If you are reading this, congrats! You have made it through the bumpiness of Xavier’s non conference slate to the start of Big East play. If you are not reading this, your mother probably doesn't love you. What has preceded this game this season for Xavier has ranged from underwhelming to rage inducing, but the conference slate offers 18 chances for Xavier to right the ship and make a seemingly improbable run to the NCAA Tournament.
First up is a trip to Chicago, where Xavier went under much different circumstances last year and clinched the Big East title outright. DePaul has an overtime win over Penn State to hang their hat on, but have not beaten anyone else in the top 150 and lost to a pretty dire BC squad to end non conference play. Their coach also got chucked for trash talking a player on the 350th best team in the nation, which I guess is something.
DePaul is not a terribly good offensive team, with their three point shooting being a particular weakness. They do not hold a great aversion for shooting threes for a team that shoots them as poorly as they do, but are good at getting back their (numerous) misses and actually shoot 57% from inside the arc. They can be prone to the turnover bug, and racked up 17 in losing to a Boston College team that was there for the taking.
Defensively they are... also not that good. They are somehow even worse at defending the arc than Xavier, which really short circuits a defense that does a good job of getting boards, keeping opponents off the foul line, and holds other teams to 45% shooting from inside the arc. Their defense does rank in the top 100 so it would be the stronger side of the ball for the Blue Demons, but letting opponents shoot 36% from deep on nearly half of their total field goal attempts probably doesn't strike a ton of fear.
Illinois transfer and frequent starter Jalen Coleman-Lands is out for the game with hand problems. He has played in 9 games this year and was coming on of late, posting double figures in 5 of his last 6. He is averaging 9.6/2.8/1.3 on the season.
|Devin Gage||Point Guard||Quentin Goodin|
|"6'2"", 195"||Measurements||"6'4"", 194"|
|Like Goodin, Gage takes a lot of shots without being particularly good at making them. He is a high assist rate guy, but his ball security has been miserable this year. He's no threat from deep, but he does well at the line and in getting there. Gage is also a plus defender if steals are your thing.|
|Eli Cain||Shooting Guard||Paul Scruggs|
|"6'6"", 200"||Measurements||"6'3"", 200"|
|One of two guys for DePaul who will feed it to you if given the chance. Cain is a good combo guard who can score at all three levels and has strong assist and turnover numbers. The team leans heavily on him and he plays a lot of minutes, especially since Jalen Coleman-Lands went down.|
|Max Strus||Small Forward||Kyle Castlin|
|"6'6"", 215"||Measurements||"6'4"", 193"|
|D2 transfer, former Xavier target, and the guy for DePaul. Strus will hurt you from all over; he's mostly a catch and shoot guy from deep, but he'll dribble into two-point jumpers and attack the rim. If he gets to the bucket, he's an excellent finisher and solid at getting to the line. He's also a sensational defensive rebounder.|
|Paul Reed||Power Forward||Naji Marshall|
|"6'9"", 210"||Measurements||"6'7"", 222"|
|Reed is 31-44 at the rim and 4-24 on everything away from it. If he's pulling on a jumper, prudent defenders will watch him do it. He's a very effective rebounder at both ends and an excellent rim protector.|
|Femi Olujobi||Center||Zach Hankins|
|"6'9"", 258"||Measurements||"6'11"", 245"|
|As you would expect from a North Carolina A&T transfer, Olujobi is thriving at the high-major level. He has made a total of 3 threes this year, so don't fret too much about his ability to step out. Where he really thrives is under the rim, where he converts at an 82% clip and is just outside the top 100 in the nation in getting to the line. He's not great on the defensive glass, but he cleans the offensive boards pretty well.|
The bench wasn't that deep with Coleman-Lands healthy, and it's even more thin with him out. The only guy getting more than 9 minutes is sophomore big man Jaylen Butz, who is averaging 7.5/5.9/1.0 and shooting 64% from the floor.
Junior guard Lyrik Shreiner has been getting some minutes out of necessity but not giving the team much of anything in return.
- Keep Strus from killing you- Max Strus is clearly plans A-about T for DePaul on offense, and for good reason. When he is good, they usually win. When he is bad, they almost always lose. Notre Dame, Northwestern, and Boston College all found a way to keep him relatively quiet and all three won because of it.
- Find the open shooter- DePaul’s three point defense has been woeful this year, but Xavier’s three point shooting has not exactly been deadeye, so that will need to change for X to take advantage. A large part of the problem has been that Naji Marshall and Quentin Goodin are both in the top three in threes attempted and are both under 30% for the season. If these guys can’t find their stroke, X has to get the ball to Welage and Scruggs and make hay from deep.
- Compete for all 40 minutes- In both of Xavier’s true road games to this point, if they haven’t given up, they have at least done a really good impression of a team giving up. Even when Xavier was steamrolling one of the best conferences in the nation to the tune of 15-3, winning at Wintrust Arena was a battle at times, so it will for sure be for this team. Xavier has to be prepared for a battle every time they step into a hostile arena, and they simple haven't looked it so far this season.
- How much Tyrique do we get? With Tyrique Jones healthy, Xavier has a tidy two man rotation in the low post that provides chances to rest each player throughout the game and adjust playing time for foul trouble. Without him, they have Zach Hankins trying to soldier through as much of the 40 minutes as he can by himself. DePaul crashes the glass aggressively, and X needs to keep their big bodies fresh, but that will depend on just how ready Jones is to play.
- Is the Goodin-aissance for real? Since a pedestrian performance in the Crosstown Shootout, Quentin Goodin has been Xavier’s best player in the previous three games. Importantly, he has shot 6-12 from deep in that span and racked up a 25:11 A:TO in trying to key Xavier’s sputtering offense. Continuing that hot streak into the meat grinder that is Big East play would be huge for Xavier and the first step is getting the job done against DePaul.
- Can Xavier finally get even a mediocre win? Prior to now, Illinois is by far Xavier’s best win and that is a huge problem with non conference play over. If X has a resume come Selection Sunday, it will be built entirely on what they did in the Big East, and getting an early road win would be a big boost in confidence and lay down an early marker that this season may not be over just yet.