Utah (6-1) hits the road for the first time this season when they travel to Cincinnati to play 13th ranked Xavier (7-2). This will be Utah’s toughest challenge to date. Not only do the Utes travel two time zones away, they will have to play a talented Xavier team looking to correct course after two tough losses. It will be the second ranked opponent Utah has face this season, the other being Butler, their only loss so far this year.
Xavier is coming off two consecutive losses. Those came to no. 9 Baylor and Colorado, both on the road. The Musketeers are much tougher at home in the Cintas Center, where they have an 87% winning percentage all time and have not lost to a non-conference opponent since 2012.
Junior guard Trevon Bluiett leads the team in scoring, averaging 19.3 points per game and has been on a hot streak scoring more than 20 points in 4 of the past 5 games. Bluiett is a 42% shooter from the field, 35% from beyond the arc.
Fellow guard and junior JP Macura is second in the team in points per game with 14.7 to go with 4.4 rebounds per game and 3.4 assists. Macura struggled in Xavier’s two losses however, scoring in single digits both games and going a horrid 1-11 from three point range and was 5-25 shooting overall. He will need to find his shot again for Xavier to get back on track.
Down low, Xavier has rotated through big men using Sean O’Mara, Kaiser Gates and Rashid Gaston. Against Colorado, Gaston got the most playing time, logging 25 minutes, and responded with 14 points on 7-8 shooting and 11 rebounds. He should see plenty of floor time again on Saturday.
Utah is coming off an 87-80 win over upstart Utah Valley University earlier this week. The Utes have been able to beat opponents this season in large part to ranking no. 1 in the nation in total rebounds, out rebounding opponents by more than 14 per game. Xavier however is also a strong rebounding team, averaging 41.2 per game, and will pose a challenge for Utah’s interior. Xavier also prides themselves on the defensive side of the ball, limiting opponents to under 42% shooting.
This will be the first ever meeting between the two programs. Xavier has the talent, home court advantage and motivation following two road losses, to make this a difficult game for the Utes. Utah will need a great overall team effort to get a win on Saturday. Larry Krystkowiak has emphasized the team is going through a learning process currently. Saturday it will be time for the team to put the lessons learned during the first 7 games into practice.