Teams: Xavier Musketeers (21-12) vs. North Carolina St. Wolfpack (21-13)
Day: Tuesday, March 18
Time: 9:10 PM ET (Or Following Albany-Mount St. Mary's)
Location: University of Dayton Arena; Dayton, Ohio
TV: truTV (Announcers: Brian Anderson, Dan Bonner, Kristine Leahy)
Roommates during the 2011-12 academic year at Brewster Academy, Xavier’s Semaj Christon and North Carolina State’s T.J. Warren bring their combined 41.7 points per game to University of Dayton Arena for an opening round game on Tuesday.
The Musketeers are no stranger to the arena, playing an annual road game against Dayton as members of the Atlantic 10. Warren and Christon are leaders for their respective programs and will be joined on the floor by Xavier’s Jalen Reynolds, who also prepped at Brewster before joining the Musketeers.
After three games in which Xavier saw the NCAA’s leading scorer Doug McDermott average 31.3 points, the Musketeers are tasked with slowing Warren and his 24.8 points per game, third best nationally. In the meeting against Creighton, Xavier was most effective by letting McDermott get his points while limiting the output of his teammates. In a March 1st victory over the Creighton, ten Blue Jays scored, but McDermott was the only visitor in double figures. What makes Creighton different than NC State is the talent that surrounded McDermott. Creighton has five players with better 3-point percentages than NC State’s best shooter Ralston Turner (36.8%).
The lack of perimeter threats does not necessarily mean Xavier is in the clear for three-point defense. The Musketeers were torched from behind the arc during Big East play to the tune of 37.6 percent with many of the open looks coming in transition. Still, the best way to beat the Wolfpack is to force outside shots, and keep good offensive rebounders like Warren, Lennard Freeman, and 7’1’’ monster Jordan Vandenberg off the glass.
Much like McDermott, Justin Martin should be the primary defender on Warren, but Isaiah Philmore and Reynolds can give different looks. Perhaps even Semaj Christon will use some knowledge gained at Brewster to slow down the ACC Player of the Year.
Despite having success on the offensive glass, NC State is the worst team in the field of 68 on the defensive glass, failing to corral 36.3 percent of opponents misses. Xavier’s posts should have numerous chances for put backs and a chance to get easy points in a game where each bucket has added value. Stainbrook is still recovering from a strained MCL, but was effective in limited minutes against Marquette and Creighton in the Big East tournament. Expect Stainbrook to see an increase in minutes, and Chris Mack to run the Xavier offense through the big man, who can use his elite passing to spread the floor.
Offensively, Chris Mack needs Myles Davis to break out of his shooting slump. After starting the season shooting 39.2 percent in his first 102 attempts this season, the freshman has been splattered on the Freshman Wall amidst a 1-of-19 drought from deep. Having players who can stretch the floor for Xavier allows more room for Stainbrook in the post and Semaj Christon penetrating.
Creighton frustrated Christon in the Big East semifinals by crowding the paint and forcing Xavier to make perimeter jump shots. The Musketeers hit only 4-of-16 attempts in that contest while Christon was an inefficient 8-of-21 from the floor.
One storyline to watch will be the crowd in Dayton. Located only 45 miles from Cincinnati, Xavier will have fans making the trip up I-75, including 100 students who had their tickets purchased by Chris Mack. However, the game in rival Dayton’s arena will mean many local residents coming to the arena rooting for an early exit from a program that has been envious of Xavier’s success.
The winner of Tuesday’s game will draw 5-seed Saint Louis on Thursday in Orlando. Xavier is familiar with the former Atlantic 10 foe, and defeated the Billikens in Cincinnati last March. First four winners have also parlayed momentum into tournament streaks. In addition to VCU’s Final Four run in 2011, La Salle advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in last season’s tournament.