Ware is the catalyst of this talented Long Beach State offense. He is tough to keep in front as a defender and he can create for his teammates, as well as go off for a big scoring night of his own. He put 29 points on North Carolina in a loss earlier this month. He's not a great shooter from the outside (33.3% from three), but he does have good range and is capable of getting hot from the perimeter. He can also use his quickness and athleticism to get by his defender where he'll score with floaters and acrobatic finishes at the rim. The impact Holloway has on Xavier's team is undeniable after the Oral Roberts game. Holloway may have to change his usual role a little bit though, as Xavier will still be lacking a lot of scoring punch without Lyons and Wells in this one. Don't be surprised to see the Musketeers' point guard be a little bit more aggressive on the offensive end. Also, expect Davis to play together with Holloway some in order to let their leading scorer play off the ball a little bit.
Slight Edge Xavier
Brad Redford Sr (6-1, 182) vs Larry Anderson Jr (6-5, 210)
Anderson is an extremely versatile player with good size, strength, athleticism and skill. He can guard multiple positions defensively, and is the second leading scorer on the team at 15.1 points per game. He shoots it well from the outside (41% from three), rebounds really well from the guard position (4.7 a game) and is a really good passer (3.8 assists per game). Anderson has scored in double figures in each of his last six games, including 17 against Louisville, 14 against Kansas and 17 against North Carolina. This will be the toughest matchup on the court for Xavier, as Anderson has a lot of size and strength on Xavier's depleted backcourt. Redford is coming off a game that he'd rather just forget, as he played 35 minutes but only managed two points on 1-of-6 shooting, including 0-for-5 from 3-point range. Redford knows the offense and only turned it over once, but he has to be a weapon on the offensive end. Xavier could definitely use a few threes from him in this one, and he's certainly due.
Significant Edge Long Beach State
Andre Walker Sr (6-8, 225) vs James Ennis Jr (6-6, 190)
Ennis was a huge get for Dan Monson and his staff, as he was rated the top JUCO prospect in the state of California. He's another skilled and versatile wing/forward type in this 49er offense. He's capable of stepping out and burying the three ball, but he also scores around the basket and grabs offensive boards. Defensively, Ennis gets a lot of deflections and steals, but he also turns it over a little too much himself on the offensive end. He's had some big games this year, but he also disappears at times. Walker has been very solid all year long for Xavier. Last game against Oral Roberts, he was still the most steady player on the court as he grabbed seven boards and tallied three assists while only turning the ball over once in a game littered with Musketeer turnovers. However, it's also become clear that he's not going to morph into a scorer even with guys out of the lineup.
Travis Taylor Jr (6-8, 220) vs T.J. Robinson Sr (6-8, 205)
Robinson's role hasn't changed much for the 49ers since he arrived on campus as a freshman. He played in all 30 games that year and started 14 of them. He has been the regular starter ever since, and has been a double-double machine in that time. On November 22, Robinson became LBSU's All-Time leading rebounder in a win over Boise State. This year he's right at 13 points per game and 10.6 rebounds, and that's against a very good non-conference slate that has included some elite teams. Robinson is a junk-yard dog inside. He loves contact and does a great job of finishing through it. Taylor, along with Xavier's other post players, have to bring the energy and toughness inside against the 49ers. Taylor and Robinson are actually similar in the fact that they're both a little undersized, play with high motors and can finish through contact at weird angles. Their offensive games are very similar. If Taylor can provide the same production as he did against Oral Roberts (11 points and 9 rebounds), without the missed layups and turnovers, it will go a long way towards a victory for Xavier.
Slight Edge Long Beach State
Kenny Frease Sr (7-0, 275) vs Eugene Phelps Sr (6-7, 225)
If there's one spot on the floor where Xavier has a clear cut advantage, it's at the center position. Long Beach State plays hard and they have guys who aren't afraid of physicality, but they don't have someone that really matches up with Frease's size. Phelps isn't a skill guy and he's a little undersized. He's averaging 8.6 points per game and 5.9 rebounds, but he has struggled against the better and bigger teams that the 49ers have played. Frease struggled against Oral Roberts and took the loss rather personally afterward, as he was visibly frustrated with his performance. Getting Frease going early against the 49ers will be key, and that's on the shoulders of the guards as much as it is Frease's. He has to post lower and the guards have to throw it to him in a position to score. He also has to handle the double teams better when teams jump him.
Moderate Edge Xavier
Xavier Bench vs Long Beach State Bench
While Xavier isn't nearly as deep as normal with two starters still missing, Long Beach State really only goes about seven deep themselves. Mike Caffey is a freshman guard averaging 18.6 minutes per game. Not a game changer, but Caffey is steady off the bench. He can provide an offensive spark as a decent shooter from the outside, and he's also a solid ball handler, who rarely commits turnovers and sees the floor well. They also play senior wide body Edis Dervisevic 15.2 minutes per game. Dervisevic is 6-8, 250, but his production has been pretty limited, especially on the boards where they need him. He had five rebounds in just nine minutes against Louisville, but other than that, his numbers have been rather weak. He will likely come in to use up some fouls and bang against Frease. Xavier played a seven man rotation against Oral Roberts, with all seven seeing 19 minutes or more. Thursday, with Holloway back in the lineup, expect to still see seven of the guys getting the majority of the minutes with Justin Martin and Dee Davis seeing most of the time off the bench. Jeff Robinson will still play, but it probably won't be 19 minutes again. Davis will likely play minutes alongside Holloway to try and get Holloway some more looks on offense. Martin could play a key role to upgrade Xavier's size on the wing against LBSU's bigger guards and help keep them off the glass.
Moderate Edge Xavier
This Long Beach State team is extremely experienced and have already been tested against legit competition that includes, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Kansas and North Carolina. The only team out of those four that they beat was Pittsburgh, but they only lost to Kansas by eight and North Carolina by six. They did have a loss to an average Montana team as well. They expect to beat Xavier with Lyons and Wells missing, and will not be intimidated with the game being on a neutral court or because of Xavier's name. They're going to be able to score, they're going to hit a handful of threes and they're going to get after it on the offensive glass. Xavier has to worry about doing what they do. Xavier's defense will be good enough, to not stop the 49ers, but keep them in the game. Their offense has to have a better pace to it than it did against Oral Roberts, and they have to take advantage of cheap buckets. Against ORU, Xavier scored just six fast break points and only four on second chance opportunities. They have to play more aggressive and look to attack when they have the chance. Holloway being back will be huge, but Ware is also a great defender and the 49ers have enough length on the wings to help against Xavier's leader. Other guys will have to step up on the offensive end if Xavier wants to be in this game at the end.
Score Prediction: Long Beach State 66 Xavier 61