This week’s Sweet Sixteen games include two match-ups between 2-seed and 3-seed schools. The first is the West region’s Gonzaga-UCLA contest on Friday. The second is Xavier’s game against Texas on Friday.
Will Xavier make the Elite Eight? The Musketeers certainly have a tough game ahead of them, but it’s distinctly possible we see the school make a play for the next round and beyond.
Xavier hasn’t had too tough a run to get to the Sweet Sixteen. The Musketeers first faced off against the Kennesaw State Owls in a 3-14 seed match-up. Xavier won the game 72-67.
In the round of 32, Xavier met with the 11-seed Pittsburgh Panthers. The Panthers were fresh off an astounding 59-41 upset of the 6-see Iowa State Cyclones. Xavier put a stop to Pittsburgh’s Sweet Sixteen hopes with a decisive 84-73 victory.
Now, Xavier looks to its toughest opponent yet: the Texas Longhorns.
Xavier’s strength in this match-up is its balanced roster. Against Pittsburgh, the Musketeers shared the court well, spreading points across the board. Texas will have to contend with a Xavier team on which everyone is a scoring threat. That could mean trouble for the Longhorns.
Jerome Hunter and Jack Nunge could both put up strong games against Texas. Against Pittsburgh, Hunter played 27 minutes and scored 14 points. Nunge played 24, scoring 18 points.
Xavier’s Guard corps is equally balanced. Solely Boum, Colby Jones, and Adam Kunkel scored 14, 10, and 15 points respectively. Each played for more than 35 minutes against Texas.
The Kennesaw State game was a similar outing for Xavier, though Jerome Hunter led the pack with 24 points.
Xavier plays team basketball. Their system isn’t built to feed the ball to one player and have them score points. They play an opportunistic brand of basketball that can yield plenty of scoring opportunities against the right team.
Texas, on the other hand, relied heavily on Dylan Disu in its game against the Penn State Nittany Lions. Disu played 31 minutes, scoring 28 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. The next highest Longhorn scorer? Jabari Rice at 13 points.
Xavier will need to come together defensively to stifle Disu’s scoring opportunities and play squad ball against a powerful Texas offense.
If I had to pick right now, I’d put my money on the Xavier Musketeers to advance to the Elite Eight in a narrow victory over Texas. It’s going to be a close game regardless. Here we have two teams that earned a great seeding position. They both proved themselves with strong first- and second-round outings.
However, Xavier has undeniable team chemistry and a system that allows scoring from inside the key and beyond the arc. Any player on the Musketeers is a threat to score, and it could be difficult for Texas to shut them down with so many offensive contenders on the court.
We’ll see how the game turns out, though. Xavier plays Texas on Friday, March 24.
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