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Xavier v. Delaware: preview, matchups, keys to the game

It’s time for one last buy game before the Shootout, and Xavier will welcome the Blue Hens of Delaware tonight.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round Pittsburgh-Delaware at Villanova Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier is off to a weird start to the season. They’ve played at the number two team in the KenPom and hosted the number one and played them both reasonably well. The performances they put on the floor against Purdue and Houston showed that they can punch with anyone. “Punching with” isn’t a criteria that the committee evaluates, though, and eggs lain against Washington and Oakland have hamstrung the Muskies’ resume. They need to bank some wins and then make hay in the non-conference.

Delaware’s start has been a little more straightforward. Their first five games were against teams outside of the KenPom top 150 and they won them all. Their next three were against teams inside the KenPom top 150, and they lost them all. It’s not quite that cut and dried, as they beat KenPom #152 Air Force and lost to KenPom #150 George Washington, but they’re moving in the wrong direction and haven’t set themselves up in any special way heading into Colonial Athletic play.

Realistically, this game is meaningful in March for only one of these teams. Delaware isn’t trying to build a resume, they’re just tuning up for conference play. Xavier, on the other hand, is trying to stay afloat in a sea of bubble teams. A loss here would put the Muskies behind the eight ball heading into the Big East schedule.

Team fingerprint

Delaware’s offense loves to play really slowly on offense and, concomitant to that, they rarely turn the ball over. TO% is the only of the four factors on offense in which they’re inside the top 100. They’re a touch above average in each of the others: OReb%, EFG%, and FT rate. Their offensive efforts are somewhat undermined by being 321st in the nation with a 63.9% mark as a team from the free throw line. They do shoot a little over 33% from deep, though they’re below the national average in three-point rate. It all adds up to the 131rd-best offense in the nation.

Their defense is 184th in adjusted efficiency. They’re actually a bit better than average in EFG%, DReb%, and free throw rate. I know that’s a pretty broad summation of most of their defense, but it felt like a better use of your time than just writing the same sentence three times but changing one element. They really fall down in forcing turnovers though. Their defensive TO rate is a miserable 15.8%, which is 275th in the country. Their opponents only shoot 64.5% from the line, which is the 28th-best free throw defense in the nation. Maybe they just play games in gyms where it’s tough to hit FTs?

Players

Starters

Starting matchups
Jalun Trent Point Guard Dayvion McKnight
Senior Class Senior
6"4, 190 Measurements 6'0", 188
9.3/4.3/3 Game line 7.3/4.8/4.9
48.3/0/58.1 Shooting line 41/15.4/60
Trent gets to the line a lot, which is a shame only in that he's horrible at free throws. He also doesn't offer much from beyond the arc and has some meaningful ball security issues. As you can tell by his assists per game, he doesn't distribute that well. What he does is defend like an animal. He's got good steal and block rate numbers and uses his size effectively to jam up opposing guards. He can be prone to foul trouble.
Cavan Reilly Shooting Guard Quincy Olivari
Sophomore Class Senior
6'4", 188 Measurements 6'3", 200
11.7/2.4/0.7 Game line 13.9/4.9/2.4
44.4/40.9/66.7 Shooting line 42/40.4/68.6
Reilly takes about two thirds of his shots from behind the arc, and he's a sniper with a career 44.5% success rate from deep. He's mostly catch and shoot from out there, though he has made 6 of his 52 career threes without the benefit of an assist. He doesn't rebound or distribute much, but he can get hot from deep and change a game.
Niels Lane Small Forward Desmond Claude
Senior Class Sophomore
6'5", 215 Measurements 6'6", 203
8.3/3/1.6 Game line 16.4/3.9/3.4
42.2/10/55 Shooting line 45.6/19.2/71.1
A Florida transfer, Lane has a career 0-1 mark against X. He's got two years of development behind him since he went for 6/3/0 with 3 TO in the NIT, but it hasn't been gangbusters for him. He isn't shooting particularly well from inside or beyond the arc and his defense has been blunted by foul trouble. He gets to the line well, but he's struggling to convert. It has been like running in sand in the early going for him.
Christian Ray Power Forward Gytis Nemeiksa
Senior Class Senior
6'6", 210 Measurements 6'7", 220
8.8/9/2.9 Game line 9.4/5.4/1.3
51.9/0/58.3 Shooting line 50/44.4/63.6
Ray absolutely lives in the paint. He takes more than 80% of his shots at the rim, where he's not a super finisher, likely due in part to being a 6'6" power forward. He's an excellent rebounder, especially at the defensive end. Like many of his teammates, he's weirdly abysmal at the free throw line. He doesn't turn the ball over much and he defends without fouling.
Jyare Davis Center Sasa Ciani
Senior Class Freshman
6'7", 215 Measurements 6'9", 220
18/7.7/2.6 Game line 4.1/4.1/0.4
46.5/29.2/81.8 Shooting line 73.7/0/55.6
Davis is the lynchpin of this Delaware team. He leads in minutes, usage rate, shots percentage, DReb%, block rate, and scoring, and he's also actually good at foul shots. He's a good finisher and has a solid mid-range game; he's a career 24.3% shooter from deep but he's still shooting almost 4 of them a game this year.

