It seems like just yesterday the Arizona Wildcats and Xavier Musketeers were squaring off in the Sweet 16 and now, two years later, they will be at it again on Thursday in San Jose.
Arizona beat Xavier in the Sweet 16 in 2015, and XU head coach Chris Mack joked that that means Xavier is a lock to win this year’s rematch.
Jokes aside, it’s time to take a comprehensive look at what the Musketeers will bring to the table this time around.
Quick facts about Xavier
Overall record: 23-13
Conference record: 9-9, 7th in the Big East
Adjusted offensive efficiency*: 116.1 (29th of 351 nationally)
Adjusted defensive efficiency*: 99.2 (65th of 351)
Best wins: vs. Clemson (neutral site), vs. Utah, vs. Wake Forest, vs. Providence, vs. Butler (neutral site)
Path to the Sweet 16: Beat No. 6 Maryland in First Round, then beat No. 3 Florida State in the Round of 32
Hot streak: Xavier has won five of its last six games
*points scored/allowed per 100 possessions, adjusted for opponents
Xavier fought through adversity to reach the NCAA Tournament
Like Arizona, Xavier has been no stranger to adversity this season.
The Musketeers are without starting point guard Edmond Sumner, who has been out since late January after suffering a season-ending ACL injury.
The 6-foot-6 sophomore was Xavier’s second-leading scorer, averaging 15.0 points per game, as well as the team’s leading assister, tallying 5.0 assists per game (though with an assist-to-turnover ratio under 2 to 1).
Though Sumner was not much of a shooter (he was shooting under 30 percent from 3), he was an efficient scorer in that he shot 52 percent on 2-pointers, plus 73 percent from the free throw line where he averaged 6.5 attempts per game.
Xavier was 15-6 with Sumner in the lineup, but quickly hit a tailspin when he went down with injury because, just a few games later, Xavier’s leading scorer Trevon Bluiett suffered an ankle injury that kept him out for two games and a part of a third game.
Xavier lost all three of those games, then when Bluiett returned it lost two more, sending the Musketeers to 18-12 overall. Thankfully for Xavier, it won its regular season finale then won two games in the Big East tournament, boosting its resume just enough to make the NCAA Tournament — and obviously it has continued its momentum since then.
Xavier is the only double-digit seeded team left in the NCAA Tournament. The Musketeers also lost Myles Davis, who left the program in January after being suspended for the first 15 games of the season.
Davis, a 6-foot-2 senior, averaged just north of 10 PPG in his sophomore and junior seasons.
With Sumner out, Bluiett has carried the load for Xavier. Averaging a team-high 18.5 points per game, the senior has posted two monster performances in the NCAA Tournament thus far.
The 6-foot-6 senior scored 21 points on 15 shots against Maryland, then scored 29 points on 14 shots against Florida State. Earlier in the season, Bluiett dropped 40 points on the Cincinnati Bearcats.
The senior scores from all three levels of the floor as he is shooting 44 percent from the field, 37 percent from 3, and 75 percent from the charity stripe.
Bluiett is also known for being a clutch scorer and a guy that heats up in the second half.
Bluiett was a member of the First Team All-Big East and has scored 20 points or more in 18 games this season.
According to KenPom.com, Xavier profiles as a team that plays “some zone.”
In their first-round win against Maryland, the Musketeers threw various defenses at the Terrapins, including a 1-3-1 zone, a 2-3 zone, and traditional man-to-man defense, and it proved to be effective.
Maryland shot just 40 percent from the field and 7-for-27 from 3.
In general, though, Xavier is a relatively average defensive team. The Musketeers are 65th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom, allowing 99.2 points per 100 possessions (adjusted for opponents).
In actuality (aka without KenPom’s adjustment), Xavier is allowing 103.5 points per 100 possessions, which ranks 199th (of 351) in the country.
That said, Xavier has shown the ability to use multiple defensive looks and recently it’s been working.
The Musketeers are a strong defensive rebounding team, too, ranking 27th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage (75.0).
Xavier outrebounded both Maryland and Florida State in the first two rounds.
X marks the open shot
The strength of Xavier’s team is its offense. With Bluiett leading the way, the Musketeers rank as the 29th-best offensive team in the country per KenPom, averaging 116.1 points per 100 possessions (adjusted for opponents).
Xavier’s shooting percentages really aren’t all that impressive — it shoots 46 percent from the field, 35 percent from 3, and 69 percent from the line — but there are two areas Xavier does major damage: at the free throw line and on the offensive glass.
While Xavier shoots under 70 percent at the free throw line, it has one of the highest free throw rates in the country. As in, the Musketeers get the line often. They rank 30th in college basketball in free throw rate.
Sumner, who obviously won’t be playing Thursday, was a major part of that, but so is Bluiett and recently Sean O’Mara.
O’Mara, a 6-foot-10 forward, is 15-for-16 from the charity stripe in the NCAA Tournament.
Additionally, Xavier has an offensive rebounding percentage of 34.9, which ranks 29th in college basketball. The Wildcats have had trouble controlling the glass at times this season and XU is a team that can make them pay if they’re not boxing out.
One reason Xavier has so much success on the glass is it’s a big team across the board. On average, the Musketeers are the eight-tallest team in college basketball. All of their starters are 6-foot-4 or taller.
Other names to know
Aside from Bluiett who is essentially a lock to score in double figures each game, Xavier has a few other players to look out for.
Second in scoring is J.P. Macura, a 6-foot-5 guard who is averaging 14.3 points per game. The junior is shooting 42 percent from the field and 34 percent from 3 (at a high volume). He also shoots 79 percent from the line. He scored 10 points in each of Xavier’s first two wins in the NCAA Tournament.
Next to know is Sean O’Mara.
O’Mara, though averaging just 6.0 PPG, is pouring in 14.5 PPG through two NCAA Tournament games, including a career-high 18-point outburst against Maryland. He shoots over 60 percent from the field and, as mentioned earlier, he has shown a penchant for drawing fouls recently.
Lastly, RaShid Gaston, Malcolm Bernard, and Quentin Goodin are the other names to be familiar with.
Gaston, a 6-foot-9 forward averages 7.6 points and 6.1 rebounds. The Norfolk State transfer averaged nearly 15 PPG and 10 RPG before moving to Xavier.
With a 240-pound frame, Gaston is a terror on the offensive glass, tracking down 15.5 percent of Xavier’s misses when on the floor, the 16th-best mark in college basketball.
Bernard, a 6-foot-6 senior, is Xavier’s best 3-point shooter, sinking 39 percent of his 3-point attempts this season. He mostly plays the 4.
Goodin, who starts at point guard now, is capable of scoring in double figures and has upped his assist totals recently. Against Maryland, Goodin had nine assists to go along with nine points. Against FSU, the freshman had six points and five assists.
Goodin is prone to committing turnovers, though, posting an assist-to-turnover ratio under 2 to 1 this season.
- Xavier does not force many turnovers, ranking 223rd in opponent turnover percentage.
- The Musketeers play at a fairly slow tempo, averaging 68.3 possessions per 40 minutes — the 242nd pace in the country.
- Xavier is the worst team left in the NCAA Tournament per KenPom, sitting at 30th in its rankings.
- Arizona head coach Sean Miller said this Xavier team reminds him of Xavier’s 2003-04 team in that they are playing their best basketball at the right time. That ‘03-04 team reached the Elite Eight. Miller was an assistant coach at XU under Thad Matta that season.
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