College basketball, even against low D1 opponents, is not supposed to be as easy as Indiana has been making it look this year. Coach Miller called them as close to being a complete team as you can get in the pregame presser, and it's easy to see why. They've romped to walkover wins against Morehead State and Bethune-Cookman - again, not the cream of the D1 crop - without breaking a sweat. The lowest in-game win probability they've registered on KenPom is the 96.9% they had in the early going of their opener against Morehead. Through two tune-up games, they've looked pretty frickin tuned.
Xavier also boasts a spotless record, though the path has been slightly trickier. They played Morgan State even aside from one monstrous run that buried the game. They made Montana look like the cursory beating it was, but the Fairfield game was a fairly tepid showing aside from the fun statistical oddity that is a triple-double courtesy of Zach Freemantle.
Part of the reason X looked less convincing against Fairfield was the absence of star wing Colby Jones. The team leader in usage rate and assist rate despite often playing off the ball, he proved how vital he is by his absence. Sidelined by an ankle sprain in practice on Monday, he has been making slow but steady progress all week. He'll be a game-time decision based on how he looks in shootaround today.
What can you learn about a team's style from two games in which they haven't been challenged at all? Probably not too much. Maybe the most telling thing is that Indiana has gotten 42.7% of their minutes off the bench so far this year, good for 9th in the nation. I don't think they're necessarily exceptionally deep so much as they haven't needed to use their top guys because both games have been routs. Keep that in mind as we go through the rest of their numbers.
Their offense has been dominant. They are good for 3rd in the nation in EFG%, thanks largely to hitting almost 68% of their twos (also third). They're shooting 40% from deep, though they haven't taken many of those because of how thoroughly dominant they've been in the paint. Ball security and offensive rebounding have been okay but not great. Considering how well they've done in the paint, they're surprisingly low in free throw rate, ranking outside the top 100. Maybe that 25-point lead at the half last time out had the refs swallowing their whistles a bit.
Their defense has been even better. They're 11th in the nation in TO rate, a stat that no doubt throws up red flags for Xavier fans who have watched the team turn the ball over like their scholarships depended on it at times. They're hanging around the top 20 in DReb% and free throw rate, too. They're more good than elite in defensive EFG%, though we haven't really seen them play when there's a need to buckle down and force tough shots. This is a good team.
Indiana currently sit at 9th in the nation in bench minutes, with the lion’s share of those coming from the first four reserves. Sophomore guard Tamar Bates has gotten 23 minutes in both games so far and has yet to miss a two point field goal attempt. He is more apt to score than distribute on offense, and is a strong defensive contributor. Trey Galloway is currently leading the team in Ortg, due largely to his 3-5 mark from the floor this year and 0 turnovers in 34 minutes. Galloway has been in and out of the starting lineup in his two previous seasons at Indiana and has yet to crack the upper reaches of the rotation on a consistent basis. The most intriguing bench piece is 6’9” freshman Malik Reneau who is profiled as a point guard by KenPom. Although it has come against low major teams, Reneau’s shown an ability to both distribute and score while also cleaning the defensive glass. His drawbacks have been his propensity to turn the ball over and the typical foul trouble that comes with a freshman in college basketball. Jordan Geronimo plays backup to one of the best big man combos in the nation and does so ably. He struggles with foul trouble at times, but can score effectively at all three levels and gets on the glass at both ends.
- Stick to the game plan - Despite their strength on the interior, Indiana is not a team that is tremendously proficient at blocking shots and opponents have been more effective thus far scoring from inside the arc than from outside of it. Xavier has been relentless in their determination to get the ball inside against smaller teams so far this year and need to maintain that mindset against a team that more or less matches them in height.
- Limit live ball turnovers - Xavier has been very bad this season with turning the ball over, and against Fairfield they were in a contest much longer than many expected because of it. Indiana currently holds a 39 point scoring margin on fast break points through two games and if Xavier takes care of the ball the way they did against the Stags, Indiana will not be content to control the pace, they will rack up easy baskets and put Xavier in a hole.
- Keep Jackson-Davis off the glass - Trayce Jackson-Davis is currently 4th in the nation in offensive rebounding, grabbing 27.4% of his team’s misses thus far this season. This translates to 40% of his points at the rim being unassisted. As a player who does most of his work on offense in the paint, Xavier has to make it a priority to keep him from generating second chances by bullying them on the boards.
Is Colby good to go? Coach Miller’s latest update on Jones’ ankle was far from stellar, he didn’t practice Thursday, but he didn’t rule out the possibility that he plays against Indiana. With how Xavier struggled to get going in his absence on Tuesday night, it would be a welcome sight to see number 3 suit up tonight.
Is it still the Jack and Zach show? Xavier’s pair of big men have been excellent thus far this season and have controlled stretches off all three games so far. Over the last 10 minutes against Fairfield, they overpowered the Stags and eased Xavier to victory. With no disrespect intended to the frontlines Xavier has faced thus far, Indiana’s bigs are a different prospect entirely and Xavier’s two most consistent offensive contributors so far will have their work cut out for them.
Is the bench ready for big time? So far Xavier has not gone particularly bench heavy, even in wins that were all, for at least some stretch of the game, pretty foregone conclusions. Apart from Kunkel, who may start tonight if Jones isn’t a full go, and Hunter, none of Xavier’s reserves are currently within 20 points of a 100 Ortg, which is average. In a game that Xavier hopes to be in during the closing stages, can Claude, Craft, and Miles be counted on to give Xavier quality minutes?