Every game this year is a gift, and our Muskies got a visit from the traditional number of magi last week. Oakland - who just took #25 Michigan to OT - was the first out of the stocking, followed quickly by Bradley and then Toledo. Xavier ended the week with a three wins from three, briefly holding the honor of the only 3-0 team in the nation.
They'll look to improve that mark to 4-0 against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels, themselves the proud owners of a 2-0 record. EKU hasn't exactly run the gauntlet, but you can only beat the teams in front of you, and North Florida and Charleston Southern have fit that bill so far. Neither team is exactly the Wooden Era UCLA squad, and neither ever looked like troubling EKU.
EKU plays fast, almost comically so, sitting 8th in the nation in tempo. They use all those extra possessions to stock up on missed shots, with a miserable EFG% of 38.6% and a truly breathtaking 16.1% mark from deep. They're good in ball security and offensive rebounding, but recycling possessions is kind of a fool's errand for a team that shoots this poorly.
On defense they force a lot of turnovers, sitting 5th in the country at a 30.5% TO rate. They're also just outside the top 50 in EFG% allowed, though some of that is no doubt down to their competition. They've been fairly permeable on the offensive glass, a fact that has no doubt been impressed upon Xavier's big men.
Tre King runs this team. He leads in minutes, usage, eFG%, and scoring. King also has the most size of EKU’s main players but only comes in at 6’9” (nice) and 225 pounds. Russhard Cruickshank is the starting point guard but had played fewer minutes than his understudy. Cruickshank has been most turnover prone on the team and doesn’t dish enough assists to counter that. Cooper Robb rarely turns the ball over, scores a little and rebounds a little but is shooting 4-18 on the season. Curt Lewis and Michael Moreno round out the starting lineup. Both shoot well inside the arc and badly from outside it. Lewis rebounds very well defensively and he and Moreno both hit the offensive glass hard.
Wendell Green is the freshman point guard who is second on the team in scoring and leads in assists. Green takes decent care of the ball, doesn’t shoot the 3 well in a small sample size and, like King, isn’t the most efficient scorer. Cheikh Faye is third on the team in scoring in limited time. This doesn’t mean his numbers are eye-popping though, his shooting stats are decent at the line and from 2 but his 3p% is just 18%. Tariq Balogun provides some size off the bench and gives King some rest. Outside of that he doesn’t do much. Peyton Broughton is the last prominent bench player and he is a typical role player who doesn’t do anything badly but doesn’t set the world alight.
-What is Paul Scruggs? There was a borderline consensus among Xavier fans that one perk of Dwon Odom's presence on the roster would be to free up Paul Scruggs to play off the ball, but the man is averaging 8 dimes on a 35% assist rate through three games while his shooting from deep has struggled. Late in the Toledo game he dug into his bag a bit and found his usual variety of mid-post footwork to put in some huge buckets for X, but he has looked way more like an all-around combo guard than a pure scorer early on. Throw in a couple of games with at least 6 boards and he may be on triple-double watch before the season is out.
-Does Xavier need more out of Nate Johnson? Obviously his 1-7 from inside the arc is less than ideal, but beyond that, he has been playing his role well for the Muskies. He has made 7 threes in 16 attempts through 3 games and played solid defense. His usage rate is 13.3% and he hasn't been turning the ball over. If he can hit 1 or 2 threes a game, not burn through possessions, and stay in front of his man, I'm not sure the Muskies need him to do much else.
-Is Kyky Tandy the team's offensive bellwether? Tandy was not good against Bradley, and the team scored 51 points in 59 painful to watch possessions. The game appeared headed in the same way against Toledo until Kyky found his range, then things took off even with Zach Freemantle in foul trouble. There may be guys who will grab more headlines, but early on, the offense seems to go when Kyky does.
-Seal the defensive glass EKU gets on the offensive glass hard. That, coupled with their poor shooting, means that most of their points come off of second chances. If X can limit them to one shot, they will struggle to get much offense going.
-Take care of the ball There isn’t a game where having turnovers is a good idea, but not having them is a point of emphasis here. EKU forces a lot of turnovers and attempts to unsettle teams. The Musketeers will need to keep their heads and the ball to get into an offense where they can exploit their mismatches.
-Take care of business EKU is considerably worse than both Toledo and Bradley. X struggled to put those games away but ended up getting it together just enough to win. Xavier cannot let EKU into the game and give them a chance to unsettle X. Come out and dominate early and move on to the next one.