Kevin Jairaj - USA Today Sports

The Matchups: Xavier vs Baylor

Before every game, Rick takes a position-by-position look at what to expect. This edition focuses on Saturday afternoon's tilt between two top 10 teams, #7 Xavier and #9 Baylor, in Waco.

Edmond Sumner SO (6-6, 186) vs Manu Lecomte JR (5-11, 175)

Lecomte came to Baylor as a transfer from Miami with the reputation as a combo guard that could light it up from the outside. In addition to his perimeter shooting prowess, he's proven to be a capable distributor and leader of the Bears' offense, while also making some strides defensively. When he's not getting open looks from three, he loves to come off of a screen and get to the free-throw area for a mid-range jumper. Also, despite his small frame, he doesn't mind getting all the way to the rim and absorbing contact. He's an 82.1 percent free-throw shooter. Most of his damage is done off of ball screens or spot-up jumpers. He's averaging 12.4 points and 5.3 assists in 31 minutes per game, while shooting 41.7 percent from the field, including 11-of-34 from 3-point range (32.4%). Xavier will need Sumner to be more aggressive in this one than he was on Tuesday night against North Dakota State when he scored just five points on 1-of-4 shooting while dishing out seven assists without a turnover. He's averaging 14.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.9 steals per game. He'll be crucial to penetrating the Bears' 2-3 zone defense. 

Slight Edge Xavier

JP Macura JR (6-5, 203) vs Al Freeman JR (6-3, 200)

Freeman is a big-bodied guard that plays with a scorer's mentality. He's Baylor's best downhill driver and is tremendous at reading the defense and finding opportunities to attack. He destroys bad closeouts and finishes well at the rim without being an elite athlete. He's also Baylor's top spot-up shooter. When they get out and start running in transition, which is fairly rare, he's typically the guy they're giving the ball to. He's averaging 11.9 points and 3.0 rebounds in 28 minutes per game, while shooting 46 percent from the field, including 12-of-29 from deep (41.4%). Macura has been great so far for X this year, even though he took a backseat with just 11 points against NDSU on Tuesday night. As the team's main 3-point threat at the moment, his ability to knock down perimeter shots will be at a premium in this matchup. He's averaging 16.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 2.3 steals per game. 

Slight Edge Xavier

Malcolm Bernard SR (6-6, 202) vs Ishmail Wainright SR (6-5, 235)

Wainright is another stout wing with good athleticism. He doesn't provide a lot of scoring, but he's a very efficient offensive player that makes plays for his teammates at a high level without turning the ball over. He's an excellent passer. He's also a strong defender and rebounder. He's averaging 6.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 1.9 steals in 27.7 minutes per game, while shooting 42.4 percent from the field, including 5-of-17 from 3-point range (29.4%). Bernard plays a similar glue role for Xavier. He continues to defend well and has started looking more comfortable on offense. On top of that, he pulled down a season-high eight rebounds against NDSU on Tuesday. He's averaging 5.9 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.3 steals in 30.0 minutes per game. 

Slight Edge Baylor

Trevon Bluiett JR (6-6, 198) vs Johnathan Motley JR (6-10, 230)

Motley is Baylor's best player. He's big and athletic with good feet and refined moves around the rim, plus he has some face-up skills. He's very difficult to guard one-on-one in the post, he's extremely active when looking for open spots in the defense to make himself available for driving teammates, the Bears find him in pick-and-roll situations a lot, and he does a decent job on the offensive glass. He draws a lot of fouls and is a tremendous free throw shooter (84.6%), but he also commits a lot of fouls as well. Baylor will often run a cross-screen play across the blocks to free Motley very similar to the one Xavier has a lot of success with, so the Musketeers will have to be ready for that. He's averaging 16.2 points and 8.2 rebounds in 30.5 minutes per game, while shooting 50 percent from the field, including 1-of-4 from 3-point range. Bluiett still hasn't got his shot going from the outside yet this season, but he's been excellent otherwise for X. He's averaging 17.7 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.7 assists in 33.9 minutes per game, but is only shooting 27.7 percent from 3-point range still. This is a huge opportunity for him to show up another NBA draft prospect and give his team a needed lift in the process. Typically, teams playing a more traditional lineup with two post players have paid on the defensive end against Bluiett, but Baylor is a little bit different due to its zone. Even still, Bluiett outplaying Motley would be a definite way to put the Musketeers in a position to pull off the huge road win. ?

