Rich Barnes - USA Today Sports

The Matchups: Xavier vs Lehigh

Rick provides a position-by-position look at what to expect before every game. This edition focuses on Friday night's season-opener at the Cintas Center against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks.

Edmond Sumner SO (6-6, 186) vs Kahron Ross JR (5-11, 160)

Ross was an All-Patriot League First Team honoree last season after averaging 11.2 points and 6.1 assists in 34 minutes per game. Keep an eye on Xavier's ball screen defense against him. The Mountain Hawks constantly set high screens for Ross and put him in a position to create. He's good at getting defenses out of sorts by rejecting screens or splitting defenders and making plays. Xavier's guards and bigs will both have to work in tandem to contain him. He's also never afraid to pull-up and knock down a jumper off the dribble. He shot 38.2 percent on 76 attempts from 3-point range last year. Sumner was named to the Preseason All-Big East First Team after averaging 11.0 points, 3.6 assists, and 3.4 rebounds in 25.9 minutes per game last year and earning Big East All-Rookie honors. The expectation is for Sumner to make a huge jump this year. This will be a good test for him defensively to start the season as he (and the entire team) struggled with small, jet-quick point guards last year. On the other side of the floor, his length and athleticism could be a major problem for Lehigh's defense. 

Moderate Edge Xavier

JP Macura JR (6-5, 203) vs Kyle Leufroy SO (6-3, 195)

Leufroy was named to the Patriot League's All-Rookie Team last season after averaging 10.6 points and 4.0 rebounds in 28.4 minutes per game. He was named the Patriot League's Rookie of the Week four times last season. He's a nice complement to Ross and big man Tim Kempton as he helps space the floor with his 3-point shooting. Last year, he connected on 44 percent of his 102 attempts from distance. Macura is poised to excel in a bigger role this year after being named the Big East Sixth Man of the Year last season. He averaged 9.4 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 2.0 assists in 22.7 minutes per game as a sophomore. He's had a great preseason and looks to have made strides on both ends of the court. Look for him to get off to a big start on the opening night of what could be a huge season. 

Moderate Edge Xavier

Malcolm Bernard SR (6-6, 202) vs Austin Price SR (6-4, 185)

Price was an All-Patriot League Third Team honoree last season after averaging 13.0 points and 3.4 rebounds in 33 minutes per game. He too offers a 3-point shooting threat on the wing for Ross and Kempton to kick out to. He shot 38.5 percent on 179 attempts from deep last year. While about half of his possessions last year were used in either spot up situations or coming off of screens as a shooter, he also brings a little bit of playmaking ability to the Mountain Hawks' offense. Bernard is on his third stop after playing at Charleston Southern and Florida A&M previously in his career. Last year at FAMU, he was named Second Team All-MEAC and averaged 14.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 2.3 steals in 32.4 minutes per game. Particularly with Myles Davis and Kaiser Gates out of the lineup, Bernard has stepped up in a big way for XU and shown why he was an important addition this offseason. He can do a little bit of everything and will be expected to fill that "whatever we need to win tonight" role for the Musketeers, though his defense and rebounding seem to be his most important traits for this team currently. 

Slight Edge Xavier

Trevon Bluiett JR (6-6, 198) vs Matt Holba SO (6-7, 215)

Holba was expected to gain plenty of experience and to contribute last year as a freshman but ended up missing the entire season with a foot injury. He averaged 15.8 points and 6.9 rebounds for Guerin Catholic High School in Indiana his senior year. Valparaiso, Princeton, William & Mary, Ohio, Bucknell, and Toledo were also involved in his recruitment. He's an undersized forward that works hard, moves fluidly, and has some face-up skills. Bluiett was named to the All-Big East first team last year after averaging 15.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in 30.6 minutes per game. He's expected to contend for the Big East Player of the Year Award this season. His slimmed-down physique (he lost 15 pounds in the offseason) has been the big preseason storyline as he looks to transition to a backcourt role in the NBA, however, his versatility and strength are what overwhelms teams like Lehigh. Asking Holba (or any forward on the Mountain Hawks' roster) to go out and defend Bluiett on the perimeter is a huge ask, especially since he can hold his own in the post or on the glass at the other end of the court. This could be a monster night for Bluiett. 

