Northern Kentucky-Xavier Preview
In between, the No. 23 Musketeers will try to overcome a classic trap game when they host Northern Kentucky on Monday night.
Xavier entered the rankings on the strength of an 86-70 victory at then-No. 24 Michigan on Friday as part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games. Trevon Bluiett, Remy Abell and Jalen Reynolds each scored 15 points for the Musketeers (3-0), who outrebounded the Wolverines 47-29 and scored 16 second-chance points off 18 offensive rebounds.
"As the game wore on I thought we did a much better job on the glass," coach Chris Mack said. "We got 18 offensive rebounds and we needed them because we didn't shoot a great percentage other than our free throws and when you go on the road you have to keep your turnovers down, you have to shoot a high percentage from the free-throw line to end the game and we did a terrific job."
Attacking the glass will be pivotal to Xavier's success. The Musketeers have overcome 41.7 percent shooting by scoring 47 points off 49 offensive boards.
"We pride ourselves on a team that gets extra possessions through offensive rebounds," Mack added, "and we've really hammered it home in the preseason and it was good to see it come out on the floor like we needed it to tonight."
The other area where Xavier has enjoyed a huge advantage is at the foul line. The Musketeers have shot 82.0 percent - sixth in Division I - and made more free throws (73) than their opponents have attempted (69).
Xavier has six players averaging at least 9.0 points, paced by Bluiett with 14.3, and James Farr is grabbing a team-high 10.7 boards. The Musketeers have a plus-15.7 rebound margin, good for 10th in the country.
After this game, Xavier will face Alabama in the first round of the Advocare Invitational in Orlando, which features a field that includes No. 20 Wichita State in its half of the bracket and 17th-ranked Notre Dame in the other.
Northern Kentucky (1-2) has had a problem on the boards during its slow start, getting outrebounded by 7.7 per game. While the Norse battled Morehead State to a 40-40 stalemate in rebounds in a 64-56 home defeat Saturday, they yielded 20 offensive boards that led to 20 second-chance points for the Eagles.
"This is all about the process," coach John Brannen said. "I am about learning our guys and what position to put them in for us to be the most successful. We just need to keep getting better and we are, but it's a process."
In Northern Kentucky's only other game against a Division I opponent, it allowed 34 second-chance points to West Virginia while being outrebounded 47-26 in a 107-61 defeat Nov. 13.
The Norse are 0-6 against ranked teams since making the jump to Division I for the 2012-13 season, losing those contests by an average of 24.5 points.
Xavier leads the series with Northern Kentucky 3-2. The schools have not met since the Norse posted a 63-61 win in 1979.