Muskies Roust Red Storm!! Prepare to Run the Big East Gauntlet
By Andy Mac Williams, 1/9/2017

Xavier weathered some bad bounces and substantial foul trouble early and ripped past Big East Cinderella St Johns 97-82 at Cintas Saturday afternoon. XU trailed 18-9 just short of 7 minutes into the first half. Rashid Gaston.J.P. Macura and Sean O'Mara were saddled with 2 quick fouls each. SJU Guard Marcus Lovett had scored 11. Chris Mack decided to throw out a "small' line-up(Frosh Quentin Gooden at PG,Edmond Sumner at the 2,with Trevon Bluiett,Malcolm Bernard and Kaiser Gates).Things flipped around instantly. The Muskies embarked on a 12-0 run to take the lead.

Bernard played brilliantly with a pair of three pointers, an offensive rebound and a look away assist on a Kaiser Gates lay-up. Over the next 10 minutes,Xavier showed extreme spurtability out scoring the Johnnies 36-9-blanketing SJU defensively-jetting to a 45-27 lead adding up to a 27 point swing from 9 down to 18 points up.It was basically" ball game over". Xavier led 54-39 at the half-then dusted off the 1-3-1 zone to run the clock and force St Johns to play patient half court offense(not their style). XU cruised to that 97-82 victory.

TONS OF POSITIVES!!

Coming off a mid-week bye,Xavier improved to 3-0 in the Big East(13-2 overall) with a 6 game win streak and retained early first place in the conference-a half game ahead of Villanova,Butler and Creighton(all are 3-1).XU moved the ball smoothly(21 assists on 34 field goals). Six players scored in double figures(Sumner 20, Bluiett 15,Macura 14,Bernard 10 plus Gates-career high 17 and Tyrique Jones 10 off the bench).

Muskies subs played their best basketball of the year so far(36 points-16 rebounds-9 assists-totaling 80 minutes or 40% of the playing time-way above the season's average). PG Gooden played so well teaming with Sumner in the backcourt Coach Mack just left him out there(20 minutes-4 points-3 assists-3 rebounds-2 steals plus physical hounding defense in a constant attack mode).

Frosh BIG Jones dunked and blocked shots and seemed to intimidate the quick jumping Johnnies' forwards. Tyrique manned the bottom of that 1-3-1 zone effectively. Bernard has been stealthy strong in the three BE games doing the little stuff away from the ball.but also stepping up on the stat sheet(8.6PPG-3REB-3.3 ASSISTS-0.7 TURNOVERS-2STEALS).

After the BIG THREE(Ed,Trevon and J.P.) and the post starter,Bernard is a pretty impressive versatile 4th or 5th scoring option. Add Myles Davis to that mix over the next couple weeks when he gets into game shape,then fold in a healthy Kaiser Gates and confident rookies Gooden and Jones and that's a very strong rotation. Don't dismiss St Johns!! That 8-9 overall record is deceptive. They're 2-2 in the Big East with a win over Butler(now #12 in AP-wins over Villanova,Arizona,UC and Indiana) and a "W" on the road against DePaul.

MORE ON MYLES!!

Coach Mack has handled the situation well IMHO. NCAA and academic considerations had to be negotiated along with legal hurdles and personal Myles Davis stuff. Now the basketball component kicks in. Myles is a proven "closer" with his ball handling-free throw shooting and three point sniping talents. He's helped Xavier win 3 straight Crosstown Shootouts(last year as game MVP). He's excelled in the upset?? of #1 Villanova at Cintas last February and showed great grit shrugging off an injury to lead the comeback at Wake Forest last December. There are many other examples of his value.

Mack demands he earn playing time in practice.Xavier Basketball is a meritocracy. Davis obviously will need time to ramp up to game speed and endurance. Myles,I imagine,wasn't thrilled with his late season performances against Seton Hall at MSG and versus Wisconsin in the NCAAS. This is his last college grasp at the brass ring. He may not start any time soon or ever again,but I'd bet when he's ready physically,he'll be on the court at the finish of tight crucial Big East games down the stretch and maybe even by Shootout Time(Jan 26th).

SCOUTING VILLANOVA:

We all know a lot about the Wildcats. They did manage to win the NCAA Championship last April in impressive fashion with the last three wins coming over College Basketball Royalty(Kansas-Elite 8-Oklahoma National Semi-Finals-North Carolina-Title game under that Dome in Houston). Chris Jenkins' buzzer beater three pointer from Ryan Archidiacano for the 77-74 win over the UNC Tarheels is an iconic moment.

And they're unbelievably good again!! VU just had a 20 game win streak dating back to last season's NCAA Run snapped by Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse(66-58 Bulldogs last Wednesday). They're 15-1 and 3-1 in the Big East and rated #3 nationally in the new AP Top 25. Nova bounced back from the Butler loss with a wire-to-wire pounding of Marquette(93-81) at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia Saturday Night. VU led by 30 with 6 minutes to play.

