Xavier started the season the best way possible, which is moving to 1-0. The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step, and the run to an undefeated campaign can't happen without that vital first result. You'll get no argument here if you point out that X chose a fairly unchallenging path to that spotless record, but a win is a win... right?
Testing that theory is Xavier's next opponent, Jacksonville. They started their season with a comical drubbing of Johnson University Florida, a school that is literally shutting down after this academic year. Jacksonville racked up 89 possessions in that game, apparently not content to take their foot of the throttle en route to a 113-46 final score. Well done, lads.
But hey, clash of the undefeateds! Only one of these teams will maintain its unblemished record after tonight. As the season wears on, those kinds of opportunities become increasingly rare, so maybe we should cherish this moment for what it is.
It's hard to say, honestly. Unless you assume they'll play like they did against Johnson, then it's really easy: they're an unstoppable wrecking crew.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say they'll look more like head coach Jordan Mincy's teams have the last couple of years against D1 competition. They'll play agonizingly slowly and not get to the glass or the line on offense. They'll probably shoot an above average amount of threes and not convert at an especially impressive rate.
On defense, they'll probably again do their best to limit the number of possessions in the game. They pack the paint and completely concede the arc, letting teams fire almost half their shots from deep. The Muskies eschewed the long range game for the most part last time out; we'll see if anything changes tonight.
The Dolphins haven't accumulated and D1 stats, so still no starters grid. Purdue on Monday will presumably not have the same problem.
Jacksonville starts a couple of husky lads up front in the 6'9", 220 Stephon Payne and 6'7", 230 Bryce Workman. They're both traditional big men and good rebounders at the low-major level; in their 130 combined career games, they're a total of 3-14 from behind the arc. They also both foul like it's their shared job.
Wing Robert McCray V is not only better than the previous IV iterations, he's also the danger man (or danger Dolphin, if you prefer) on the team. A Wake Forest transfer, he's an excellent shooter and probably the main deep threat on the team. He shot a cool 8-11/3-6/0-0 in the glorified warmup.
Rounding out the backcourt are Gyasi Powell and Josiah Sabino. Powell doesn't do much with the ball except shoot it, but he's pretty good at that and a solid rebounder for a guard. Sabino got his first taste of college action against Johnson and will be getting his first taste of D1 action tonight. He took a redshirt last year before sliding right into the starting lineup.
Combo guard Marcus Niblack led bench scorers and assisters with 12/1/6; he's on his 4th college and has been a steady box score stuffer everywhere he has gone. Veteran guards Jarius Cook and Zach Bell came off the bench gunning to the tune of a combined 2-11 from deep. I suspect they'll both be out there looking to lift again tonight.
Freshman big men Donovan Rivers and Tito Deng are a study in physical opposites. Rivers is 6'9", 220 and was all over the glass at both ends. Deng is 6'11", 186 and - in addition to having a little body type (it's just genetics, I guess) - grabbed 3 offensive boards and blocked 2 shots in just 11 minutes of play. He might fight the competition in the middle a little tougher tonight.
- What should we expect? RMU didn’t offer much but was still a challenge. Jacksonville went the other way and did the college basketball equivalent of holding the ball up high so your little brother can’t reach it. (Older brothers out there, be wary of your spot in the genetic lottery if you do this.) The Dolphins shouldn’t be too hard to swat aside, but the Founding Father not shocking college basketball this season shouldn’t have been either.
- Is the rotation already short? There’s always talk in March of how coaches trim up the rotation and cut bench minutes in the big games. Sean Miller got the jump on that by going nine deep and playing Des Claude for 37 minutes. Kam Craft is out, maybe for the season, Lazar Djokovic is hurt, and Reid Ducharme was a healthy scratch. Is X really down to nine already?
- Is Des Claude making the jump? Claude came out on Monday and just dominated the game. He was the best player on the floor for all but three minutes of the game, he shot the ball well, he got to the line, and he looked comfortable off the ball. Another game like that may well answer the question of who Xavier’s best player is this season.
- Get something from the (domestic) freshman: The three that played combined for a line of 4-4-4 in 41 minutes. That’s not great. Thankfully the Euro guys were around, but Xavier must get something from their highly touted freshman class if they are going to have success this year. No better time than the present to start.
- Execute better: Xavier was sloppy against RMU. That’s to be expected from a group of guys who haven’t ever played together before. They may get away with that again tonight, but things get much tougher after that. The Musketeers need to lock it up, and soon.
- Bury the game early: The Dolphins aren’t very good. X needn’t be messing about with this one like they were RMU. Des Claude can’t play Souley Boum minutes all year without having the same thing happen to him in March. Reid Ducharme needs to see the court, Sasa Ciani will be need against Edey and could us more run, and the team needs to see what it has in the youngsters. Put this thing out of reach and let the recruits get some run together.