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

None of the rest of the regular season matters if Xavier doesn't win this game.

NCAA Basketball: DePaul at Creighton
You can tell it's AI because it gave Matt Brady four arms.
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

This game terrifies me. Not in a way that makes sense, like a fear of spiders or cellophane, but in a more abstract and illogical way.

DePaul is bad. They're so bad they fired their coach mid-season. They're so bad that they don't have a single league win halfway through the Big East schedule. They're so bad that they only have three wins all year, and they're all Q4, a quadrant in which they also have three losses. They're so bad, one of our Twitter followers is tracking their aggregate scoring in Big East play; 10 games in, they're -240.

They're so bad, losing to them will cost you a seed line or two on its own. For Xavier, the most generous reading of their resume would still have dropping this game exclude them from any reasonable hope of at-large contention.

Yes, even at 11-10, Xavier is still making a case for a bid. According to Bart Torvik's WAB metric, they're a good week at home next week from being back above the break even point. We've talked on here about how winning out at home puts X in with a shout on Selection Sunday. The one caveat to that is road games against DePaul and Georgetown that absolutely have to be won.

There's nothing to be gained from this game, just a season's worth of effort lost if it goes sideways. This game terrifies me.

Team fingerprint

Absolutely astonishing. We've been writing this website for a while now, and I don't think I've ever seen a KenPom page look the way DePaul's does. I usually break down the numbers and my observations a little bit, but instead I'm just going to list the categories in which they are 11th in an 11-team conference.

On defense - where their efficiency is 11th by 3.5 points per 100 possessions and out of first by 23.4 - they're 11th in EFG%, FT%, and 3P%. They're actually hovering around the middle of the league in defensive rebounding and they do a solid job of not sending opponents to the line. They completely concede the arc in both rate and success, don't turn teams over, and all teams to shoot over 60% from two-point range (which somehow isn't last), but they're not an unabated catastrophe on defense. They're still last in the league, but it looks like they understand what sport they're playing.

Not so on offense - where their efficiency is 11th by a jaw-dropping 14.6 points per 100 possessions and out of first by an incredible 39.6. They are 11th in the league in EFG%, 2P%, and OReb% while also being 10th in 3P% and turnover rate. There's not anything they do well on offense. Not even getting to the free throw line. They don't get a lot of shots blocked, which... okay? It's just bad. If you extrapolated their raw offensive efficiency in conference play to a full season, they'd be comfortably in the bottom 10 of the nation. This is ostensibly a high-major roster full of dudes trying their best.

Players

Starters

Starting matchups
Jalen Terry Point Guard Dayvion McKnight
Senior Class Senior
"6'0"", 160" Measurements "6'0"", 188"
7.4/2.9/2.3 Game line 11.8/3.8/4.8
43.4/48.8/81.8 Shooting line 46.4/39.6/83.6
Terry hasn't put up eye-popping numbers this year, but his three-point percentage is enough to scare you. In 10 Big East games, he's 20-37 from deep, which you'll note is over 50%. He's turnover prone and doesn't have great distribution numbers, but I'm really worried about his potential to have a Tre Campbell game.
Jaden Henley Shooting Guard Quincy Olivari
Sophomore Class Senior
"6'7"", 201" Measurements "6'3"", 200"
6.9/2.3/1.5 Game line 18/4.9/1.9
38.9/27.6/71.6 Shooting line 43.1/44.3/82.9
A Minnesota transfer, Henley has been in and out of the starting lineup this year. Whether starting or coming off the bench, he has gotten to the line a ton, and almost 40% of his Big East points are on free throws. He's got good defensive stats, though he can be a little foul prone. As you likely already noted, he's really big for a two.
Elijah Fisher Small Forward Desmond Claude
Sophomore Class Sophomore
"6'6"", 220" Measurements "6'6"", 203"
9.6/3.8/1.4 Game line 16.3/4.5/3.6
52.7/23.1/68.3 Shooting line 41.6/22.5/77.1
Fisher would also be really big for a two, so whichever way you line these guys up, just be aware that DePaul has good perimeter size other than Terry. He's a relentless driver, with well over half his shots coming at the rim. He's no slouch from the mid-range, either, those he's sketchy beyond that. He also gets to the line fairly frequently, though he leaves a lot of points there in so doing.
Jeremiah Oden Power Forward Gytis Nemeiksa
Senior Class Senior
"6'9"", 208" Measurements "6'7"", 220"
9.4/4/0.8 Game line 6.4/5/1.1
35.8/32.9/80.5 Shooting line 47/41.2/64.7
Oden came over from Wyoming, so he's used to not being competitive in conference play. He's a workhorse for this DePaul team, leading them in minutes. He leads the team in FGA despite shooting just 38% from inside the arc and even worse beyond it. He defends without fouling, but his dreadful offensive efficiency limits his overall utility. Heck of a free throw shooter though.
Churchill Abass Center Abou Ousmane
Freshman Class Senior
"6'9"", 250" Measurements "6'10"", 240"
2.4/2.7/0.3 Game line 7.9/6.8/1
45/0/50 Shooting line 50.7/25/46.9
No personal disrespect to the young man, but the fact that Abass has forced his way into the starting lineup is emblematic of how dire this season has been for DePaul. He has an ORtg of 77 and change and isn't a difference maker on the glass. He defends the rim okay, but he gives that back by fouling 6 times per 40 minutes. Despite more than three-quarters of his shots coming at the rim, he's somehow shooting less than 50% from the floor. I feel bad because I haven't said anything even vaguely positive about him, but... he's just not in a position where he can keep his head above water, let alone thrive.

