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Xavier v. Kennesaw St: NCAA First Round Preview

Xavier is back in the tournament and meets a motivated Kennesaw State team in the first round.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round Greensboro Practice
I still don’t know what BONE means
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Well, here we go again. There are no easy games in March. Each tipoff means about two hours of nervous agony spent pacing, eating, pacing, eating, pacing... you get it. Xavier will be playing an NCAA tournament game for the first time since March 18th, 2018. Today, that will change. For the first time since then we will all be together in one incredibly anxious mass.

The team that X will be playing is the Owls of Kennesaw State. This variation on KSU comes from Atlantic Sun. They are in the tournament on the back of beating Liberty (thanks, fellas) and winning their conference tournament. The Owls played four high major games this season and lost them all. They played Florida and VCU tough, played Indiana a little less tough, and got obliterated by SDSU.

Team fingerprint

On offense the Owls play kind of fast. They get to the line well and shoot threes very well. They are dreadful once they get to the line, though, and they don’t shoot twos well. In all, they are generally the definition of mediocrity on offense. They move the ball well, turn it over a bit too much, and don’t get on their own glass very well.

Defensively Kennesaw State is a bit better, though not exactly Shaka Smart’s VCU. They can be had, and have been, from behind the arc. Frankly, they aren’t much better at guarding inside the arc. That adds up to being 212th in the nation in effective field goal defense. They force turnovers at the 89th best rate in the nation and got on their defensive glass well. On defense, they focus on the freebies at the expense of giving up shots.



Starting matchups
Terrell Burden Point Guard Souley Boum
Senior Class Senior
5'10", 170 Measurements 6'3", 175
13.5/3.1/4.2 Game line 16.5/4.3/4.4
48.9/34.3/67.5 Shooting line 45.1/42.5/86.3
Not a great free throw shooter, which is a shame, because he's excellent at getting to the line. He's otherwise a solid point guard with pretty good defensive numbers in Kennesaw's system. He's got a good assist rate, but his turnover numbers are a little shaky.
Spencer Rodgers Shooting Guard Adam Kunkel
Senior Class Senior
6'4", 188 Measurements 6'4", 185
6.3/3.3/2.1 Game line 10.5/2.7/3
35.4/33.6/70.4 Shooting line 44.6/39.6/89.2
He doesn't turn the ball over too much, which I think is about his most useful offensive contribution. His shooting numbers are pretty weak and he doesn't dish out many assists. He's a decent free throw shooter and a solid defensive rebounder for a two guard. He's fairly statistically benign.
Chris Youngblood Small Forward Colby Jones
Junior Class Junior
6'4", 218 Measurements 6'6", 205
14.7/4.8/1.9 Game line 15.2/5.4/4.3
46.3/41.1/82.5 Shooting line 51.9/38.2/67
Youngblood is the guy for the Owls' offense. He leads in ORtg, EFG%, FT%, and field goal attempts; they feed him and he goes and scores as much as as he can. He is a decent defender but can be a touch foul prone. He's a legitimate three-level threat who I imagine will be the top line of the scouting report.
Brandon Stroud Power Forward Jerome Hunter
Junior Class Senior
6'6", 200 Measurements 6'8", 215
9.4/6.5/1.6 Game line 7.3/4.3/1.3
45.4/35.6/52.4 Shooting line 56.8/11.1/65.7
Stroud is an all-action player who injects a lot of energy to the game. He's a good defender but can be foul prone at that end. He's active on the glass on both ends, but especially on the offensive end, where almost a quarter of his shot attempts are on putbacks. It remains to be seen how much, if at all, it will affect him to be matched up against a high-major four like Big Rome.
Demond Robinson Center Jack Nunge
Senior Class Senior
6'8", 264 Measurements 7'0" 245
11.1/5.8/0.8 Game line 14.1/7.8/2.1
54/6.3/62.2 Shooting line 52.4/42.4/70.3
In addition to being thicker than the windows on a submarine, Robinson is a monster on the offensive glass and an excellent scorer around the rim. He has a solid mid-range game and surprisingly moderate rim protection numbers. It is not clear that he has the size or mobility to guard Nunge in all the places Nunge goes, but I'm sure he'll give it a game effort.


Kasen Jennings is a 6’3” guard who started 17 games through the middle of the season. He averages 6.2/1.7/1.6 and shoots almost 40% from behind the arc. He doesn’t do much except lift and commits 4 fouls per 40 minutes. The other guard off the bench is 6’1” freshman Simeon Cottle, who is good for 3.8/0.7/1.1 per game. He turns the ball over a lot and fouls even more than Jennings. He’s 18-22 from the line against D1 competition though.

As far as forwards go, Quincy Ademokoya is a 6’6” wing who comes off the bench first. He shoots 41% from three and averages 4.6/1.5/0.5 per game. He doesn’t rebound or distribute to any meaningful extent. Senior Alex Peterson is the closest thing they have to a legit big off the bench, though he’s only 6’7”, 218. He averages 4.5/2.8/0.7 per game and gets after it on the defensive glass; he also averages 4.8 fouls per 40.

Three questions

-Can Xavier’s guards stay in front? Kennesaw State is a good shooting offense, and a lot of that is predicated on Terrell Burden’s ability to get into the middle and distribute. Xavier’s defense has improved as the season has gone on, but on-ball containment from the perimeter is often still a weak point. The Owls aren’t a buzz saw, but they will punish you if you can’t keep them from getting to their spots.

-Will Kennesaw State be able to make a fight of it in the paint? Xavier is 26th in the nation in average height. Kennesaw State is 337th. KSU doesn’t even get 40 minutes a game from guys taller than Colby Jones, which might be a problem if Jack Nunge and Jerome Hunter get working early. The Muskies should have a pretty solid advantage in the paint.

-Can Xavier save some legs? The only ultimate goal is to survive and advance. Beyond that, though, we saw what happened in the Big East Tournament when the Muskies ran out of gas. Winning one game is the key today, but it’s no secret that the goal is to win another before the weekend is out. If Cesare Edwards and Elijah Tucker can get good minutes in this game, it will stand Xavier in good stead going forward.

Three keys

- Don’t play down to the level of the competition: Kennesaw St deserves to be here and they are every bit a tournament team. What they aren’t is as good as Xavier. The Musketeers have a bad habit, especially in conference play, of leaving bad teams in the game. The line here is -12.5, KenPom has X by 11. This shouldn’t come down to the last four minutes. Doing that in March is a recipe for disaster.

- Don’t get dragged into the freebie war: KSU doesn’t get on the offensive glass well, but they will turn teams over. Xavier is 52nd in the nation in defensive rebounding, which would suggest that won’t be a problem. X does struggle with turning the ball over at times, though. Doing that could turn this into a game where a lesser team sticks around.

- Play the game, not the situation: If this game were happening in November none of us would be worried, the student section would be just getting things sorted, and the end of the bench would still be vying for playing time. Xavier needs to run out there and play this game as if it were then. All of the trappings of the situation will put external stress on the game. It will be up to the Musketeers to make sure that it doesn’t impact them.