Edmond Sumner SO (6-6, 186) vs Davonta Jordan FR (6-2, 185)
Jordan started his first ever college game in a 76-66 win over Niagara on Friday. He finished with six points (3-5 FG, 0-1 3PT), seven assists, two rebounds, and four turnovers. He's an athletic kid with length and a nice handle, who is capable of getting all the way to the rim and finishing his drives. He still needs a lot of polish, but he has plenty of potential, especially for the MAC level. On the other end of the court, he ended up fouling out against Niagara because of his inability to defend without using his hands. I would expect Edmond Sumner to give him some serious issues assuming he draws that matchup. Sumner lived in the lane during the Musketeers' opening win over Lehigh 84-81. He finished with a career-high 24 points, six assists, four rebounds, and six turnovers. Obviously, the focus for him in this game will be decreasing the number of turnovers.
Significant Edge Xavier
JP Macura JR (6-5, 203) vs Blake Hamilton SR (6-6, 205)
Hamilton is supposedly not 100 percent after recently returning from a broken hand. The stat sheet stuffer averaged 13.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 2.5 assists in 26.5 minutes per game last year. He started this season off in a similar fashion by scoring 11 points (5-12 FG, 1-5 3PT), grabbing eight boards, and dishing out five assists before fouling out in 26 minutes against Niagara. He's very active and handles the ball a lot for the Bulls, at times serving as the point guard, but occasionally he's prone to forcing the issue too much on offense and taking some bad shots. He also settles for too many threes for someone with his size and ability. Macura scored 13 points (4-9 FG, 1-5 3PT) and had five rebounds, four assists, and three turnovers in 37 minutes against Lehigh. For whatever reason, he just never seemed to find his flow offensively in that game. He came up with a few big plays in the second half by playing hard, but for the most part, it wasn't one of his better performances. The Musketeers need their wings to play well in this one considering that's the strength of Buffalo's lineup. Cutting down on the turnovers and improving defensively would be a big step in the right direction for Macura and his backcourt mates.
Slight Edge Xavier
Malcolm Bernard SR (6-6, 202) vs Willie Conner SR (6-5, 200)
Conner was last year's MAC Tournament MVP. He averaged 11.8 points and 2.3 rebounds in 28.9 minutes per game for the season. He got his 2016-17 campaign off to a strong start with 20 points in the win over Niagara while making 4-of-6 from 3-point range. He's a perimeter threat the Musketeers will have to be conscious of at all times (he shot 45.7 percent last year), but he's also a capable slasher with some athleticism and a solid build. He does a good job of using his body to draw contact and get to the foul line. Bernard's first night as a Musketeer was interrupted when he rolled his ankle in the first half Friday against Lehigh. He returned in the second half and ended up playing 23 minutes, finishing with five points (1-2 FG, 1-2 3PT), three rebounds, an assist, a block, and two turnovers. The Musketeers could use his penetrating and playmaking ability, which just wasn't there in the Lehigh game after his injury, to improve their offensive flow.
Slight Edge Buffalo
Trevon Bluiett JR (6-6, 198) vs Nick Perkins SO (6-8, 260)
Perkins is the most physically-gifted player on the Bulls roster and he was heavily featured on the offensive end in the season-opener as he used more possessions than anyone else on the team. It wasn't a great night for him as he finished with 11 points, eight boards, and three assists but went just 1-for-4 from 3-point range and had four turnovers, however, it's clear he's going to play a big role on this year's team. He has a face-up game on the perimeter but is plenty big enough to play on the block. He averaged 7.6 points and 4.3 rebounds in 19.2 minutes per game last season and shot 33 percent from 3-point range. Bluiett was great offensively against Lehigh, pouring in a career-high 25 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 2-of-7 from 3-point range, to go with 11 rebounds and three assists. He wasn't good defensively and he had a bad turnover in the final minutes that helped Lehigh hang around, though, so there were certainly areas for him to improve on following Friday night.
Moderate Edge Xavier
Sean O'Mara JR (6-9, 244) vs Raheem Johnson SR (6-10, 235)
Johnson only played one game last year after suffering a broken foot in the offseason. The former-JUCO big man provides the Bulls with some legit size in the post. He scored six points, grabbed a rebound, and had a steal in 11 minutes off the bench against Niagara, but is listed as a projected starter in Buffalo's game notes for this matchup. He's a below-the-rim garbage man with decent mobility who is mostly used to set screens and catch drop-off passes. This isn't nearly the defensive challenge the Xavier big men faced on Friday night. O'Mara was more confident on offense against Lehigh than he was in the exhibition against Ferris State, finishing with 10 points and four rebounds on 5-of-7 shooting. He wasn't great defensively against Lehigh's Tim Kempton, but he personally wasn't abused either. He should have the upper hand tonight.
Moderate Edge Xavier
Xavier Bench vs Buffalo Bench
The Bulls bench is a little short with sophomore guard CJ Massinburg (6-3, 190) expected to be out due to mono. He missed the season-opener as well. If he is available, he's a huge piece that would start in the backcourt. He played 40 minutes and finished with 27 points (9-18 FG, 3-9 3PT), seven boards, and five assists in the Bulls' exhibition against Daemen College. Freshman Quate McKinzie (6-8, 195) had a big game off the bench against Niagara, pouring in 13 points and grabbing four rebounds to go with three blocks and two steals in 23 minutes of action. Rebounding is his supposed to be his calling card. Sophomore Dontay Caruthers (6-1, 195) also played a lot of minutes (16) against Niagara, finishing with four points (2-3 FG), three rebounds, three steals, and three turnovers. He'll look to attack the lane when he gets the ball on the wing, but he's an average athlete that lacks length so he's not exactly a huge threat. Freshman wing Nikola Rakicevic (6-5, 185) adds a versatile piece with big-time international experience. For Xavier, the bench made very little impact in the win over Lehigh. RaShid Gaston (6-9, 239) made both of his shot attempts and 1-of-2 free throws to finish with five points and just two rebounds in 14 minutes. Quentin Goodin (6-4, 194) added two points (1-2 FG, 0-2 3PT), two assists, an offensive rebound, and a steal in 16 minutes, but he also had a pair of turnovers. His performance was up-and-down and Mack said after the game that he wanted his freshman to quit playing scared. Tyrique Jones (6-8, 237) didn't put up numbers (0 pts, 1 reb, 1 blk, 1 stl) in his eight minutes on the floor, but he might have made the biggest impact out of the bench players. He had a key defensive play and kept two offensive rebounds alive by tipping the ball out to Bluiett and Macura on instances that eventually resulted in 3-point plays for XU in the second half of a tight game.
This Buffalo team isn't as talented as Xavier thought it might be when they scheduled this game and the Bulls still had last year's leading scorer, Lamonte Bearden, who transferred to Western Kentucky in August. However, the Bulls still have Division I length across their starting lineup and can offer the Musketeers a legit challenge if they're knocking down shots. While the Lehigh game was all about containing point guard Kahron Ross on ball screens and Tim Kempton in the post for Xavier's defense, this game will be more about keeping track of multiple wing scorers. The Bulls were 8-of-20 from 3-point range against Niagara, and it's likely they'll attempt even more against a bigger Xavier team. The Musketeers have to be ready for a trigger-happy opponent that's capable of doing damage from downtown. On offense, look for the Musketeers to get out and run at every opportunity as the Bulls gave up 28 points in transition to Niagara. Also, like many teams, it doesn't appear Buffalo has any aliens capable of matching up with Edmond Sumner, so look for Xavier to take advantage of that if the score is tight in the second half.
Predicted score: Xavier 84 Buffalo 69