Reserves

DePaul's leading scorer is guard Chico Carter, Jr. A 6'2" senior, he has been doing Chico Carter, Sr. proud with a 11.8/2.9/3.7 game line on 43.6/37.5/75 shooting. Unfortunately for DePaul, he has been out for a couple of weeks with a rib injury and a timetable for his return was not readily available at the time of this writing.

Their second-leading scorer is forward Da'Sean Nelson. He's good for a solid 10.9/4/2.1 on 47.3/32.3/65.7 shooting per night. At 6'8", 220, he's not the rebounder his size would lead you to believe he should be, but he gets after it on the offensive glass. He's a sneaky good distributor, but foul trouble has been a persistent issue for him.

KT Raimey provides some guard depth and 6.8/2.4/1.2 per game. He's not much of a shooter, but he's a solid defender and doesn't turn the ball over egregiously. He missed their last game with a back injury and is being reevaluated literally as you read this, no matter when that is. Deep depth is provided by big men Mac Etienne and Keyondre Young. They're both good rebounders, but Etienne has struggled with turnovers and foul trouble and Young is a questionable defender. They've combined for 52 points all season.

It's fair to note that the injury bug has bitten DePaul this season. In addition to the time missed by Carter and Raimey, guard Caleb Murphy started 7 games before succumbing to a wrist injury that seems poised to rob him of his entire season. DePaul has suffered a talent drain that it could ill afford. That's not the whole reason they've been bad, but it hasn't helped.

Three questions

-How much has Xavier grown? According to the KenPom, DePaul is the worst team the Muskies have faced all year. In fact, you have to go back to last year's opener against KP #315 Montana to find a team worse than DePaul's #295, and God only knows when the last time they played a team this bad on the road was. That statistical minutae aside, Xavier lost two Q3 games this year because they played like showing up was the same as getting the result. Now with the season in the balance, can they muster some actual urgency in a late game with a crowd of dozens on hand?

-Is Sasa Ciani about to step up? It has been fairly clear all season that Xavier needs a reliable big man behind Abou Ousmane, and it was illustrated again against St. John's. After Ousmane fouled out (plus a bonus foul!) in just 16 minutes of play on Wednesday, Sasa filled in admirably on the offensive end and gamely on defense. Xavier was fairly permeable on the defensive glass with him out there though, and the team struggled to finish off some desperately needed stops because of that. Quality Big East big men still loom on the schedule; the ability to throw multiple bodies at them to slow them down might decide the season.

-Can DePaul's defense make a difference? I know, but hear me out: DePaul's defense has had five above average games this year. Three have come in their wins against obviously bad teams, but they've also locked in - albeit in losses - against Northwestern and South Carolina, two fairly good teams. Xavier's offense has looked good of late, but they've been prone to the odd hiccup here and there. This would be a really bad time for those two particular stars to align.

Three keys

-Second chance points. DePaul's defensive EFG% in conference play would be last in the nation by a wide margin if they replicated it over a whole season, so why mention what happens after a miss at all? The reality is that DePaul has been fairly solid on the defensive glass in conference. Xavier should be able to pick their shots, but the Muskies have been crushing the offensive glass in Big East games. If they can cut DePaul's comparative strength out from under them, they can run riot in this game.

-Make it rain. DePaul doesn't guard the arc well at all. Not by defensive 3P%, not by defensive 3P rate. Consequently, more than a third of opposing points have come from deep in Big East games. In Quincy Olivari, Dayvion McKnight, and Trey Green, X has three dudes who are a combined 61-137 (44.5%) from behind the arc in conference play. They should have plenty of chances to add to that tally tonight.

-Give them a reason to lose hope. Losing, like excellence or the clothes that nuns wear, is a habit, at it's one that DePaul has grown accustomed to this season. The Blue Demons are beyond thirsty for a win, so any glimmer of possibility Xavier allows to shine through will be like crumbs to a starving man. If X comes out we'll and never lets up, the temptation to chalk this one off as conference loss number 11 will no doubt creep in fairly early. In a game the Muskies can't afford to lose, they'd do themselves - and their fans - a world of good to be tucking DePaul in by halftime.