Being battle tested is often a good thing in college basketball. A high major team from a competitive conference often earns that cliché moniker come March as a way of referencing a just above .500 conference record and a high KenPom ranking. Teams that have been through the wringer often handle lesser competition without much trouble. Schedule aggressively, play tough teams, reap the rewards.
That’s not always the case though. The French Army in World War II was also battle tested, but no one associates them with rampant (or any) success. The Central Michigan Chippewas are taking that particular path this season. Currently 318th in the KenPom, CMU has gotten hammered by DePaul, Gonzaga, and Kentucky so far in the non-conference. Their lone win comes over 346th Eastern Illinois by a point.
To continue belaboring my WWII analogy, the Chippewa defense has been the Maginot Line so far this season. Gonzaga gashed them for 107 on 78 possessions (1.37 ppp) and they haven’t fared well in their other games, either. On the year they are 340th in the nation in defensive efficiency. It is no exaggeration to say that they don’t do anything well on the defensive end. Their very best ranking is 141st in three point defense. That’s still very bad.
On offense CMU is better, but almost only in default. The Chippewas shoot 36.3% behind the arc (84th!) and shoot them pretty frequently. Other than that, Central Michigan doesn’t do anything well, offensive rebounds horribly, and plays far faster than their numbers suggest they should. This just isn’t a good team.
Starters for both teams represent my best guess, not something etched in stone. Xavier has shuffled the deck quite a bit due to illness and it will be interesting to see where the chips fall as they approach full health. Nine players have started at least one of CMU’s six games; I just put in the five dudes that I think will start this game. Full refund for the price of the preview if something in this grid ends up being wrong.
|Jermaine Jackson Jr.||Point Guard||Paul Scruggs|
|6'0", 175||Measurements||6'5", 198|
|A pretty good career shooter, Jackson has stepped to another level this season. He's shooting 6 threes a game and hitting almost half of them. He spends a lot of time with the ball in his hands; he has solid distribution numbers and is fairly middle of the road in terms of ball security. He drives to pull up; only about 1 in 10 of his shots happens at the rim.|
|Cameron Healy||Shooting Guard||Nate Johnson|
|6'3", 190||Measurements||6'4", 192|
|Healy shot 38.6% on 463 three-point attempts in his first two years at Albany before transferring in to CMU. He's not lifting at quite that rate this year, but he is deadly if left alone. He's a catch-and-shoot guy who has been catching and shooting; he doesn't offer much else.|
|Oscar Lopez Jr.||Small Forward||Colby Jones|
|If Lopez looks familiar, congratulations! You watch too much basketball. He played for DePaul the last two years but hasn't set foot on the floor against Xavier since February of 2020 (though he probably would have dropped something like 6 and 3 in 17 minutes if the 2020 Big East Tournament hadn't been cancelled. He's off to a fairly anonymous start for CMU. He isn't doing anything exceptionally well or - except for his shooting - exceptionally poorly.|
|Ralph Bissainthe||Power Forward||Jerome Hunter|
|6'7", 205||Measurements||6'8", 210|
|By rate and indeed by volume, an excellent defensive rebounder. He's ripping down a monumental 27.9% DReb%, and that's in just three games, two of which were Kentucky and Gonzaga. He's a monster on the glass. He missed the first three games and is still getting his legs under him, but he's a fairly limited offensive player who earns his scholarship on the defensive end.|
|Harrison Henderson||Center||Dieonte Miles|
|6'11", 240||Measurements||6'11", 231|
|CMU is Henderson's fourth school, as he has also seen the floor for USC, Milwaukee, and Southern. He's a career 25% three-point shooter who is currently taking a third of his field goal attempts from deep. That blunts his efficiency both on the offensive end and on the glass, where he's well below his numbers from last year. He's not much of a shot blocker and is extremely prone to foul trouble.|
Miroslav Stafl is the biggest name here. He’s a 6’11”, 235-pound forward who started the first two games of the year, missed the next three to injury, and featured off the bench last time out. He’s averaging 9.3/3/0.3 and is the biggest post threat on a three-happy team. He’s not a great rebounder for his height. Freshman guard Kevin Miller averages 8.2/0.5/1.5 on 43.2/36.4/100 shooting. He’s kind of a chucker, posting a shots% of 26.3%. Defensively, he’s got a good steal rate, though 6 of his 7 steals on the year came against DePaul and Eastern Illinois.
Brian Taylor is a 6’6” forward who started the first six games before moving to the bench, where he still gets good minutes. He averages 5.7/5.2/1, with most of his rebounding work occurring on the defensive end. He is a low-usage offensive player who is prone to turnovers, but his 35% mark from three carries just enough of a threat to require noting.
Forward Aundre Polk averages 4.3/1.5/0.3 and will provide depth on the front line. Freshman guard Jack Webb is deep cover for the guards; he plays about 11 minutes per game and has three (3) career points.
Central Michigan has started 9 different players and gets about 35% of their minutes off the bench. I’m not convinced they’re super deep; it looks to me more like they’re still working on finding out what combinations of personnel work, plus getting everyone some run in blowouts.
- How long can Zach Freemantle play? This has been the plan all along, and it’s looking good so far. Xavier is 5-1 with two Q1 wins without Freemantle and now he has the weakest team on Xavier’s schedule to get back up to speed. Seeing X’s best player for 10-15 minutes would be a great sign tonight.
- What will the rotation look like? Freemantle isn’t the only player working his way back. More than half the roster spent last week vomiting everywhere. Ben Stanley (knee) and Kyky Tandy (lung infection) are both back in the mix. This game will give Coach Steele a chance to stretch the rotation and see where, or if, everyone fits.
- What is to gain from this game? This isn’t a game that will sharpen anyone. The line favors Xavier by 24, KenPom has them by 23. The best possible outcome is no injuries and a chance to see what the lower level of the rotation can do. This is the game for Ben Stanley to get his ORtg above 50, Kyky Tandy to show he can be useful, and Cesare Edwards to demonstrate he merits more playing time.
- Don’t get hurt. Just please, don’t get hurt.
- Run effective offense. Against Norfolk St. Xavier got too far into attack mode and got sloppy as a result. 17 turnovers for a rate of 22.1% in a game you win by 40 is borderline unacceptable. The Musketeers don’t need to win by 40 tonight, they just need to demonstrate they can play a clean game. Feed the ball inside, take 20-25 threes, and only throw the ball to the guys with the uniforms that match yours.
- Continue to tighten up the defense. This team is going as far as the defense takes them. This is the kind of game where a bad team comes in and only does one thing well. Xavier needs to take that away and then put the clamps on the Chippewas. Letting CMU find a rhythm and keep this game close, even for a half, would be an indictment on the defense’s ability to truly lock down.