Lewis is an undersized distributing point guard. He led the ACC in assist to turnover ratio, while dishing out 3.6 assists per game. He's a streaky shooter from the outside, but has mostly struggled this year at just 23.3 percent for the season. He will get the start, but Mark Gottfried platoons him with Anthony "Cat" Barber off the bench and lets their play dictate the minutes breakdown. This should be an even match-up as neither one of these guys are big time scorers or athletes. Neither one of these guys have stats that really pop out, but they both play a fairly significant role in running their respective team, and ultimately the success of that team. Davis has been up and down throughout the year, and there's no denying that his play can often be the difference in the game for the Musketeers. He played pretty well in the Big East tournament, particularly against Marquette in the quarterfinals when he scored seven points and added five steals and three assists with no turnovers. He went 2-for-7 from beyond the arc combined in two games at Madison Square Garden. He's going to get some great looks from beyond the arc in this game due to the Wolfpack's questionable perimeter defense, making them will be a huge key for the Musketeers. Also, he could really give Lewis and Barber some fits with his defensive ball pressure; those two aren't quite the caliber of some of the Big East guards he's been facing on a regular basis for the last three months.
Semaj Christon So (6-3, 190) vs Ralston Turner Jr (6-5, 209)
Turner is a bigger guard that is really the Wolfpack's only shooter on the wing. After Warren, he's the next most used player on the offensive end. Nearly 70 percent of his shot attempts come from beyond the arc, and he connects at a 36.7 percent clip. He will take some bad shots and force it at times, but it's accepted in the offense because they need someone else to step up as a secondary scoring threat to complement Warren. He scored six points on a 2-of-10 shooting performance from 3-point range in the ACC finals against Duke, but he showed how dangerous he can be in the Wolfpack's first game of the tournament against Miami when he scored 22 points and knocked down 5-of-8 from 3-point range. Turner very well may be the key to this game. When State gets another player scoring along with Warren, they are very difficult to beat, and considering Xavier's propensity for giving up 3-pointers this year, he could be the most dangerous man on the court. Christon was named to the Big East's All Tournament team after scoring 18 against Marquette and 18 against Creighton. NC State plays pretty much all man-to-man defense, so Christon is going to get his opportunities to attack. Xavier has had a tendency to fall behind early in games, and often times Christon has been too passive early in those games. However, we saw him try and go into takeover mode at Madison Square Garden when the Musketeers were struggling to score, and in four of the last five games he's attempted 18 shots or more, including a season-high 22 against Creighton. Before this current stretch of games, his highest amount of shot attempts was 17 in the first game against Creighton. It will be interesting to see how Christon attacks the Wolfpack's defense that has multiple big men who are aggressive when blocking shots at the rim.
Moderate Edge Xavier
Justin Martin Jr (6-6, 205) vs T.J. Warren So (6-8, 233)
Outside of Doug McDermott, there isn't a finer scorer in the country than TJ Warren. The thick forward has a unique skillset and body type combination that makes him very difficult to guard. Almost like a poor man's Carmelo Anthony, Warren is a great one-on-one player that diversifies his attack with drives to the rim, strong finishes, mid-range jumpers and 3-pointers. He's not a great shooter from the outside at just # percent, but he Xavier has to respect his ability and willingness to hit that shot as he's more than capable and has attempted 110 of them on the year. The Wolfpack's offense is pretty free-flowing with the main objective being to get him the ball as many times as possible and let him go to work. He's attempted 612 shots on the year, which is 323 more than Turner, who ranks second on the team with 289. Martin relished the opportunity to guard McDermott, and did a really nice job both in the game the Musketeers won at Cintas and the Big East tournament game, even though McDermott still scored 32 points at MSG. Warren is a little better of a match-up for Martin because he doesn't have to be as concerned with using his speed to fly out and contest threes, but rather using his strength to keep Warren from bullying his way to the rim. While many are going to be focused on his defensive assignment, Martin's contributions at the other end of the court may be more important. State is good at running teams off of the 3-point line on defense, but opponents that have been able to knock down perimeter jump shots have given the Wolfpack a lot of trouble. Martin has been shooting the ball with confidence and was 5-of-10 from beyond the arc in two games at the Big East tournament. He's also been strong on the offensive glass all year, and with State ranking 338th in the country in defensive rebounding percentage that could be a big opportunity for him to rack up some garbage points. If he's able to come out and give X a solid 15-point performance and knock down some big shots, it'd go a long way toward a win.
