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Xavier v. EKU: Preview, matchups, and keys to the game

Xavier can afford exactly zero mistakes the rest of the way. Losing to EKU would be a huge one.

NCAA Basketball: Eastern Kentucky at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier played last Saturday. You may remember that game as a game that you wish you couldn’t remember. (If you drank to excess and forgot, congratulations.) Xavier also plays this Saturday and if the result is the same, the season is effectively over. The Musketeers have already burned through all of their wiggle room here in December. From this point on, they have to be bloodlessly efficient in the Big East and not have any slip ups against lesser teams. One bad loss would doom any chances of an at-large bid.

Enter the EKU Colonels. This is the definition of a buy game. The Colonels are 6-4 this year, but their best win is NKU and one of their other wins came against Midway, which isn’t a DI school. EKU also squeaked by High Point by one and USC Upstate by two. They aren’t a power. What they are is a chance for a struggling team to get back on the right track or catastrophically destroy a season.

Team fingerprint:

EKU plays offense fast. Like, blazingly fast. Only two teams in the nation play faster, and you’ve not heard of either of them. The Colonels take care of the ball pretty well despite their breakneck pace, which means they can get to missing shots quickly, and miss shots they do. Behind the arc EKU shoots 29.4%, inside the arc they shoot 45.3%. Both of those numbers are objectively awful.

Defensively the Colonels ramp up the pressure and force turnovers on 21.1% of opponents possessions. That number, however, means that they get gashed on the back end. EKU plays decently stout three point defense, but inside the arc they allow 54.9% shooting, and they send opponents to the line on 44% of their field goal attempts. If that’s not bad enough, they also allow a 31.8% offensive rebounding rate. It’s not a good defense.

Personnel

Starters

Dujuanta Weaver Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Junior Class Junior
5'10", 170 Measurements 6'4", 194
8/2.9/2.6 Game line 12.3/2.3/4.4
0.293/0.304/0.333 Shooting line 0.337/0.227/0.69
Weaver has had some tough injury luck and more or less splits time with Jomaru Brown. He shoots mostly threes but doesn't have a ton of success with them. His distribution isn't great, but he rarely turns the ball over.
Kelvin Robinson Shooting Guard Paul Scruggs
Junior Class Sophomore
6'2", 210 Measurements 6'3", 200
6.5/4.1/3.5 Game line 12.6/4.8/3.5
0.364/0.111/0.615 Shooting line 0.552/0.433/0.773
Robinson is a slasher whose best work comes at the rim. He's 9-37 on jump shots this year but is a decent finisher. He also gets to the line well, though his mediocre FT numbers undermine how much good that does him.
Peyton Broughton Small Forward Kyle Castlin
Sophomore Class Senior
6'5'", 195 Measurements 6'4", 193
6.8/1.8/1.2 Game line 5.8/3.6/0.5
0.338/0.348/0.857 Shooting line 0.463/0.313/0.682
Broughton sounds like what a small child would think is the past tense of bring, and he has shot more than twice as many threes as twos this year. He's a decent defender, which isn't always what you'd expect from a shooter. As you can tell, he doesn't to a ton of rebounding or assisting.
Lachlan Anderson Power Forward Naji Marshall
Junior Class Sophomore
6'8", 205 Measurements 6'7", 222
8.5/5.4/0.5 Game line 13/7/3.3
0.433/0.231/0.618 Shooting line 0.434/0.227/0.718
Anderson is a good defender, nationally ranked in both block rate and steal rate. He also hits the glass on the offensive end pretty hard, which should make him an interesting matchup for Naji. As his shooting like hints, he is an inefficient offensive player.
Nick Mayo Center Tyrique Jones
Senior Class Junior
6'9", 250 Measurements 6'9", 235
24.4/9.2/1.6 Game line 10.4/8.5/0.7
0.444/0.333/0.895 Shooting line 0.609/0/0.606
Mayo has almost twice as many shot attempts and almost three times as many points than any of his teammates. He hears his number called plenty, but he also goes and gets his own work on the offensive glass. Aside from that, he protects the rim, gets to and converts from the line like a champ, and plays a ton of minutes. He's a monster.

Reserves

Freshman guard Jomaru Brown is an excellent point guard off of the bench, posting 9.8/2.3/1.8 to go with a good assist rate and minimal turnovers. He’s not a good shooter from anywhere on the floor, but he gets some of that back with good defense. Dude gobbles up possessions though.

Jacquess Hobbes is another 6’2” reserve guard with bad efficiency numbers. He turns the ball over too much and doesn’t shoot very well, but he still posts 6.8/3.3/2 per game because of the sprinter’s pace EKU employs.

Tre King and Jordan Oakley are the reserve forwards. Oakley is 6’5” but an excellent rebounder while King is a much better scorer but does less work on the boards. Between the two of them, they’re one good backup big.

Three questions:

- What is going on here? Is this a team with two stars struggling to adjust to expectation? Is it a team undone by key injuries? Or is this just a really mediocre basketball team playing mediocre basketball? The fact that you don’t just pencil Xavier in for a 25 point win here probably tells you all you need to know.

- How will Steele adjust? Gallingly, Travis Steele was outcoached by Mick Cronin last weekend. While that feat was previously not thought possible, Steele doesn’t have time to blink the shock from his eyes. Opposing coaches are going to keep running offense at Ryan Welage and forcing Xavier to shoot from deep to beat them. Coach Steele has to adjust to that, even against EKU.

- Are Q or Naji actually good? I really don’t know, but the evidence right now paints an ugly picture. Both are shooting 22.7% from behind the arc, have offensive efficiencies below 100, and are shooting far worse from the line than they did last year. The talent is obviously there, but Xavier needs their two erstwhile stars to go, and go now.

Three keys:

- Force the ball inside: Don’t shoot threes, hammer the ball to the team’s two best offensive players who are facing the weakest part of EKU’s defense. If Xavier shoots more than 15 threes, something stupid is happening.

- Figure out the offense: Xavier held UC to 1.05 points per possession and lost by 15. When the Musketeers had the ball they looked lost, slow, out of sync, or just apathetic. If Travis Steele was the mind behind Xavier’s potent offenses of the last couple of years, he’s yet to put that mind to effective use this year.

- Give fans some hope: The outlook for Xavier is bleak. All of the tweeting about how the team still needs to gel or Coach Steele just needs to get used to being the head man doesn’t disguise the fact that as things stand now, Xavier isn’t going dancing. I don’t know what would help with that feeling, but I hope the Musketeers find it, and soon.