Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey is a passionate man and proud alum of No. 12 Xavier, where he played point guard from 1996-98 and later served as an assistant.

He understands the program’s rich basketball tradition as well as anyone. The Musketeers have reached the Sweet 16 or better five times since 2007-08. They’ve appeared in 23 of the last 30 NCAA tournaments and won 20 games in all but three seasons since 1992-93.

The chain of coaches is equally impressive during that span: Pete Gillen to Skip Prosser to Thad Matta to Sean Miller to Chris Mack, who Kelsey worked under from 2010-12.

Yet, on Nov. 29 after Xavier stomped in-state rival Dayton - which is 60-20 over the last three seasons - Kelsey sent out this Tweet:    

While the Musketeers must continue their torrid play into the Big East schedule and beyond to surpass their predecessors in the annals of program greatness, it’s difficult to find a weakness in this edition. Xavier is one of eight teams ranked in the top 20 in adjusted offensive efficiency and adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com. The other seven are: Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Purdue and Virginia, also known as the favorites to win the national championship.

Xavier won by 16 at Michigan, handled an improved Southern Cal squad by 10 and destroyed inferior opponents Western Kentucky and Wright State - as an excellent team should.

The Musketeers are monsters on the glass, securing 39 percent of available offensive rebounds (18th in the nation) and curtailing opponents’ second chance opportunities (81 percent defensive rebounding rate, 2nd in the nation). They hit 36.6 percent of 3-pointers and make around seven per game, but their real strength lies in attacking the basket. Xavier has made 204 free throws this season while opponents have attempted 168.

Xavier has six players scoring in double figures, led by wing Trevon Bluiett (15.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg). The 6-6 sophomore has been terrific and controls the paint along with 6-10 forwards Jalen Reynolds and James Farr.

But leave those stats and streaks down by the river. Because crosstown rival Cincinnati comes to town Saturday afternoon (5:30 p.m., Fox) for one of college basketball’s best rivalries. This should be a fierce battle in the lane.

The 8-1 Bearcats’ only blemish is a two-point loss to Butler on Dec. 2. Otherwise, coach Mick Cronin has returned to the sidelines and No. 23 Cincinnati is playing the tenacious defense that’s a program staple (0.85 pts. per poss. allowed). The Bearcats have been especially stout in the paint, holding teams to 36.5 percent shooting on 2-pointers with a quartet of rangy forwards protecting the basket. Cincinnati has blocked 22.7 percent of opponents’ shots at the rim.

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On offense, the Bearcats are a model of balance. They have a nine-man (sometimes 10) rotation and eight players who average between 7.8 ppg and 11.0 ppg.

Cronin is impressed with Xavier, even comparing them to a certain undefeated NBA team.

"I know Golden State is a little older," Cronin told Cincinnati.com "... But they've got a lot of similarities. They can score at a lot of positions. They've got a lot of weapons."

That’s the highlight of the weekend, which has a Saturday heavy schedule this week. More on the rest later.

Please allow me to introduce myself: Northeastern guard David Walker is carving up defenses in his senior season. The Huskies, defending CAA champions, are 6-3 with a victory over Miami and the versatile 6-6 Walker has been as efficient as a hybrid. Northeastern coach Bill Coen rarely removes his star from the court (36.2 minutes per game). Can’t blame him. Walker leads the conference in scoring (22.1 points per game) and his points come from everywhere. He’s hit 47.5 percent on 3-pointers, 58.8 percent on 2-pointers and 84.9 percent at the free throw line against Division I opponents. A scoring threat in the mid-range (53.3 percent on 2-point jumpers), Coen also considers Walker the team’s best perimeter defender on or off the ball (1.9 steals per game).

Producing 1.33 points per possession while using at least 23 percent of Northeastern’s possessions places Walker in elite company (perKenPom.com).

 

Player

Off. Rating

Usage Pct.

Damion Lee, Louisville

141.6

23.4

Ronnie Johnson, Houston

136.3

23.6

Grayson Allen, Duke

136.2

25.5

Yogi Ferrell, Indiana

135.2

25.0

Kellen Dunham, Butler

134.4

23.5

David Walker, N’eastern

133.4

23.7

Jakob Poeltl, Utah

133.1

28.5

Rico Gathers, Baylor

133.0

24.4

The Huskies will need Walker’s best as they navigate a demanding final leg of the nonconference slate: entertaining America East favorite Stony Brook on Saturday and No. 1 Michigan State on Dec. 19 before traveling to N.C. State on the 29th.  

Here are the other games to watch Saturday.

Arizona State at No. 5 Kentucky (3:15 p.m., ESPN)

First-year coach Bobby Hurley has the 6-2 Sun Devils trending upward with wins over Creighton and Texas A&M this month. They’re playing solid defense (0.96 pts per possession allowed) and relying on transfer Savon Goodman (13.2 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 63.2 FG pct.). Kentucky (8-1) should be back at full strength, and is bound to start shooting better than 27.5 percent on 3-pointers at some point.

Saint Mary’s at California (3:30 p.m, Pac-12)

The 6-0 Gaels leave home for the first time this season, looking to remain one of 10 undefeated teams in the nation. They have the nation’s most efficient offense (1.27 pts. per possession) and a remarkable six players with an offensive rating of 120.0 or better. Cal is 7-2 without a significant victory as it searches to blend talented veterans like point guard Tyrone Wallace (116.0 offensive rating) with freshman stars Jaylen Brown (45.2 percent effective field goal percentage) and Ivan Rabb (126.1 offensive rating).

No. 25 Utah at Wichita State (3:30 p.m., ESPN2)

Jakob Poeltl is phenomenal, of course, and Jordan Loveridge is a knockdown shooter (46.4 percent on 3s), but the 7-1 Utes have taken a step backward on the defensive end, falling to 90th in adjusted efficiency after finishing sixth last season. Splitting the first eight games did not reveal the real Wichita State, which was ranked in the top 10 in the preseason but wandered aimlessly without senior guard Fred Van Vleet, who is healthy and ready to resume a starring role. The Shockers 43.9 percent effective field goal percentage (309th in nation) is bound to improve.

Florida at No. 1 Michigan State (6 p.m., ESPN2)

The 6-2 Gators are vicious defensively (0.86 points per possession) but still an open book at this point, considering their best victory came against Richmond, which is No. 66 in the Pomeroy Ratings. Michigan State tries to avoid becoming the third top-ranked team to lose this season. The unbeaten Spartans play beautiful offense (1.20 points per possession), sharing the ball better than any team in the nation (80 percent assist rate). The 3-pointer has become a bigger piece of coach Tom Izzo’s attack the last three seasons and these Spartans (40.6 percent) are the best yet.