#1 Xavier Musketeers v.s. #16 Texas Southern Tigers
West Region – Nashville, TN
Friday (3/16) 7:20p EST, TBS
A 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament has never lost to a 16-seed EVER! All-time, 1-seeds are 132-0, and only 4 of the 80 all-time matchups between these two seeded teams were decided by single-digits. All of these games were between 2012-2014. What this means is that the 16-seed is actually getting better over the years, but they still are not going to beat a 1-seed… right? Well, there is a first for everything!
Xavier Musketeers (28-5) (15-3) – Big East
Xavier enters the 2018 NCAA Tournament as one of the hottest teams in America, winning 13 of their last 15 contests. Not only are they a very experienced team, but they have great veteran leadership in seniors: J.P. Macura, Karem Kanter, and their leading scorer, Trevon Bluiett. The Musketeers are one of the nation’s most efficient offenses, ranking 11th in the country averaging 84.3 PPG, and rank 6th in the nation in team free-throw percentage at 79.0%. One thing that Xavier does not do well though is make smart plays and hold onto the ball. The Musketeers rank T-125 in turnovers per game with about 12.4 TPG. Against a solid defensive team, Xavier could have their work cut out for them! Nonetheless, Xavier is one of the strongest college basketball teams in the country is one of the favorites to come out of the West Region and punch their ticket to San Antonio for this year’s Final Four!
Player to Watch: Trevon Bluiett (19.5 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 42.3 3P%, 86.1 FT%)
Trevon Bluiett is one of the best players in the country and has been the “bell cow” of this year’s Xavier team. The Unanimous All-Big East First Team guard led the Musketeers to their first Big East Regular Season Title and a #1-seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament. He is one of the most efficient offensive players in the country and has failed to reach double-digit scoring in just two games this season. When scoring 20+ points in a game, Xavier has lost just once this season and that was to Villanova, the #2 overall team in the tournament. If Bluiett continues his trend of dominant performances, he may be able to carry Xavier a long way in the tournament, especially when he has great second options in Macura and Kanter.
X-Factor: Offensive Rebounds/2nd Chance Opportunities
Xavier is not a very lengthy team, but rely heavily on the rebounding abilities of Karem Kantr and Sean O’Mara who both stand 6’10”. Kaiser Gates is also a valuable asset down low for Coach Chris Mack and the Musketeers, but their leading rebounder may be a surprise to a lot of people. O’Mara and Kanter combine for an average 7.8 RPG, while Trevon Bluiett (5.7 RPG) and J.P. Macura (4.4 RPG) combine for 10.1 RPG. Xavier’s ability to crash the glass and create second-chance points for themselves sets them apart from a lot of teams in the country because they have possibly one of the best rebounding guards-duo in Bluiett and Macura. If Xavier is able to crash the glass offensively, and being as solid of a shooting team as they are, they can make their opponents pay for not boxing out and make a deeper run than a lot of people think in this tournament.
Texas Southern Tigers (16-19) (12-6) – SWAC
So… how is Texas Southern even in the NCAA Tournament with a 16-19 record? Do not let the record fool you, Texas Southern is actually a very solid and well-coached team. They not only had the second toughest out-of-conference schedule in the country, but they did not play a home game until their first conference game on January 1, 2018. They spent two months traveling across the country playing some of the best teams the country has to offer and hung in there with teams such as: Washington State, Syracuse, Clemson, and Oregon. After starting conference play with a 0-13 record, Coach Mike Davis knew his team was ready to make a run at a conference championship because they already played the best of the best, they could not face anyone better in the SWAC! The Tigers now enter their matchup against Xavier riding an 8-game winning streak after beating N.C. Central last night in the First Four.
Player to Watch: Demontrae Jefferson (23.4 PPG, 4.5 APG, 42.4 FG%, 39.4 3P%)
Although he only stands 5’7”, Jefferson has failed to score 20+ points for the Tigers in only 7 games this season, oh, and he is a sophomore! It is time to give the little guy some love because this kid can flat out ball! Against teams Texas Southern faced this season that are in this year’s tournament, Jefferson averaged 23.8 PPG against them and we should expect nothing less against Xavier! His quickness and size allows him to maneuver with ease around taller defenders and get past them to the lane. Jefferson is a very tricky player to guard because you have to respect his shooting abilities from outside, but if you defend him too far on the perimeter, he will blow past you to the hoop. Xavier must be careful on how they defend Demontrae Jefferson because he could cause a lot of headaches for Chris Mack on the sideline.
X-Factor: Must Capitalize on Opponent’s Turnovers and Be Patient Offensively
If Texas Southern is going to have any shot at being the first 16-seed to upset a 1-seed, they must take care of each possession they have and punish Xavier for their mistakes. Texas Southern is definitely not one of the best teams defensively, as they rank 288 in the country in turnovers forced (11.68 TFPG), but Xavier tends to be careless with the ball, turning it over about 12.4 times per game. Texas Southern also has trouble holding onto the ball offensively, averaging 12.6 TPG (T-149 in country). If Texas Southern is going to pull off the upset of our existence, they must have less than 8 turnovers for the game and must be able to score in transition. If the Musketeers are being careless with the ball and turning it over, the Tigers cannot give the possession right back, they must be able to score off of Xavier’s mistakes.
Match-up to Watch: Xavier’s Bigs vs. Trayvon Reed (TXSO)
Texas Southern’s Trayvon Reed is a 7’2” animal inside the paint for the Tigers. He is averaging 8.8 RPG this season for Texas Southern and has 11 games with double-digit rebounds. If Sean O’Mara and Karem Kanter are not able to body-up Reed, Texas Southern may be able to control their offensive rebounds and create second chance opportunities for themselves, something Xavier must do in this game. Giving Demontrae Jefferson more possessions is something Xavier definitely does not want to do and could hurt them down the stretch. Seeing how Coach Chris Mack and Xavier prepares for Trayvon Reed should be an interesting match-up to watch all game long!
Prediction: #1 Xavier 77 – #16 Texas Southern 65
I would not be surprised if this game is fairly close heading into the final 7-8 minutes of play. Xavier has had a solid chunk of time off between their early exit in the Big East Tournament and now. If Bluiett is not on him game and they are not scoring, Texas Southern must take advantage of this and keep the game close heading into halftime and in the first few minutes of out of the half in the second half. If this game is close with under 3-4 minutes to play, rebounds will be the key to winning the game. Whoever can control the boards down the stretch will be able to win this game, and who knows, we may have a major headline when the final buzzer of this game sounds. Xavier may have the toughest 16-seed matchup compared to the rest of the #1-seeds.