To get where Xavier wants to go, they’re going to have to be able to beat teams like Purdue in venues other than Cintas. Maybe not this team, maybe not this year, but certainly this program. To hang the banners that matter, the Muskies are going to have to win games like this one. They’ll have to do it in March, but the groundwork for those opportunities is often laid in November.
Purdue was one of the top two teams in a 1-16 matchup last year, but that historic bedwetting doesn’t diminish how strong this team is right now. Don’t forget that the Virginia team that lost as a 1 seed won the tournament the next year; Purdue is already on a similar revenge tour, having swatted aside an okay Samford and an only sort of bad Morehead State by an aggregate score of 185-102. In 80 minutes of basketball so far, they’ve outscore their opponents by 83 points. That’s preposterous.
Xavier hasn’t been sweating them out, but they’ve sauntered to a couple of significantly more pedestrian wins. Despite what you might think if you had access to our group chat and got to see Brad soil himself therein during the Jacksonville game, the Muskies have never had a win probability below 95.5% this year. It hasn’t always been art, but the point of buy games is to iron out some kinks before you have to go on the road to a high-major opponent.
The time for working through stuff has passed. Xavier’s first real test of the year is upon us.
Good at everything? Purdue is the number one offense in the nation, powered by their ability to get shots wherever they want them. They play fast and share the ball well, landing 22nd in assist rate. They have an EFG% of 65%, 5th in the country, thanks largely but not exclusively to the insane rate at which they hit threes. They take 44% of their shots from behind the arc and hit 46.2% of those attempts. That’s absurd. They also hit 61.5% of their two-point attempts, just in case you thought it was all chucking. They’re just outside the top 100 in TO rate, OReb%, and FT rate, but they’re so good at making shots that it just hasn’t mattered.
Their defense is also nestled in the top 10 in adjusted efficiency. They don’t force many turnovers and they’re only slightly above average on the defensive glass, but they are 5th in the nation with a 34.1% EFG% and 12th in defensive free throw rate. They’re in the top 25 in two-point percentage, three-point percentage, and free throw percentage (or one-point percentage, if you liked how that was flowing) and have blocked 22% of opponents’ two-point shots. They’re doing a really good job and should feel good about themselves.
|Braden Smith||Point Guard||Dayvion McKnight|
|6'0", 175||Measurements||6'0", 188|
|Smith is a sensational distributor, assisting more than half of his teammates' buckets when he's on the floor. He's also a very good shooter; though he doesn't lift in volume, he's a career 39% shooter from behind the arc and has more mad threes than games played in his college career. For a dude who is only listed at 6'0", he's a weirdly effective presence on the defensive glass.|
|Lance Jones||Shooting Guard||Quincy Olivari|
|6'1", 200||Measurements||6'3", 200|
|After four years at Southern Illinois, Jones has come to Purdue to finish his career. He's only a 32.4% shooter from deep in over 600 attempts, but he's built like a brick outhouse and is a very good defender. Braden Smith can be had a little bit on that end and Fletcher Loyer isn't going to be locking down a top-level perimeter guy, so Jones is here to fill that hole in the Boilermakers' roster.|
|Fletcher Loyer||Small Forward||Desmond Claude|
|6'4", 180||Measurements||6'6", 203|
|Loyer is a remarkably efficient offensive player, owing largely to his low turnover rate and his solid 80% career mark from the free throw line. He's a career 33.3% (repeating, of course) from behind the arc, but that hasn't stopped him from hucking more than 5 of them per game. His usage rate this year has been supressed by the fact that Purdue has been home and dry at halftime in both games this year, but don't let that fool you: this dude is a gunner.|
|Trey Kaufman-Renn||Power Forward||Gytis Nemeiksa|
|6'9", 230||Measurements||6'7", 220|
|On the worst day in Purdue basketball history, this dude played 8 minutes and did basically nothing with them. He's a starter now, and it's hard to tell exactly what he's bringing to the table since the Boilermakers haven't been challenged at all so far. He's a good offensive rebounder and maybe solid on the defensive end. One of his top comps on KenPom is 2011 Kelly Olynyk, a guy so good Gonzaga redshirted him the next year. Make of that what you will.|
|Zach Edey||Center||Abou Ousmane|
|7'4", 300||Measurements||6'10", 240|
|When people look at a gigantic guy and assume he'd be awesome at basketball, Zach Edey's production is what they're thinking about. He blocks a ton of shots, crushes the glass at both ends, and has shot 62% from inside the arc on his career. He plays a ton of minutes for a man his size and is a surprisingly good free throw shooter. Just a titan of a man, an ambulatory K2 in the paint.|
Camden Heide and Mason Gillis are both big-body wings who get something close to starter’s minutes, or at least have so far. I suspect Gillis will end up being leaned on more heavily than Heide, as he’s a senior and Heide is a freshman. Gillis currently goes for 5/3.5/1.5 on .600/.667/1.000 shooting; on his career, he’s an excellent offensive rebounder who doesn’t turn the ball over much and shoots it from deep really well. Heide obviously doesn’t have as much of a track record, but he’s averaging 9/2/1 on .545/.600/.750 shooting and is blocking almost 10% of opponents’ shots when he’s on the floor.
