If you ride a bike you’re probably aware that the Continential GP 4000 is something of the gold standard of tires. It has low rolling resistance, corners well, and holds the road at high speed. The Continental Tire Main Event is not quite at that standard yet. It’s a four team event played the week before Thanksgiving, not the time over the holidays where Xavier has been playing in recent years. The boys will get to enjoy a turkey day off this year while their fans get the fun experience of watching a game likely to end around 2AM.
But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a good chance for Xavier. Washington could finish as a Q2 game if things go well, but both SDSU and Saint Mary’s currently profile as Q1 games. It’s early in the season for NET talk, but these games will matter in the final reckoning come March. A convenient time for watching? No. Important games you’ll feel obligated to see? Absolutely. It’s a perfect combination!
Washington started their season by hammering the best team in Louisville, Ky, Bellarmine, and then beat NKU. They then dropped a close home game to a good Nevada team. Mike Hopkins is in his seventh year with the Huskies and has delivered one tournament bid. His teams tend to play quickly, shoot poorly, and limit opponents behind the arc. This season they are shooting the ball well in a small sample to start the season.
Offensively, Washington is doing very well in EFG% because they are 15th in the nation shooting inside the arc. Their guards and forwards are exceptional when they venture into the paint and the midrange. Where they aren’t exceptional is anywhere farther out than that. The Huskies are shooting 32.8% from deep. That’s better than Xavier, but that’s because Xavier is awful, not because Washington is good. They won’t lift from deep much, but they also don’t rotate the ball well enough to make openings. The upshot of all of this is an offense that shoots well inside, but commits too many turnovers and doesn’t get on the glass.
Defense is a little bit better story for UW. They limit three point attempts and snuff out the ones that do get up. Their perimeter defense is safely described as elite. That leaves them open for offensive rebounds and means they can be had inside. Much like on offense, one thing being excellent is worn down a bit by a lack of application elsewhere.
Washington has an absurdly seasoned roster, ranking second in the country in KenPom’s D1 experience rankings. Their top 10 consists of 7 seniors, 1 junior, and 2 sophomores. Will Landram got one minutes in their season-opening blowout of Bellarmine; that’s the only court time a freshman has seen for them all year.
Despite all that experience, their continuity is subpar. Keion Brooks, Koren Johnson, and little-used reserve Franck Kepang are all in their second years at Washington; everyone else in the rotation is in his first year as a Huskie. It’s a weird roster.
|Late of Georgia by way of Kentucky, Wheeler has a decent skill set as a distributor. He's having some turnover issues early on this season that are blunting his effectiveness, and he's also fouling like it's his job. He has never quite shot well enough to merit a high usage rate, but that hasn't stopped him trying so far this year.
|A Rutgers transfer, Mulcahy is a combo guard built like a small forward. He has posted consistently high assist rates and decent turnover numbers, but his usage rates have been below average. He has a good feel for the game, but he's very rarely an explosive offensive player. He can shoot it a little, but he has never had a season with more made threes than games played.
|Wood is another transfer, on his third school after hitting Portland and starting at UNLV. He shoots the three extremely well on his career, having connected on 180 of them at a 40% clip. On defense he's actually a solid rim protector, though he can be prone to foul trouble. He'll drift inside the arc to score some, but most of his value is in his ability to stretch defenses.
|Keion Brooks Jr.
|A former Kentucky Wildcat, Brooks feasts at the rim, but he shoots almost 40% of his shots from the mid-range, where he's also quite good. It's not an accident that he averages 24 a game and is leading the team in scoring. He's also a strong offensive rebounder and gets to the line well. Can Gytis Nemeiksa guard him? Will Xavier flash that zone again? Let's find out together!
|"Where did Meah transfer from, Joel?" you might be asking. Fresno State is the answer, though this is his second year at Washington. His range is about the same as his wingspan, he gets a ton of offensive rebounds, and he blocks a decent amount of shots. Always a bit foul prone, he's averaging a staggering 14.6 fouls per 40 minutes this year. He could put you in the bonus each half by himself.
Koren Johnson is a 6’2” sophomore guard averaging 10.7/0/1 per game. He was recruited to Washington, went there out of high school, and has remained there the whole time, making him unique among his peers. He’s an excellent finisher and is shooting the lights out from deep right now. He’s also a very good defender; he’s the first guy off the bench and gets borderline starter’s minutes.
Nate Calmese is another 6’2” sophomore guard. He played last year at Lamar, where he was an unrestrained gunner, basically shooting every time he touched it. He’s averaging a Diet Allen Houston line of 8/0.7/1.3 on 64.3/40/80 shooting this season. All four of his assists and all four of his steals came against and both of his rebounds came against Bellarmine in the opener; all he wants to do is score and then wait for his team’s turn on offense again.
Big man depth is provided by Franck Kepang and Wilhelm Breidenbach. Kepang is 6’11”, 250 and averages 3.7/2.3/0; he turns the ball over like it has been covered in boiling lard and averages 10 fouls per 40 minutes of play. Breidenbach is averaging 5.7/5.7/0.3. He’s 6’10”, 231 an feasts on the glass on both ends. He blocks a weirdly low number of shots for a man his size but he does stay out of foul trouble. He has started a couple of times this year and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make his way back into the lineup today.
- Can you get momentum from a loss? X played Purdue tough. There are no good losses in terms of resume, but there’s something to be said in forcing the Boilermakers not to cover and being within single digits of the #1 team in the nation on the road. Play with that tenacity, and some better shooting, and X should have some confidence tonight in Vegas.
- Who can knock down a shot? Quincy Olivari was a shooter at Rice and is at 25% so far this season. Trey Green cannot resist a shot and is 3-20 so far this year. That should get better, but yikes. Des Claude and Nemo are the only guys shooting well so far. Washington hawks the three point line, someone is going to have to knock down a couple.
- Will we see Craft, Ducharme, or Djokovic? Xavier needs some depth. Nine guys and Des Claude playing 35+ minutes will wear this team down. Craft may redshirt but keeps traveling and warming up with the team. Ducharme just can’t get minutes. Lazar has a break in a finger. One of them needs to add some minutes to this rotation.
- Get the ball inside: Washington isn’t good at defending inside the arc. Xavier is good at scoring it there. Even against Edey and Furst, Xavier shot nearly 55% in the paint. Washington doesn’t have anyone like that, so the Musketeers need to take advantage.
- Convert from the line: Washington’s two most talented bigs, Braxton Meah and Franck Kepnang, cannot stop fouling. In a 40 minute game Meah would commit 15 fouls which is the only thing that makes Kepnang’s 10 fouls per 40 seem ok. Xavier will be at the line, their current 71.4% mark isn’t going to get it done. Do they practice them when they are tired?
- Get the bench involved: X is getting 30.8% of their minutes off the bench. That’s not an awful number, but it is really low for having had two buy games already. Whether it is Dailyn Swain demanding 30 minutes, Kachi Nzeh getting up to 15, or just someone else joining the rotation, X needs to lengthen the bench.