Xavier is off to a start that has them really earning that "World's Okayest High-Major" mug. Sure, they're 3-1, but none of their wins are going to be on the top line of the resume come March. The loss was a hard-fought but eminently winnable battle with title contender Indiana. X has been strong, but there are still plenty of areas for improvement.
The Phil Knight Invitational this week gives the Muskies a really good shot to figure out some things about themselves. Against Florida on Thanksgiving and then with two more possibly high-level foes as the tournament develops, there's no rest for Sean Miller's team in his second first year as head man here. There's plenty left to find out, but here are three things I'd really like to know by the time we go back to work on Monday.
Can this team defend the glass?
Xavier is currently 267th in the country in defensive rebounding possession. That's dreadful, and it cost them the game last week when Indiana converted 12 offensive boards and a 36.4% OReb rate into 15 second-chance points. Coach Miller compared the glass in basketball to the line of scrimmage in football and said Xavier just "isn't joining the fight" on the defensive boards right now.
Zach Freemantle is about in the same spot in DReb% as he was last year, but Jack Nunge and Colby Jones are both way down. While the fight begins up front and X certainly has to get better rebounding from both the PF and especially the C positions, it's at the 3 and the 2 that they're significantly behind national average on the defensive glass. Having the guards take a little more responsibility when the shot goes up will be something to watch in Portland.
Who can contribute off the bench?
Xavier is 120th in the nation in percentage of minutes off the bench, but it doesn't feel like they've gotten much bang for their buck in that time. Instead, it has felt like Adam Kunkel is starter number 5.5 and then there's a rotation of ninth men behind him. Des Claude has had trouble impacting games on both ends in the ways you'd expect from a freshman. Kam Craft has shown promise but hasn't earned consistent run, hasn't made a three, and is turning the ball over a lot. Jerome Hunter can't stop fouling, and Dieonte Miles and Cesare Edwards have been functionally invisible despite an aggregate height of almost 14 feet.
It seems unlikely that Xavier can battle through a Big East season with a rotation of 7, but right now all Miller has to deploy off the bench is Kunkel's flamethrower and Hunter's 5 fouls, which generally carries him about 12 minutes. It seems likely that Craft and Claude will develop as the season goes on, but the schedule isn't really set up for them to ease into it and that still doesn't solve the problem of how to not have Nunge and Freemantle average 34 minutes a game each. Someone tall needs to step up.
Is Souley Boum The Guy?
Not just the guy for the job at point, but The Guy. Early returns have been positive. He's nails at the kine, and the three he cashed to cut Indiana's lead to 1 late on was stone cold. Of course, there was also the slip with a chance to take the lead and the foul trouble that hampered him all game. He has the tools, but little things can make a big difference at this level.
If it isn't Boum, who is it? Nunge and Freemantle have both been efficient and successful early, but Jack struggled to reach his top level against Indiana and Frosty more often puts himself in good positions than he does creates his own shot. Colby Jones isn't afraid of the big moment, and both Kunkel and Tandy have shown that they can score from all over. Maybe X doesn't need a Tu Holloway figure this year, but at the very least they need a plan for closing games.
That's what I'm looking to learn from Xavier in Portland, what about you? What key things do you think we need to be able to take away from this weekend?