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Xavier v. Iowa: Preview

Thanksgiving once again means basketball for Xavier fans. Iowa marks what is essentially the start of the real season and real competition for the young Musketeers, and they will be a stern test.

Marble leads the line for the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Marble leads the line for the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

While Thanksgiving for most people conjures up images of uncomfortable amounts of food and uncomfortable amounts of football on tv, it has recently taken on a bit of a different connotation for Xavier fans. (Though it is impossible to deny the compelling nature of Buttfumble). The Musketeers have now spent the last two Thanksgiving weeks playing in what they call the best preseason tournament in college basketball. Although one game has technically already taken place, The Battle for Atlantis, and the season proper, begins in earnest on Thanksgiving night.

It begins against the team sitting at 15th in Ken Pomeroy's most recent rankings. The Iowa Hawkeyes also come in to the game at 5-0, and also come in on the strength of a diet very heavy in cupcakes. The Hawkeyes dispatched Abiliene Christian in a nail-biter, 103-41, and scored 109 on Maryland Eastern Shore.

Team Fingerprint:

Those gaudy numbers somewhat belie the fact that the Hawkeyes are actually a better defensive team than they are offensive. Currently, Iowa is allowing the lowest effective field goal percentage (34.2%) in the nation. They combine that with suffocating defense on the perimeter, where they allow opponents to make only 16%, a block rate of nearly 17% (possibly because they rank fifth in the nation in effective height), good for 21st nationally, and the third best rate in nation in allowing trips to the line. In short, scoring on the Hawkeyes is not very easy.

Offensively Iowa hits the offensively glass at basically the same elite rate Xavier does, gets blocked the fifth least in the country, and actually makes their free throws. They also get to the line on 56% of their field goal attempts because they draw a lot of fouls. Only from behind the arc do they even fall to the middle of the pack in offensive ratings.

This all comes with the massive caveat of the incredibly weak schedule that Iowas has played. While Xavier has at least challenged themselves with a solid Tennessee team, the Hawkeyes toughest opponent has been Nebraska Omaha. That 202nd ranked KenPom squad played Iowa tightly in a game that was still in doubt inside the last six minutes. Iowa's strength of schedule is currently the fourth worst in the nation, so take all those very impressive numbers with a grain of salt.

Starters:

The player: 6-6, 220 pound senior guard Roy Devyn Marble
The numbers: 14.6/2.8/3.8 on .404/.261/.758 shooting
More numbers: 7.5 fouls drawn per 40, 121.3 ORtg, 7.2% steal rate
The words: Marble is big and effective using it. The Iowa guard has already attempted 33 free throws, more than any Musketeer other than Semaj Christon. Marble has taken more shots from the line, where he is effective if not spectacular, than he has from inside or outside the arc. While Marble makes 69% of his attempts at the rim, he's far more content to shoot from deep, where he makes only 26% of his shots. Marble's 27.1% usage rate is tops on the team, and he's taken nearly twice as many shots as any other Hawkeye. With a turnover rate of only 10%, Marble is also very steady on the ball.

The player: 6-1, 190 pound sophomore guard Mike Gesell.
The numbers: 5.0/1.0/3.2 on .375/.357/.500 shooting
More numbers: 3.6% steal rate, 27.9% assist rate, 12.3% TO rate.
The words: Gesell is not on the floor to score the ball, which is good, because he doesn't. Gesell takes good care of the ball, gets it to the scorers, and has attempted a grand total of 24 shots in the first five games. Of the starters, Gesell uses the ball the very least, with a usage rate 4% lower than any of his compatriots.

The player: 6-9, 220 pound junior forward Aaron White.
The numbers: 13.6/7.6/1.8 on .649/.000/.800 shooting
More numbers: 24.5% DR%, 6.3 fouls drawn per 40, 75% field goal shooting inside.
The words: White is the second leading scorer on the team but is a more efficient scorer than Marble. White is going to drop inside where he's taken 65% of his field goal attempts and do his job. A 75% shooter at the rim, White is above 70% from inside the arc because he can also make the occasional face up jumper. White's defensive rebounding is excellent, but his rate on the offensive glass (5.9%) is subpar.

The player: 6-7, 220 pound senior forward Melsahn Basabe.
The numbers: 7.2/6.4/.2 on .478/.000/.700 shooting.
More numbers: 11.4 OR%, 22.6% DR%, 6.4 fouls drawn per 40.
The words: Basabe doesn't shoot from deep, but he's only taken 52% of his shots at the rim. That leaves the forward operating off his jumper, which he only knocks down at a 27% rate. Basabe makes up for that by being a handful on the glass at both ends of the floor. Amongst the ten starters of this game, only Matt Stainbrook is better grabbing rebounds than Basabe.

The player: 7-1, 245 pound sophomore center Adam Woodbury.
The numbers: 5.6/5.0/1.0
More numbers: 13.1 OR%, 3.6% Block rate.
The words: Woodbury completes Iowa's massive starting five, but only plays 16 minutes per game. Rail thin, Woodbury doesn't make the impact you'd expect from a seven footer on the defensive glass,  but gets on the offensive boards at the 153rd best rate in the nation. Woodbury also blocks a decent amount of shots.

Reserves:

6-9 forward Jarrod Uthoff leads the line off the bench and plays more than Gesell, Basabe, and Woodbury. He goes for 11.8/6.8/1.2 is ranked nationally in OR% and DR%, is 75th in block rate and has an Ortg of 134. Forwards Gabriel Olaseni and Peter Jok will also see significant time. Both score well, and Olaseni will hammer the glass relentlessly while Jok takes a slightly more apathetic approach to rebounding.Zach McCabe, yet another large forward, is a pick and pop four who will go to the glass.

Three questions:

- How does Xavier handle Iowa's size? Xavier is 32nd in the nation in effective height at 2.7. That seems like a lot until you see that Iowa is fifth at 4.7. What that means, if the numbers don't mean a lot, is that Iowa is just massive and plays like it. We'll find out today what kind of game James Farr and Jalen Reynolds are actually bringing to the table.

- At what pace will the game be played? Xavier is 200th in the nation in tempo, Iowa is 22nd. The Hawkeyes average six more possessions a game than the Musketeers and have run relentlessly when their opponents have allowed them. Xavier has the legs and depth to run, but may not be entirely comfortable with it. If the game is just a couple of possessions quicker, it shouldn't cause problems. If it turns into a track meet, who knows.

- Semaj Christon or Roy Devyn Marble? Right now Christon's free throw woes are greatly damaging his offensive rating. Marble is much better from the line, but sometimes falls in love with an outside shot that is inconsistent at the very best. Both players take more than 26% of their team's possessions when they are on the floor and both move the ball well for their teammates. Both are legitimate stars, but Marble has not performed in late game situations. Semaj, on the other hand, is Semajic.

Thanksgiving coverage notes:

Due to the holiday, running back and forth between in-laws, and all the usual family good times, our Twitter coverage of today's game will be scaled back significantly. We will be viewing the game late in the evening and will certainly be all over your feed at that point. Postgame coverage will be dependent on the outcome of the Iowa game and what time Xavier plays tomorrow. Enjoy your holiday.