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Xavier v. Seton Hall: preview, matchups, keys to the game

Sean Miller makes his Big East home debut against a Seton Hall team that is struggling through a coaching transition of its own.

NCAA Basketball: Providence at Seton Hall Thomas Salus-USA TODAY Sports

A dozen games into the season, Xavier has compiled a respectable 9-3 record against a difficult schedule. Unfortunately, 6 of those wins have come against competition that the NET currently considers Q4. The Muskies are coming off of a comprehensive offensive performance against Georgetown. Despite that game occurring on the road, the collapse of the Georgetown brand has been so comprehensive that it was just another notch in Xavier’s Q4 belt.

Seton Hall has been laboring a bit during the handoff from former coach Kevin Willard to current head man Shaheen Holloway. They won a couple of buy games early on before getting clubbed by Iowa. They hit a low with a three-game losing streak in late November that included a neutral-site loss to KenPom #209 Siena. They got right by crushing non-league Lincoln PA and dragged themselves to a win in a 45-43 slog against Rutgers. The Pirates currently sit at 7-5 (0-1) on the year.

The Hall is on the cusp of being a Q2 team, but this a Q3 game that has every chance of staying that way for the duration of the year. Xavier has big chances ahead, but this is a hurdle they can’t afford to stumble over at this point in the year.

Team fingerprint

It starts with defense for Holloway’s team, specifically crowding the space in which opposing offenses try to operate. They’re in the top 20 in the nation in defensive EFG% and 58th in turnover rate, forcing a miscue on almost 22% of possessions. That comes at a cost though, namely sending teams to the line at a rate that lands them at 263rd in the country. They’re also well below average in DReb%. It all adds up to the #26 defense in the nation as of this writing.

The offense is not as good. They’re 145th in the country, which isn’t hateful in the grand scheme of things but is pretty poor for a high-major team. They’re horrible at shooting, landing outside the top 200 in 2P%, 3P%, and FT%, which puts them at 264th in the nation in EFG%. They also turn the ball over with catastrophic frequency; their 22.4% TO rate is 336th in the country. They’re good on the offensive glass and absolutely elite in getting to the line, but they shoot so poorly it basically doesn’t matter.



Starting matchups
Kadary Richmond Point Guard Souley Boum
Junior Class Senior
6'6", 210 Measurements 6'3", 175
9/5/3.4 Game line 17.9/4/4.4
47.1/38.5/66.7 Shooting line 54.6/54/85.3
Richmond is a big dude for a point, but there's no doubt that's where he works. He leads the team fairly comfortably in assist rate. He contributes consistently on defense, posting an elite steal rate and being excellent on the defensive glass. He's an unspectacular shooter at all three levels, but he gets to the line pretty consistently.
Al-Amir Dawes Shooting Guard Adam Kunkel
Senior Class Senior
6'2", 180 Measurements 6'4", 185
11/3.3/1.6 Game line 10.8/1.9/2.2
40.5/41.9/84.2 Shooting line 50.6/44.4/85.7
A Clemson transfer who was brought in to be a threat from behind the arc, Dawes has been exactly that in his brief time at the Hall. He's absolutely shooting the eyes out of the ball from behind the arc and... not doing much else. He's only shooting 35.6% from inside the arc and isn't a big contributor on defense.
Jamir Harris Small Forward Colby Jones
Senior Class Junior
6'2", 192 Measurements 6'6", 205
5.5/1.7/1.3 Game line 14.6/5/5.8
31.5/23.5/57.1 Shooting line 49.1/46.7/78
An ankle injury to Femi Odukale has Harris in (my best guess at) the lineup here. He was a sniper in two years at American and shot 35% from deep last year, but he's off to a pretty weak start this season. He's been fairly invisible on offense and isn't statistically present on defense or the glass. There need to be five people in a starting lineup, and as far as I can tell that's the length and bredth of Harris's contributions so far this year.
KC Ndefo Power Forward Zach Freemantle
Senior Class Senior
6'7", 206 Measurements 6'9", 225
8/5/0.8 Game line 13.6/7.3/3.2
53.3/10/62 Shooting line 60.4/57.1/67.6
Shaheen Holloway made the jump from Saint Peter's to take the Seton Hall job, and he brought Ndefo with him. Ndefo wasn't much on offense at that level, and that has carried over to this one. What he has been is an incredibly active defender who protects the rim like a larger man and is difficult to get around as a primary defender. He has been prone to both turnovers and fouls, and he's a pretty poor free throw shooter.
Tyrese Samuel Center Jack Nunge
Senior Class Junior
6'10", 235 Measurements 7'0" 245
9.8/6.3/0.7 Game line 15.5/7.5/1.8
53.1/33.3/71.4 Shooting line 54.3/41.7/67.3
Samuel is a good rebounder on both ends, as you might expect from a man of his size. He's not great at blocking shots, but he holds his own around the rim. He's fouling a lot this year, 5.5 times per 40 minutes of play. That's not a huge concern, because he's getting less than 20 minutes of run per game. I can't speak to how much of that is because of foul trouble versus stamina or strategic concerns.


