East Region Semifinal: Friday, Texas vs Xavier, 9:45pm ET
The second weekend of March Madness is upon us and we have some electric matchups to start. Both Xavier and Texas come into this Sweet 16 matchup feeling as if they belong here after the seasons both teams have had. Each of them had some close calls in the first few games with Penn State and Kennesaw State giving the Longhorns and Musketeers all they could ask for.
Texas’s offense certainly has some advantages coming into this matchup. Especially in the transition game, where Xavier struggles a bit on defense. Texas plays in transition roughly more than 75% of D1 teams and grade out as “excellent” according to Synergy, while Xavier grades out as “poor” in transition defense. If the Musketeer guards cannot stay in front of star guards Marcus Carr, Sir’Jabari Rice and Tyrese Hunter, they will be in big trouble. The cutting motion offense that Texas runs in the halfcourt should also be able to take advantage of Xavier and lead to some great looks in the middle of the floor. Texas shoot mid range jumpers at the 9th highest rate in the nation and grade out as “excellent” on Synergy and 90th in PPP on ShotQuality. They face a Xavier defense that grades out as “very good” facing these jumpers, which is a slight advantage, but 317th on Shot Quality and are in the top 30% in frequency. I also like the Longhorns to find some good looks posting up Dylan Disu and Co as the Musketeers are without their big man, Zach Freemantle, for the rest of the season. Xavier grades out poor there (bottom 2% in the nation) and the athleticism of Disu should cause some problems for Jack Nunge down low. Texas’s streakiness from beyond the arc is the only pause I have, as they were on fire vs Colgate and then ice cold vs Penn State. The Musketeers certainly allow plenty of shots from beyond the arc and the Longhorns will take them, but if they fall in love with the shot and it is not falling (and Marcus Carr can) it could spell trouble.
On the other end of the floor, Xavier will be implementing their elite (top 2% according to Synergy) PnR offense against a Texas defense that is middling there, ranking 182nd according to Shot Quality. Nunge could get the Longhorns in a bit of trouble as the roll man. Outside of that, Texas should be able to squash what Xavier likes to do most, which is run in transition. Texas grades out as excellent here and should be able to slow down the Musketeer offense that really likes to get out and run. Xavier is elite from 3 but also does not take and make many. They will look to get inside and score buckets but Texas does not allow for much there and even then, rank 21st in PPP in finishes around the rim (according to SQ). Instead, Texas funnels you into the midrange, where Xavier shoots well but does not take many, either. If they choose to, they could find a major advantage but it seems as if it is not something their guards are keen to do.
Overall, Texas has the talent and schematic advantages to beat Xavier. Where the Musketeers do have an advantage with 5 days of prep time, is coaching. Xavier head coach Sean Miller is much more experienced and better than interim Texas HC Rodney Terry. That cannot be debated. Despite that, Terry has done an admirable job and the Longhorns are legit with or without Chris Beard.
I like the Longhorns -4 as my best bet of the Sweet 16 slate.
Other Sweet 16 plays:
Michigan State Pk:
Sparty has certainly turned on the jets in the past week after a disappointing regular season. The big, physical guards Izzo employs should give K State star Nowell some problems. 6’4 guard Jaden Akins is the 2nd highest defensive BPR guard in the Big Ten, and top 20 in the nation overall, according to Evan Miya. Fellow 6’4 guard, AJ Hoggard, is not far behind, ranking top 10 in the Big Ten and top 125 in the nation. I like Michigan State’s Malik Hall and Joey Hauser being able to check star K State wing, Keyontae Johnson, as well.
San Diego State +7.5:
This number could creep up before game time so I would advise waiting. SDSU has the coaching and experience advantage vs a Bama team that is firing on all cylinders. Certainly, the health of star wing Brandon Miller, is important for the Tide but he seems to be okay. If SDSU can slow down Bama in transition and make them play their style of ball, this could be a tight one.
Uconn -4, Tennessee -4.5, Zags ML, Houston -7, Creighton -9.5