Moderate Edge NC State
Isaiah Philmore Sr (6-8, 230) vs Kyle Washington Fr (6-9, 225)
Washington will get the start, but he actually averages two minutes less per game than his back-up Lennard Freeman. Washington has good touch, and likes to face-up and shoot the short jumper. Over 80 percent of his shot attempts have been two-point jumpers this year, with only 18.3 percent of his attempts coming at the rim. He's attempted the fifth most shots on the team, and has had a few big double-digit scoring games somewhat recently, with 14 against Syracuse, 13 against Virginia Tech and 13 against Miami. On the defensive end, he's a decent shot blocker that is also one of the Wolfpack's better rebounders. Philmore had one of his best games of his Xavier career in the semifinals loss to Creighton in the Big East tournament. When the Musketeers couldn't get it going offensively, he shouldered their offense in the second half and finished with 23 points (9-of-13 FG) and seven rebounds, including four offensive. If he brings that same type of intensity on the offensive glass, it could pay big dividends for the Musketeers in this game. Philmore doesn't quite match-up as well against State's big men though, as they are longer, more athletic bigs that like to block shots.
Jalen Reynolds Fr (6-9, 222) vs Jordan Vandenberg Sr (7-1, 264)
Vandenberg provides good size and experience to State's young frontcourt. He's mostly a garbage man on the offensive end with the majority of his shots coming at the rim on dump-offs or putbacks. He's also a good passer that helps the Wolfpack's offense in a similar way that Stainbrook does with his vision and feel. On the defensive end, he's very aggressive when it comes to blocking shots, but he's not a great rebounder on that end. Reynolds could be a big key for the Musketeers in this one. In addition to him having to play a likely increased role still with Stainbrook recovering, this is also a team that he matches up very favorably against. State's young frontcourt is long and plays similar to St. John's in the sense that they're undisciplined at times and don't box out well on the defensive glass. Reynolds had his best games of the season against St. John's, including his monster double-double performance at Madison Square Garden when he carried X with 17 points and 16 rebounds. It's unfair to expect that out of the freshman playing in his first NCAA tournament game, but this is definitely an intriguing match-up for the Musketeers' talented big man.
Slight Edge Xavier
Xavier Bench vs NC State Bench
Gottfried has a deep bench, and it's not one that has gotten shorter in the postseason. Instead, he has fairly evenly matched guys at a few different positions that each bring something a little different to the table, and he plays whoever has the hot hand that night for the most part. Cat Barber brings a different dynamic than Lewis when he comes into the game at point guard. He's super quick, and is a much better defender. Also, instead of looking for mostly threes on offense like Lewis, Barber is looking to break a defender down off the dribble when he attacks and finish or draw a foul. He has the tendency to get a little more out of control, though, and Xavier's two strong on-ball defenders could force him into some turnovers. Desmond Lee rotates in at the two and three with Warren and Turner, and sees about 25 minutes a game. He ranks fourth on the team in shot attempts, and mostly likes to get to the rim or he settles for threes, even though he's only shooting 26.8 percent from beyond the arc. Lennard Freeman backs up Washington at the four. Freeman may see more minutes in this game, because he's very mobile and can defend against screens better than the other big men. He's not quite as talented offensively, but he finishes well around the rim. At center, Beejay Anya is a load at 6-9, 325 pounds. He's only seeing 11 minutes per game, and he hasn't scored more than two points in the last six games, but he'll likely see his minutes whenever Stainbrook is in the game for X. He has the bulk and strength to match-up with the Musketeers' big man, and it allows him to be on the court more because his lack of speed won't be a liability in that scenario. With Xavier, it's really up to the four regulars and the center rotation of Stainbrook and Reynolds. If Stainbrook is able to give them 15 good minutes or more, that would be huge. Myles Davis and James Farr have proven to be able to hold the fort down to spell guys when they need a breather or get in foul trouble, but neither of them can be relied on for significant contributions at this point.
Moderate Edge NC State
These were the two last teams in the tournament, but both of them know they have a legitimate chance of advancing past Saint Louis in the actual first round if they can pull off this win in the play-in game. TJ Warren is going to get his, but Xavier's hoping they can keep him to 25 instead of 35-40, and then limit the supporting cast to minimal outputs. Owning the glass is going to be key for X. The Muskies are likely to get their share of second chance points in this game because the Wolfpack really struggles when it comes to rebounding on the defensive end, but they have to make sure they finish off stops with defensive rebounds at the other end as State has a few big men that rely on garbage points around the rim. This looks to be a fairly evenly matched game on paper, and it may very well come down to who can make shots. If Warren is going off and Turner has a big game from three, then State is very hard to beat, regardless of the opponent. If X can get a few threes out of Davis and Martin to go with Christon's usual output against a man-to-man defense, then X has to like their chances. Jalen Reynolds could be the big "X" factor in this one because of the favorable match-up.
Score Prediction:Xavier 78 NC State 75