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NCAA Tournament bracket: First look at Arizona’s Sweet 16 opponent, the Xavier Musketeers

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Arizona is playing Xavier in the Sweet 16 again. How does this year’s Xavier team compare to the 2015 team?

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Florida State vs Xavier Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In a totally new, never-before-seen match-up, the Arizona Wildcats will play the Xavier Musketeers in the Sweet 16 this Thursday.

How does this year’s Xavier team look compared to the team the Wildcats faced in 2015? Here is our first look at the latest version of the Xavier Musketeers.


More player continuity than you’d expect

Since 2015, the composition of Xavier’s line-up has changed. Matt Stainbook and Dee Davis ran out of eligibility, Jalen Reynolds left school early, and Myles Davis left the program under questionable circumstances earlier this year. In the meantime, the Musketeers added key contributors RaShid Gaston and Malcolm Bernard as transfers from Norfolk State and Florida A&M, respectively.

There is still some continuity, though. Trevon Bluiett, who averaged 11 points per game back in 2015 but got shut down by the Wildcats, has developed into one of the top scorers in the Big East. J.P. Macura, a back-up in 2015 who was similarly limited by Arizona’s defense, now averages more than 14 points a game. Both Bluiett and Macura were underclassmen who struggled against the Wildcats last go-round, and both will be looking to redeem themselves this year.


Stylistic similarities

Unsurprisingly, this year’s Xavier team plays much the same style as the 2015 team. Xavier’s tempo is almost identical (65.4 in 2015, 67.1 in 2017) and scores in much the same way, with the distribution of points coming from three-pointers, two-pointers, and free throws all within a couple percentage points of the 2015 squad. And the end result is much the same: Xavier is a good team, with a better offense than defense, that is probably around the 25th-best team in the country right now.

This team lacks the size of the 2015 team, though. With Stainbrook and Reynolds, Xavier had two very good big men to account for. Not so much this year: Xavier’s most used line-up consists of one 6-foot-10 guy (Sean O’Mara) and everyone else standing 6-foot-6 or shorter.

That’s not to say Xavier is short — its guards, in particular, are all bigger — but, without dominant big men, Xavier is forced to score in other ways. That means the Musketeers (well, mostly Bluiett) do a better job of penetrating and getting to the line.

With that in mind, Arizona’s post defense will not be as important this time, but its help defense will be.


The preliminary verdict

This is certainly not a game Arizona should take for granted, but Arizona matches up better against Xavier than they did against Saint Mary’s. Xavier lacks a dominant big man and won’t be able to control the pace in the same way the Gaels did. And, frankly, Xavier isn’t as good as Saint Mary’s.

We’ll take a deeper dive later this week, but for now, Arizona fans can be cautiously optimistic going into this game.