There are now only ten games remaining in the Big East regular season. It seems inconceivable, but Xavier will be midway through the conference season after the DePaul game and have less than a third of the regularly scheduled season remaining. At this point most teams have settled in to being who they are, but the Musketeers are still retooling after the injury to Edmond Sumner and the off and on effectiveness of Jalen Reynolds. An away game against DePaul might seem like the perfect time to work on things, but last season Xavier managed to turn this fixture into a loss.
1. Is winnowing the bench the right way to go?
Twitter has been abuzz this week as sportswriters and the opposing coach have both noticed that Xavier seems to go very deep on their bench. Here's a little secret though, Xavier has been playing a seven man rotation for their last two games. Against Seton Hall players other than the top seven accrued a total of 22 minutes, against Providence that dropped to 15. On the year, the Musketeers get 35.8% of their minutes from the bench, a grand 2.8% over the national average. The Musketeers may seem to run a lot of guys through, but right now the top seven are carrying the mail.
2. Is the key to Jalen being successful just leaving him out there?
Set a somewhat arbitrary cutoff point of 25 minutes on Jalen Reynolds and you essentially separate out his best games. When Jalen plays 25 or more minutes he averages 14.6/11.3/1.3. That's a monster line. There are, of course, two ways of looking at that data. Maybe Jalen plays more when he's playing well, or maybe he plays well when he has a chance to settle into the rhythm of the game. DePaul can be had inside if Rashaun Stimage isn't prowling, is it time to just double post and let the big guys carry a game?
3. How to juggle JP and Remy?
If you're a fan of Xavier's perpetually poking, pulling, foot stepping, clutch shot sinking, 94 foot menace, the next sentence will excite you. By the numbers, JP Macura is Xavier's most effective offensive player. JP turns the ball over less than anyone else on the team, is excellent from the line and inside the arc, and is at least serviceable from deep. Those are things that the computer numbers love, and it means that JP's 122.7 offensive efficiency is the best on the team. Unfortunately, JP's incredible propensity to be annoying and effective vanishes when faced with a ballhandler with some foot speed.
Enter Remy Abell. Remy isn't nearly the offensive threat JP is. He turns the ball over more than he assists, he has the lowest inside the arc shooting percentage on the team (non-LAJ division) and he doesn't shoot enough to let his solid outside shooting carry him. He's not by any stretch of the imagination a bad offensive player, but he does represent a step down from JP. Remy, on the other hand, is a menace defensively. In a man to man or on the wing of the 1-3-1, he is suffocating. Just ask Isaiah Whitehead or Kris Dunn. Remy has harried both players into below average offensive efficiencies and forced them to work very hard to initiate offense.
That leaves Coach Mack balancing minutes between what seem to be two specialized weapons. Right now Remy plays 64% of the minutes and JP 52%. If Xavier uses the 1-3-1 more, it limits Remy. If they go more man, it limits JP. It will be interesting to see how it plays out as both stopping star players and protecting the ball late in games becomes more vital.