Michigan is 2-0 after drama-free wins against Northern Michigan and Elon, but the Wolverines have their first litmus test tonight when they host Xavier in the finale of the inaugural Gavitt Games. I broke down Xavier and shared my prediction in my game preview, which you can read here, but I also sat down with Caleb Childers, who is a staff writer for Banners on the Parkway -- SB Nation's Xavier site -- to receive his insight on this Musketeers team and tonight's matchup.
What did Caleb take away from Xavier's first two wins against Miami (OH) and Missouri? Do the Musketeers have perimeter defenders that can contain Michigan's star guards and wings? Will Xavier upset the Wolverines? Find his answers and more below.
I also did a Q&A with Caleb over at Banners on the Parkway. Check it out here.
Xavier has experienced success consistently for the past decade, much of which was spent as a mid-major in the Atlantic 10. In the past 10 years, the Musketeers have been to nine NCAA Tournaments, five Sweet 16s, and one Elite Eight. Xavier just started its third season as a member of the Big East. How do Musketeer fans like or dislike the Big East? And have you seen any discernible effects from the transition from a mid-major conference to a high-major one?
We all absolutely love the Big East. Top to bottom, it’s a great league and a massive upgrade from the A10. One of the most important changes has been the mindset. In the A10, we expected to steamroll everyone, and any conference loss was tragic. We played Fordham and St. Bonaventure on Wednesday nights with little TV presence. Now everything is bigger with Fox stepping up and the culture of the conference. Ten like-minded schools where basketball is king makes each and every conference game fun. I cannot emphasize how much we love the Big East.
The transition was actually not as rough as a conference move can be. We had a talented team in 2013-14 that surprised everyone by being the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament. We always seem to lose a game or two that should have definitely been a win, but overall the transition has been pretty smooth and our recruiting has definitely stepped up since the move.
Xavier isn't ranked in the AP top 25 and is No. 37 on KenPom. What are fans' expectations for this season? And what takeaways have you had from Xavier's first two wins over Miami (OH) and Missouri?
Our expectation is always the Sweet 16. As you mentioned, we’ve been to five Sweet 16s in the last 10 years, so that is always the baseline. Anything short of that, especially years without the NCAA tournament, are failures. This year's team lost Dee Davis and Matt Stainbrook, but we’ve got key pieces from last year as well as ridiculously young talent so Sweet 16 is reasonable to expect of this year's team.
The first two games are hopefully going to be forgettable by the end of this year, but right now they’re all we have to go off. The biggest things that have stood out so far is that this team is very, very athletic. Jalen Reynolds is capable of freak plays, and he’s a talented forward. We have so much potential on offense, yet the first two games did not show that. We frequently would go a few minutes without scoring and had an absurd number of turnovers in both games.
The Musketeers' best player from last season, 6-foot-10 center Matt Stainbrook, has graduated. However, Xavier has two 6-foot-10 guys in Jalen Reynolds and James Farr that should be able to replace his production without missing a step. What does each player bring to the table? And what do you expect from them this season -- Reynolds in particular?
Yes! Big Game James! Reynolds and Farr are two enormously talented players that are going to be key pieces on this team. Farr really shined in the game against Missouri by using his size. A 6-foot-10 guy who’s willing to move to the basket tends to get buckets. He recorded 15 points and 14 rebounds, and that’s just the start of the season. Farr has been a bit of a project, but everyone is excited for what he’s going to do this year.
Jalen Reynolds is our key guy this year. While all the attention was on Matt Stainbrook last year, Reynolds was having a phenomenal year. He plays strong and physical defense, which tends to pick up fouls, but it’s effective. Jalen is both fun and frustrating all in the same game. He didn’t have the best showing against Missouri, but if he plays big on Friday, then he’s going to be a game changer.
Trevon Bluiett is a former John Beilein recruit and now a sophomore at Xavier. How would you assess his first season as a Musketeer and what type of player will he be for Xavier this year?
Trevon has been fun to watch ever since day one. Last year, he fit in well offensively with Matt Stainbrook and would have nights were he’d go off. Twenty games saw him score in double digits, but he would be completely quiet in the other games. Hopefully with age will come more consistency, but he’s still exciting to watch. Against Missouri, he led the team with 18 points and also picked up seven boards. We all expect him to be a major player on the floor this season and put up big stats.
For which other Musketeers should Michigan fans be watching tonight?
In no particular order:
Edmond Sumner: Redshirt freshman who starts at the point the first two games. He’s been a pleasant surprise for us, and it’s going to be interesting to see how he handles real competition.
J.P. Macura: Sophomore guard who drains threes. He’s fun to watch for us and is a reliable bench scorer
Myles Davis: He’s a creative guard who can do impressive things at times. Usually he's not a stats leader, but he’s going to put in a lot of minutes.
Michigan has talented guards and wings in Derrick Walton, Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, Aubrey Dawkins, and sharpshooter Duncan Robinson -- at least offensively. Does Xavier have the perimeter defenders to slow them down? What's Xavier's defensive gameplan?
And here’s what scares me about Friday’s game. Xavier has always been shaky on defense, and this year is no exception. To answer your first question, no, not really. Missouri was able to take 23 three-point attempts on Tuesday, and that’s obviously not a good sign for Xavier. Remy Abell is without a doubt our lockdown guard, and he plays a strong, physical game.
Xavier has so far this year played small with Bluiett playing the 4. Last year, in the second half of the year, the team ran a 1-3-1 defense, which was pretty popular with fans and many people hope to see the team return to it instead of the man-to-man defense that Xavier played in the first two games this season.
As a team, what is Xavier's biggest strength? What is its biggest weakness?
Strength: A strong rotation of players. Seven guys have put in 43-plus minutes in the first two games, and there’s a few freshmen that have enormous potential.
Weakness: Defense. It drives us all nuts and sadly never seems to improve.
Prediction time. What happens? Who wins? What's the final score?
I think it’s going to be close for the first 35 minutes. Xavier is going to have a two-point lead at some point early on and then go cold for 6-7 minutes and be down 10 before slowly working back and trailing by a few points at the half. I want Xavier to win, and I would love to have that win on our resume come tournament time, but I just do not see it happening. I think Michigan is going to pull away in the last five minutes of the game for a 77-70 Michigan win.
A big thanks to Caleb for answering our questions. Follow him on Twitter here.