Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

2016-17 CU vs Xavier Basketball Teaser

For those of you that don't know, Xavier University boasts a very storied basketball program.  The pride of northeast Cincinnati, XU can claim 17 conference championships (most of them from their days in the A-10), 26 Tournament appearances, and a pair of Elite Eight runs (2004 and 2008).  In fact, they have the most wins in the Dance of any program to have never made the Final Four, and have featured in 10 of the last 11 NCAA Tournaments.  Thad Matta, now of Ohio State, got his coaching start there. Sean Miller, who hates all things fun, got his coaching start there.  At every level, the Musketeers are a serious basketball program.
Chris Mack continues a line of outstanding coaches at Xavier.  From:
More importantly, the 2016-17 edition is a top-flight team, legitimately one of the best in the country. The assembled press has certainly noticed; previously in the top-10 in the AP poll, they will arrive in Boulder #13 in the nation after their first loss of the season, suffered over the weekend.  In fact, many of those same media members voting them highly also picked them as both the Big East front-runner and a dark horse candidate for the Final Four.  Strong offensively, strong defensively, head coach Chris Mack (the reigning USBWA national coach of the year) and his bunch should scare the daylights out of you.

Overall, this is a tough, physical, versatile bunch.  They are battle-hardened, possessing a good work ethic and a tenacity on both ends of the floor.  Above all else, they will fight for every rebound, loose ball, and 50-50 opportunity in the game.  It's why Xavier has been so successful away from home in recent years (13 of their 28 wins last season came either in neutral or true road settings), and they will not shy away from the challenge of playing in Boulder on a frigid, snowy Wednesday night.

The roster is led by standout junior guard Trevon Bluiett.  The 6-6 machine from Indianapolis dipped his toes in the waters of the NBA Draft last summer before deciding to return for a 3rd lap around the collegiate pool.  The Musketeers are glad he did, as he is one of the best wings in the country.  More than just a basic 2/3, however, you will see Bluiett all over the court this evening, rotating from the point all the way into the paint.  Good size, speed, and strength, with a nasty three-point shot, he's a national POY candidate, albeit a fringe one.  Bluiett's averaging 18/6 through eight games, and is capable of putting up monster numbers night-in, night-out.
Bluiett and Sumner are an outstanding pair of guards.  From: Banners on the Parkway
Trevon plays in tandem with another guard with great size, 6-6, 186 Michigander Edmond Sumner. He's mostly been manning the point this season, playing on-the-ball 84% of the time (according to KenPom), but he had been used more as an off-guard in previous seasons.  The tweak in role might have lead to a little exposure of his game -- a team-high 25 turnovers, or about 3.1/game. Regardless, he's still an outstanding player.  He's nightmarish in attack of the rim, a flash of navy and silver as he flies into the paint.  It'll be hard for any of Colorado's guards to stay in front of him this evening.

Playing off the two stars are a further pair of guards, JP Macura and Malcolm Bernard.  Macura, a 6-5 junior out of Minnesota, is the gritty beating heart of this team.  He was the Big East 6th Man of the Year last winter, but has surged into the starting lineup this season, even averaging over 15 points per game in the early going.  Bernard has stepped into the vacuum left by Davis. He's a graduate transfer from Florida A&M, and came to the program with a lot of basketball already under his belt.  Good versatility, but not necessarily the standout-type of messrs Bluiett, Sumner, and Macura.
Macura can flat out fill it up.  From: FOX Sports
Even with the players already mentioned, the Musketeers are still down a big backcourt talent in the form of point guard Myles Davis, who is suspended indefinitely after multiple domestic violence charges. They haven't really missed a step with Davis out of the lineup, however, and this is still an elite guard corps -- about as good a grouping as CU will face this year, and one of the best in the entire nation. They're constantly rotating through roles and alternating looks, making them very difficult to matchup with, especially as none of them gives up that much size, 1-4. If you can't defend the perimeter against this bunch, or deny penetration, you will lose, and you will lose big.

Up front, the best true forward is RaShid Gaston.  A wide 6-9, 240, he carries the load up front, especially when XU drops into four-guard sets. RaShid boasts impeccable rebounding rates, and will really push Xavier Johnson and Wes Gordon up front.  A transfer from Norfolk State, you may not have heard of him before, but he will be making a name for himself come March.  Also featuring off their bench in the paint is 6-10 center Sean O'Mara, who just happens to hail from my hometown back in Illinois.  He went to Benet, though, so screw him.

As strong as the side is, their most recent result does show some vulnerabilities.  They lost by 15 in Waco to the Baylor Bears, with Scott Drew's crew steadily pulling away in the second half.  Xavier got a little Bluiett-happy, coughed the ball up way to much (17 turnovers), missed a number of second half free throws, and didn't defend the perimeter well enough.  It burned them in the end.  I don't know if the Buffs will be able to duplicate the feat, however.  I think they could isolate Blueitt, but CU has rarely forced large numbers of turnovers, have been hit-or-miss from deep through the first month of play, and have free throw issues of their own to worry about.  What's more, that Baylor team looks to be the truth down in Texas, and the Buffs don't appear to be capable of holding a candle to that team.
Xavier comes in off a loss to Baylor, but I don't see a repeat in the future this evening.  From: USA Today
No, in the end, I expect Xavier to come in and dictate their will.  Colorado has not shown to have the heart or discipline to battle gritty, willful foes this year, and anything short of a blazing hot shooting performance will probably end in defeat.  There's no shame in losing to a team as good as Xavier, but that won't stifle the gnawing feeling that the season is starting to slip away.  Give me the Musketeers by a bunch.


Tip-off from the Coors Events Center is set for 7pm this evening.  That snow that's coming down right now is supposed to die down right before tip-off, but I won't pretend that your commute to Boulder won't suck just a bit.  For those unable/unwilling to brave the conditions and head into the Valley, coverage can be found on Pac-12 Networks, with the radio call on 760 AM.


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