In advance of the opening game of the Advocare Invitational, I asked Joel D. from Banners on the Parkway to share his thoughts on the Xavier team and our upcoming game. In addition to his response below, he also mentioned that they will run an "Alabama fan's guide to Xavier basketball," on the morning of the game. I'm looking forward to reading it on my flight to Orlando. If you visit the Banners on the Parkway site, please follow their rules and be a good representative of the University of Alabama. Here is Joel D.'s response:
Xavier's biggest strength is in its depth. They have six guys averaging double figures and a seventh in Remy Abell who doesn't look for his own shot but can really hurt you if left alone. James Farr and Jalen Reynolds are both monster forwards, each listed at 6'10" and weighing over 230 pounds. Reynolds is a guy who is the focus of the offense when he posts deep whereas Farr gets his buckets more by chasing boards and being in the right place at the right time. More on these guys a hair later.
On the perimeter, Trevon Bluiett is the guy to look out for. He can jar jumpers from all over and has a nifty set of moves to get himself space. Myles Davis is the emotional leader of the team and - despite a slow start this year - a heck of a shooter. Edmond Sumner is a 6'6" redshirt freshman point guard who is just incredibly athletic. If he gets up a head of steam, he's looking to bury someone. He's prone to freshman mistakes, but we deal with them because he's so darn talented.
JP Macura comes off the bench to play the wing; he has serious gym rat game. He is a frenetic whirlwind of action all over the floor, has huge range, and can score from a lot of unusual angles. And don't forget Remy Abell, the team's best perimeter defender, a good shooter if left open, and an athletic finisher at the rack.
The other strength right now is rebounding. Xavier is shooting like garbage inside the arc right now, but they rebound 40% of their own misses. This is where Farr and Reynolds - and also Bluiett and Macura - come back into play. The Muskies feast on second-chance points, and Coach Mack rewards effort on the offensive glass with playing time.
The biggest team weakness is three-point defense. Do you have some guys who can shoot it from deep? They'll get their chances to hurt X. Aside from Remy Abell and reserve point guard Larry Austin, Jr., Xavier is basically bereft of even average perimeter defenders. This leads to guys getting torched off the bounce and opening up looks as the defense rotates. Xavier's counter to this is a 1-3-1 zone. The zone tends to get other teams scrambling a bit, but there are still clean looks to be had against it. We also tend to foul a lot.
My impression of Alabama right now is shaped by the drubbing they took at the hands of Dayton. Dayton and Xavier are rivals going way back, so we're kind of passively aware of each other all year. When I saw what UD had done to Alabama, I kind of noted it away as something to come back to this week once I see how X fares against the Tide.
My overarching impression of Alabama right now is that Avery Johnson has his work cut out for him. He can clearly recruit, but I'm not sure his style of coaching is going to translate from the NBA to college ball. Any transition between coaches is rough on a program, so Xavier is catching Alabama at a nadir in my estimation.
I think Xavier can control the game from the outset if they avoid turnovers. Any shot is going to be a fairly solid chance at point because Xavier should have the rebounding advantage at both ends. The advantage inside should translate into second-chance points and Alabama in foul trouble, which should in turn give X the chance to pull away fairly early. The potential spanner in the works is that Xavier has been miserable in holiday tournaments under Coach Mack. We've lost to teams much, much worse than Alabama is right now. Anything can happen on Thanksgiving with this program.
This seems like a terrible matchup for us. I just hope we can be a little more competitive than we were against Dayton, which obviously isn't setting a very high bar.