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Xavier v. Tennessee Tech: preview, matchups, keys to the game

Xavier has a chance to get healthy against a struggling Tennessee Tech team with the Shootout looming.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee Tech at Indiana Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier is 4-0. That is, in a sense, the best thing you can possibly say about a team after four games. It’s also, for many of us who watched the games, where the good news stops. The less said about Xavier’s last three wins, which they led by a cumulative total of four points at the end of regulation, the better. We’ll leave it there.

Tennessee Tech is 0-2. That is, in a sense... you get it. In their first game out, they surrendered a 40-4 run to Indiana en route to a 30-point loss. That game improved their KenPom ranking. Their next time out, they led by 4 with just over 4 minutes to play, then gave up a 14-0 run that took their win probability from 78.6% to 0.0%. Those two runs have pretty much defined TTU’s season to this point.

Team fingerprint

For what it’s worth, TTU’s head coach John Pelphrey has missed the first two games due to coronavirus concerns, leaving assistant Marcus King at the helm.

It hasn’t gone well. The offense has been abysmal, landing below 200th in the nation in TO rate, OReb%, and free throw rate. They’re a sparkling 185th with a 45% EFG% thanks to a respectable 53.6% from inside the arc. They’re shooting just 20% from deep and 57.7% from the line. Their total offensive output results in an ORtg of 89.5, good for 339th in the nation.

The defense is a bit better at 231st. They don’t force turnovers at all (thank God!), but they’re scrappy on the glass and do a decent job at forcing tough shots. Teams are only shooting 20% from deep on them so far this season, though it’s hard to tell if that’s from scheme or simply bad shooting. At 14.5 seconds, their defensive possessions are some of the shortest in the nation.

Players

Starters

Starting matchups
Keishawn Davidson Point Guard Dwon Odom
Sophomore Class Freshman
6'2", 175 Measurements 6'1", 180
14.5/7/4.5 Game line 7.5/4.8/5
45.8/20/85.7 Shooting line 45.2/0/50
Davidson has been the guy for TTU this season so far, playing 90% of the team's minutes and leading in field goals (and attempts), assists, and defensive rebounds. Oh, and scoring. He doesn't get to the rim as often as he pulls up, and - while he shot 33% from deep last season - he hasn't gotten his eye in this year. Ball security has been an issue.
Dane Quest Shooting Guard Paul Scruggs
Sophomore Class Senior
6'6", 190 Measurements 6'4", 196
2.5/5.5/1 Game line 12/4/7
16.7/0/60 Shooting line 41.9/15/60
The actual starter here through two games this year has been senior Maverick Smith, but he has never had a minutes percentage over 6% on his career and has an ORtg of 11. Quest hasn't exactly been lighting the world on fire, but he's a good rebounder and has good size. More on the Tennessee Tech guard situation below.
Austin Harvell Small Forward Nate Johnson
Freshman Class Senior
6'6", 215 Measurements 6'4", 195
9/3/1 Game line 8.3/10.3/1.3
47.1/25/0 Shooting line 44.4/22.2/87.5
Harvell has taken more than a quarter of the team's shots when he's on the floor. Beyond that, he hasn't done much else. He doesn't use many possessions if he's not shooting the ball, doesn't board it a ton, and hasn't compiled a whole ton of defensive stats. He just kind of fills space and shoots the ball.
Kenny White Jr. Power Forward Jason Carter
Freshman Class Senior
6'7", 205 Measurements 6'8", 227
10/2.5/0.5 Game line 8.3/10.3/1.3
42.1/22.2/33.3 Shooting line 44.4/22.2/87.5
In 59 minutes this year, White has turned the ball over 10 times. That's good for a team, but borderline catastrophic for a single player. He doesn't board it very well, but he's a solid rim protector. It's hard to get past that 1:10 A:TO, and it's that complete lack of ball security that is dragging down his efficiency.
Shandon Goldman Center Zach Freemantle
Senior Class Sophomore
6'10", 225 Measurements 6'9", 225
9/6.5/0.5 Game line 18.3/9/1.5
34.8/16.7/0 Shooting line 63.5/41.7/50
On his career (that has now spanned three D1 programs), Goldman has basically split his attempts from inside and beyond the arc. He boards it pretty well, as you might expect from a man his size, but he isn't much for blocking shots. He's among the team's leaders in usage rate and leads it in shots%, but he isn't making shots right now. Until he does, he's just a really big dude lingering too far from the rim.

Reserves

The big questions here are around guard Jr Clay and wing Tujautae Williams. Clay is a junior guard who led the team in scoring last year. He’s a bit of a volume shooter, but they’re not exactly loaded with other options. Williams is a sophomore wing who was a miserable shooter last year but rebounds well. Both of these players are still awaiting their debuts due to Covid protocols.

Amadou Sylla is a 6’8”, 235-pound junior who has been crushing the glass and scoring efficiently on his way to a game line of 5/7.5/1. He’s also posting a block rate of 9.4% on the young season, which is even better than Dwon Odom’s. Marcus Hopkins is a true seven-footer and hasn’t missed from the floor yet this year. That consists of a total of three shots, and he’s averaging 4 and 2.5 in limited minutes.

Guard cover is, for the time, provided by Taelon Peter, who isn’t doing much of note with his 13 minutes per game.

Three questions

- Who plays? Do Clay and Williams shake clear of the ‘rona to make their season debuts? For that matter, do CJ Wilcher, Colby Jones, and Zak Sweyte? Will Adam Kunkel receive an eligibility determination from the NCAA? Will Xavier decided to say “screw it” and throw Ben Stanley on? It’s 2020, there are no rules, and anything can happen.

- Can Xavier at least demonstrate some progress? That would come in the form of taking care of the ball and keeping the Golden Eagles off the glass. Tennessee Tech isn’t good at forcing turnovers or getting offensive rebounds, so that shouldn’t take much doing, but then it shouldn’t take much to beat EKU. Just give some reason for hope, that’s all Xavier Nation asks.

- Is there a second consistent shooter on the team? Nate Johnson has been shooting at a steady rate. 1-4 represents his worst game. Kyky Tandy has shot well in two games and is 1-10 in the other. Paul Scruggs can’t find the range at all, and Zach Freemantle’s 5-12 is good, but not indicative of him becoming a threat. One of the guards needs to start hitting.

Three keys

- Run away: This should not be a close game. KenPom has Xavier as a 21 point favorite, the Vegas consensus sees the Musketeers as a 23 point favorite. There is a huge game coming up that will be close. Xavier needs to bury this early and then rotate the minutes as much as you can with eight guys.

- Keep the ball moving: Xavier is 26th in the nation in assisting on made field goals. That sort of movement has saved them a couple of times already and Nate Johnson’s lead taking three in overtime against EKU came from it. It won’t be necessary (God willing) against Tennessee Tech, but it will in every game after that. It’s important that X stays in the good habit of keeping the ball moving so they don’t fall back into the bad habit of pounding the ball against better competition.

- Stay healthy/rest: How Xavier does this is beyond me. They are eight deep right now because they are following the Covid rules that Gonzaga and Kansas are blatantly disregarding. Xavier shouldn’t join those two, but that has left them in a position where legs are already looking tired. There is a three day lay off before UC. X just needs to hit that without any overuse injuries or positive tests.