There are 16 “Round of 32” games on Saturday and Sunday as the most exciting weekend of the sports calendar continues. As we always do every March here at MSF, we try to cover you with previews, informed and reasoned predictions, and pertinent viewing info as soon as we can get it posted.
In this post, we preview the South Region matchup between the Fighting Irish of 10th-seeded Xavier and tournament darling Lehigh, the 15 seed that knocked off Duke.
Xavier-Lehigh Game Info
- Seeds & Region: #10 Xavier v #15 Lehigh in South Region
- Xavier-Lehigh Date: Sunday, 3/18
- Xavier-Lehigh Tip Time: 7:45 ET
- Xavier-Lehigh Location: Greensboro
- Xavier-Lehigh TV: truTV
- Xavier-Lehigh Announcers: Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg
- Xavier-Lehigh Point Spread: TBA
- Tickets: Xavier-Lehigh Tickets
- Tickets: South Regional Tickets in Atlanta
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Xavier-Lehigh Analysis and Prediction
Both Lehigh and Xavier got in on the act as lower seeded teams ran wild on Friday. The Mountain Hawks got 30 points from star guard C.J. McCollum in a five-point win over Duke, while the Musketeers came from behind to beat Notre Dame thanks in large part to 25 points from Tu Holloway, including the game-winner within the final minute.
When you look at the numbers, these teams are pretty evenly matched. The Musketeers rank 72nd in offensive efficiency, and Lehigh ranks 81st. On defense, Xavier is 63rd and the Mountain Hawks are 96th. Throw in a marquee matchup at the point between McCollum and Holloway, and this should be a great game.
When Xavier has the ball, they will look to attack the basket either in the post or off the dribble, both of which have contributed to their 40.8 free throw rate. Lehigh ranks 107th in opponents’ free throw rate, and if they can keep the Muskies off the stripe, they can allow their strong defensive rebounding percentage and relatively tough field goal percentage defense to slow down Xavier’s offense.
On the other end of the floor, the Musketeers boast a strong effective field goal percentage defense of their own, and like Lehigh, they also do a solid job of preventing offensive rebounds. Don’t count on many turnovers though, as Xavier has a low defensive turnover rate, while the Mountain Hawks are among the best in the nation at protecting the basketball. The Musketeers will definitely want to keep Lehigh off of the free throw line, where they rank fourth in the country at over 77 percent on the year.
The guard play should be fantastic with McCollum and Mackey McKnight for Lehigh squaring off against Holloway and Mark Lyons of Xavier. That alone should make this a fantastic game. I think the X-factor (no pun intended) in this one will be Xavier freshman Dez Wells, who is crazy athletic and finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds against Notre Dame. He will certainly be a factor on the offensive end, but he may also get a crack at trying to slow down McCollum.
These teams are evenly matched, and I expect a close game in Greensboro. I’m giving Xavier the slight edge based on their ability to get to the line and a slightly better defense.
Predicted Winner: Xavier
Xavier Musketeers Team Capsule
- Conference: Atlantic 10
- Record: 21-12 (10-6 conf)
- Last 10 Games: 6-4
- Record vs. Tournament Teams: 5-6
- Wins vs. Tournament Teams: Cincinnati, Purdue, Saint Bonaventure, Saint Louis, Vanderbilt
- Losses vs. Tournament Teams: Gonzaga, Long Beach State, Memphis, Saint Louis (2), Temple
- Player to Watch: Tu Holloway (6’0” G, Sr.) – 17.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 5.2 apg, 1.6 spg
Xavier Bottoms Line:
Xavier’s brawl with Cincinnati in December earned them plenty of negative press, and the team really struggled even after the suspensions had passed. However, they rebounded for a run to the A-10 Final, which solidified their tournament bid. While the Musketeers were once touted as a potential Final Four squad, their final offensive and defensive efficiency numbers aren’t particularly impressive, as they rank outside the Top 60 on both ends of the floor. Their best attributes are a low turnover rate and a solid ability to get to the free throw line, but the Musketeers have struggled to consistently make shots and aren’t strong on the offensive glass.
Senior guards Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons shoulder the load on offense, as both players score at least 15 points per game with Lyons hitting nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc. Holloway leads the team in assists and steals and isn’t afraid to attack the basket and draw contact, as evidenced by his high free throw rate. If the game is tight late, one of these guys will end up taking the big shot. Kenny Frease is the team’s top low post threat and averages around nine points and six rebounds, with solid rebounding percentages on both ends of the floor. Freshman Dez Wells is an explosive athlete who can make highlight reel plays and is shooting over 55 percent on two-pointers. Guard play is often critical in March, which certainly makes Xavier an interesting team.
Lehigh Mountain Hawks Team Capsule
- Conference: Patriot
- Record: 26-7 (11-3 conf)
- Last 10 Games: 9-1
- Record vs. Tournament Teams: 0-2
- Wins vs. Tournament Teams: None
- Losses vs. Tournament Teams: Iowa State, Michigan State
- Player to Watch: C.J. McCollum (6’3″ G, Jr.) – 21.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.5 apg, 2.6 spg
Lehigh Bottoms Line:
The Mountain Hawks are dancing after winning the Patriot League Championship Game on first place Bucknell’s home court, which will give the nation a chance to see C.J. McCollum, who is one of the nation’s most explosive scorers. He has a high usage rate but has also posted strong numbers in a variety of statistical categories, including defensive rebounding percentage, assist rate, turnover rate, free throw rate, and steal percentage. Big man Gabe Knutson is effective on the offensive glass and is adept at drawing fouls down low, while forward Holden Greiner can play both inside and out.
Lehigh takes great care of the basketball and is third in the nation in free throw shooting, but a mediocre free throw rate doesn’t allow them to take full advantage of that. On defense, the Mountain Hawks are solid but unspectacular and rank between 60th and 120th in all four factors on KenPom.
Related: Jump to our Midwest Region Bracket Breakdown
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Then have a fun, exuberant, responsible St. Patrick’s Day celebration tomorrow, enjoying a Guinness or two while watching basketball. What could be better?