Xavier is on the edge, there's no doubt about that. At 2-6 in the league, they're facing an uphill struggle to get to .500 in Big East play, and the resume - while not marred by bad losses - is starting to look NIT-ish to some observers. Coming off the heels of a gutting 84-82 home loss against Marquette that took two overtimes to decide, the Muskies need to rally.
Christmas was still a week and a half away the last time Seton Hall - Xavier's upcoming opponent - was defeated. Behind the unabashed volume scoring of Myles Powell, they've won 10 straight, including all 8 of their Big East games. Xavier was one of those victims, as the Muskies' defense of Cintas was doomed by an early 17-3 run by the Pirates that the game never recovered from.
The Pirates are still anchored by the league's number 1 defense. They block more shots than almost anyone in the country, over 17% of opponents' two-point efforts in conference games - and use the erasers in the middle to allow them to push the defense to the arc. They're solid at turning teams over and a tick below average on the glass, but they easily lead the league in defensive EFG% thanks to throwing so many shots.
On offense, they pass to Myles Powell. As a team they lead the league in two-point shooting and free throw rate, though they're 9th in the Big East in FT% (no points for guessing who is 10th). They keep the ball moving, leading the league in assist rate thanks in large part to PG Quincy McKnight, who I don't like but am beginning to begrudgingly respect.
|Quincy McKnight||Point Guard||Quentin Goodin|
|6'4" 185||Measurements||6'4", 194|
|If you are building the ideal point guard to play alongside Powell, you could hardly do better than this guy. His 44% assist rate leads the Big East, he usually does a good job looking after the ball, and he cashes out from three at a strong enough rate to draw attention from defenses. Went for 15/2/8 against X the first time around.|
|Myles Powell||Shooting Guard||Paul Scruggs|
|6'2" 195||Measurements||6'4", 196|
|There really isn't a ton to analyze here. Powell spends most of the game hunting his shots and knocking them down. Only a concussion slowed him down earlier in the season, but he has been in double figured every BE game so far.|
|Myles Cale||Small Forward||Naji Marshall|
|6'6" 210||Measurements||6'7", 222|
|Cale has taken a step back on offense this year, due largely to his EFG falling a couple of percentage points. He has shot better since league play began and has a knack for getting steals, but rarely troubles the double digits in scoring|
|Jared Rhoden||Power Forward||Jason Carter|
|6'6" 210||Measurements||6'8", 227|
|Since his breakout performance against Xavier, Rhoden has been in double figures 3 times in 5 games, including a clutch performance at Butler. Rhoden has been deadly when called upon in conference play, shooting 42% from deep and posting an EFG north of 60.|
|Romaro Gill||Center||Tyrique Jones|
|7'2" 255||Measurements||6'9", 239|
|Gill has emerged as one of the dominant big men in the conference. He boards well at both ends, scores when called upon, and gets to the line and shoots there well for a big man. All that being said, his defense is his calling card and he sits 4th in the nation in block rate at 15.2%.|
The first man off the bench is Anthony Nelson, who will spell McKnight from time to time at the point. He picks up a lot of assists, the trouble being he does not seem particularly picky about which team he is assisting, leading to a massive turnover rate. Shavar Reynolds brings defense and energy off the bench, but only made 4 field goals in January. Also, one of his KenPom comparisons is Ge’Lawn Guyn who I hate so very, very much.
Tyrese Samuel is a 6’10” freshman stretch 4 who has hit the skids in the scoring department in Big East play and is a bit of a Kaiser Gates type 3 and D big man. 7’2” Ike Obiagu comes off the bench to block shots and foul people while trying to block shots, both of which he does with frequency. 6’10” Georgian Sandro Mamukelashvili made his return against DePaul last game and is a major threat in a pick and pop action.
-Who is Quentin Goodin? In addition to being an answer I'd love to see on Jeopardy!, this question is kind of an ink blot test of your Xavier perspective. He has undeniably had his share of rough spots this year, but with him back against Marquette, Xavier posted more than a point per possession for the first time since the first Seton Hall game. X needs something special out of him the rest of the way to get something out of this season.
-Can X win on the road? Xavier's lone road win right now is the jewel of the resume, an 8-point defeat of TCU just before Christmas. The Muskies need at least two road wins the rest of the way to be in the at-large conversation; this would be a heck of a place to start that.
-Has Xavier learned anything since the last Seton Hall game? You don't need a post-grad degree in basketball to know that barfing up a 17-3 run will really hurt you, especially if you do it on the road. For a veteran team, the Muskies have looked shockingly naïve at times this year; they need to do the little, sometimes cynical things that it takes to slow down hot teams rather than being baited into fouling jump shooters and increasing the tempo, functionally sprinting towards their own defeat.
-Keep the crowd out of it. I hate the 11am start, especially for a campus-adjacent game, but it could work in Xavier's favor. Crowds in the morning are usually a bit flat until things can get heated up. If Xavier can keep the pace slow and the game grimy, the crowd's energy could stay muted.
-Pound the post. Xavier is one of the less than 30% of D1 teams that have a higher EFG% on post-ups than three-point attempts, meaning taking two on the block has been worth more than going for three on a jumper this year for X. Seton Hall's big men block a lot of shots, but they can also be foul prone, and getting Gill to the bench would behoove the Muskies. There's a high chance this could blow up in Xavier's collective face, but their perimeter shooting has proven equally volitale.
-Keep fighting. That's all there is to it. These 40 (or more) minutes of basketball will pass one way or the other. Xavier has been punching on the way down even during this slide; they'll go into South Orange* knowing Seton Hall isn't giving anything away for free. X will need a fighting spirit to go anywhere this year, and that plays out in microcosm today.
To find out how this game impacts Xavier’s tournament chances and how the Big East shakes out (and to kill some time over breakfast), listen to the Dispatches.