Weak hand clear, palm off the ball, eyes on the front of the rim. Free throws, kids. - Ethan Miller
Opportunities get no better than this one. Xavier desperately needs a win and travels to Pittsburgh to take on the worst team in the league for the chance to get it.
One step forward, two steps back. Maybe it's a good thing that Xavier had a week off after Richmond, because the frustration levels after that game had to be reaching critical mass. Xavier has fallen from a possible at large berth early in the season to being absolutely desperate to secure a first round bye in the Atlantic 10 tournament. As things stand now, the Musketeers sit in seventh place, three out of one of those coveted sports for the bye.
Thankfully, at least on the surface, Xavier is travelling to Duquesne today. The Dukes beat West Virginia on December 11th then beat a decent Western Michigan team on Dec 19th. Since then, Duquesne has not won a single game. Losses to Louisiana-Lafyette, Penn St, and Fordham appear the worst based on computer metrics, but a 90-63 loss to VCU probably stings a bit as well. That leaves the Dukes riding a 10 game loser and 0-8 in the conference.
Teams that are 7-15 don't do a lot of things well, and Duquesne fits that billing. Offensively, the Dukes are bad from the floor (197th in effective field goal%), turn the ball over on 21.4% of their possessions, don't get to the line well 273rd in FT/FG ratio), get blocked on 12.2% of their shots, and are even worse than Xavier from the line. All of that ineptitude makes Duquesne 200th in the nation in adjusted offensive efficiency, 102 spots behind a Xavier team that seems to really struggle at times. The highest offensive ranking the Dukes manage is 132nd in offensive rebounding percentage. In short, this team is really bad at offense.
Were you expecting a "but" here? There isn't one. As bad as Duquesne is on offense, they are somehow even worse on defense. Their adjusted defensive efficiency is 264th in the nation, the Robert Morris team Xavier held to 59 dropped 91 on the Dukes, they don't force turnovers (298th), block shots (201st), steal the ball (328th), defend the arc (322nd), or prevent offensive rebound (272nd). That adds up to a team that has been gashed for more than 80 six times and 79 twice.
Being that bad on both ends of the floor doesn't keep the Dukes from being in a hurry to get there. One of the fastest playing teams in the nation, they average 69 possessions a game, fully six and a half more than Xavier. Thanks to their remarkable inefficiency, they've turned those extra possessions into a grand total of three extra points per game.
The player: 5-11, 175 pound freshman guard Derrick Colter.
The numbers: 13/2.6/.5.1 on .390/.311/.584 shooting.
More numbers: 36.2 assist rate (30th nationally).
The words: Yikes. It's a good thing that Colter can pass so well, because he is an absolutely awful shooter. That inability to shoot doesn't keep Colter from leading the team in shots% or in usage rate. Colter does shoot 46% inside the arc but, for reasons best known to him, takes nearly half of his shots from deep, where he is hopeless.
The player: 6-1, 195 pound senior guard Sean Johnson.
The numbers: 12.7/3.4/1.9 on .373/.333/.783 shooting.
More numbers: 15.1 TO rate, 5.6 fouls drawn per 40 minutes.
The words: Again, inability to shoot does not prevent a Duquesne guard from doing just that. Despite being terrible from the floor, Johnson is just behind Colter in shots% and usage. While Johnson doesn't rack of the assists like his younger backcourt partner, he does protect the ball extremely well.
The player: 6-7, 215 pound sophomore forward Kadeem Pantophlet.
The numbers: 4.9/5.1/1 on .364/.339/.652 shooting.
More numbers: 17 DR%.
The words: Pantophlet actually gets on the defensive glass pretty well but, despite starting, plays only 56% of the available minutes. Kadeem is also not a good shooter, but at least has the good sense not to lift as much as his mates in the backcourt.
Yes, that was only three starters. Duquesne has not started the same lineup at any point in the last five games, so, after the three listed, it's a bit difficult to tell who will be on the court for the tip. One of the more unusual storylines of the Dukes season is 7-1 junior center Martins Abele. Abele jumps center frequently, but averages 9.4 minutes per game and hasn't seen double figures in minutes since the 23rd of January. 6-6 senior forward Andre Marhold has started 18 games for the Dukes and has a respectable 5.5/5.3/.6 line on .471/.000/.352 shooting in the 21 minutes he averages. Marhold also grabs 10.8% of the offensive rebounds available to him and is the only Dukes player above 7%. 6-4 swingman Jerry Jones has started eight times and averages 8.2/3.8/1.3 on .443/.350/.625 shooting.
Quevyn Winters is instant offense off the bench and averages 8.2 points mostly thanks to being a 35% three point shooter. Jeremiah Jones is another periodic starter and prolific misser at guard. Jones goes for 7.8/3.5/1 on .419/.339/.667 shooting and protects the ball extremely well when he is on the floor. Marvin Binney will also see minutes at the guard spots and averages 2.9/.9/.7 on .447/.346/.909 shooting. One is forced to assume that Binney would see more time if he learned to miss more shots.
- Can Xavier win on the road? Duquesne is awful, but Xavier is only 2-5 in true road games. This is not the kind of game that the Musketeers can afford to lose if they want any hope of securing the A10 bye. This is a very winnable game, but so were Tennessee, Wake Forest, and Charlotte.
- Will someone make free throws? Xavier as a team shoots 64.6% from the line, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Semaj Christon and Travis Taylor have taken nearly half of the team's attempts. Between the two of them they are making only 60.4%. Were the Musketeers making a barely acceptable 70% from the line, they would have scored just over 20 more points this season. With the season easing toward the knife edge, leaving points on the floor is becoming more and more costly.
- Will Brad Redford reappear? As Joel has rather expansively broken down this week, there is a correlation between Xavier's three point shooting and wins. Contained in that is the mercurial shooting of Brad Redford. Redford is only 3-13 in Xavier's last four games, a stretch in which the team is 1-3 and has faded from the top of the conference. If there is a team for Brad to re-engage against, it is the Dukes, who guard worse than 321 other teams in the nation.
- Bury it early: There is really no reason for this to be a game or for Duquesne to think they can win it, but if Xavier lets them stay around who knows what can happen. Xavier has to start well and then avoid their surely patented eight minute second half scoring drought. This is as good a time as any for Tim Whelan to get another chance to get out there and make it rain.
- Stop Derrick Colter: It seems absurd to focus on stopping someone who shoots 39% from the floor, but there it is. If Xavier can lock Colter down, most likely with Dee Davis, Duquesne already anemic offense will wither and die. Colter leads the team in scoring, but he also facilitates very well. Making him ill at ease could keep the Dukes well under 60 points.
- Make free throws: This is getting redundant simply because it has come to define Xavier's season. Last Saturday the Musketeers threw away a great chance to grab a bye spot by going 20-31 from the line. There's not a lot to say about this. Xavier will either start to make free throws or wave goodbye to any chance of the NCAAs.