Myles Colvin is a 6’5” freshman wing averaging 8 PPG on 57.1% shooting from behind the arc. He’s still awaiting his first collegiate rebound and his first collegiate assist. If he plays a key role in this game, I’ll admit I was wrong in basically writing him off as an opportunist feasting on cupcakes through two games.
Will “Ice” Berg (7’2”, 255) and Caleb Furst (6’10”, 225) are the big men off the bench. They’re both averaging 5.5 and 3, though Furst is doing it in twice as many minutes as Berg. Furst is yet to commit a foul; Berg commits 10 of them per 40 minutes played.
You’ll have noted that there aren’t any real guards mentioned here, and that’s because Purdue basically doesn’t have any coming off the bench. The three starters will rotate through the guard spots with Heide and Gillis filling in at the three, and Smith and Jones will play every important point guard minute.
-How does Xavier address Zach Edey? Not, like, what will they call him, but more how will they game plan for him. He’s 6 inches and 60 pounds bigger than Abou Ousmane, who is Xavier’s biggest guy. After Ousmane, the man-up options are the 6’7” Gytis Nemeiksa or freshmen Sasa Ciani and Kachi Nzeh. It’s going to have to be a team game plan to keep Edey from going for like 25 and 15, though it should be noted that he did exactly that against Fairleigh Dickinson in Purdue’s lone tournament game last year.
-Where does Xavier find an advantage? Purdue shoots better from all three levels, rebounds better, gets to and keeps opponents off of the line better... pretty much all of the four factors. Xavier is a little better at forcing turnovers, but I don’t know that that is something the Muskies are going to make their identity. Maybe they will lean hard on their lengthy guards and try to keep Purdue out of their offensive flow, or maybe there’s something else coming out of left field, which brings me to...
-How much do you trust Sean Miller? On paper, this is a brutal matchup. Not only does Purdue have a ton of talent and unfinished business from their first-round collapse last year, but they’re also a cohesive group. The Boilermakers are 34th in the nation in minutes continuity; Xavier is 332nd, and all but 16 of the teams behind them are yet to play a D1 game. This is going to have to be a magnum opus from Miller for Xavier to stand a chance.
-Hit some threes. I know, I’ve really split the atom here. D1 average right now is 32.2% from behind the arc; only one Muskie who has his multiple threes (Quincy Olivari) is doing better than that. Unless you think Abou Ousmane is about to feed it to a guy who has the kind of size advantage usually reserved for older brothers playing in the driveway, the Muskies have to knock down some outside shots to keep this one competitive.
-Help to the post. It’s not so much that I don’t think that Ousmane can handle Edey on his own as the fact that Ousmane is averaging 5.2 fouls per 40 minutes despite playing mostly uninspiring competition so far. If he gets into early foul trouble, the Muskies are just out of big bodies that can challenge Purdue’s Goliaths in the middle. I suspect there will be several defensive wrinkles visible throughout the game as X tries to keep Edey from getting too comfortable in the paint.
-Punch up. This is the first of four games Xavier has against teams that are currently in the KenPom top four. Throw in two games each against KenPom #8 Creighton and #11 Marquette and the Muskies are going to have some chances to pick up some big wins before the pointy end of the season. They also have the distinct possibility of going 0-8 in Q1A games if they just end up being overmatched. Long gone are the days of needing to rip through the paper tigers of the A-10 and take full advantage of one or two top-tier chances. Xavier will have their shots this year; tonight will be the first time we’ll truly get a measure for how this roster is coming together early on.