Significant Edge Xavier

Sean O'Mara SR (6-9, 244) vs Tim Kempton SR (6-10, 245)

Kempton is the two-time defending Patriot League Player of the Year after averaging 17.7 points and 9.5 rebounds in 29.8 minutes per game last year. His father Tim was an NBA player and was recruited by former Xavier head coach Pete Gillen at Notre Dame. Kempton is great at maneuvering off of a pivot foot and using shot fakes to get defenders off balance. He then uses his strength and touch to score or draw fouls. He was a 75.5 percent free throw shooter last year. He loves to use his spin move and he's also a pretty good passer. He doesn't shoot a ton of jumpers, but he's certainly capable of stepping out and hitting a mid-range shot. On the defensive end, the Musketeers need to go right at him as he's not a shot blocker at all. O'Mara comes into the season trying to solidify himself as the Musketeers' go-to man in the post after biding his time behind Matt Stainbrook, Jalen Reynolds, and James Farr the last two years. He averaged 3.2 points and 1.9 rebounds in 7.0 minutes per game last season but should see his playing time close to tripled this year. His performance against Ferris State wasn't good (0 pts, 0-6 FGs, 5 rebs, 18 mins), but he played well in the secret scrimmage against Georgia (10 pts, 3-4 FGs, 4-5 FTs, 5 rebs, 23 mins) and is the Musketeers' best post scorer. Stopping Kempton on the defensive end will be the big challenge for him in this game. On offense, he'll have to keep his eyes up as Lehigh will often double down on the post. 

Moderate Edge Lehigh

Xavier Bench vs Lehigh Bench

Lehigh's bench doesn't figure to be very strong unless they have some total unknown underclassmen that are ready to surprise right away. Senior Devon Carter (6-4, 190) is one of the Mountain Hawks' three team captains. He returns after posting 3.3 points and 1.6 rebounds in 15.2 minutes per game last season. Junior wing Brandon Alston (6-5, 200) averaged 4.9 points and 1.5 rebounds in 15.8 minutes per game two years ago as a freshman before missing last season with an injury. Xavier will counter with three players who have never played a minute in an XU uniform. RaShid Gaston (6-9, 239) should see the most minutes, splitting time nearly equally with O'Mara at the center position. Freshman guard Quentin Goodin (6-4, 194) will play a lot of minutes with no other backcourt depth. He struggled against Ferris State after getting into early foul trouble, but he's been picking up the system well and taking care of the ball. Freshman center Tyrique Jones (6-8, 237) should see a role early on with the Musketeers' bench being so limited. In the exhibition, they slid Gaston to the four a and played with two bigs in the game a decent amount. That gives Jones an increased opportunity for minutes. His athleticism could be a spark at times on the glass and in transition. 

Slight Edge Xavier

Overall

Lehigh was ranked preseason No. 1 by the Patriot League coaches for the second straight year. The Mountain Hawks started last season 0-7 against a difficult slate that included Syracuse, Virginia, Purdue, Stony Brook, and Yale before rebounding to win the Patriot League Championship for the third time in the last seven years. They lost their opener to Syracuse last year, 57-47. They won't be intimidated by coming into the Cintas Center and facing a team with a single-digit number next to their name. Defensively, they only played zone 13.8 percent of the time last season, but they did show a decent amount of 2-3 zone against some of the tougher opponents they faced. With Xavier's lineup presenting some matchup problems, it wouldn't be a surprise to see them use it in this game. Defense and rebounding are the keys for the Musketeers in this one. If they're able to corral Ross in ball-screen actions and keep Kempton off of the free throw line, then they should roll easily. If not, then they should still have enough firepower to squeak out a win at home. 

Predicted Score: Xavier 80 Lehigh 63


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