Edmond Sumner SO (6-6, 186) vs Terrence Phillips SO (5-11, 180)
Phillips is a small but quick point guard that gained a lot of valuable experience last year, starting in all 31 games and averaging 7.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.3 turnovers in 26.2 minutes. He didn't play efficiently or particularly well, but he definitely grew as a player and is expected to have a better sophomore season. He was most effective in spot-up shooting situations last year with his feet set, however, he often settled for pull-up jumpers off the bounce, especially when using ball screens. He showed some ability to create shots for his teammates, but he has to improve his decision-making and limit turnovers. He got in foul trouble last year at the Cintas Center and was limited to just 12 minutes as he scored three points (1-2 3PT), grabbed one board, and turned the ball over twice. He played 20 minutes on Sunday night in Missouri's season-opener against Alabama A&M and finished with seven points (2-3 FG, 3-5 FT), five assists, three rebounds, and three turnovers. Sumner's speed was a problem for the Tigers last season but he was still so far away from being the player that he is now that he wasn't able to take full advantage of it. He scored 12 points (2-7 FG, 1-3 3PT, 7-10 FT), grabbed five rebounds, and dished out two assists with three turnovers, but he did a great job of putting pressure on Missouri's defense and drawing fouls on their backcourt. This could be a monster game for him if he brings it.
Significant Edge Xavier
JP Macura JR (6-5, 203) vs Frankie Hughes FR (6-4, 192)
Hughes is a talented freshman combo guard with length and athleticism. He's a confident shooter that never hesitates to pull from deep. He doesn't have the best feel, but he has the handle to attack off the bounce. He had a memorable debut on Sunday night in Missouri's 99-44 win over Alabama A&M as he scored 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-9 from 3-point range. He also had two rebounds, two steals, an assist, a block and a turnover in 21 minutes of action. Macura had 16 points on 4-of-5 shooting (1-2 3PT) from the field and 7-of-7 from the free throw line in 22 minutes last year against the Tigers. So far this season, he's found ways to put up numbers (15.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.5 apg) but hasn't quite gotten on track yet offensively. He's just 1-of-7 from 3-point range through the first two games, but 12-of-12 from the free throw line. In other words, he's due to get hot at some point over the next few days.
Moderate Edge Xavier
Malcolm Bernard SR (6-6, 202) vs Cullen VanLeer SO (6-4, 208)
VanLeer is a scrappy jump shooter. Out of his 138 shots during his freshman season, 110 of them came from beyond the arc. The problem is he only made 27.3 percent of them while averaging 4.0 points and 1.2 rebounds in 17.2 minutes per game. He saw more playing time than anybody in the opener, staying on the court for 29 minutes in the blowout and finishing with nine points (3-5 FG, 3-5 3PT), five assists, a block, and a turnover. He also led the Tigers in scoring last year at the Cintas Center with 13 points, going 3-of-7 from beyond the arc. Bernard has played decent through the first two games, but can definitely bring more to the table. He was set back in the first game when he rolled his ankle in the first half. He had seven points (3-5 FG, 1-3 3PT), four rebounds, three assists, two steals, and three turnovers against Buffalo. He's making good decisions with his shot selection, particularly from 3-point range, but he needs to cut down on the turnovers. Playing three games over the next four days should help him get further in sync with his teammates. Assuming VanLeer is guarding him, this could be Bernard's biggest scoring output yet.
Slight Edge Xavier
Trevon Bluiett JR (6-6, 198) Kevin Puryear SO (6-7, 243)
Puryear was a huge bright spot for the Tigers last season during an otherwise awful season. Coming in as a two-star recruit, he led the team in scoring at 11.5 points per game to go with 4.6 rebounds in 24.7 minutes. He showed impressive skills and body control for a big-bodied forward. He was most effective using his touch and footwork to score in the post, but he's not afraid to pull the trigger from deep. He's also capable of taking his man off the bounce and he works hard for garbage points. He only played 15 minutes in the opener due to the game getting out of hand so fast. He had seven points (2-4 FG, 3-4 FT) and nine boards. He posted 12 points (4-9 FG, 0-2 3PT, 4-4 FT) and five rebounds in 29 minutes against Xavier last year. Bluiett had 18 points (6-12 FG, 3-5 3PT, 3-4 FT) and seven rebounds in 31 minutes in the win over Missouri last season. He's coming off a very pedestrian offensive performance against Buffalo (13 pts, 3 rebs, 29 mins), but his defensive effort was better than the Lehigh game. The Tigers still don't have an answer for him defensively. If he's shooting it well at all, it should be an easy 20-point game for him.
