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Matter’s Pregame Primer: Xavier offense poses test for Mizzou

December 18, 2018

COLUMBIA, MO. • You can stop looking for the Missouri men’s basketball team. The Tigers are set to resurface from their long layoff, starting with Tuesday night’s showdown against perennial Big East power Xavier. From there, it’s Illinois in Saturday’s Braggin’ Rights Game at Enterprise Center.

As Mizzou hits the final stretch of nonconference play, a 2-0 week would be nothing short of superb. Going 1-1 would feel adequate, considering these aren’t the strongest Xavier and Illinois teams Missouri has played. A winless week would be a big lump of coal heading into the holidays.

Let’s take a closer look at Tuesday’s tipoff against the Musketeers:

MISSOURI vs. XAVIER

When • 6 p.m.

Where • Mizzou Arena

Series • Xavier leads 5-2. Last meeting, Xavier 83, MU 82, OT. Nov. 17, 2016.

TV, radio • ESPNU (Dave Neal, Jon Sundvold), KTRS (550 AM)

Records : MU (6-3), Xavier (7-4)

NET rankings: Mizzou No. 107, Xavier No. 65

KenPom rankings: Mizzou No. 96, Xavier No. 62

Point spread: Xavier by 1

KenPom projection: Mizzou 69, Xavier 67

Matter’s prediction: Xavier 65, Mizzou 62

LIKELY STARTING LINEUPS

Xavier

G Quentin Goodin (6-4, Jr.): 12.7 ppg, 5.0 apg

G Paul Scruggs (6-3, So.): 12.7 ppg, 3.3 apg

G Kyle Castlin (6-4, Sr.): 6.0 ppg, 34. rpg

F Naji Marshall (6-7, So.): 13.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg

F Tyrique Jones (6-9, Jr.): 10.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg

Missouri

G Jordan Geist (6-2, Sr.): 12.7 ppg, 2.4 apg

G Mark Smith (6-4, So.): 11.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg

G Javon Pickett (6-7, Fr.): 6.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg

F Kevin Puryear (6-8, Sr.): 9.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg

F Jeremiah Tilmon (6-10, So.): 9.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg

X MARKS THE SPOT

Missouri has to play its best defensive game to have a chance, especially guarding inside the 3-point arc. No team in the country has shot a better percentage from 2-point range than Xavier at 60.3 percent. Other Goodin, the team’s point guard, Xavier’s other four starters shoot at least 45 percent from the floor. Cuonzo Martin is especially impressed with Xavier’s ability to attack off the dribble and get to the rim. Scruggs can be lethal. He’s a 6-3 guard who shoots 47 percent from 3-point range but takes nearly half his shots at the rim (45.7 percent per hoopmath.com) makes nearly 75 percent of them. Who guards Scruggs? Smith figures to draw that assignment to start the game.

Marshall is a different kind of challenge. He’s 6-7 but shoots a lot of 2-point jumpers (36.2 percent of his shots). He makes less than a quarter of his 3-point shots, but the Tigers have to be aware of his midrange jumper.

Tilmon figures to draw Jones on the defensive end. Xavier’s most active big man takes nearly 80 percent of his shots at the rim — and draws more than five fouls per 40 minutes. K.J. Santos’ return from his foot injury gives the Tigers more depth inside should Tilmon get into early foul trouble.

LET IT FLY?

Missouri continues to rank among the best 3-point shooting teams in the major conferences. Only 11 are shooting it at a better clip than Mizzou’s 39 percent. Can the Tigers maintain that kind of shooting against better competition? Xavier carries a reputation for playing a physical style on both ends, but Tuesday might not be much of a test. Xavier’s opponents have made 37.6 percent of their 3s. That ranks just No. 298 nationally. Only five high-major teams have allowed a higher rate behind the arc, including future SEC opponents South Carolina and Kentucky. Four of Xavier’s opponents have shot 40 percent from 3, including two of the four teams to beat the Musketeers, Wisconsin (56.3) and Illinois (40.9). Xavier’s opponents have scored 41.4 percent of their points from 3-point range. That’s the ninth-highest percentage in all of Division I, per kenpom.com

The Tigers’ success from deep could continue for another night — and be crucial if Martin’s team knocks off its second high-major foe.

PROTECT THE BALL

Not too look past Xavier, but now would be a good time to address the turnover issues that have haunted this Missouri team. Xavier coach Travis Steele is part of the Pack Line Defense family tree. The Pack Line is a man-to-man defense but it’s team-oriented, not just five guys defending their individual opponent. It relies on extreme pressure on the ball while the off-ball defenders sit back inside the Pack Line, one step inside the 3-point arc. Ideally, the Pack Line limits second chances for the offensive team and prevents defensive fouls. What it doesn’t do, generally, is force a lot of turnovers, especially the system Chris Mack ran for the last decade at Xavier. Under Steele, Xavier ranks No. 214 in turnover rate on defense.

But now would be a good time for Mizzou to have a clean game when it comes to securing the ball. Because we know what comes next on Saturday: Brad Underwood’s Fighting Illini are notorious for creating turnovers. They deny the wings, get in passing lanes and apply the kind of pressure that can rattle most teams. Illinois ranks No. 5 in defensive turnover rate. A sure-handed performance tonight from Mizzou’s guards and bigs could help build confidence heading into Braggin’ Rights.

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