Scouting Muskies vs Maryland-Thursday 6:50PM-TNT-Orlando!!
Andy Mac Williams,
There's a lot to like about Xavier's situation heading into Thursday evening's First Round NCAA match-up against the Maryland Terrapins from the Big Ten. XU extricated itself from the NCAA bubble with a strong finish(3 wins in 4 tries over the last week). They did what they had to in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden-disposing of DePaul and rallying to beat a rested second seeded NCAA bound Butler team to advance to the BE Semis. The last second 75-72 loss to Creighton(NCAA #6 Seed) Friday in NYC showed continued grit. Avoiding the extra Play-in Round at Dayton was huge.Now the battle lines are clearly drawn. The Muskies make a short hop to Orlando and play at a decent time(6:50PM) Thursday-not in the first afternoon wave-not at some late night after 10PM start time. Some of the pundits even like #11 seed XU over #6 UM. IMHO it's a pick'em game.
Xavier is playing well. The six game losing streak is fading into the rear view mirror.The defense has improved allowing a pretty stingy 65.3PPG over the last 4. The Muskies seemingly are playing more and better packline and covering the 3 point arc more effectively(Creighton did shoot a freaky 13-20 from long range,but part of that was due to XU fatigue with 3 games in 3 nights).Zone looks are being used less frequently-more as a change-up again-with the high 2-3 look working better than the 1-3-1 everybody expects and seems ready for.
With Trevon Bluiett out injured or less than 100%(for 6 games-Feb 11th through March 1st),zone became the defensive choice out of necessity. Now Coach Mack has 8 healthy players and longer NCAA TV time-outs. Energetic packline becomes the prime defense with zones as a chaser.
The Muskies' offensive numbers have firmed up with Bluiett contributing(72PPG over the last 4). They are settling for fewer quick contested threes and showing more half court patience. Over the last 4 XU is plus 6 points at the FT line despite shooting a less than stellar 67%. They're also plus 9 points from three without jacking up too many wild shots(22 attempts per game). I'd prefer sub 20 threes/game at about 40% efficiency with more lay-ups and post scores and dunks and selective fast breaks when the numbers are favorable.
But on balance,Xavier seems to be playing more half court-more efficient offense-leveraging to their strengths on the block-using their strong drive capable PG(Quentin Goodin) and throwing enough passes to free up Bluiett for those lethal jumpers. Trevon is also healthy enough now to take his man to the hole and create FT chances.
The Seniors are stepping up. Malcolm Bernard has had a strong 6 game run(30 minutes/game-10 plus PPG-huge vs Butler-defense-steals-hustle). Rashid Gaston has been limited by foul trouble,but he's capable of a double-double. Sean O'Mara put together 3 really strong game in NYC.
J.P. Macura shot it well at MSG and supplied the energetic emotional juice. Both J.P and Trevon have 5 games of NCAA experience. Both need to play prime time roles in the Big Dance as Juniors.
Frosh PG Goodin has seen it all in his crash course as a starter after Edmond Sumner's injury. He'll be solid!! The wild cards are Tyrique Jones and Kaiser Gates. Jones is a game changing monster inside when he's healthy and not in foul trouble(at Creighton,at DePaul). Gates sort of disappeared against Butler and Creighton at MSG. He needs to chip in against Maryland.
The coaching staff handled last week's pressure packed 4 games as I expected-with energy-thoroughness-intelligence and focus. How many set plays did Xavier score on coming out of time-outs? They switched defenses seamlessly. Here's a team that's faced multiple brick walls and blasted through them all to be playing their best when the stakes are the highest. Mack and company have a proven NCAA track record(7-6 in 6 previous trips with 3 Sweet 16s).
WHO IS MARYLAND??
The #6 Seed Terps(24-8,12-6 Big Ten,#25 in the Final AP Poll) were maybe the third best Big Ten team(behind #4 Seed Purdue and #5 Seed Minnesota). UM started fast with a 12-1 non-conference record against a somewhat Mr. Softee schedule. They beat Georgetown early 76-75 in the Gavitt Games at Verizon Center. The Hoyas blew a 9 point lead in the final 2 minutes. Their lone early loss was to Pitt. Their best wins came over Kansas St and Oklahoma St.
