We usually break this one down by how irreplaceable each player on the roster is by some arcane and fluid formula of recent performance, past results, and my own whim. Today’s rankings are going to be a bit different, because the game Saturday is a bit different. In this edition of the Xavier Power Rankings, we’re going to look specifically at how much Xavier will need each player to be at his best to knock off UC.
10. Dontarius James
I love you, Dontarius, but there’s a point at which the mind grasps for a scenario in which ol’ DJ sees the floor with the result in doubt and is subsequently called up to make the difference.
9. Eli Harden
Cincinnati has been weirdly permissive from behind the arc this year, and Eli is one of about two Muskies I’d trust to hit 5 of 10 with my money on the line, but... he has hit 8 this year, and 7 of them came in one two-game stretch when he was unconscious. Who is the real Eli? Will his teammates feed him in the biggest non-con game of the year? I don’t know the answers to either of those questions.
8. Keonte Kennedy
Here’s what I like about Keonte in this matchup: he is 6’5” with silly bounce, he defends well, and - if he has the inclination to be scared - he hasn’t shown it. Here’s what I really like about him: he boards like a machine on the defensive end. He has a DReb% of 12.2% on the season, which is a better number than dudes like Q, Kyle Castlin, and Ryan Welage. Xavier will need to gang rebound on the defensive end, and KK is the dude for the job.
7. Ryan Welage
I’ll be honest, I almost had him at 8 and KK at 7. Welage has an elite skill, though, and that’s the ability to drop Welly Bombs. He is almost constantly exposed on defense and he isn’t a great defensive rebounder (though he has exhibited something of a nose for the ball coming off of Xavier misses), but X doesn’t have another shooter nearly as effective as he is. He doesn’t have to shake loose too many times to change the shape of the game.
Below here it’s fairly tight; you could make a case for just about any of the top 6 to be swapped and any of the top 4 to be #1.
6. Kyle Castlin
There was a point late in the Ohio U game when both teams were basically running up and down the court exchanging mistakes. The ball eventually made its way to Naji Marshall on an offensive rebound, and he kicked it out to a wide open Kyle Castlin on the arc, who... dribbled out and did the ol’ palm down to the floor gesture, encouraging his teammates to calm the frick down. We’ll need that on Saturday. Also, he makes Winning Plays.
5. Zach Hankins
It galls me to put Hanky this low, because I know UC fans (and head coaches) are going to hate him. What Xavier is going to need most out of the bigs is to defend the defensive glass, which is not Zach’s elite skill. He’s a great rim protector - which probably takes him out of position to D board a bit - and a menace at and around the rim on the offensive end. He’ll have a big role to play, and I hope to see him ruin some dang days.
4. Quentin Goodin
Xavier really needs Good Q. The skills he needs to make play are his elite assist rate and ball security skills. The skill he desperately needs to minimize is his EFG% of 37.6%. If he can get on the ball and work without shooting 12.7 times, he’ll be an asset for the Muskies. If he decides to try to shoot his way into the game, let’s see a lot of KK and Scruggernuts in the back court. Speaking of which...
3. Paul Scruggs
Xavier’s leading scorer in my heart and second-leading scorer in real life, Paul has a skill set that I think might turn this game. Specifically, he’s a guard who can score from the post with relative consistency. Cane Broome and Justin Jenifer are both too small to stop him down there, which means Jarron Cumberland or Keith Williams is going to have to take the assignment. That leaves the 5’10” Jenifer or 6’ Broome on Kyle Castlin (a capable post scorer) or Quentin Goodin (a big lad). If Scruggs can throw a wrench into UC’s defense from the post, it might be the difference in the game.
2. Naji Marshall
If my man doesn’t settle for threes, he’s a wrecking ball on offense. He’s shooting 64% at the rim and 59.4% between the rim and the arc. Moving downhill, he’s tough to stop. Just as importantly, he’s an absolutely elite defensive rebounder. Xavier is going to need all hands on deck to keep Cincinnati off the glass, which means Naj will need to be at his best all game. Also, he needs to avoid turnovers.
1. Tyrique Jones
The best high-major offensive rebounder in the nation with an OReb% of 21%; the next closest is Texas A&M’s Christian Mekowulu with 19%. The gap between Ty at 1 and that dude at 2 is bigger than the gap between 2 and 7. Jones is also in the top 20 as defensive rebounder among high majors and, just as importantly, shoots over 70% on shots at the rim. Throw in excellent defense in terms of both rim protecting and disrupting passing and Tyrique is the total package for a big man. Xavier needs him healthy, out of foul trouble, and rolling on Saturday.