Xavier has to play them Tuesday(7PM-Fox Sports 1) at their Eastern Pit bandbox Pavilion on campus instead of the huge downtown arena. VU is running with a 45 game Pavilion win streak dating back almost 4 years(Providence beat them there 55-52 Feb 3rd 2013).Villanova's the gold standard for the New Big East(three straight regular season titles at 16-2,16-2 and 16-2). Add those up and VU is 48-6 over that span against BE opposition excluding the BE Tournament.

XUvsVU: The Muskies scored a watershed win over Villanova last Feb. at Cintas 90-83 when VU was rated #1 in the Polls. Edmond Sumner dropped a BIG NUMBER(19)as did J.P. Macura(19). Myles Davis scored 16 and cracked their press.Chris Jenkins has been kryptonite to XU over the past three seasons. He fouled out and National Player of the Year Candidate Josh Hart got into foul trouble. Overall Xavier's 1-5 against Villanova in the New BE with three lopsided losses at the Pavilion.

Nova is favored by 8. Las Vegas and all the computer models pick the Wildcats to win Tuesday by near double digits. Villanova tends to start very fast at home. They rain in threes and force live ball turnovers with their 1-2-1-1 press. They tease opponents into early contested jump shots and impatient possessions. XU will need focus and fortitude and resilience and shooting luck and a decent whistle to pull this upset,but it's possible.Last New Years VU took Edmond Sumner out with a double body slam early.That can't happen again.

VILLANOVA THIS SEASON:

Archidiancano the PG and Daniel Ochefu the BIG have graduated. Guard Phil Booth who starred in the Final Four(10 points-5 steals Oklahoma-20 points vs Carolina) is out with a knee injury.

Coach Jay Wright is going with a 7 man rotation not his usual 8. Lanky Mikel Bridges who shut down Oklahoma's star Buddy Hield in the NCAAs is starting.He plays the point on the press. When Bridges drops double figures scoring and new Center Darryl Reynolds(sub last season) chips in some post points,VU is almost unbeatable.Josh Hart averages 20PPG and he's all over the place. Hart exploded for 37 vs Notre Dame and 30 vs Wake.Soph Jaylen Brunson is the PG now(15PPG-4 assists). Jenkins is at 14PPG.

The two newcomers are fitting in perfectly. RS Frosh Guard Donte DeVincenzo is solid across the board. Fordham transfer Eric Paschall is a tiger on the glass and a great passer. Villanova makes the extra pass and they love the bounce pass. Everybody shot fakes. They put on a clinic offensively with unselfish play. Nobody hunts shots.

Nova is shooting more threes(46% of their total shots) and they make you pay at the FT line(78%#8 NCAA). They're #2 out of 351 D-1 teams in two point FG%(60%) because they get so many lay-ups and dunks off their press and wing traps and they seldom force halfcourt shots.

HOW DOES XAVIER WIN THIS??

Butler upset Villanova by controlling tempo and keeping the game half court with low turnovers and virtually no fast break points for VU. They kept both Bridges and Reynolds off the score sheet. Of course BU had a raucous home court advantage. Their guards attacked and got to the basket(transfers Savage and Woodson-super athletic Frosh Kamar Baldwin).

The formula for an XU win includes winning the free throw numbers and maybe getting key Nova players in foul trouble. They play just two off the bench. XU's depth is blossoming. The Muskies need depth production big time. Playing Edmond off the ball quite a few minutes(with"Q" at PG) would help free him up. Make Hart guard him and work his butt off!! Low turnovers is a must-not 16 or 18 but 9 or 10!!

A slow start is death at the Pavilion!! The students are back from Semester Break. X has led only once briefly in their three losses in Philly recently. The Muskies don't need to jet out 20 to nothing.That's probably not going to happen,but just stay close in that first half-within 5 points?? And Xavier can't be buried in a flurry of three pointers. Villanova is going to win that long range battle. It's their wheel house!! Just don't go down 15 to 4 on made three's because that will not fly.

Villanova's borderline unbeatable at home. If and when Booth returns,they might be totally unbeatable,but he's out and XU can deploy the potent BIG THREE with improving complimentary pieces.Xavier should be able to score effectively.Odds are it's packline defense or bust for Xavier. Nova has shot the Muskies out of the 1-3-1 zone every time they've tried to use it.

THE GAUNLET CONTINUES:

Xavier is rated #15 in AP this week after the St Johns win. X has to play at #12 Butler(14-2,3-1 Big East) Saturday afternoon(2PM-Fox Sports 1). Then it's #8 Creighton(15-1,3-1 Big East) Monday afternoon(2PM-Fox Sports 1) at Cintas on Martin Luther King Day. Butler travels to Omaha this Wednesday(9PM-Fox Sports 1) to play Creighton at Century Link. What a Conference!!!




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