The Matchups: Xavier vs Gardner-Webb

Before every game MusketeerReport breaks down the position by position matchups for X's opponent. This edition focuses on Friday evening's season opener against Gardner-Webb at the Cintas Center.

Brandon Randolph Fr (6-1, 190) vs Tyler Strange Jr (5-10, 185)

Strange is a pure point guard and a playmaker. He's aggressive off the dribble, but likes to be more of a distraction than a scorer. He'll beat his man and get into the paint, just to kick it out to an open shooer. This should be a pretty good match-up out on the perimeter, as Randolph may be a little bigger and more athletic, but isn't as experienced as Strange, who has started 46 games in his career already. Coach Mack had made it clear that Randolph was going to help this team immediately, but now the freshman has no choice but to produce with Dee Davis out for at least the season opener. Randolph has been one of Xavier's best defenders in the preseason, so in that regard he'll be solid. If he can give the Musketeers the type of boost on offense that he's capable of, it would be huge for this team.

Slight Edge Xavier

Semaj Christon So (6-3, 190) vs Naji Hibbert Sr (6-5, 190)

Hibbert is a shooter with a scoring mentality. He's out there for one reason, and that's to shoot it from the outside. At 6-foot-5, it can be tough to keep him from getting a good shot off, especially when he's coming off screens. He's not a great scorer, but he can be a difference-maker if you let him get hot and he starts hitting shots from the outside like every low-major team's shooter seems to do when they come into the Cintas Center. When Xavier goes to the three-guard lineup with Myles Davis in the game, it will be important that he's able to defend the bigger Hibbert and not let him get good looks from the perimeter. Christon is going to be the best player on the court, just as he will in most games this season. Gardner-Webb doesn't really have a good match-up for him. Strange is too small and Hibbert transferred to GW from Texas A&M because he didn't play enough defense to get on the court. Expect a big game out of the Muskies' leader. With the new block/charge rules being emphasized early, Christon could easily score 10 points at the line alone.

Significant Edge Xavier

Justin Martin Jr (6-6, 205) vs Donta Harper Jr (6-7, 210)

Harper is the Runnin' Bulldogs' best player. At 6-foot-7 with a powerful frame, he's a big-time driver and a strong offensive rebounder. They like to put Harper in position to drive the ball, and he'll also post up smaller players - he doesn't shoot it from the outside. With the graduation of shooting guard Tashan Newsome and forward Kevin Hartley, Gardner Webb lost 24 points per game out of its starting lineup; this year, Harper will have to be the focal point of the team's offense. Stopping the big wing will be Xavier's tallest task, especially if Martin's not on the floor. When Martin is on the floor, he should have enough size and strength to keep Harper from doing too much damage in the post, if he's locked in and focused. Offensively, there's no question that Martin's role on this team will be to knock down open threes and crash the offensive glass like crazy. If he can do either of those two things well, he'll be a big asset.

Moderate Edge Gardner-Webb

Isaiah Philmore Sr (6-8, 230) vs Jerome Hill Fr (6-5, 210)

Hill played in all but one game last year, and started 19 of them. He's an undersized post player, that played a lot of his minutes at the center position last year. What he lacks in height he makes up for in toughness and athleticism. He plays with a motor, rebounds well and can score it around the basket. He's also the team's best post defender. Philmore is entering his senior year with high expectations. He finished last season strong, after battling through some injury and confidence struggles early in the year, and he enters 2013 in the best shape of his career. He's had a good preseason, is embracing a leadership role on the team, and has looked smoother and more explosive after slimming down. He still has everything to prove in his final year of eligibility. He has to avoid disappearing for large periods of time throughout the game. For this offense to reach its full potential, it needs Philmore to be a consistent threat.

Slight Edge Xavier

Matt Stainbrook Jr (6-10, 263) vs Mike Byron Sr (6-10, 245)

Byron is the lone senior on this roster. He's been in and out of the starting lineup throughout his career, including starting six games as a junior. He's a wide-bodied big man that wants to seal his defender deep in the post and catch for an easy score. Like the rest of the Runnin' Bulldogs' post players, Byron isn't much of a shooter. If he's not boxed out or kept off the block though, he's capable of scoring in double figures. Stainbrook may have some issues when he goes up against athletic centers with length, but this is an ideal match-up for him. Byron is a similar player in the sense that he's a wide-bodied big man that wants to play in the post, but he's not quite as big as Stainbrook, nor as talented. Xavier's going to be giving up size at some other positions, so they need Stainbrook to dominate this match-up, particularly on the boards.

Moderate Edge Xavier

Xavier Bench vs Gardner-Webb Bench

One thing Gardner-Webb definitely has is guard depth with experience. Josh Castellanos, a fifth-year post-grad transfer from St. Mary's should be one of the first players off the bench to provide back-up minutes at the point guard position, which should slide last year's back-up point guard Jarvis Davis over to the two guard where he can do some more shooting, something their roster sorely lacks. They also have a few undersized big men that will provide some athleticism and defense. Senior Onzie Branch (6-6, 215), freshman Tyrell Nelson (6-7, 235), and freshman Donell Tuff (6-6, 210) should all see minutes in Tim Craft's post rotation. For Xavier, Myles Davis is going to play a lot of minutes all season, and with Dee Davis out that will definitely be the case for this game. His shooting ability on the perimeter is something this team needs to keep driving lanes open for Christon and to allow the bigs some room to work. Jalen Reynolds will also see a lot of minutes off the bench in the post rotation. The Musketeers need to dominate the glass at the two post positions, as the Runnin Bulldogs will have a size advantage at the other positions, and Reynolds is a big part of that. After that, the Musketeers are limited in their options with Dee Davis and Landen Amos being out. Erik Stenger will likely see several minutes in the post rotation, and James Farr may get in for a few as well, but in the backcourt and on the wing there's not much help after Myles Davis. Kamall Richards may see some minutes if there's extreme foul trouble in the first half. The Runnin' Bulldogs have more options off the bench, but the Musketeers' have better quality in their few options, particularly Reynolds and Davis.

Slight Edge Xavier

Overall

Gardner-Webb typically likes to push the ball up the floor. The Runnin' Bulldogs will run a lot of ball-screens in the half court, and try to allow their playmakers on the wing to create scoring opportunities. Defensively they play an aggressive man-to-man, and will gamble for steals. GW has been a program on the rise for the last few years, and is coming off its best season since joining Divison I (23-13). Outside of Harper, the Runnin' Bulldogs don't have great talent, but they're a solid low-major team that is coming in with visions of shocking the world. This is one of only four games they're playing on TV. Xavier is the more talented team, but at this point that's all we know. There are still a lot of new pieces that need to prove they can win together. The Musketeers could have trouble defending GW's big wings, particularly Harper. If Martin isn't in the game, they may have to go zone or try something else with the three smaller guards in the lineup, and force the Runnin' Bulldogs to beat them from the perimeter. Semaj Christon will be the best player on the court by a large margin, and this should be the type of game where Matt Stainbrook is a huge presence. For those two reasons, expect Xavier to pull away in the second half, even if it's not looking so promising through the first 20 minutes.

Score Prediction: Xavier 82 Gardner-Webb 62


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