Game 3: Xavier at Michigan Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
Who: Xavier (2-0) at Michigan (2-0) Michigan vs. Xavier
Where: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
When: 9:00 p.m., November 20th, 2015
Radio: 950 AM, 102.9 FM, Sirius: 145, XM: 195

The numbers, faces and even coaches may change, but there’s no secret what you’re going to get when you play Xavier: a tough, physical, winning basketball team.

The Musketeers have made five Sweet 16s in the last eight years — tied for most of any team in the country — and have won an average of 22 games per season under Chris Mack. Xavier lost two starters from last year’s group which lost to Arizona in the Sweet 16, but returns the rest of its primary rotation.

This game won’t only be Michigan’s most-challenging to date, there are also a multitude of connections and storylines involved. Scoring wing guard Trevon Bluiett had Michigan as a finalist before he made his (original) commitment while big man Jalen Reynolds played his high school basketball in the state before transferring to Brewster Academy. Starting point guard Edmond Sumner also played his high school hoops in Michigan at Detroit Country Day, he ended Derrick Walton’s high school career in the state playoffs.

Suffice to say, Michigan will have its hands full against a Xavier team that has big game talent and experience.

The Musketeers

Xavier hasn’t shot the ball particularly well this season (47% on twos, 33% on threes for a 48 eFG%) and has been somewhat turnover prone (giving the ball away on 20% of its possessions), but it hasn’t mattered. The Musketeers have rebounded 44% of their missed shots and attempted 55 free throws per 100 field goal attempts. Offensive rebounds and free throws are the life-blood of the Xavier offense and that’s not just a flash in the pan, it’s been an identity for the program. Just 34% of Xavier’s field goal attempts this season have been threes as it will try to work the ball inside whenever possible, but still has a few reputable shooters that require attention.

Defensively, Xavier has won its first two games by forcing turnovers (24.4% forced turnover rate) and cleaning up the defensive glass (78.5% defensive rebounding rate). The Musketeers have struggled at times with the new officiating rules (allowing 41.3 free throws per 100 field goal attempts) and opponents are shooting 49% on twos and 35% on threes for a 50.5 eFG%.


The Musketeers lost leading assist man Dee Davis to graduation which has allowed 6-foot-6 redshirt freshman Edmond Sumner and 6-foot-2 junior Myles Davis to step into the starting backcourt role. Davis is the better assist man, but is known as a three-point shooter. Well over half of his career field goal attempts from three-point range (career 36% 3-point shooter, 1-of-7 this season), but he’s historically done a good job of getting to the free throw line.

Sumner played in just five games last year while battling tendinitis in his knee and is averaging 15.5 points per game early this year. He’s shooting 50% on twos and 50% on threes, but has just three assists to six turnovers in two games. He’s a long guard with the length to make an impact defensively and he’s terrific at attacking the rim. He’s attempted 10 free throws in each of Xavier’s first two games.

Trevon Bluiett is a guy that Michigan fans will remember from the recruiting process and he was critical in turning the tide in Xavier’s win over Missouri on Tuesday with a second half scoring explosion. Bluiett looks to be in far better shape thanks to a better diet and it shows. He’s a gifted scorer in isolation situations and can create his own offense inside or from long distance.

Indiana transfer Remy Abell starts at the final guard spot, but he’s been one of Xavier’s least efficient offensive options. Abell shot 55% on twos and 41% on threes last season, but he’s made just 1 of 5 twos and 2 of 8 threes with four turnovers this season. JP Macura is averaging 16.5 points per game off the bench for the Musketeers and is shooting 63% on twos, 50% on threes and has attempted as many free throws as field goals (14) this season.

6-foot-10, 270 pound big man Matt Stainbrook is gone, but inside is where Michigan might have its hands full.

Jalen Reynolds measures in at 6-foot-10, 238 pounds and the junior big man, who turns 23 next month, is an explosive rebounder, shot blocker and scorer inside. He was nationally ranked in offensive rebounding (11.9 off. reb rate), defensive rebounding (24.6 def. rebounding rate), block rate (5.6%), fouls drawn (4.6 fouls per 40 minutes) and 2-point shooting (62%) last season for Xavier. Reynolds also can be a bit of a hot head as he’s been whistled for 13 technical fouls (including one in the season opener) during his two years and two games at Xavier. That’s more than anyone else in Division I according to my database at Shot Analytics and only Hampton (29) has been whistled for more player technical fouls than Xavier (24) in that same timespan.

Reynolds struggled against Missouri (he was whistled for four fouls in 15 minutes), but backup big man James Farr (who started the majority of Xavier’s games last season) shouldered the load just fine. Farr, 6-foot-10 and 244 pounds, had 15 points and 14 rebounds in 24 minutes in the win. He’s a plus rebounder, but his two-point shooting numbers (49%) aren’t quite as impressive as Reynolds’.


