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Xavier v. DePaul: Preview, matchups, keys to the game

Xavier faces another game with very little upside when they take on DePaul on Saturday

NCAA Basketball: Connecticut at DePaul
An arm blocked it, but this guy almost beat Xavier last time the teams met.
Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Did you play basketball in high school? If so you remember that time they trotted out the JV for some sort of exhibition game before the season started. A handful of parents would come, the cheerleaders would be there to work out routines, and the coaches refereed. This was a lose-lose situation for the varsity team. Win and it is what was expected. There was nothing to be gained from beating the team beneath you. Lose and the entire school would be talking about it. It was an exercise is just making sure you didn’t get embarassed for 32 minutes. No fun, no one to impress.

Yep, that intro means that Xavier is playing DePaul again. The Blue Demons are coached by a guy who protects sexual predators and have gone 1-9 after their usual completely deceiving hot start to the season. If DePaul follows their current pattern, they will win again on the 12th of February against Providence. Their lone January win was the 13th. The last time they won before that was the 14th of December, 11 days before Christmas. No one is impressed if you beat DePaul. People will laugh if you lose.

Team fingerprint:

DePaul plays offense fast, probably so they can get it over with. Their strength, and they are very good at it, is offensive rebounding. They facilitate this strength by shooting horribly at all three levels. Against Xavier the last time out the Blue Demons grabbed 36.4% of their 40 misses. DePaul doesn’t shoot a lot of threes and they do go one on one a lot. They have a couple of players who can have big games, but on the whole this offense is garbage.

Defensively DePaul blocks shots without fouling. They don’t do much anything else terribly well, but they will make life painful for scorers in the paint. This leaves them susceptible to offensive rebounding and they don’t defend the arc terribly well. The Blue Demons are 118th nationally on offense and 114th nationally on defense. That will beat you teams like Rutgers and Louisville, but it won’t do much else.

Personnel

The biggest story here is that DePaul star Javon Freeman-Liberty is out for the fifth consecutive game with a groin strain. He's one of about a dozen players leading their teams in points, rebounds, and assists per game, so it's hard to overstate how vital he is to the Blue Demons. On the other hand, he was out for the first matchup between these teams as well, and X only won that by one (as you might recall).

Starters

Starting matchups
Jalen Terry Point Guard Paul Scruggs
Sophomore Class Senior
"6'0"", 165" Measurements "6'5"", 198"
7.2/2.7/3.1 Game line 11.6/4.6/4.4
34.5/32.3/85 Shooting line 41.1/31.7/68.8
Terry is good at shooting but bad at selecting shots. He dropped 28 on Seton Hall and is cash from the free throw line, but big performances like that have been few and far between for him. He's kind of lead guard by default with Freeman-Liberty out; he has struggled with ball security issues.
Javan Johnson Shooting Guard Nate Johnson
Senior Class Senior
"6'6"", 205" Measurements "6'4"", 192"
7.1/2.2/0.4 Game line 10.6/2.6/1
42.1/37.9/70.6 Shooting line 42.9/40.3/75.7
An Iowa State transfer who only made his debut at the start of Big East play, Johnson is mostly a shooter for DePaul. He has 4 assists all season; he had 6 games with at least that many last year. Though he doesn't really distribute or rebound for the Blue Demons, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that he blocks a lot of shots for a guard.
David Jones Small Forward Colby Jones
Sophomore Class Sophomore
"6'6"", 195" Measurements "6'6"", 207"
14.4/7.3/1.9 Game line 9.9/5.1/1.3
43.2/29.1/66.7 Shooting line 46.2/20/70.6
This guy. He has almost tripled his PPG output from a year ago and went off against X in Chicago, dropping 26 and helping DePaul establish a huge early lead. He can score at all three levels, crushes the glass, and plays excellent defense. Also, he's left-handed. With Freeman-Liberty out, he's at the top of the scouting report.
Brandon Johnson Power Forward Zach Freemantle
Senior Class Junior
"6'8"", 220" Measurements "6'9"" 220"
10.7/7.1/0.9 Game line 9.9/5.1/1.3
42.2/30.2/64.8 Shooting line 46.2/20/70.6
Interestingly Johnson is shooting 36.4% from both inside and beyond the arc in conference play. He's a solid rebounder by rate at both ends who accumulates big volume numbers because he rarely comes off the court. He draws a lot of fouls and gets to the line as well as anyone in the league, but he lets himself down a bit with his free throw shooting. He's not much of a rim protector.
Nick Ongenda Center Jack Nunge
Junior Class Junior
"6'11"", 210" Measurements "7'0"" 245"
8.2/4.1/0.7 Game line 12.3/7.2/0.7
50/0/54 Shooting line 52.4/32.7/78.2
Ongenda protects the heck out of the rim, though he can be a bit foul prone in so doing. He's more present on the offensive glass than the defensive, likely because he's off chasing blocked shots so much. He shoots a staggering 34% from the field and 39% from the line in Big East play.

