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Taking a Closer Look: Xavier's Playbook

New Year's Eve started early this year as #22 Xavier hosted #2 UConn in a matinee game that saw two of the best teams in the Big East trade body-blows for 40 minutes. Coach Miller had a tall-task going into the game, UConn's defense was ranked #1 in the Big East and #4 in the country. Let's take a closer look at how Miller attacked UConn's highly-touted defense and the strategies that led to their biggest win of the season.

Terminology- This article will focus on Xavier's offensive concepts and will feature two important terms: seal and slip-screen. Seal refers to an offensive player getting in front of his defender and not allowing his defender to move past him. Slip-screen refers to a screen (or "pick") from an offensive player but then "slips" out of it without making much contact.

Now let's take a look at Xavier vs UConn

This is Xavier's second possession of the game and Coach Sean Miller goes straight into the Pick n Roll. Nunge sets the screen for Kunkel and rolls hard to the rim while Freemantle seals the paint. One of the most noticeable concepts in Miller's offense is having a second big-man seal the paint for the ballhandler.

Only a minute later and we see another of Sean Miller's core concepts, the Hi-Lo. Freemantle recognizes the mismatch and calls for the ball, Nunge delivers the pass perfectly. Xavier's two big-men are great at spacing the floor and passing to each other in the post.

About midway into the First Half and Coach Miller calls a play to get Freemantle the ball in the post. Jones cuts across the court and then passes to Freemantle while the rest of Xavier spaces the floor. This is one of Coach Miller's favorite plays and is often called when Freemantle or Nunge are playing well.

Second Half and UConn has come back to take the lead. Coach Miller calls for another Pick n Roll, however this time Nunge slips the screen and rolls directly to the basket. Miller knows the UConn defense will not expect this and is able to create an easy score for the Musketeers.

Close game now and Coach Miller is calling his best plays. Xavier goes back to their staple, a Pick n Roll with a seal in the paint. Freemantle opens up a driving lane for Boum who is able to finish through contact.

A minute later and Coach Miller goes to another of his offensive staples, the Pick n Pop. Freemantle sets the screen and floats out to the corner while Sanogo has to defend the ballhandler. Both Nunge and Freemantle run the Pick n Pop often because they are good shooters at their size.

Lastly, with five minutes left, Miller goes back to the Pick n Roll with a small variation. This time Colby Jones clears out through the paint to suck defenders away from a rolling Nunge. Kunkel delivers the lob and this is too easy for a 7' Jack Nunge.

Coach Sean Miller put on an offensive masterclass against UConn on Saturday, in part, because of the wide-variety of offensive concepts that he has incorporated into his playbook. Miller is one of the best in the country at understanding his personnel and utilizing every advantage they can create. Miller is also excellent at recognizing a defense's weakness and attacking relentlessly.

After Xavier's loss to Duke earlier this season Miller made an announcement to his team, "Xavier's gotten off the rails, I'm only here for one reason and that is to put things firmly back on the f---ing tracks." Early on New Year's Eve Sean Miller gained his marquee victory of the season and all but assured a berth in the NCAA Tournament. I'd say they're back on track.


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