BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana had a few easy wins to open the season and then eight days between games. The long gap ends Friday night, when the No. 12-ranked Hoosiers travel to Cincinnati to face a very strong Xavier team that is 3-0 so far.
The Musketeers, now coached by former Arizona – and Xavier – coach Sean Miller, beat Morgan State, Montana and Fairfield. These three teams are combined 0-8 against Division I foes so far, so it’s hard to gauge exactly how good Xavier is.
There are some numbers to follow, at least. Xavier receives votes in both polls and is reportedly ranked No. 31 in the Associated Press poll and No. 36 in the Coaches poll. In the Kenpom.com ranking, they are #39.
I watched their entire 78-65 home win over Fairfield on Tuesday night and made some observations that set the stage for Friday’s game, which starts at 6 p.m. ET and is televised on FOX Sports 1.
1. Their big guys can play, so that’s of course good
There’s no denying that Indiana likes to play upside down through Trayce Jackson-Davis and, to a lesser extent, Race Thompson and rookie Malik Reneau. But Xavier likes to do the same, and they have talent up front with 7-foot sixth-year senior Jack Nunge and 6-foot-9 senior forward Zach Freemantle.
Hoosiers fans know Nunge well. The Newburgh, Indiana native, who played at Castle High School, spent four years in Iowa before moving to Xavier last season. He scored 27 total points in four games against the Hoosiers, all wins at Indiana, which is pretty surprising. He’s a good player, averaging 18.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per game so far this season.
Freemantle, who hails from Teaneck, NJ, is averaging 15.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game, and a good jumper and can move pretty well on the floor. They are definitely a threat on the attacking side.
Looking at the game closely, however, neither are very quick and I don’t see either of them being able to handle Jackson-Davis one-on-one defensively. They’ll have a good defensive plan, that’s for sure, and it’ll be interesting to watch those interior battles from both sides of the pitch.
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2. Xavier misses big guard Colby Jones
Colby Jones, a 6-foot-6 guard who was a preseason All-Big East first-team selection, missed Tuesday night’s game after spraining his ankle in practice Monday. He played well in their first two games, averaging 13.5 points, 7.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds.
He is also a good defender, and he is very long. Xavier missed it on Tuesday night, with Fairfield goaltenders able to attack the basket from the dribble with consistency. I’m sure Xavier Johnson and Jalen Hood-Schifino saw this on film and are licking their chops.
Alex Kunkel, another fifth-year senior, started for Jones. He’s a good three-point shooter — he hit four in eight tries on Tuesday — but it’ll be interesting to see if he can keep up with the defense if Jones can’t go.
3. Not much bench production from Jerome Hunter, others
Former Indiana forward Jerome Hunter, in his second year at Xavier after playing for Archie Miller for two years, scored 11 points in the Musketeers’ opener but was held scoreless in the last two games.
He played nine minutes against Montana and never shot, but committed four personal fouls. He took a shot against Fairfield – he missed – and committed three personal fouls in seven minutes.
Xavier was just six points off the bench in their 78-65 win over Fairfield, and if that trend continues, the Musketeers could be in trouble. The Indiana bench, which plays very well, could cause a lot of problems.
Xavier doesn’t have much talent on the bench. Freemantle had to play 39 minutes in the Fairfield game.
- TOM BREW COLUMN: Readers are curious about how deep this Indiana basketball team is and how good it can be this year as I empty the mailbox. I also have some thoughts on some great coaches and think back to my very first game at Assembly Hall a long time ago. CLICK HERE
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- WOODSON RADIO SHOW: Indiana basketball coach Mike Woodson reviewed the Hoosiers’ first two wins of the season and looked forward to Friday’s road trip to Xavier on the ‘Inside Indiana Basketball’ radio show. Monday night with Don Fischer. Former Indiana point guard Jordan Hulls, now the team’s recruiting coordinator, also joined the show. CLICK HERE
- INDIANA TIMETABLE: The 2022-23 Indiana Hoosiers men’s basketball schedule is set. Here’s the full schedule, with dates, game times and TV info, plus links to stories about games that have already been played. CLICK HERE