Reserves

Yor Anei functionally splits the minutes at the 5. He's a 6'10", 220-pound senior who blocks a ton of shots and crushes the glass at both ends. Unlike Ongenda, he can actually score as well, shooting .529/.000/.690 on the year. He would probably be starting if he didn't commit almost 6 fouls per 40 minutes.

Philmon Gebrewhit is a 6'7" junior who provides some wing cover. He shot 0-6 in the first matchup, but he can be a pesky defender and occasionally gets hot from deep. Courvoisier McCauley comes off the bench to contribute at the guard positions. He made a three against Xavier and is generally a low-usage, high-efficiency depth option.

Three questions:

- Can Xavier get Nate Johnson going? Both Nate and Coach Steele have said that what super senior needs is to see the ball go through the net early in the game. X will likely try to run a couple early sets to get Johnson going with clean looks. The Musketeers need someone, anyone, to start making threes.

- How will Freemantle and Nunge handle DePaul inside? Jack Nunge didn’t start the last time these two teams played, but he was the most important player. Nunge went for 23/6/1 and was 2-3 behind the arc. Freemantle, on the other hand, went for 7/9/1 and struggled mightily from the floor. If Nunge is hitting from deep again, look for Xavier stick with two posts and make DePaul figure out how to defend it. If he isn’t, X may go small.

- Can X put together 40 minutes of basketball? Against Creighton it was 20. Against Butler it was 30ish. That’s a trend that is going the right way, but basketball games are 40 minutes long. It would be very comforting to Xavier fans to see the Musketeers put together a complete effort and win this game by beating DePaul from the tip to the final horn. X could win this by 20 or they could win this by 1. A win is a win, but only one of those sends Xavier Nation into Sunday happy.

Three keys

-Win on the glass. DePaul is the worst shooting team in the league by EFG%, but they commit numbers to the offensive glass and run two bigs most of the time. They beat Xavier on both ends in rebounding in Chicago and had a dozen second chance points. It's unlikely they'll match their hot shooting from the first half last time that allowed them to build a lead, but there's every chance they'll feast on the boards of X isn't vigilant.

-Keep it clean. DePaul is third in the league in both free throw rate and percentage of points scored from the line. They're not a good shooting team, and they rely on foul shots for a good portion of their scoring. Xavier is 11th in the country in defending without fouling. That should serve them well today.

-Make shots. Groundbreaking analysis! How long Xavier stays in the hunt in March will likely be determined by how well their jumpers are falling. Xavier is 24-109 (22.0%) from three in losses and 130-353 (36.8%) in wins. If this team shoots well, suddenly the floor opens up, the layups get a little easier to convert, and the Muskies are unstoppable. Nate Johnson gets a lot of the focus, but Adam Kunkel is 2 of his last 13 from deep and Paul Scruggs is at 29.2% in Big East play. This is as good a time as any to get healthy before the stretch run.