Sean’s looking to avenge his brother as Hoosiers visit the Musketeers. (IU v. Xavier basketball short pregame thoughts)

It’s time for the first true test for the Hoosiers as they will be taking the court against the Xavier Musketeers in Cincy on Friday at 6 o’ clock.

The Xavier Musketeers are coming off a 23-13 season last year, looking to improve upon their middling standing in the Big East this season. Helmed by Archie Miller’s brother Sean, Xavier is returning without their key player from last season Paul Scruggs. What they are bringing is ex-Hoosier Jerome Hunter. Having hired Sean Miller in the offseason, Xavier will be looking to come out and impress upon the Hoosiers a revitalized program under a new regime.

Jack Nunge is coming off a 23 point performance in a game where the Xavier Musketeers went into the half down 2 points to then 0-2 Fairfield, before the Xavier talent began to outclass the Stags. Even with a less than stellar performance in that game Xavier still is a top 40 KenPom ranked team. Meaning that this win would definitely be a nice win under our belt before we start Big Game Hunting with the Tar Heels.

Yesterday, I had highlighted Colby Jones as a player to watch, just prior to him being out against Fairfield with a sprained ankle. I imagine Xavier to look a lot different with him on the floor than they had against the Fairfield Stags. He is their playmaker and primary ball handler. He shoulders a large workload for the team, so if he is in this one the Hoosiers cannot be complacent that Xavier will play as slow as they did in the game prior.

I fully expect the Hoosiers to take the floor invigorated with the prospect of playing some quality competition under the national spotlight. While many could say that this game isn’t a must win for the Hoosiers, I have to say it’s time the Hoosiers showed that the program is back and they have to deliver a strong performance. While it is the first big test, this game kickstarts the tempo for our challenges moving forward. A nice win in Cincinnati would go a long way in preparing us for the top competition heading our way down the line.

Trayce is coming off a dominant performance from the Bethune-Cookman game, tallying 21 points in 21 minutes. I fully expect the All-American to set the tone in this one, bringing his maturity to the court. A court where our young guns will be stepping into their first truly hostile environment. Like a lighthouse in the most savage storm, Trayce will light the way. He is the captain, the composure of this Indiana squad and I will expect Jalen and Malik to follow his lead.

Jalen and Malik have continued to light Bloomington ablaze with the starts to their Hoosier careers. Jalen continues to reveal layers to the Indiana offense with his ability to infiltrate defenses and always find an open man. While his shooting has been spotty at times, just by his sheer presence and the threat of dimensions to his game, he demands focus and opens up chances for everyone on the floor. If he can consistently find his shot, then this Hoosier offense will truly never be out of options. His ability to share the ball with Xavier Johnson has only aided the Hoosiers in being more multifaceted. With multiple points of entry now available, I would love to see this offense exhibit itself as it has but here against stiffer competition.

As for Malik, what can be said that hasn’t already about his start in Indiana? He has quickly been the most pleasant surprise in Bloomington. Everyone thought he was going to be good, but I don’t think anyone knew just how good. Malik ended last game with 9 points in 16 minutes. Ball handling ability has allowed the second unit to have a scoring presence at all times. The depth Malik Reneau adds alone, solidifies a front court that already had a preseason All-American in it. I fully expect him to be tested in this one like he hasn’t yet been, I’m excited to see how Malik will be able to adapt to a step up in the level of competition. I have to think he is ready for it.

Last game Xavier Johnson didn’t put up the most impressive stat line. That being said, if you watched the game you would know it was one of his most impressive showings to date. His defense was suffocating against the less talented Wildcat backcourt. He has willingly given up ball handling responsibilities and this offense is better for it. Offering up those touches for the better of the team is exactly what you would want to see out of your veteran starter. I expect for him to look to get a few more buckets in this one, but I hope to still see that same relentless defense.

Miller Kopp highlighted an impressive shooting night for the Hoosiers last game. If they can continue to find the hot shooters, Indiana will have addressed its most glaring weakness from last season. While the droughts will always come at some point in the season. With the defense the Hoosiers have and the shooting the Hoosiers have, Indiana will be able to scratch and claw their way back into any game. Defense wins championships, and the Hoosiers have got that. Need to show it here against the Musketeers.

In this game, as will be the case for any games this season, I think this one will be decided by Indiana’s depth. in order to come out of the half and get their prior victory Xavier had to rely heavily on their starting players, with 4 guys logging over 30 minutes and Fremantle logging 39. I hate to break it to the Musketeer fans out there. In my humble and unprofessional opinion, that just won’t be able to fly if you want to keep pace with the never ending rotation of fresh legs that the Indiana depth offers. Speaking of that depth…

Jordan Geronimo has added a versatility to his game that he had been lacking. His dribbling skills seemed to have improved greatly along with his shooting. While his game last year largely depended on raw animalistic brutality at the rim, he has brought a touch and finesse to his game and is beginning to show much more comfort while handling the ball. Along with him Tamar Bates is absolutely developing at the rate that Indiana Hoosier fans have hoped for. These two guys are beginning to offer the Hoosiers a scoring presence of the bench that had been lacking in years prior. If I had to sit here and describe just how much better Trey Galloway has also gotten, I could be here all day. For Trey I just have to point out the shooting release, it’s gotten so much more dependable than his more chest shot looking release from last year. The kid stepped up his game this year. His minutes could be so valuable in exhausting a Xavier starting 5.

I have to imagine Archie Miller’s going to be rooting for Xavier in this one. Then again, a 10.35 million dollar severance check would have me rooting for an ex-employer for sure.

Thank you Hoosier fans for taking the time to read these thoughts from a fanboy. Have a great night Hoosier fans, anyone invading Cincy tomorrow, bring the noise!

Down with the Musketeers!

LUX ET VERITAS

-Burke

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