Moderate Edge Xavier
Sean O'Mara JR (6-10, 244) vs Russell Woods SR (6-8, 236)
Woods is a below-the-rim, wide-bodied post player. He's a good finisher but doesn't show much lift around the basket. He averaged 2.8 points and 2.7 rebounds in 13.4 minutes per game last year. He only played 17 minutes against Alabama A&M because of the blowout, finishing with 12 points (3-3 FG, 6-7 FT) and three boards. He saw just eight minutes off the bench last year against the Musketeers and was a total non-factor. O'Mara found himself in a little bit of foul trouble against Buffalo and also struggled to finish. He'll be looking for a big bounce back game against a favorable matchup.
Slight Edge Xavier
Xavier Bench vs Missouri Bench
Sophomore guard Jordan Geist (6-2, 180) played at Ranger College JUCO last year for Billy Clyde Gillispie and was named a Second Team NJCAA All-American after averaging 15.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. He shot 45.6 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from 3-point range. He played 22 minutes against Alabama A&M and finished with eight points (2-6 FG, 1-2 3PT, 3-4 FT), two steals, and one rebound. Freshman forward Willie Jackson (6-6, 212) is a long and athletic energy guy. He runs, jumps, dunks, and rebounds. He had a solid debut, posting 11 points (5-6 FG, 1-2 FT) and nine boards in the Tigers' opener. Sophomore KJ Walton (6-3, 200) is an athletic combo guard that is an average shooter. He's most dangerous as a scorer when he's attacking in transition. He tallied nine points (4-6 FG, 1-2 FT) two rebounds, two assists, two steals, one turnover and 18 minutes in Sunday night's win. He had eight points (3-8 FG, 0-1 3PT, 2-2 FT) and three rebounds in 21 minutes last year at XU. For Xavier, freshman Tyrique Jones (6-8, 237) is the most intriguing bench player coming into this tournament after his impressive performance against Buffalo where he grabbed 12 boards to go along with six points and two (but probably more) blocks in 21 minutes. He will get plenty of run with so many games on such short rest this weekend. RaShid Gaston (6-9, 239) will also be looking to build off a strong second half against Buffalo where he gained some confidence on offense and finished with nine points and seven rebounds in 15 minutes. Woods is also a favorable matchup for him when he enters the game. Quentin Goodin (6-4, 194) played much looser and with more confidence in the win over Buffalo than he did against Lehigh. He was looking to attack whenever he had the opportunity and shot eight free throws as a result. He ended up missing half of them, which he'll improve on, but it was still a positive step forward for the freshman. He finished with 11 points (3-3 FG, 1-1 3PT), four assists, one rebound, and two turnovers in 24 minutes.
Missouri got absolutely nothing out of their opener other than the opportunity to run some wind sprints as 41 of their 99 points came in transition. The Tigers didn't show any zone against Alabama A&M nor did they play it last year against XU, but they did play a 2-3 zone about 22 percent of the time last season. Xavier beat Missouri two years ago on the road, 74-58, and last year at home, 78-66. Neither game was very competitive. The Musketeers' 1-3-1 zone proved to be very effective last season against the Tigers and Mack switching to that defense ended up being sort of the turning point in that game that allowed them to pull away. Mizzou added a shooter in Hughes, but I'd still expect to see XU try the zone for a few possessions. James Farr dominated Missouri's front court last year with 15 points and 14 boards. The Tigers are probably worse off up front this year, so it will be interesting to see if any of Xavier's bigs can take advantage of the inexperienced and inferior competition. If X plays well, it should cruise to a double-digit win. If not, Mack's men should still be able to find a way to pull it out.
Predicted score: Xavier 80 Missouri 68