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Xavier @ Depaul: preview, matchups, keys to the game

The Big East regular season ends with a trip to the Windy City.

NCAA Basketball: DePaul at Xavier Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Xavier is the Big East champ, but it’s still DePaul bringing up the rear. All ten teams may be in the KenPom top 100, but it’s DePaul that keeps yo-yoing off the back. No matter what seems to happen in college basketball, you can count on the Blue Demons weighing down the rest of the Big East.

The Blue Demons aren’t playing this game for bubble position, they’re 11-18 overall, 4-13 in conference. Dave Leitao’s team may be better in the KenPom rankings, but that ultimately just means that they’ve lost closer games to better teams this year. The losing remains constant.

The first time these teams met this year Xavier inexplicably trailed by 16 in the second half before going on to win by five. JP Macura led the way with 19/6/5, Trevon Bluiett came off the bench, and the team as a whole just didn’t play very well at all, managing less than a point per possession in their second least efficient game of the year.

Team fingerprint:

We believe in accenting the positive here at Banners, and DePaul is actually pretty good at playing defense. The Blue Demons are 56th in the nation in defensive efficiency largely on the back of their 19.9% turnover rate. Teams shoot well from behind the arc against them, but DePaul is at least decent at limiting second chances and shooting inside the arc. When the pace gets high they can struggle, but a lot of Xavier fans would like to have the 56th best defense in the nation.

DePaul isn’t that good on offense. Actually, look around you right now. Are there five people capable of taking the floor? If so, there’s a decent chance you shoot the ball better than the Blue Demons, who are 299th in the nation in effective field goal percentage. To break that down for you, they shoot .429/.313/.708 as a team. That’s bad. Almost 20% of the time they spare themselves the embarrassment of missing by turning the ball. By sheer repetition they’ve made themselves into a pretty good offensive rebounding team.

Personnel

Starters

Starting matchups
Eli Cain Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Junior Class Sophomore
6'6", 200 Measurements 6'4", 190
11.7/3.7/4.6 Game line 9.1/3/5.1
0.348/0.311/0.657 Shooting line 0.462/0.346/0.821
Common basketball wisdom holds that if you suck at shooting, you shouldn't do a ton of it, but Eli Cain wasn't born to live by your rules. Cain shoots ten points worse than Paul Scruggs from the floor, but he just keeps on lifting until he has gotten his. His ball distribution is solid and he stays out of foul trouble.
Brandon Cyrus Shooting Guard J.P. Macura
Sophomore Class Senior
6'5", 190 Measurements 6'5", 203
6.8/3.4/1.6 Game line 12.4/4.4/2.9
0.402/0.34/0.712 Shooting line 0.467/0.348/0.828
Cyrus stays out of foul trouble and is a pretty good offensive rebounder. He spends a lot of time on the floor and doesn't have a whole ton of statistical impact, but you just have to trust a coach like Dave Leitao as he's handing out playing time.
Max Strus Small Forward Trevon Bluiett
Junior Class Senior
6'6", 215 Measurements 6'6", 202
17/5.8/2.8 Game line 19.3/5.6/2.6
0.412/0.341/0.803 Shooting line 0.455/0.436/0.848
The guy Xavier tried to get to transfer in matches up against the reason he didn't. Strus is a volume scorer who sometimes catches fire, but he's not nearly as efficient as Tre is. Strus gets to the glass okay on both ends and can distribute a bit, but most of his value comes from scoring.
Tre'Darius McCallum Power Forward Naji Marshall
Senior Class Freshperson
6'7", 220 Measurements 6'7", 218
10.3/5.9/0.9 Game line 8.6/3.9/1.5
0.463/0.295/0.611 Shooting line 0.548/0.385/0.75
McCallum is a solid rebounder who shoots a ton. He doesn't give you much on the defensive end besides the occasional steal and he's not a meaningful ball distributor.
Marin Maric Center Kerem Kanter
Senior Class Senior
6'11", 240 Measurements 6'10", 240
13.6/6.6/1.2 Game line 10.1/4.7/0.5
0.552/0.321/0.848 Shooting line 0.559/0.319/0.766
Maric is one of the best rebounders in the conference and a really efficient scorer on the post. He shoots effectively enough from mid-range to need respected, but he's not likely to light a team up from there. He dropped 23 on both Creighton and Seton Hall, albeit both in losing efforts.

Reserves

DePaul doesn’t go that deep on the bench. Justin Roberts is a freshman guard with a real turnover problem who will see some time off the pine at the point. Paul Reed is a 6’9” freshman big man who has shown some promise as a scorer and has really hit the boards hard in conference play. Other than those two dudes, nobody on DePaul has gotten double-digit minutes off the bench since the calendar turned.

Three questions:

Can Xavier seal the deal? The Musketeers are one win away from being the sole champions of the Big East. There’s no taking down the banner that they have rightfully earned, but it would surely be nice to leave Villanova second outright for the first time in the new Big East.

How motivated will the Blue Demons be? It will be their senior night, but this game is a dead rubber. The only way DePaul is going anywhere is if they win the Big East conference tournament. There is pride on the line, but precious little else.

Can Xavier get everyone clicking? This game is a tune-up as much as anything for Xavier. Getting everyone going will be a major focus, as will keeping everyone healthy. Seeing Kaiser Gates knock down a couple of jumpers, Paul Scruggs regain the form from late January and early February, and Tyrique Jones log 15+ minutes would all be encouraging signs.

Three keys:

Keep Strus and Maric away from the line: DePaul isn’t a good free throw shooting team, but Max Strus and Marin Maric are both excellent at the line. Winning the freebie war is how Xavier beat Providence and a large part of doing the same thing to the Blue Demons will be keeping their two competent shooters away from easy points.

Be patient: Last time these teams met DePaul led by a wide margin in the second half before completely imploding. That came in large part because the Demons turned the ball over on a shocking 28% of their possessions, including 34% in the second half. This team will beat itself given enough time, but panic and you play right into their plan of turning you over.

Score inside: When teams shoot better than 45.5% inside the arc against DePaul the Blue Demons are 2-17. Xavier is shooting 56.7% from two point range on the year. That’s pretty much all there is to that.