Elias Harden is out against St. John’s. Why doesn’t matter yet, but he’s not going to be in uniform or even with the team. That leaves Coach Travis Steele with 26 minutes from last game and 19.7 over the last four to find from his bench that currently contains Ryan Welage, Kyle Castlin, and Dontarious James. Where can the coach find the production he’s gotten from his sophomore guard?
Lean into the bigs:
St. John’s isn’t a big team. Sedee Keita is their only player over 6-7, and he only gets 14 minutes per game. Further, he’s thin and doesn’t play like a big who bangs. Xavier has two of those, and both are playing well right now. Jones and Hankins combined for 51 minutes last game. Could they play a total of 71? If Xavier can slow the Red Storm on offense and grind out another 60 possession game, that could be a way to keep their bigs in and fill Eli’s minutes.
Kyle Castlin and Ryan Welage:
Castlin and Welage have combined to start 27 of Xavier’s 28 games this year. Both are averaging over 18 minutes on the year, but didn’t hit double digits in the Nova win. Welage adds an element of three point menace against a team that surrenders three point shots by the bucketload. If Welly is hitting, this matchup presents him with a chance to well and truly go off. Kyle Castlin doesn’t have the same sharpshooting ability, but he provides a much, much more reliable presence on defense, which is where Harden has been shining recently. It seems most likely that these two will hoover up most of the minute crumbs that fall away from Harden’s absence.
Here things get sketchy. Keonte Kennedy is gone, no one else is left. James has played eight minutes as a season high, and that was on December 1st against Oakland. He last appeared in a cameo against Providence that left him with the statistical oddity of collecting a game played but not a minute. James has the body 6-7, 210 to compete with St. John’s guard/forwards, but he’s shown so little offensively that it feels like Xavier would be down a man on that end. Will Coach Steele have some faith in him? Options are limited if he doesn’t.