Just don’t lose. Xavier, by any reasonable projection, is a lock for the NCAA tournament this season. They are a four seed on the Bracket Matrix, no lower than a five in any of the 90 bracket projections put out today. That’s solid. There is only one remaining way to screw that all up: lose to DePaul. Even beating the Blue Demons and then losing out leaves the Musketeers with a ~95% chance of making the tournament. Drop this one, though, and things get very ugly very fast.
In the road tilt in Chicago Xavier was quite bad. DePaul is a really bad team, but you can’t shoot 45% inside the arc and 4-20 behind it an expect to beat them. You can expect to beat them if you play a half decent game, though, and that’s what literally every team since Xavier has done against the Demons. DePaul will enter this game on a seven game slide, most recently dropping a double overtime game against St. John’s. In that stretch they are 158th in the nation. These guys are not good at basketball. No reasonable tournament team should be losing to them.
By all accounts, Xavier should enter this game with their rotation as intact as it can be. There hasn’t been any word that Des Claude is still sick and... well that’s it. Xavier is six deep, but those six should be ready to go. Unfortunately, Kyky Tandy and Cesare Edwards were both poor against Marquette. DePaul may present their last best chance to get back into contention for some playing time.
DePaul’s offense is bad. They are adequate behind the arc and at the line and used that to beat X the last time. They are poor, horrible, actually, inside the arc and aren’t above 150th in the nation in any other offensive category. They will struggle to score over a point per possession on most nights and only managed exactly one in their first matchup against Xavier.
On defense the Blue Demons are even worse. During this seven game skid they are 217th in the nation in defensive efficiency. The only thing they do well is block shots. That opens them up to offensive rebounding, where they are worst in the conference and get absolutely gashed. They are very nearly worst in the nation there. In the spirit of “if you can’t say something nice,” that will be all on DePaul’s defense.
|UConn held Gibson to 8 (which he balanced with 8 assists and 1 TO); he has had double-digit points in every other Big East game. He's shooting the eyes out of the ball, ranking 4th in the league in true shooting percentage and averaging three made threes per league contest. He's a good defender and he distributes well with no ball security issues.
|Gebrewhit has shot the ball well from deep this season but has been significantly worse from inside the arc. Beyond the outside shooting though, he just doesn't add a great deal
|Johnson will play most of the game, same as Gibson. He shoots well from deep and is a decent defender and defensive rebounder. Like most of his teammates, though, his overall offensive efficiency just isn't very good.
|Penn is efficient on offensive largely because he knows what he can do well and sticks with it. He's good inside the arc and generally sticks with doing that. He's a menace around the rim on both ends and blocks shots well for someone his size.
|Yor Anei is a great shot blocker, but it comes at the cost of a lot of fouls committed. He's a decent rebounder but is dreadful on offense and simply cannot stay on the floor long enough to be truly effective.
De’Sean Nelson will play the most minutes coming off the bench. He’s a 6-8 swing man who stays inside and is extremely efficient scoring the ball. He turns the ball over way too much, but he’s a genuine weapon. Jalen Terry, a backup guard, is likely next to make an appearance. He, quite simply, isn’t very good. Zion Cruz is another backup guard and he is shooting a sterling 31% inside the arc. He’s even worse from deep. Despite needing some help, DePaul generally doesn’t use the bench much or with much discernible pattern. Caleb Murphy averages 21 minutes per game with his 71.7 offensive rating, but beyond that it seems to be at the whim of Stubblefield which his cast of thousands will get time.
- Is Des fully ready? I am not a doctor of any sort, but I do know that sickness can linger. If Des is in any way still feeling under the weather, Xavier may have to stretch Souley Boum out again. The Musketeers desperately need to have at least one reliable bench piece ready.
- Was Wednesday a shooting corner turned for Boum? There is no great way to put this, so here it is: Souley Boum has been bad shooting the ball in 2023. His 14.6/4/5.2 has come on .377/.316/.900 shooting. Wednesday he played an ironman’s 40 minutes and shot 10-15, including 4-8 from behind the arc. Xavier has to have Boum being effective or they risk an even worse offensive malaise than the one troubling the team since Freemantle was injured.
- Can anyone else help? Kyky Tandy had a 75 offensive rating against Marquette in 24 minutes. He was 1-3 from the floor, had a turnover and two assists, and was simply overmatched on defense. Cesare Edwards played scored on his only shot, but got spun routinely on defense. This isn’t to say those guys are bad basketball players, but they were both really bad in the midweek. One of them needs to step up and actually earn some time. The rest of the bench, well, they should be preparing resumes.
- Offensive rebound: This game is tailor made for Jerome Hunter. He’s a ball hawk on the offensive glass, DePaul is not certain what to do on the occasions when their opponents miss. Colby Jones and Adam Kunkel are both sneaky active on the offensive glass and are key in tapping the ball out and keep it alive. They’ll need to be at their best against the Demons.
- Either slow down a bit or find some depth: Xavier can either keep playing their starters long stretches at a breakneck pace, or they can find someone off the bench who can spell the top six. It doesn’t have to be much, just three or four minutes, but this kind of strain will run down everyone in the way it has Boum in conference play. Or, X could walk the ball up occasionally. Either way, they can’t run Jack Nunge’s legs off if they want him in March.
- Just get a win: It can be ugly, nay, hideous, but it has to be a win. If Xavier loses this one, they torpedo a lot of the work they did in compiling a good resume. DePaul is a bad basketball team. There would be no excuse for losing. Get this one, get healthy, make a run.