We’re just peeking into Thanksgiving week, but Xavier is already looking at its final chance to get a non-conference road win. After today, the Muskies won’t leave Cintas for a month, with their next away game being at St. John’s on December 20. A long string of home games may well be what this young roster needs to come together; we’ll know in March if that’s what the resume needed.
St. Mary’s comes into this game in a semi-similar position. With preseason aspirations of at-large inclusion in the tournament, they’ve started the campaign running in sand. They got out well with home wins over Cal St. Stanislaus and New Mexico, but then they spit the bit at home against Weber St. (playing without Harold “The Show” Arceneaux) and took a 25-point pasting in their Continental Tire opener against San Jose State.
Both of these teams come into this game needing a win to salvage something from the early season. Unless I’m missing something, only one of them can have it. It’s going to be a dogfight.
Saint Mary’s plays slow. Randy Bennett hasn’t put a team in the top 200 in tempo in over a decade, and this crew is 348th. There aren’t a lot of possessions in a Saint Mary’s game. Their offense is off to a rough start; they’re well below average in free throw rate and TO percentage, and they sport a downright brutal 44.7% EFG%. Only an excellent 37.2% OReb% - currently just inside the top 50 - is keeping their adjusted offensive efficiency clinging to the very end of the top 100 in the nation. They’re shooting 25% from the arc and 58.8% from the free throw line; it’s bad.
The defense is a bit better but still something short of sensational and 49th in the country. The freebie war has been a weakness for them; they don’t force turnovers very well and they’re pretty permeable on the offensive glass. They’ve been a hair above average in defensive EFG% and are especially formidable at the arc; opponents only get about a quarter of their looks from deep. They’re not elite at keeping teams off the line, but compared to what else they’re doing on defense, it’s a bright spot.
|Augustas Marciulionis||Point Guard||Dayvion McKnight|
|6'4", 195||Measurements||6'0", 188|
|Marciulionis has been at Saint Mary's all three years, a fact that escaped my notice up until this point. He's not much of a shooter (though he is more formidable than his current line suggests), and he doesn't have a very high usage rate. He has started all four games and KenPom rates him as a PG, so... okay. He's a decent distributor and hsa decent defensive numbers. He also fouls 3.7 per 40, which is quite high for an experienced guard.|
|Aidan Mahaney||Shooting Guard||Quincy Olivari|
|6'3", 180||Measurements||6'3", 200|
|This kid has the ability to carry his team, like he did in dropping 25 on 9-19 shooting against New Mexico a couple weeks back. He can also shoot his team right out of a game, like he did when he went 4-13 against UConn in the tournament last year. He almost never comes off the floor and leads the team in usage rate; he's out there to shoot, and he does. If he gets hot, he's incredibly dangerous.|
|Alex Ducas||Small Forward||Desmond Claude|
|6'7", 220||Measurements||6'6", 203|
|Ducas has never been a great rebounder by rate, but his DReb% is suddenly quite solid at almost 20%. You can decide if that's him turning over a new leaf 110 games into his career or a statistical blip. What is not aberrant is his three-point shooting; he's a career 39% shooter in almost 500 three-point attempts. He doesn't really draw or commit fouls or do too much work inside the arc; his job is to pull from deep.|
|Joshua Jefferson||Power Forward||Gytis Nemeiksa|
|6'8", 220||Measurements||6'7", 220|
|Jefferson is the proud owner of the team's best assist rate, which is an indictment of his peers as much as a credit to him. He's a good defender, but he's fouling almost 6 times per 40 minutes, which is untenable. He absolutely eats inside the arc, but he has shot as many from deep as from two-point range on his career. Turnover issues as well as shot selection woes have made him a below average offensive player this year.|
|Mitchell Saxen||Center||Abou Ousmane|
|6'10", 242||Measurements||6'10", 240|
|This guy is a monster on the offensive glass; half of his shots are on putbacks. He doesn't mess around with anything fancy, either; more than 80% of his career field goal attempts are at the rim. He blocks a lot of shots, but he has struggled with foul trouble this year (though not to the extent of his opposite number in this particular game).|
The Gaels’ leading scorer off the bench is 7’1”, 255-pound big man Harry Wessels. He’s got a game line of 8.5/4.8/0.5 which is sullied a little bit by an eight-minute trillion against SDSU last time out. Like you’d expect from a man his size, he does work on the boards, blocks his share of shots, and fouls like he carries a punch card for them. If he doesn’t pull a disappearing act, he’s a dangerous second line in the middle. It bears mentioning that Mason Forbes is a 6’9”, 230 Harvard transfer averaging 7/3.8/0.3, but 12 of those 21 points came against non-D1 competition.
The other two players Randy Bennett seems to trust are Chris Howell and Luke Barrett, both of whom are 6’6” and about 200 pounds. Howell averages 1.8/2.3/0.8 and is a fairly inefficient offensive player; he’s shooting 1-7/1-5/1-2 this season. Barrett is averages 3/4.5/1 and is excellent on the offensive glass.
Nobody else on the roster has seen double digit minutes against a D1 opponent.
-Is this what this team’s shooting looks like? Three players - Claude, Olivari, and Green - have shot at least four threes per game. They’re a combined 15-59 (25.4%). That’s not workable from your guards. Gytis Nemeiksa is 4-10 and Dailyn Swain is 3-6; thrown in Lazar Djokovic’s 1-2 and you’ve got every Muskie making over a third of his three-point attempts. Someone is going to have to be able to stretch a defense or this is going to be a really rough year on offense.
-Will the real Abou Ousmane please stand up? The North Texas transfer big man was a big coup for a Xavier team with some real questions in the middle of the floor, but he hasn’t appeared to be the answer to them early on. Sure, there have been some reasons, namely Zach Edey and then the officiating crew against Washington, but the long and short of it is that Xavier has played two major opponents and he has combined for 9/4/0 with 10 fouls in 19 minutes of play in those games. There are 17 KenPom A/B games left on the schedule; X needs more from him in those games than what they’ve seen so far.
-Can Xavier salvage something out of this trip? The Muskies would dearly love to avoid the 0-2 weekend, but there is more work to do than just scraping together a result tonight. This team has looked very much like a group of guys who didn’t know each other a couple of months ago, and something resembling cohesion coming back home would look very welcome to the Cintas faithful. There isn’t going to be a single opponent that feels bad for Xavier for their injury issues and the late coming together of this roster. The Muskies need to move past some growing pains, set a rotation, and start to figure out something that they can use to help them going forward.
-Push the pace. Saint Mary’s loves to play at a ponderous pace, but they can be run on. Xavier, on the other hand, has really struggled to score in the half court, especially when their shots aren’t falling. The more possessions there are in this game, the more it favors Xavier.
-Gang rebound. Xavier doesn’t have a single excellent defensive rebounder, and it shows in the stats that have the team bang average in DReb%. Saint Mary’s is a bad shooting team, but they live on the offensive glass and have a handful of guys who just run in there and devour second chances. Saint Mary’s will miss their share of first shots; X has to limit their second ones.
-Take care of the ball. I know it hasn’t seemed that way, but Xavier has actually been there or thereabouts a top 50 offense this season in terms of adjusted efficiency. There have been plenty of flaws to identify, but perhaps the most frustrating one has been the consistency with which the Muskies have turned the ball over. Some of them have been the kinds of things that happen when guys aren’t familiar with each other, but too many have been careless or the result of senseless overdribbling. Time will fix some of them; individuals have to take care of the rest.