They opened the Big Ten schedule 8-1 without playing Purdue or Wisconsin or Michigan St. On February 1st Maryland stood at 20-2 with a Top 10 rating. Since then,the Terps have gone 4-6. They lost last Friday 72-64 to Northwestern in the Big Ten Quarters in their own backyard at Verizon Center after earning a double bye.
Why the late season problems? Maryland lost 7 footer Michal Cekovsky to knee problems. He was their rim protector. Coach Mark Turgeon is starting three very good freshman. Maybe there's some fatigue? Turgeon had to replace four starters including Duke transfer Rasheed Sulamon and NBA defector Diamond Stone. The Terp's anchor is Junior guard Melo Trimble(6-3,185)(17PPG-4assists-4rebs).He plays giant minutes-attacks the rim-shoots tons of FTs and can make threes. Trimble is a three year starter and probable NBA draft pick with 5 games of NCAA experience(2015-win over Valpo-loss to West Virginia)(2016-wins over South Dakota St and Hawaii-loss to Kansas).
Trimble's had a great third year. 6 foot Frosh Anthony Cowan(10PPG-4assists-4rebs-a ton of FTs) is playing a lot of PG allowing Trimble to play off the ball.That gives the Terps a versatile lethal backcourt with PG 1 and 1A.Who guards Trimble? Maybe Malcolm Bernard? Both Trimble and Cowan draw a ton of fouls.
X can not afford early foul trouble for Quentin Goodin. Maybe more zone is in order then although Maryland does launch a lot of threes(41% of their shots). Two Frosh Wings are starters(6-7 Kevin Huerter and 6-7 Justin Jackson). Huerter is lighter(190) and more of a three point sniper and defender. Jackson goes 225. He can shoot outside(44%) but goes to the glass well. 6-11 Senior Damonte Dodd has started inside for most Big Ten games and played well.
There's one prime guard sub 5-11 Junior Jaylen Brantley. Trimble and Cowan eat up over 80% of the back court minutes. Up front subs are 6-9 Soph Bender and 6-8 Duquesne transfer L.G. Gill.
Maryland wants to play fast with basically a 4 small 4 outside line-up and limited post presence. Man defense is their staple. They spread out more than Xavier and pressure the guards. UM scores74PPG and gives up 68PPG. Rebounding is not a strong suit.
WHO WINS THIS??
Considering Xavier received an #11 seed and just missed a Play-in game they seemingly got a good winnable match-up.The Muskies are the more physical team on paper and should be able to get easy baskets inside and limit Maryland to one shot. The Terps are young. How will their three frosh starters react to the NCAA?
Trimble is a great guard capable of dropping a big number and dominating a game. He may need to shake out of a three point slump(5-29 last 5 games) and score in the mid 20's. XU will have problems containing Trimble and his running mate Cowan. Slowing them without fouling may demand that X play a bunch of zone.
If UM is drilling the threes,that's trouble!! Big East teams like Villanova,Creighton and Butler are better from three than Maryland so the Muskies will not be shocked.I like Xavier as always!! The recent winning formula(more half court offense-more packline defense-win in the 60's or low 70's) should be a workable NCAA plan. Muskies 72 Maryland 67!!! Bring on Florida State or Florida Gulf Coast!!!
Xavier is 9-2 in Orlando since the 2004 NCAA Tournament (wins over Louisville and Mississippi State-then 7-2 in three Thanksgiving Tournaments at Disney in 2009,2015 and 2016). XU has won 8 straight games in the State of Florida(NCAA wins over Mississippi and Georgia State at Jacksonville in 2015-6 wins in two tournies at Disney in 2015 ansd 2016).
Xavier is 5-1 on neutral courts this season(3-0 at Disney-2-1 at Big East Tournament). XU is 9-9 away from Cintas Center. Maryland did well away from home(11-3 overall including 8-2 on the road and 3-1 on neutral courts). All meaningless but interesting on some level???