Brendan Maloney - USA Today Sports

The Matchups: Xavier vs Eastern Washington

Before every game, Rick takes a position-by-position look at what to expect. This edition focuses on Tuesday night's home game against Eastern Washington.

Edmond Sumner SO (6-6, 186) vs Sir Washington JR (6-3, 180)

Washington is a lefty point guard with decent quickness. He initiates the offense most of the time by coming downhill off of a high ball screen looking to attack. He's a good finisher around the basket and a solid ballhandler, but he's not much of a playmaker in terms of creating for his teammates. He's averaging 7.2 points (38.5% FG, 27.8% 3PT) and 3.8 rebounds in 24.7 minutes per game. Sumner could add significant footage to his season highlight reel in this one. Eastern Washington just lacks the athletes to deal with him. He's averaging 14.5 points  (47.4% FG, 20.8% 3PT), 4.3 rebounds, 4.1 assists, and 3.1 turnovers in 34.6 minutes per game. 

Significant Edge Xavier

JP Macura JR (6-5, 203) vs Cody Benzel SO (6-4, 175)

Benzel is strictly a spot-up shooter. He's taken 52 of his 59 shot attempts from beyond the arc this season. He's averaging 7.4 points in 20.4 minutes per game while shooting 45.6 percent from the field and 44.0 percent from deep. Macura wasn't too aggressive against Wake Forest and his shot wasn't falling from the outside again. Outside of the 5-for-7 performance against Utah, he's been in a slump the last several games. He's averaging 14.6 points (40.5% FG, 33.3% 3PT), 4.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 2.3 steals in 34.5 minutes per game.

Significant Edge Xavier

Malcolm Bernard SR (6-6, 202) vs Felix Von Hofe SR (6-5, 200)

Von Hofe is mostly just a spot-up shooter too, but he has a lot more craft to his game and is more active than Benzel. Eighty-seven of his 118 field goal attempts have come from beyond the arc this season. He's averaging 14.3 points and 3.1 rebounds while shooting 41.5 percent from the field and 41.4 percent from beyond the arc. Bernard may end up guarding Bogdan Bliznyuk instead of Von Hofe, which is a tough assignment. Offensively, this is a game where Bernard might physically be a little more comfortable forcing the issue and looking to make plays. He's averaging 4.8 points (35.2% FG, 36.7% 3PT) and 4.6 rebounds in 28.6 minutes per game. 

Slight Edge Xavier

Trevon Bluiett JR (6-6, 198) vs Bogdan Bliznyuk JR (6-6, 215)

Bliznyuk is the Eagles best all-around player. He's a tall, thick shooter that can do everything. EWU's entire offense revolves around him isolating his man and making a play. Over 40 percent of his possessions are used on isolation plays. Often times, he's looking to set up his own jumper, but he's a good passer when the defense crowds him too much. He's also efficient when using ball screens, but that happens much less frequently. He had 12 points on 4-of-14 shooting on Sunday afternoon in the loss at NKU while being guarded by the Norse's 6-foot-6 freshman forward, Carson Williams. He's averaging 21.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 4.5 assists in 38.2 minutes per game while shooting 50.6 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from 3-point range. Bluiett may not guard Bliznyuk to avoid foul trouble, but if he does he should match up fairly well. On the other end of the court, Bluiett can probably score as many points as he decides he wants to in this one. He's averaging a team-high 19.3 points (43% FG, 35.4% 3PT) to go with 5.7 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in 34.3 minutes per game. 

Moderate Edge Xavier

RaShid Gaston SR (6-9, 239) vs Jacob Wiley SR (6-7, 220)

Wiley is an athletic and physical but slightly undersized big man that does most of his work around the hoop. He works hard to get position down low early in the possession so that all he has to do is catch and finish above the rim. When he catches with his back to the basket in the post, his go to move is the midline jump hook. He led the Eagles with 14 points (7-14 FG) and 12 rebounds in the loss at NKU. He's averaging 13.7 points (58.3% FG), 7.7 rebounds, 3.1 blocks, 1.9 assists, 1.1 steals, and 2.7 assists in 31.4 minutes per game. Gaston continued his strong play on Saturday with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting to go with four rebounds and two blocks against Wake Forest's long frontcourt. He's averaged 13.0 points and 9.6 rebounds while shooting 72 percent from the field over the last three games. When Wiley's not on the floor, EWU has absolutely no chance inside against Gaston.

Slight Edge Xavier

Xavier Bench vs Eastern Washington Bench

Freshman guard Luka Vulikic (6-5, 190) is a decent defender and may have some upside as a driver in the Big Sky conference, but at this point, he's just not much of a factor offensively, especially against a high-major opponent. He's playing 18.5 minutes per game but only averaging 2.5 points and 3.3 rebounds while shooting 36.7 percent from the field, including 1-of-7 from distance. He had 2 points, 1 assist, and 4 turnovers in 15 minutes on Sunday. Freshman Mason Peatling (6-8, 220) is a below-the-rim big man with deceptive mobility. He's averaging 3.4 points (56% FG) and 2.7 rebounds in 11.5 minutes per game. Ty Gibson (6-3, 190) is strictly a spot-up shooter that has to be chased off the 3-point line.  Out of his 30 shot attempts, 29 of them have come from beyond the arc. He played a lot (21 mins.) on Sunday at NKU, finishing with 5 points (1-4 FG, 1-3 3PT), two rebounds, and four turnovers. He's averaging 4.5 points and 1.4 rebounds in 12.3 minutes per game. This is a big game for Xavier's bench. Sean O'Mara, Kaiser Gates, and Quentin Goodin all need to build some confidence and this game should offer them the opportunity to do so. Expect all the reserves to get plenty of run. 

Moderate Edge Xavier

Overall

Eastern Washington has a unique but not a complex offense. The Eagles typically set a high ball screen for their point guard who attacks downhill while Bliznyuk spaces to the top of the key. Once Bliznyuk catches, they often go with a four-low set to let him isolate his man. He then looks to score or kick out to one of his shooters if the defense collapses on him. The Eagles typically play slow, but they're not afraid to jack the open three in transition. They rely fairly heavily on the long ball, especially against bigger and more athletic opponents. For the season, they're shooting 36.2 percent as a team, but were just 4-of-21 (19%) at NKU on Sunday. Xavier should be able to overwhelm and suffocate EWU's offense with length and athleticism the same way the Norse did in the second half. Good pressure could lead to turnovers and easy baskets on the other end against the Eagles' shaky ballhandlers. Defensively, EWU ranks 340th in the country in efficiency. It should be a good night for X to try and get comfortable on offense. The Eagles have played 89 percent man-to-man defense this year, but there's a good chance they use their 2-3 zone a lot in this matchup. 

Predicted Score: Xavier 85 Eastern Washington 54


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