home to Virginia? This isn’t an impressive resume.
They can actually score, which is a breath of fresh air in this pod. They’re 24th in the nation in offensive efficiency, shooting well from inside and outside the arc and solid in ball security. They shoot a ton of threes, more than 44% of their shots. Their defense doesn’t. They’re solid in terms of defensive EFG%, just outside the top 100, but they can’t force turnovers at all and are fairly mediocre on the glass. There are a lot of ways to hurt these guys, and teams have been able to find them.
14 seed Kennesaw State Owls (26-8, 115 NET, 127 KenPom)
They paid the bills going 0-4 in Q1, heading to Florida, VCU, San Diego State, and Indiana and losing. Their only 2 Q2 wins were against Liberty in conference play and then in the conference tournament championship. They’ve got a decent amount of ballast in the lower quads as well, putting up a 21-4 record in Q3 and Q4 combined.
Their offense is 153rd in the nation, showing solid balance between inside and outside the arc. They shoot 37.1% from deep but are only 162nd nationally in three-point rate, showing that they don’t rely on the three-point shot to get on top. Their turnover rate is average and their offensive rebounding is poor. Their defense forces turnovers well and seals off the glass, but they’re 212th in the nation in defensive EFG% and 291st in defensive free throw rate. They get fewer than 40 minutes per game from players over 6’6”.
There’s a quick run through the five teams that will be playing single-elimination ball for a bid to the Sweet 16. Stay tuned all week for more March Madness coverage. I can barely begin to express to you how excited I am that Xavier is back.