First things first, I think that Gabe should definitely throw me a bone for writing this article. If Xavier gets bounced early, then I guess this one is on me for jinxing it. Then I look like the dumbass. So Gabe, my friend, you’re welcome.
Xavier finished their best season pre-NCAA tournament with a loss to Seton Hall, the eventual BIG EAST champions, in the conference tourney semi-finals. That leaves them at an impressive 27-5, a #2 seed in the East Region, and a date with #15 seed Weber State. This is all definitely impressive, but since I’m a fair guy (or a pessimist, whatever you want to say), I have to look at the other side of the picture. Three out of Xavier’s last four games, to be honest, were rather lackluster. They lost to the Pirates of Seton Hall twice along with an ugly home win against Creighton. Simply put, the Musketeers haven’t quite looked like their consistent, explosive selves recently.
I’m still confident that they make themselves a good run. For superstition’s sake, I did not pick them to win the National Championship in our N2K Sports Tournament Challenge group (which I encourage you all to join), but rather I have them bowing out in the Elite Eight. But regardless of what 98% of people out there say, the Musketeers have a very, very good chance to make a deep run into March. They’ve got a Coach Of The Year winner in Chris Mack, they’ve got bonafide stars in Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner, and they have depth, most notably in BIG EAST Sixth Man Of The Year JP Macura. Also, they have Bill Murray going for them, which is nice.
Being a student at Xavier, I obviously watch my fair share of Muskie basketball. There’s three things that Xavier needs to do in order to make their mark. They’re clichéd, but that doesn’t matter.
- Don’t Settle
This may come as a surprise as being my biggest key, especially since they have an extremely diverse offensive attack. Xavier can go inside with Jalen Reynolds and James Farr, they can hit it from deep with Macura and Myles Davis, or they can let Blueitt and Sumner just take over a game. They can score from any angle, so why is this even a key to victory?
In the two losses to Seton Hall and the loss to Creighton a few weeks back, Xavier got down early. Instead of remaining composed against two teams who I see as clearly lesser than them, they got away from their game. The Musketeers didn’t attack as confidently as they usually look. Instead, and this was especially a theme in the BIG EAST Conference tournament, they started hucking up three pointers. That’s not to say that they can’t make them, because they can, but when the misses pile up, they just create a bigger deficit. Against Seton Hall, Xavier couldn’t muster any offensive momentum because they were settling for shots with like 10-12 seconds left on the shot clock. When they’re clicking, the offense is an avalanche.
It’s March, eventually, they will be down. It’s how they respond that will determine their success. Don’t. Settle.
- Rebound The Goddamn Basketball
Again, surprising, right? When on, Farr and Reynolds dominate the glass. But a consistent theme in Xavier’s losses has either been getting out-rebounded or not getting timely rebounded. These two guys, along with Blueitt, who’s a good rebounder in his own right, should be the best at their craft on the floor. Their last time out proved to have disappointing results on the glass; Xavier only grabbed 3 more rebounds than Seton Hall. On the defensive end, the Musketeers were outrebounded by 12, and they couldn’t stop the Pirate attack. I get that Seton Hall is a tournament-worthy team, but they literally have two good big guys and that’s it. A team as deep as Xavier’s should not even be close to a team like Seton Hall’s in the rebound department.
- Watch The Turnovers
And for the third basketball cliché of the morning, Xavier has to watch the turnovers. Sumner has been excellent all season long running the point, however, he is a freshman. Freshman players make freshman mistakes. It’s inevitable, there’s not another way to put it. How will he play with all of the bright lights on him? That remains to be seen.
This key to victory does not just apply to Edmond Sumner. In fact, he’s the least of the worries about turning the ball over. Myles Davis had 8 turnovers in the BIG EAST semi. That’s not a typo, I actually wrote the number 8. Larry Austin Jr. has struggled in breaking a press all season long. JP Macura passed on a layup the other night to throw an ill-advised pass behind his back.
If Xavier is clicking, they really take care of the ball well and finish on possessions. I’ve noticed though that whenever they do turn it over, it seems to come in bunches. That can’t happen in March, because it takes away from scoring the basketball (no shit, Tyler!). Last year in the Sweet Sixteen, Xavier’s demise came when they went on like a 7 or 8 minute scoring drought against Arizona. So here’s an idea- don’t throw it to the other team.
Obviously I’m not as knowledgeable about the ins and outs of basketball like Sean or Gabe are. However, I’m sure they would agree that these three points have literally been the Musketeers’ issues whenever they’ve struggled. Maybe it’s a good thing that they’re all basic, maybe that means they’re easier to avoid.
I’m expecting an exciting and historic run for Xavier basketball, and as long as they don’t get sloppy and play their style, there’s not many teams out there that can beat them.
P.S.- John Buccigross picked us to win it all, so jump on the bandwagon now before it’s too late.
Cover Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
Other photos courtesy of myself and WCPO