Xavier didn't exactly set the world on fire in game one of the Steele Era, briefly trailing IUPUI in the second half. An unspeakable barrage from Ryan Welage and a strong effort from defensive juggernaut and national leader in block rate Zach Hankins got Xavier across the line with room to spare, but it was a reminder of why major conference teams start the season with borderline unloseable buy games.
Evansville was just that for Illinois. Brad Underwood's charges ran the Purple Aces off the court in the midweek fixture to the tune of a 99-60 thumping. This always figured to be a long season for Evansville, but it's going to be a real slog if things don't improve a bit.
They don't usually take the victim's fingerprints at a crime scene, and that's exactly what Illinois left behind when they breezed out of town. It's hard to be certain Evansville showed anything of what their will was in this game because Illinois pretty much did whatever they wanted to. The Aces were defensively porous at all three levels and didn't rebound well or force many turnovers, though they did at least manage to avoid fouling.
On offense it's the same story. They turned the ball over on almost a third of their possessions, which you would guess shorted out anything they were trying to establish. They didn't rebound really well and they shot really badly. They shot a lot of threes, but that's what happens when you're down 20 just over 10 minutes in.
The Purple Aces started Evan Kuhlman, John Hall, KJ Riley, Shea Feehan, and Marty Hill. I list them all en bloc because that’s also a comprehensive list of players that couldn’t muster an offensive efficiency over 100 against Illinois. Hill, a forward, shot 3-4 of four from the line to get himself to an even 100. Kuhlman posted a 66 and will now contend with the attentions of Tyrique Jones in the post or step outside where he went 1-6. Hall and Riley will both stay closer to the basket, where Riley somehow turned the ball over seven times without taking a shot from the perimeter. It’s Feehan who runs the offense to the tune of four turnovers without an assist against the Fighting Illini.
Our usual matchups box will return Tuesday against Wisconsin when both teams have averages to list.
Coming off the Evansville bench are Noah Frederking, a 6-4 sophomore, who managed a zero (0) offensive efficiency in 20 minutes against Illinois by making none of the four shots he made and turning the ball over four times. At the other end of the spectrum is 5-10 Shamar Givance, who went put up a passable 4/3/4 line in 13 minutes and was the only player on Evansville who touched the ball but didn’t turn it over.\
- How much can Quentin Goodin play? As of right now it seems safe to assume that Q will make his season debut today. How much he plays remains up in the air. Xavier’s offense never really got going without him on the floor against IUPUI, an indication of just how vital he will be this year.
- Will Xavier’s defense be better? The Musketeers held IUPUI to .92 points per possession. That, on its face, is a good number, but the Jaguars had the 293rd ranked offense in the nation last year and don’t figure to be much better this year. To compete in the Big East, Xavier is going to have to tighten up.
- Who is Xavier’s star? Naji Marshall figures to be Xavier’s best player this season. That wasn’t in evidence Tuesday, in large part because Marshall had lost 15 pounds in the previous four days thanks to a stomach bug. Ryan Welage filled in admirably with a star turn of his own. Ultimately, it seems likely one of those two will become Xavier’s big gun.
- Get everyone going: Paul Scruggs, Zach Hankins, Keonte Kennedy, and Elias Harden were all relatively offensively unimpressive against IUPUI. With no JP or Trevon arriving on scene, all of Xavier’s various offensive parts have to be clicking before the Badgers walk into the Cintas on Tuesday.
- Shoot better: 31% from behind the arc isn’t good. That includes the 6-13 effort from Welage. Remove the clean cut sharpshooter and Xavier was 3-16 (18.7%). That’s awful. It took a heroic second half effort from a single player to beat IUPUI. Actually making some shots would go a long way toward avoiding that ignominy again.
- Crush the glass again: Xavier pounded IUPUI on the glass, racking up an offensive rebounding rate of 32.5%. That’s a marked improvement, in an admittedly tiny sample, over last season. Tyrique Jones was especially active, but Zach Hankins was also effective. That kind of relentless effort makes up for some ineffective shooting.