Even

Sean O'Mara JR (6-10, 244) vs Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. JR (7-0, 220)

Lual-Acuil isn't much of a threat on the offensive end, but he still changes the game in the paint with his length which allows him to rebound and protect the rim at an extremely high level. He sticks to what he's good at, which makes him an efficient player. He catches dump-offs and grabs offensive boards and then dunks. Baylor will often have him come to set a screen and then slip to the rim for an easy dunk too, so Xavier will have to be ready for that and not be too lax when the bigs are jumping ball screens. He has attempted seven threes on the year, hitting two of them, but, as a defense, you have to feel pretty good if that's the shot Baylor ends up taking. He's averaging 9.3 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 4.1 blocks in 27.6 minutes per game. O'Mara played really well on the offensive end again against NDSU. He looks to be getting back to the same form on the offensive end that we saw in Big East play last year. This will be the biggest challenge he's faced and a completely different test from anything he's faced. Tim Kempton was more skilled and a better offensive player, but not near the same physical challenge as Lual-Acuil. O'Mara is averaging 8.1 points and 3.4 rebounds in 17.3 minutes per game. 

Moderate Edge Baylor

Xavier Bench vs Baylor Bench

Junior TJ Maston (6-8, 230) is a solid reserve option in the post for the Bears. He catches drop-offs and finishes with dunks, can score with his back to the basket, has a good touch from the mid-range and free throw line, and defends well enough. He's averaging 7.9 points and 4.0 rebounds in 20.3 minutes per game. Sophomore King McClure (6-3, 215) is another guard with a big frame. He's a talented offensive player that has exploded off the bench the last two games after hardly seeing any playing time earlier in the season. He shot it well in the Bears' wins over Louisville and Sam Houston State, posting 15 and 14 points respectively. He's averaging 4.6 points in 10.1 minutes per game on the season, while shooting 41.7 percent from the field, including 6-of-17 from 3-point range (35.3%). On the defensive end, he also loves to jump passing lanes when he's in the game. Sophomore Jake Lindsey (6-5, 200) is a deceptively athletic combo guard that will come in and take over primary ballhandling duties at times. He's averaging 3.7 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists in 17.7 minutes per game, while shooting 57.9 percent from the field, including 3-of-7 from 3-point range. He's also the son of former Baylor player and current Utah Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey. Redshirt freshman guard Wendell Mitchell (6-3, 180) has played a small role and hasn't been all that effective so far for the Bears. However, he came into college with the reputation as a bucket-getter with range on his jumper, and he's shown flashes of the ability to create his own shot already. He's a threat when he's on the floor, even if the numbers don't suggest it. He's averaging 2.9 points in 11 minutes per game while shooting 36.8 percent from the field, including 2-of-8 from 3-point range. For Xavier, Kaiser Gates hit 2-of-3 from deep on Tuesday against NDSU to give the Musketeers a boost off the bench. Having the extra body in the frontcourt will definitely be a plus against Baylor's frontline, but it hasn't looked like Xavier's staff is fully confident in him just yet. There's not much of a discrepancy between the talent level on the two benches, but Baylor being on their home floor and getting a little more offensive firepower from their reserves in recent games gives them the nod. If one of XU's bench players step up, it could prove to be the difference in the game. 

Slight Edge Baylor

Overall

Baylor's primary defense is an active 2-3 zone, however, Scott Drew switched to a man-to-man defense to help jump start his team in wins over Michigan State and Louisville. They've played 57.3% percent zone on the season and it seems likely they'll at least start out with that look against Xavier. Look for XU to counter with a similar gameplan to what they did against Cincinnati two years ago in the Shootout where they overload one side and look for corner threes - Myles Davis canned three of those looks against the Bearcats in the first half of that game. Baylor's zone is susceptible to corner threes in a similar manner due to their forwards' commitment to guarding the ball aggressively out to the wing. The Bears do a tremendous job of challenging shots all the way out beyond the perimeter without fouling. It will also be interesting to see how XU's bigs handle the size and athleticism differential inside. On the other side of the ball, the key will be corralling Lecomte in ballscreen situations and stopping Motley down low. The Bears aren't a great outside shooting team nor do they score a lot of their points on spot-up threes, but they do shoot a high percentage from inside the arc while also getting to the free-throw line at a high clip. The smart money is on Baylor defending its home court in a battle between these top 10 teams, but it's very close on paper and a few shots going down for the Musketeers could be all they need to come away with a massive resume-building roadkill. 

Predicted Score: Baylor 68 Xavier 65


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