I’m going to start with Dre and Tae Davis because they share a surname. Dre is the better player at this point; he’s a 6’6” wing who averages 10.5/3.9/1 on 44.8/27.8/81.8 shooting. He’s a bit of a volume scorer, but he’s excellent in getting to the line and converting. He has struggled with foul trouble this year. Tae is 6’9” and an excellent offensive rebounder. He averages 4.3/3.7/1.2 and is not a strong shooter from anywhere on the floor. He fouls 5 times per 40 minutes.

Tray Jackson is a 6’10” senior big man who averages 8/2.5/0.2 per game. He’s a 35% three-point shooter in low volume and is 6-14 (42.9%) this season. He’s also fouling 7.4 times per 40 minutes, which is obviously limiting his value. For a dude his size, he’s not very present on the glass and doesn’t block many shots. Jaquan Sanders is a 6’4” freshman guard who gets about 10 minutes per game as a depth option.

Injuries have put Seton Hall’s roster composition into kind of a weird place. Don’t be surprised to see a lack of guard depth having them going big, maybe with Ndefo on the floor as a three for stretches of time.

Three questions

-Can Seton Hall score enough? Can they score at all, really? They most points they’ve scored away from home is the 70 they scored on a neutral site against Memphis, and that took them 73 possessions to accomplish. The only teams they’ve scored more than 70 against are Monmouth, Saint Peter’s, and Lincoln PA. That’s numbers 344 and 275 in the KenPom and a D2 team. They’re pretty dang limited on offense.

-Will Xavier stay hot? The Muskies were a scalding 14-26 from deep against Georgetown and are currently the number 2 three-point shooting team in the nation at 42.3%. Seton Hall is a step up in defensive prowess, but this Xavier team is shooting the ball really well right now. If they drop 40%+ on the Pirates, they’ll have accomplished something even more impressive than clobbering Georgetown.

-Is the defense ever going to show up for X? Seton Hall is not a good offensive team, as detailed above. Xavier’s defense is probably a little better than Seton Hall’s offense, but the Muskies haven’t bathed themselves in glory at that end of the floor. X can shoot themselves through games for now, but it’s essential that they figure out something to stop giving away points in a manner befitting the festive season.

Three keys

-Stay out of foul trouble. Seton Hall has a really deep bench, landing easily inside the top 50 in bench minutes. Xavier does not. Additionally, Seton Hall is absolutely elite at drawing fouls, sitting 6th in the country in free throw rate. The whistle wasn’t Xavier’s friend against Georgetown last time out, and the depth issues showed in keeping the Hoyas in that game until Souley Boum started driving nails. Seton Hall gets more than a quarter of their points from the line, 7th in the nation. Xavier shouldn’t help their struggling offense out by getting all slappy.

-Concede the arc. The Pirates can’t shoot. At all. They are bad from inside the arc but horrible beyond it. Getting into the paint also allows them to get to the line, which - again - is a huge part of their game plan. Packing the middle and letting Seton Hall chuck hopelessly from deep seems like the way forward here.

-Attack away from Ndefo. Ndefo is a little foul prone, but he’s an absolute eraser defensively. Only half of the same can be said for Tyrese Samuel and Tray Jackson, who both foul like they’ve got an NIL deal that pays bonuses for hacking. They can play, but they can be had. Freemantle, Jones, and Nunge are all very good at drawing fouls; they can put Shaheen Holloway into some tough spots by attacking through the players tasked with guarding them.