Xavier played its best game of the season Saturday afternoon at home against Northern Iowa, as Xavier's "Team 95" controlled the pace, the glass, and home court advantage. The Musketeers showcased the tools and versatility that make it one of the nation's elite teams, as they won 64-42 over the Panthers to improve to 6-0.
The Musketeers, like always, were led in scoring by their captains. Edmond Sumner, Trevon Bluiett, and J.P. Macura blazed the trail, as Macura was especially hot in the first half where he hit three contested threes. He finished with 18 points and was 6-for-9 from the field. Bluiett contributed eight points and led the team in rebounding, while Sumner added 14 points, seven assists, four rebounds, and two emphatic dunks.
The outcome was never really in question. Xavier was up 20-5 eight minutes in and 35-12 at the half, outmatching and outrunning the opposition. Chris Mack mostly featured his bench players in the second half, and Xavier won 64-42.
UNI was led in scoring by Jeremy Morgan with fourteen points, but he was scoreless in the first half. UNI only shot 32 percent from the field, as the Panthers shot 14 fewer shots than Xavier and were outrebounded 42-20.
Three Things We Learned
Defense takes a major step up
Unlike Sunday’s matchup, Xavier stunted UNI from both the post and the 3-point line as Chris Mack adjusted his defense for the second matchup. UNI's post players, Klint Carson and Bennet Koch, who pillared UNI's offense last week, were fronted by Xavier's smaller defenders this time around. The Musketeers' quicker, longer lineup was able to cut off the passing lanes to the post and prevent the ball from getting to the paint as UNI's forwards could only attempt five shots in the first half.
Also, since UNI couldn't force the ball to their big men, their perimeter attack suffered as they failed to move the ball. Jeremy Morgan, who hit four 3-pointers last time around, was held scoreless in the first half. The entire team also could only manage two assists in the first twenty minutes. As a result of its more aggressive defense, Xavier was able to hold UNI to only twelve first half points and 42 over the entire game.
Even with Kaiser Gates back, frontcourt issues remain
Chris Mack opted for most of the game to keep only one big man on the floor at a time. Sean O'Mara continues to get the starting nod, and he played the most minutes of the bigs and showed decent finesse around the rim, but O'Mara remains a poor rebounder and passer. RaShid Gaston, the best rebounder of the group, missed both of his attempts on out of bounds plays designed to get him layups. Finally, Kaiser Gates, who projects to be the best passer and shooter, still looks hobbled by his weak knee and didn't amount a statistic in the first half. Chris Mack may consider experimenting with a lineup that features Trevon Bluiett at the five during crunch time, like he did against Lehigh.
Sumner and Bluiett are among the nation's best
Xavier's offense against UNI was the first that featured Sumner-Bluiett pick and rolls in the offense, and they already seem difficult the guard. Either Sumner can use the pick and power to the rim against a slower defender or Bluiett can either pop open for a three or isolate against a smaller defender.
Regardless, the two make up the best duo in the conference, including Hart and Jenkins at Villanova. Sumner is one of the quickest guards and one of the best dunkers I have seen at his position at the college level. Bluiett is an unbelievable one-on-one scorer who can post up or pull up against any defender. And they play even better when they play off of each other.