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Xavier v. Detroit Mercy: Preview, matchups, keys to the game

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The non-conference slate closes with a throwback buy game.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

This game doesn’t matter. If Xavier wins it, the world yawns and moves on. If Xavier loses, it simply cements in the minds of a remaining few that they aren’t going to the NCAA tournament this year. There’s nothing the Musketeers can show here that indicates anything more than that they are playing one of the worst teams in the nation. A 25 point win won’t be a sign that the Musketeers are putting it back together, just confirmation that a Xavier bad season and a Detroit Mercy season are still vastly different things. There is only the long trudge down the hall with other inmates banging the bars now. [-ed note: We’re not quite here yet, man, start this over.]

Back when I was a smaller and, hopefully, less bitter young man, Detroit was a regular fixture for Xavier. In fact, Xavier has only played Dayton, UC, and Miami more than they’ve played the Titans. The Musketeers enter this game on the back of a devastating loss to Missouri and with the wheels very much wobbling. Team meetings and players only meetings aren’t generally the sign of a squad ticking along, and Xavier had both this week. They desperately need to get right before the turn of the year.

Xavier’s season has been a disappointment, Detroit’s has just been bad. The Titans are 3-8 and count a four pointer over Eastern Michigan as their best win. What’s truly amazing about this team is that they are in game six of nine straight against teams from Ohio. 10 of 11 games, from the win over Bowling Green until Wright St. on the 3rd of January, are being played against Buckeye State teams. I don’t know who does Mercy’s scheduling, but it obviously isn’t Thad Matta.

Team Fingerprint:

On offense, Detroit is pretty bad but, alarmingly, they can take care of the ball and shoot the three. 43.6% of Mercy’s shots and 43.5% (fourth in the nation) of their points come from behind the arc. Why that is a problem should be painfully obvious by now. Beyond that, it is no exaggeration to say that the Titans do nothing else good on offense.

Which means they do one more thing good on offense than they do on defense. The Titans are 308th in the nation in overall defense and absolutely dead last in the nation in defensive rebounding rate at a woeful 60%. They do occasionally steal the ball and they do slow the pace on the defensive end, Against Toledo they allowed 1.42 PPP and 101 points overall. This is the worst defense Xavier has seen since Oakland somehow held them to 73.

Players:

Starting matchups
Antoine Davis Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Freshman Class Junior
6'1", 170 Measurements 6'4", 194
26.6/3.6/3.5 Game line 13.5/2.3/5.1
0.398/0.429/0.85 Shooting line 0.387/0.269/0.725
Davis isn't bloodlessly efficient (105.9), but he's a scorer that can shoot the three and he's going to lift all night long. Only two guys in the nation take a higher percentage of their team's shots than Davis. He's going to get his.
Josh McFolley Shooting Guard Paul Scruggs
Senior Class Sophomore
6'1", 174 Measurements 6'3", 200
12.4/2.8/2.8 Game line 12.2/4.6/3.1
0.393/0.379/0.769 Shooting line 0.545/0.471/0.786
McFolley is a nice foil to Davis. He's not a bad shooter in his own right and he's a very good defender. Neither McFolley nor Davis is great inside the arc, so they provide a great deal of Detroit's three point barrage.
Tra'Quan Knight Small Forward Kyle Castlin
Junior Class Senior
6'3", 180 Measurements 6'4", 193
4.3/3/0.9 Game line 5.8/3.3/0.7
0.379/0/0.429 Shooting line 0.49/0.278/0.654
Knight defends, rebounds, and barely ever uses the ball. He's going to have his hands full should Xavier decide to post one of their guards.
Derrien King Power Forward Naji Marshall
Senior Class Sophomore
6'7", 180 Measurements 6'7", 222
7/3.6/1.5 Game line 12.5/7.6/3.4
0.291/0.386/0.909 Shooting line 0.429/0.216/0.674
King is a solid outside shooter but is somehow shooting 7% at the rim and has only made eight shots inside the arc all season.
Harrison Curry Center Tyrique Jones
Junior Class Junior
6'7", 230 Measurements 6'9", 235
14/3.5/0 Game line 10.4/7.8/0.6
0.379/0.2/0.8 Shooting line 0.641/0/0.595
Curry is way smaller than Jones and fancies himself a three point shooter. He's not, but that hasn't kept him from lifting. When Curry and Davis on the court together, they take almost 75% of the team's shots. Unlike Davis, Curry sports a 81.6 effciency rating.

Off the bench, Mercy has some depth. Backup big Chris Brandon will lead the charge and is both Detroit’s most efficient offensive player and rejects 5.3% of opponents shots. 6-9 Gerald Blackshear Jr. is Detroit’s tallest player and combines with Brandon to be a force on the offensive glass. He’ll also throw a shot or two. Lamar Hamrick is guard who has taken the fourth most threes on the team and converts at a 32% rate. Jacob Holland is 6-4 senior with an offensive efficiency of 75.2. Shots he takes are a stop for the other team.

Three questions:

- Does this team have any heart? I hate the psychoanalysis that comes along with sporting fandom and commentating because almost all of it is predicated on guessing the feelings of someone you’ve never met based on five seconds of camera time. That said, something is wrong with this Xavier team that goes beyond the numbers. Not once this season have they taken a punch and punched back.

- Does this team have a coach? Yes, obviously, but perhaps not one inclined to reigning in the players supposed to be his stars. Naji Marshall and Quentin Goodin have not been good this year and have been, probably rightfully, accused of looking apathetic at times. Despite that, there’s been no suggestion that either of them can do anything to get benched.

- Is Paul Scruggs the best player on this team? It was Paul who called the players only meeting and it has been he who has relentlessly refused to quit on any game this season. Scruggs is third in scoring, third in assists, and third in rebounds, but has a 113 efficiency to Naji’s 93 or Q’s 103. It’s not hard to see the dog of the team as also its best player.

Three keys:

- Do something, anything, to inspire confidence: A 33-2 run, a 40 point win, actually playing defense, any of those things would let Xavier fans know that the team was at least trying to dig in and save the season.

- Bury the game early: There’s no reason this should be a contest for more than ten minutes. It would be horrifying to watch Xavier struggle to put Detroit Mercy away, in no small part because Mercy shoots well enough from deep to make the truly unfathomable a possibility.

- Defend the three point arc: Teams 37.4% behind the arc against Xavier and on four occasions this year have shot over 40%. Literally the only thing the Titans do well on either end of the floor is shoot threes. It’s incumbent upon Travis Steele to figure out how to stop that.