Xavier’s was lucky to escape its first game against future conference mate UConn. It was a game in which the Musketeers were outplayed for much of the second half and then had to battle through two overtime periods without much of its backcourt after the officials left their mark on the game. They probably shouldn’t have won, but they did.
Its reward is a championship bout against a team that began the season ranked No. 6 in the nation. Florida was already a popular pick to win the SEC before it got a big-time transfer in forward Kerry Blackshear, a guy many thought was headed to Kentucky.
Things haven’t worked out so far as the Gators have lost two games in which they were a solid favorite. Coming out flat in a tough opener against rival Florida State was excusable, but scoring only 59 against a UConn team that had just given up 96 to St. Joseph’s was alarming. The Gators survived a furious comeback attempt by St. Joe’s to open the Charleston Classic before putting together their best performance of the season in a rout of Miami.
Xavier and Florida’s profile is quite similar. Both are much more effective on the defensive end and neither team feels compelled to push the pace. Shooting, particularly from deep, has been a struggle. Xavier tends to be a little bigger from top-to-bottom while Florida has a bit more size down low. They share almost identical statistical profiles. Kenpom agrees as Xavier is ranked 15th (of 353) defensively and 55th on offense while Florida rates 16th defensively and 52nd on offense. Overall, Kenpom has Florida ranked 23rd while Xavier is ranked 25th.
All in all, everything sets up for a very close game. If Xavier wants to win, it will have to limit the mistakes that it made against UConn. 21 turnovers cannot happen and 61.6% from the free-throw line won’t cut it either.
Head Coach: Mike White, 5th season (93-56 at Florida, 194-95 overall including four year run at Louisiana Tech)
Key Figures: Per Game, Rank of 353 Nationally (Xavier’s corresponding number)
PPG: 66.3, 281st (71.2, 158th)
PAPG: 60.7, 66th (59.8, 43rd)
3PT%: 30.0%, 263rd (27.3%, 293rd)
Possessions per game: 68.1, 316th (75.1, 92nd)
Florida Stats (all numbers per game)
|Kerry Blackshear Jr.||6||6||27.2||48.0%||38.5%||78.8%||2.8||9.5||2.3||1.0||0.7||1.5||3.0||13.2|
The battle that will draw the most attention is likely between the two seniors down low. Xavier forward Tyrique Jones can match the physicality of Blackshear but doesn’t have nearly as refined of a game. While Jones is more of a pick-and-roller or post-up big guy, Blackshear can shoot deep and handle the ball facing up the defender. Blackshear has yet to have to handle a guy as physical as Jones, so Travis Steele’s hope is that Jones’ blunt force will weaken the other aspects of Blackshear’s game.
While both teams have struggled to shoot threes they are similar in that nearly everyone on the court is confident enough to shoot. Only one regular for Florida won’t shoot when left alone, back-up big Omar Payne, though only two are shooting at an above-average rate: Blackshear and forward Keyontae Johnson. Guard Noah Locke was much better knocking down 81 threes (at a 37.9% clip) during his freshman season last year and may be the focus of Xavier’s outstanding perimeter defense. Xavier’s overall shooting numbers haven’t been good but guards Paul Scruggs and Bryce Moore may finally be heating up. Meanwhile, forward Naji Marshall turns into Reggie Miller when his team trails by three late in the game and is basically Ben Simmons at all other times.
Time: 8:30 p.m.
Place: TD Arena, Charleston, SC
Line not announced at the time of writing. I’ll guess it’s somewhere around Florida -2.
While it’s a little hard to give a side to bet on when a line hasn’t been posted yet, I think it’s fairly safe to say that Florida will be slightly favored. That’s what the metrics predict and many think that Florida might live up to their potential after routing Miami on Friday.
On the Xavier side of things, there are two ways to look at their mindset entering this game. The first is that they will be exhausted after their 2OT nailbiter that ran late into the South Carolina evening. The second is that the Musketeers will use the momentum and camaraderie gained from such a tough victory that they will play their best tomorrow. Regardless of how they show up, it’s worth noting that Xavier is 1-5 ATS thus far (admittedly most of those came in games in which they were heavily favored). The Musketeers have not played at their best other than for stretches in the Towson game and probably should’ve blown out UCONN but made so many mistakes that it took a minor miracle not to pull it out. That’s not a team I’d be prepared to bet on against a team as talented as Florida.
While betting on Xavier hasn’t been a winning strategy, betting on the under has. The under has been 5-1 in Xavier games this season with the only over occurring after a second OT period was needed Friday night. Regardless of what number is posted, the under is probably going to be a good bet in a game with two teams that play defense as well and struggled to shoot as much, as the Gators and Musketeers do.