After a second straight disaster over the Thanksgiving weekend, Xavier came back against Bowling Green looking for a bounceback win. The 85-73 win looked good on the final scoreline, but it was clear in the execution that the Musketeers still had a great deal to work on. With the Crosstown Shootout and Cincinnati looming on the weekend, Xavier has one chance to work to work out the kinks before once jumping back into the roiling waters of actual competition.
That chance comes against the Purple Aces of Evansville. Evansville enters the game with an identical 6-3 record, but two of those wins have come outside of Division One basketball. The Aces righted a three game skid by beating Miami (Oh) 78-65 on Saturday while Xavier struggled with BGSU. Evansville's best win currently comes a vaunted Mercer Bears squad that KenPom ranks at 115th.
Evansville isn't good because they see defense as that annoying thing they have to do before they get to play offense. That would be one thing if they were good at offense, but they really aren't. Defensively, the team ranks 240th in the nation in defensive efficiency and 270th in effective field goal percentage. You make recognize those numbers as not being good, and they aren't. Those numbers are based mostly on the back of two and three point percentage defense that also rank between 240 and 270.
It's not because the Aces gamble and play extremely aggressive defense, either. Evansville gets steals on only 6.2% of their defensive possessions. Their block percentage of 8.8% also falls well below the national average. On the other end, the Aces get blocked on 11.8% of their shot attempts and have the ball stolen away on 8.7% of their possessions. So the very things they do poorly on the defensive end cripple them on the offensive end. That and they offensive rebound really poorly as well, too.
The player: 6-2, 210 sophomore guard DJ Balentine.
The numbers: 24.9/2.2/4.0 on .478/.442/.893 shooting.
More numbers: 123.1 ORtg, 29.6% usage rate, 25.2% assist rate.
The words: Evansville begins and ends with Balentine. No other player on the Aces even averages double digits, and no one even approaches the 90% of the available minutes that he plays. What really stands out about Balentine is how efficient he is in getting his 25 per game. Throw in the fact that he shoots nearly ten free throws per game, and you have an excellent player. Why he hasn't transferred, I don't know.
The player: 6-4, 205 sophomore guard Adam Wing.
The numbers: 9.6/3.6/2.2 on .560/.500/.885 shooting.
More numbers: 122.9 ORtg, 69% true shooting
The words: The Purple Aces are 74th in the nation in free throw percentage largely because of their bloodless backcourt. (Try not to think too long about it). Wing knows his limitations and shoots less than two times per game from deep, preferring to get inside the arc and pull up. Once in there, Wing knocks down 55% of his two point jumpshot attempts. Unlike his relatively solid running mate, Wing will turn the ball over with some regularity.
The player: 6-5, 210 freshman guard/forward Blake Simmons
The numbers: 8.8/3.0/1.8 on .458/.370/.750 shooting.
More numbers: 0.5% offensive rebounding rate.
The words: Simmons is another of Evansville's wildly competent free throw shooting starters. Beyond that, he doesn't bring a great deal to the offense, with a usage rate of only 14.3%. Unlikely to turn the ball over or assist a teammate (11.3%) Simmons is reliant mostly on the arc and the free throw line to make any impact on the game. What he will not do is crash the offensive glass at all.
The player: 6-3, 195 freshman guard Duane Gibson
The numbers: 8.9/4.4/5.3 on .467/.000/.691 shooting.
More numbers: 34.6% assist rate, 16.8% defensive rebounding rate, 122.2% FTRate
The words: Gibson lives to get to the free throw line, where he has 55 attempts compared to just 45 from the floor, none of which have come from behind the arc. That leaves him fourth in the nation in free throw rate. Gibson is also 38th in nation in assist rate and rakes down a ton of defensive rebounds for someone of his stature. What he doesn't do is shoot from deep, ever. Also, he's from Cleveland.
The player: 6-10, 225 sophomore center Egidijus Mockevicius
The numbers: 9.1/6.4/.4 on .592/.000/.682
More numbers: 9.0% block rate, 26% defensive rebound rate, 9.3% offensive rebound rate.
The words: Mockevicius is on the court to block shots and grab defensive rebounds, two things he does very well. Surrounded by guard, Mockevicius is the only size his team starts, but is unable to keep himself on the court because of his 7.5 fouls per 40 minutes. While he's out there, he's going to change the game.
Jaylon Brown spells the guards and gets nearly 20 minutes per game. In that time, he scores 3.7 pretty inefficient points. Jaylon Moore is 6-7 is and passes for reserve size for the Aces. Moore gets just over 10% of both offensive and defensive rebounds, and gets 4.8 points with a 108.9 offensive rating. Ryan Sawvell is 6-8 and hammers the defensive glass relentlessly. His 6.0/3.9/.9 line is about the best the Aces can do off of their very thing bench.
- Who gets the minutes? Who starts won't matter in this game nearly as much as what combinations play with each other. This game is a lead in to the Shootout, so Coach Mack is going to be honing lineups and seeing, especially in the backcourt, who fits where.
- Can Xavier stop a star? Roy Devyn Marble destroyed the Musketeers in the ill-fated Iowa game, and Richaun Holmes carved the defense apart on Saturday. DJ Balentine is, arguably, a better scorer than either of those players and he won't hesitate if he gets space. Sean Kilpatrick waits on the weekend.
- Who steps up? Semaj and Stainbrook are established as the two pieces of the lineup that aren't going anywhere. What Xavier is lacking right now is a third option. Justin Martin persists in being Justin Martin, Brandon Randolph can't shoot, Dee Davis is inconsistent at best, and Myles Davis has taken only nine shots inside the arc in nine games. Someone needs to step up and fill that third option well.
- Dominate: Xavier is going to win this game unless something awful happens. What they need to do is bury it early and look convincing for once.
- Don't let up: Bowling Green came back from double digits down in both halves on Saturday. That leads to losses against good teams and it's not something Xavier can let become a trend.
- Stay healthy: This game is a formality, the one coming on Saturday is not. There isn't another triple digit KenPom team on the schedule until late January. Now would be a terrible time for someone to go down injured.