Xavier has started this season 2-0. That, unfortunately, is just about the end of the good news. Last season Xavier won their opening games against marginally better competition by 52 and 26. This season, the Musketeers have won their opening two by a combined total of 19. Neither of those performances have been even vaguely convincing. On Saturday, Xavier decompensated in the second half, with their junior point guard getting thrown out, last game’s leading scorer pouring in five, and Naji Marshall running his season turnover tally to eight and his EFG% to a glittering 34.2%. Thus far, Xavier has been ugly and ineffective.
Wisconsin has played but once this season, rolling Coppin St 85-63. In that game the Badgers were their usual selves, controlling the pace of the game and not turning the ball over. Ethan Happ, returning for an unprecedented 11th year of eligibility, went for a 10/11/12 triple-double. The Badgers didn’t shoot the ball particularly well, but they compensated for that by blocking over a quarter of the shots that the Eagles took. After Xavier, Wisconsin takes on Houston Baptist, so the Musketeers are the only real test early for Greg Gard’s team.
Offensively, the Badgers are going to play slowly and take care of the ball. This should come as news to no one. In an extremely small sample, Wisconsin is the 18th most efficient team in the nation thus far. Since the days of Bo Ryan and the Wisconsin Swing, the plan has been to slow games to a crawl, back cut, and isolate the opposition’s weaker defenders. Come tonight, that’s what Wisconsin will do again, and again, and again.
On defense Wisconsin is willing to cede the three point line to some extent in order to make teams struggle inside. In two of Gard’s three years in charge, the Badgers have been in the top 50 in interior defense. They will challenge shots, try to choke off the defensive glass, and then start the long walk back down the court to play offense. If there is such a thing as the YMCA aesthetic in college basketball, this will be it.
That may sound harsh on the Badgers, but it isn’t. Both Gard and Ryan has installed a plan and then installed a team that can play it. They will grind you down with fundamental play and make you either get into transition fast or shoot a scorching percentage from outside to beat them. Last year Xavier won in Madison by relying on their two big scorers and going 20-23 from the line.
|D'Mitrik Trice||Point Guard||Quentin Goodin|
|6'0", 187||Measurements||6'4", 194|
|Trice probably isn't a pure point, and he also probably isn't going to hit 55%+ of his threes going forward. He didn't get much run last year, so it's hard to say exactly what he's going to give against Xavier. Walk away from him at the arc at your own risk. On the other end, Q should be able to have the physical beating of him and force help.|
|Brad Davison||Shooting Guard||Paul Scruggs|
|6'3", 206||Measurements||6'3", 200|
|Davison rolled off whatever assembly line it is that keeps feeding Wisconsin buzz-cut white guys who hit their jump shots. He has a solid game in the mid-range and behind the arc, but he's not proven to be an effective finisher around the rim at this stage in his career. He's a strong kid, but I question whether or not he has the raw athleticism that Scruggs possesses.|
|Khalil Iverson||Small Forward||Naji Marshall|
|6'5", 217||Measurements||6'7", 222|
|The pride of Delaware, OH is a career 12.2% three-point shooter, including an incredible 0-24 performance last season. He more than makes up for that on the offensive glass and by being a menace around the rim. He's 19-61 (31.1%) from the mid-range on his career; this dude knows where his bread is buttered. Let him shoot jumpers all day, but he's a beast if he gets to the bucket.|
|Nate Reuvers||Power Forward||Ryan Welage|
|6'11", 240||Measurements||6'10", 205|
|Despite being built like an upright freezer, Reuvers plainly has the confidence of the coaching staff from deep, where a third of his career FGA have originated. He's actually kind of comically mediocre around the rim for such a big guy; it will be interesting to see how he responds to being guarded by a guy built out of pipe cleaner and hope. On the other end, you wouldn't put money on his being able to chase Welage off the arc, which might necessitate Happ moving to the perimeter to check him.|
|Ethan Happ||Center||Tyrique Jones|
|6'10", 237||Measurements||6'9", 235|
|Fun piece of trivia: Ethan Happ has been in college forever. He's a willing passer and a good rebounder at both ends. Despite a lot of hype around it last year, his jumper still sucks. He's tough to stop around the rim, though, and he draws a ton of fouls. Defensively, he's a solid all-around performer who doesn't often get into foul trouble.|
Redshirt freshman Kobe King went for 8/4/0 in 26 minutes of play against Coppin. Brevin Pritzl poured in 16 on 4-7 from behind the arc, and Trevor Anderson was a rebound away from an 11 minute trillion. In one blowout game, it’s kind of hard to make many inferences about the depth of a team. The below link will aid in becoming familiar with Wisconsin’s personnel.
- How good is Xavier? Thus far the Musketeers have looked pretty pedestrian in going 2-0 against some bad teams. If there is to be hope that this is another Sweet 16 run in the making, the ground work has to be laid in playing good games against good teams.
- Can Hankins and Jones contain Happ? Happ has old man game befitting his age of, I think, 41 years, and plenty of young man spring to go with it. He’s going to be a handful for either of Xavier’s bigs, because Gard will use him on the wings and up high in the swing. Someone is going to have to defend Wisconsin’s big in space.
- What does this team look like with Q? In two games so far Quentin Goodin has been injured and then thrown out for hitting an opponent with a basketball. In the 15 minutes he’s played he’s managed an offensive efficiency of 169, shot 3-5 behind the arc, and not turned the ball over while accruing his three assists. Nothing makes a team look better than good point guard play.
- Play the first 15 minutes over: Xavier has led by 15 and led by 13 with five minutes to play in the first half of their games so far. After that, the wheels have come off. The Musketeers need to take the intensity they start the game with and transfer it to the final 25 minutes.
- Feed the post: Tyrique Jones has an efficiency of 160, Zach Hankins was 5-6 from the floor against Evansville, and the team as a whole shoots better in the interior than they do from the line. Get the ball inside and hammer away.
- Show that adjustments can be made: Early in Coach Mack’s career an idea dogged him that he couldn’t make in game adjustments once opponents knew what was coming. It’s fair to say that part of Xavier’s issue thus far has been a good start complicated by the other team adjusting. Travis Steele needs to demonstrate that he can make the mid-game adjustments that big wins need.