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Xavier v. DePaul: Preview, matchups, keys to the game.

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Xavier’s last best chance for a win.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at DePaul Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

It says something about both programs that in this, the worst Xavier season in a long time, the Musketeers are still better than DePaul. If you are a believer in Ken Pomeroy and his data driven method for setting odds of winning, this is the last game Xavier can expect to win this year. That they can expect to win it at all speaks to just how moribund the Blue Demons program is.

That’s not to say that DePaul is awful, because they aren’t, at least not compared to where they have been. The Blue Demons are 4-6 in the Big East and 115th nationally. That’s not great, but it’s better than the 183rd they were just two years ago. Calling them a program on the rise might be a stretch, but if they are a drowned corpse, they’re at least a free floating one now.

Team Fingerprint

The first thing I check is whether or not a team can shoot the three, and DePaul really can't. They are shooting them a bit better in conference play, but still just 34%, and they're 10th in the league in percentage of scoring from behind the arc. They're also 7th in two-point percentage and 9th in TO rate. Their offense lives and dies (but mostly dies) by virtue of their excellent OReb% and ability to get to the line.

Like their offense, their defense is 8th in the Big East. Like their offense, their defense excels on the glass and in free throw rate, in this case keeping opponents off the line. Other than that, their defensive is exceptionally permissive at all three levels.

Players

Devin Gage Point Guard Paul Scruggs
Senior Class Sophomore
6'2" 195 Measurements 6'3", 200
8.7/3.2/4 Game line 13/4.9/3.3
39.8/21.9/69.6 Shooting line 49.1/45.6/81.5
Gage eats a lot of minutes at the point for DePaul, but really struggles to have a positive impact on the offensive end. His distribution numbers are neither bad nor atrocious, but his absolutely woeful shooting numbers really hold him back.
Eli Cain Shooting Guard Kyle Castlin
Senior Class Senior
6'6" 200 Measurements 6'4", 193
12.6/3.3/3.8 Game line 4.9/3.6/0.9
41.4/35/69.7 Shooting line 40/26.8/73.2
Cain went from being the go to guy as a Sophomore to either second or third option, depending on personnel. He relies on his outside shooting to score the ball and is wildly inconsistent, having followed up a 9-16 snap earlier in the season with a 2-11 performance against Boston College.
Max Strus Small Forward Naji Marshall
Senior Class Sophomore
6'6" 215 Measurements 6'7", 222
17/6.7/2.6 Game line 13/6.8/3.3
40.1/34.5/76 Shooting line 39.8/22.8/72.6
This is the guy you obviously have to watch out for. He is capable of scoring from all over the place and DePaul usually need him to do so to be anywhere close to competitive. He did turn the ball over 6 times in his last game and struggled mightily when he met Xavier earlier in the season.
Paul Reed Power Forward Tyrique Jones
Sophomore Class Junior
6'9" 210 Measurements 6'9" 235
11.7/8.2/1 Game line 11/7.2/0.6
54.3/37.5/81 Shooting line 61/0/68.1
Reed has been one of the breakout stars of the Big East this year, coming in the top 5 in rebounding rate at both ends, blocking shots well, and shooting 94% from the line. He has only been held to single digits twice in league play and posted 17 and 9 against X earlier in the year.
Jaylen Butz Center Zach Hankins
Sophomore Class Senior
6'9" 224 Measurements 6'11", 245
7.4/5.3/0.9 Game line 10/4.7/0.9
64.9/0/57.9 Shooting line 70.4/0/58.5
Butz is an incredibly efficient scorer around the basket, but does not get touches there all that frequently. He does a lot of the dirty work around the rim for DePaul, can struggle with foul trouble, and joined Reed in being tremendous against Xavier last time the teams met, with 16 points on 6 field goal attempts.

Reserves

With Jalen Coleman-Lands still ruled out by a broken hand, DePaul carries two major contributors off their bench. Femi Olujobi is a grad transfer who gives them good minutes in the low post and has been trading off the starting role with Butz all season. He is certainly making the most of his chance at the Big East, having scored double digits in every games since the opener against X. The backup guard is Lyrik Shreiner, who is a Junior and already at his third school. He turns the ball over a lot and shoots 32% from the field, so there may be a reason he is a bit of a basketball vagabond.

Three questions:

- Do these upcoming games matter? In the way that we are used to Xavier games mattering in February, no, they don’t. There is no bubble, no seeding, nothing that the result of this particular game is going to impact in the long run. You may have noticed that the game will be going on as planned anyway. For now, what Xavier needs to do is find out what they have in Travis Steele and the returning players. And enjoy Zach Hankins.

- Will DePaul ever matter in the Big East again? The Blue Demons are 115th in the KenPom for good reason. They aren’t awful, but they just aren’t good enough to factor in the Big East. Their two best players this year are seniors, and only two underclassmen are really making an impact. This is a program treading water.

- What does Xavier have in the tank? I loathe the tropes about “heart and hustle” and “wanting it more.” Applied talent is what decides games almost without exception. It will be interesting to see if the Musketeers are really into this game. The players know just as well that nothing until MSG matters, will they turn out at 100% for this one?

Three keys:

- Contain Max Strus: When Strus scores 20, DePaul wins. In games when Strus has hit that benchmark, the Blue Demons are 7-0. The last time he did was in an upset win over Seton Hall. Since then, DePaul is 1-3 and Strus hasn’t hit 20. For Xavier to stay in this game, they can’t let the Blue Demons highest usage player get rolling.

- Don’t shoot threes: DePaul allows a ton of three point attempts and a lot of them go in. Xavier doesn’t shoot a lot of threes but hardly any of them go in. The three is going to be there for the taking all game, if people not named Scruggs, Welage, or maybe even Goodin are shooting them, Xavier will lose.

- Find out what is in the cupboard: Is Elias Harden a super sub? Is he a sniper? Is he a walking turnover? Is he an adept defender waiting to be unleashed? Is he somehow all of that? It’s hard to tell when his playing time chart looks like the EKG of someone with a serious heart issue. Keonte Kennedy similarly played 22 minutes Jan 6th against Marquette and has played a total of 21 in the seven games since. Dontarious James played for the first time in 2019 last time out, so we at least know he hasn’t been kidnapped or something. Are any of those guys on Xavier’s next NCAA tournament team? Now is the time to find out.

And enjoy Zach Hankins.