Xavier heads to New York City riding high on a four-game winning streak. A couple of underwhelming performances in buy games led to a big win over Ohio State University. There was no letdown in a trap game against Norfolk State, who the Muskies duly dispatched with prejudice. Off the back of that big win and with the roster getting healthier by the day, X has every reason to feel confident heading into the Thanksgiving weekend.
Iowa State is also 4-0, though it should be noted that Norfolk State - the worst team Xavier has played by some margin - would have been the second-best on the Cyclones’ schedule. They’ve beaten Kennesaw State, Alabama State, and Grambling State, three teams comfortably in the bottom 100 of the KenPom rankings. They also knocked off KenPom #100 Oregon State, leading almost wire-to-wire and having the game salted away before the U12.
Both of these teams will be away from home for the first time tonight. Xavier represents Iowa State’s first real test of the year, and the Muskies hope to dish out a failing grade (academic metaphor!).
The Cyclones are getting it done on defense so far this year. They’re in the top-40 nationally in defensive rebounding percentage, turnover percentage, and effective field goal percentage allowed. They’ve done a good job at limiting the offenses of the garbage teams they’ve played so far this year. Their one issue has been in fouling, where they’re 299th in the country in FT rate. Basically they’ve been mugging a lot of guys who they’re otherwise not having trouble limiting offensively. That bodes ill for their performance against more talented teams.
Speaking of things that don’t portend well, they haven’t been playing very good offense at all. They’re 173rd in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, which is poor for a power conference team. They’re scoring the ball well in the paint and sharing it well, but they aren’t doing much on the offensive glass and they’re fairly turnover prone. They also only shoot 30% from deep as a team, though Xavier fans live in a pretty glass house to be throwing that particular stone.
Iowa State tries to play quick and speed teams up on the defensive end as well. Xavier isn’t afraid to get out and go either, but their defense has generally done a good job of keeping teams in the half court.
|Tyrese Hunter||Point Guard||Paul Scruggs|
|6'0", 178||Measurements||6'5", 198|
|Sure it's against bad competition, but Hunter is putting up goofy numbers for a true freshman. His shooting has been mediocre, but he's in the top 50 nationally in assist rate and steal percentage. He's getting to the line well and converting at a decent clip. He hasn't been matched up against big, skilled guards like X has, but you can only beat the guys in front of you and he certainly has done this year.|
|Gabe Kalscheur||Shooting Guard||Nate Johnson|
|6'4", 198||Measurements||6'4", 192|
|His three-point percentage fell by 69 points after his freshman year and almost 100 points after his sophomore season. He has continued the trend this year, off to a horrible start from deep. He's second on the team in usage rate but ninth of the nine players who have seen real minutes in offensive efficiency. In addition to being an offensive black hole, he's also a complete zero on the glass and is committing almost 5 fouls per 40 minutes. Suboptimal start.|
|Izaiah Brockington||Small Forward||Colby Jones|
|This is a fun matchup between a couple of guard/wing types that crush the glass and get it done in the mid-range and at the rim. Brockington is more of a defensive rebounder and Jones flies to the offensive glass, but they're otherwise very similar in many regards. Brockington won't spend as much time on the ball as Jones, but he's dangerous finding soft spots in the defense and getting the ball into the basket.|
|Tristan Enaruna||Power Forward||Jerome Hunter|
|6'8", 220||Measurements||6'8", 210|
|Don't look at Hunter's line until you've read Brad's piece on how valuable he is despite some grim numbers. Beyond that, Enaruna is a low-usage, high-efficiency guy who finds most of his value on the offensive glass and the defensive end. He's active in both blocking shots and forcing turnovers. It will be interesting to see if these guys matchup directly or if their coaches move them to more high-priority assignments on the defensive end.|
|George Conditt IV||Center||Dieonte Miles|
|6'9", 234||Measurements||6'11", 231|
|Each of these guys starts but only plays about 17 minutes per game. Conditt is a big space eater who crushes the glass at both ends and is an excellent rim protector. He also averages a stunning 9 fouls per 40 minutes of play. Left to his own devices, I'm convinced my dude could easily foul out twice in a single game. He also turns the ball over like someone told him there's a secret prize for the guy who could do that the most.|
Caleb Grill is a 6’3” combo guard who averages 8/3.3/1.8. He doesn’t turn the ball over much and is tied for the team lead with 7 made threes on 20 attempts. He isn’t going to set the world on fire with his dynamism, but he is a solid role player. Tre Jackson is also tied for the team lead with 7 made threes, though on just 17 attempts. He’s a 6’0” lead guard averaging 6.8/2/1.8; he dishes the ball out more than Grill, but has a really bad habit of hitting the wrong team with it.
In terms of bigger lads, Aljaz Kunc is a 6’8” stretch four who averages 7/4/1. He’s a career 33% shooter from deep who is 6-10 this year. He’s a solid rebounder - especially on the offensive end - and an active defender. Robert Jones is 6’8”, 245 and rounds out the meaningful bench guys. He’s an okayish rebounder who does a good job of protecting the rim without fouling. He’s an efficient scorer but not an offensive focal point.
-How many guys does Xavier have healthy? Ben Stanley and Kyky Tandy made belated season debuts last time out after struggling with knee issues and bronchitis, respectively. Stanley looked ready to mix it up, but Kyky was still probably getting his legs under him a bit. In a month, Xavier will be playing conference games. Time is running out for guys to force their ways into the rotation.
-Can Dwon Odom get right? Odom was a sensation as a freshman, providing reliable distribution without turnovers at one end and dynamic ball pressure at the other. His offensive game has taken a big step back this year, but he’s still the same destructive force on defense. Against a small, dynamic lead guard, Xavier has a role for Dwon to play in this game. If he can get back to playing downhill and finding guys on his own team, he’ll give X a defensive weapon that will serve them well as the season wears on. This game feels like a big opportunity for him.
-Can Xavier protect the ball? The one thing that might keep Iowa State in this game is their ability to force turnovers. On the other side, Xavier has been coughing the ball up at an alarming rate, with Jones, Scruggs, Odom, and even Johnson struggling a bit compared to their numbers in that department. It all adds up to a TO% that sits 224th in the country for the Muskies. Early season rustiness, or early warning sign? We’ll find out this weekend.
-Own the paint. Xavier crushes the glass at both ends, blocks a ton of shots, and holds opponents to 36% shooting from inside the arc. Iowa State defends the glass well but otherwise doesn’t do a ton to make it look like their front line can stand against Xavier’s. The Nunge-Hunter axis has been very good all season, Dieonte Miles is an excellent defender if he can avoid the fouls, and Ben Stanley is a wild card with huge offensive potential if he can get healthy. Xavier should live in the lane tonight.
-Don’t let down. Norfolk State was such an obvious trap game that it ceased to be one, much in the same way that an actual trap that’s obvious is easily avoided. This could certainly be one, with a chance at a quad 1 game looming over the horizon on Friday and Iowa State easily the least-heralded team in the field. Xavier came out against Norfolk State and immediately started burying the game; they need that same immediate intensity in this one.
-Keep the ball moving. Xavier was 9th in the nation in assist rate last season; this year, they’re 20th. That is obviously quite good, and it’s something that needs to continue. The Muskies have some individually talented offensive players, but teams like Memphis, UConn, and Seton Hall, will force offenses to beat them as a team. A sticky ball will spell disaster down the road; it’s not a habit the Muskies can afford to get into against anyone.