  • Grab some rebounds: Michigan isn’t going to ‘win’ the rebounding battle, but it needs to put up a fight. There are going to be some devastating second chances or big dunks that come off of missed assignments, but minimizing the damage will be the name of the game for the Wolverines. The big men haven’t looked great on the glass early on this season and they haven’t faced anyone with close to the rebounding chops that Xavier has. Michigan’s guards are probably the key to survival here as the Wolverines will need all hands on deck and Derrick Walton, Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin are all capable of making an impact.
  • Win the free throw battle: Watching Xavier’s win over Missouri, it was clear that the new officiating rules could affect them. Both big men finished that game with four fouls and Mizzou was able to hang around in the first half because of how many Musketeers picked up two fouls in the opening 20 minutes. Xavier was also whistled for 24 fouls in its season opener against Miami (OH). The Wolverines have done a great job of avoiding fouling for years under Beilein, but seemed to struggle a bit with the new rule changes themselves in the first two games of the season.
  • Avoid turnovers: This one is like clockwork. When facing an over-aggressive team, Beilein offenses have generally thrived. The Wolverines haven’t ranked worse than 37th in turnover rate since Beilein’s second season and that is a huge boost against an aggressive defense like Xavier. However, Michigan’s turnover numbers have been slightly elevated through two games and there’s always an adjustment period when facing the first over-aggressive defense of the season.

Bottom Line

Ken Pomeroy likes Michigan to win this game at home by a final score of 75-69 and gives the Wolverines a 73% chance of victory. All eyes will be on the rebounding battle inside and watching to see if Michigan’s big men can step up, but this game will still probably be won or lost by the perimeter play. Michigan has terrific, experienced guards, but so does Xavier.

This will be the Wolverines’ most difficult test to date, but with so many more upcoming from the Bahamas to NC State to SMU, it’s an important chance to get started on the right foot.

  • bobohle

    I guess Moe Wagner has more in common with Zack Novak than just the bloodied face according to John Beilein; with longer arms and 4 more inches of height and the motor of Mitch McGary. It’s going to be a fun 4 years watching this guy play. I think we match up pretty good. It will be key how Donnal and Doyle do against Xavier which plays closer to the BIG style of play.

    • Kenny

      I am excited about what Wagner can do. Novak is listed as 6’4, and his real height is probably 6’2 and half, and Wagner is 6’10 and 1/2 on bare feet, That is 8 inches difference. I think that Moe will get more than 20 minutes at the end of the season.

      • bobohle

        Sorry for the senior moment memory. I was thinking Novak was 6’6″. Anyway you got the gist of my comment.

    • Guest

      If Mo Wagner develops, I think he could be a 2 and done. 4 years is optimistic considering his potential.

  • Champswest

    This will be a big test for Michigan. Against Missouri, Xavier looked like a top 25 team. This game may start to separate our bigs in terms of playing time going forward.

    • I wouldn’t say they looked bad, but it wasn’t the best performance against a Missouri team that is one of the lower rated high-major teams in the country.

  • gobluemd16

    Got a prediction for us Dylan? I am obviously worried about the defensive rebounding, but am hoping the guys step up in their first real test of the season! And, our first game on TV :)

  • Corperryale

    I remember Blueitt as the talented guy who played second-fiddle to Devin Booker in our 2014 recruiting priorities. Since then, Booker went in the first round of the draft and Blueitt seems to be showing tremendous promise. I also remember being disappointed that we didn’t get seriously back in on him after he decomitted from UCLA — I think the layman’s explanation was that the decommitment showed fickleness or unreliability, but it’s not really surprising for a kid to have second thoughts about travelling across the country to play alongside the coach’s son on a dysfunctional team with bad chemistry and little fan support like the Bruins. In fact, he probably made the right decision by leaving. Let’s hope that Blueitt doesn’t make us regret not landing him tonight.

    • It wasn’t just the fact that he decommitted. It was the fact that he had originally tried to move/cancel his Michigan visit, then committed to UCLA. Moving an official visit with the U-M staff usually results in the end of a recruitment as it is a pretty strong sign that you aren’t going there. The visits take time and commitment from U-M in the sense that they have to wait to recruit other kids. So they decided to move on.

      • Corperryale

        All true, but IIRC Michigan didn’t have a great result in that cycle (no Booker, Blueitt, or Looney — though they got Chatman) and ended up scrambling to find some guys late (who ended up working well in a pinch, but I’m not sure anyone thinks MAAR — who is awesome! — is an impact player on Blueitt’s level). Considering how many first/second choices we miss on (see: Brunson, Jalen; Langford, Josh; Thornton, Derrick), and the extreme competitiveness of recruiting, maybe they should loosen up their self-imposed rules a tiny bit. The simple verdict in this case is that Blueitt is a really good player on a good team.

        • I don’t think it is about having a hard and fast rule. I think it is more about that shipped sailed and Bluiett wasn’t coming here. I think you saw Michigan’s adjustment this year when they basically were in backchannel negotiations with Xavier Simpson.

          • Corperryale

            In fairness I think it was definitely a positive sign for the program that the staff — uncharacteristically — got in on Jaylen Brown via a back-channel late in his recruitment. That is, until California pulled a fast one on us (and is now reaping the rewards). (I still hope they fought for that one until the eleventh hour but I guess we will never know.)

            Just wondering — was Xavier a major contender for Blueitt’s services before he committed to UCLA? Or did they get in on him seriously after some better options disappeared following the decommit?

  • Leslie Hoerwinkle

    Geaux Buckeyes.