Reserves

The bench accounts for just over a quarter of the team’s minutes and is basically comprised of three guys. The most noteworthy of these is the delightfully name Gerald Drumgoole, Jr., a 6’5”, 205-pound forward averaging 12.5/4.8/2.3 per game. He’s an Albany transfer playing out his final year of collegiate eligibility. He rarely turns the ball over, probably because he shoots faster than John Wesley Hardin when he touches the ball, resulting in a respectable 40.7/31.1/66.7 shooting line.

I got really distracted reading Johnny Hardin’s Wikipedia page there for a minute. Interesting stuff if you’ve got time to kill. Anyway...

VMI transfer Tyler Houser is a 6’9”, 235-pound center who is a serious threat from deep. He’s shooting 55/57.9/50 this year and has a career 37.5% mark from deep on 128 attempts. He’s averaging 7.1/3.4/0.6 per game and is a good rebounder on both ends of the floor. He’s also frighteningly loose with the ball, with a bonkers 26.4% TO rate. He also averages 6.7 fouls per 40 minutes, which is bad.

Kobe Jerome is the only other player getting more than 5 minutes per game off the bench. He got a total of 10 minutes of run in 2 years at UC Riverside before transfering over to Delaware. He’s averaging 3/0.9/1.3 this year, bolstered by his 18 points on 6-6 from deep against Goldey Beacom, which you’ll recognize as not a D1 team. He has shot 5 times in 87 minutes against D1 teams this year. They were all from 3, and 2 of them went in.

Three questions

-Did Xavier learn anything against Oakland? The Muskies at their best have punched with some of the best teams in the nation. They also lost at home against Oakland, a team with no other KenPom top 100 wins in three tries. That game saw Xavier never really reach their highest gear; it would be nice to see them actually put together a comprehensive performance against an ostensibly lesser team.

-Where does Xavier turn for offense? X lost Jack Nunge, Souley Boum, Colby Jones, Zach Freemantle, Adam Kunkel, and Jerome Hunter from last year’s top-10 offense. That has, perhaps understandably, led to a massive step back for the offense. Des Claude is probably the best bet, but his lack of a long jumper makes it difficult for him to always find his own shot. Abou Ousmane has occasionally been effective on the post, but he can’t establish a rhythm because he’s always in foul trouble. I really like what we’re seeing from Dailyn Swain, but it’s not clear that his production scales to higher usage rates. Quincy Olivari? Gytis Nemeiksa? Trey Green? The Muskies have to find someone they can throw the ball to go get them a bucket.

-Will anyone make a free throw? Obviously, people will make free throws. Delaware isn’t good at it, Xavier is about average, and Delaware somehow has a great free throw defense. I don’t have enough hair left to pull it out watching Xavier split sets of FTs and miss front ends. Xavier has missed 30 of the 91 free throws they’ve taken in their 3 non-Purdue losses (which were by a grand total of 11 points). If Xavier was an excellent free throw shooting team, they’d be 7-1. I’m not asking for that, just something that will keep people from going bonkers in our Twitter mentions.

Three keys

-Pound the paint. Delaware doesn’t have much in the way of real rim protection, and the lane is the weak point of their defense. Nobody on their team has the size to bang with Xavier’s big men aside from Tyler Houser, a guy who fouls like he gets a stipend for each of them. X can’t shoot right now; they just need to eat in the middle of the floor.

-Work through the slashers. Delaware has lost their last three games; in those games, the opponents’ leading scorers have been slashing guards who shot a total of 22-33 from inside the arc and just 3-8 from behind it. Des and Dayvion are both suited to this role, relentlessly driving the paint instead of taking long jumpers. They can get to the tin and live at the line if they'll commit to driving the Delaware guards at every opportunity.

-Play all 40. Finishing a consistent and complete game is fairly aspirational for most college teams at this point in the season, and that's true for Xavier right now. They've come out flat a couple times, most notably against Houston, and hit glide mode fairly early in a couple buy games. They probably won't need their most comprehensive effort tonight, but it sure would be nice to see them come out of the blocks hard and sprint through the tape in the last tuneup before the Shootout.