Muskies Got What They Were After in NYC at MSG!! The Big East Rocks!!!
Andy Mac Williams,
Heading into Big East Tournament Week,I thought Xavier needed to win twice at Madison Square Garden to make their NCAA at large bid chances bullet proof and it worked out that way. A loss to Butler in Thursday's Quarterfinals would probably have pushed XU into play-in game at UD Arena as a best case scenario and possibly out of the field of 68 entirely and into the NIT.The reality for the Muskies is a fourth straight NCAA trip in four Big East seasons(4 for 4-100%) with a workable #11 seed against a beatable opponent(#6 seed Maryland-third best Big Ten team) at a reachable pleasant game site(Orlando) in a somewhat normal time slot(6:40PM-Thursday on TNT).Friday would have been better from a rest and preparation perspective,but I like XU's draw!! They avoid a dreaded 8-9 Opening Round NCAA game(maybe they're a 9 seed with a win over Creighton?).They don't have to put up with a hostile infantile Dayton fan base for that extra play-in game. We all remember that bummer of a game vs NC State in 2014.
THE WEEK THAT WAS AT MSG!!
XU obviously "had to" beat DePaul in Wednesday's 7-10 game. The Muskies played nervously in the first half as they did at DePaul the previous Saturday. Tyrique Jones was a scratch because of concussion protocol. J.P. Macura's buzzer beating "3" right before intermission flipped the script for XU. Xavier was down just 31-30 and grabbed the momentum. They pounded the ball inside from the get go in the second half and coaxed DU into settling for jumpers and abandoning patient offense.
X ran efficient offense themselves scoring 45 points-shooting 55% FG and using the three pointer much more selectively. The Muskies built their lead methodically and won easily 75-64 for a much needed successful mature first step into March Madness.
Trevon Bluiett showed veteran cool. His shot wasn't falling early so he rebounded(9 boards)-defended- and dished off(4 assists). He found his stroke later and wound up with 17 points. Macura was the emotional leader stuffing the stat sheet with hustle plays(13 points-3 rebounds-6 assists-3 steals). PG Quentin Gooden took what DePaul gave him-namely dribble drives. He canned all 6 of his shots around the rim(13 points). Sean O'Mara got extra minutes with Tyrique not available and he prospered(8 points-3 rebounds in 17 minutes).
The Muskies showed a ton of grit and resilience against a rested favored Butler team in Thursday's Quarterfinal. The first half again was not pretty. XU survived 36% shooting with too many threes(2-10) and a bunch of turnovers,but the packline defense was sticky and the inside game was rugged. Xavier trailed 30-26 at the break,but the deficit was manageable.
In the first two losses to BU,the Bulldogs had buried the Muskies with huge high scoring second halves. Not at MSG!! Xavier held Butler to 27 points playing primarily the packline. X rallied from 7 down(49-42) with 12 minutes to play. Xavier owned the inside and got to the FT line and guarded without fouling at the other end. X won 62-57 over an NCAA #4 seed for a huge NCAA bid clinching RPI scalp. Bluiett was terrific(23 points-9 for 12 FTs).He played all 40 minutes. Malcolm Bernard put together his best Xavier game so far(12 points-10 rebounds-4 assists). O'Mara stepped up again(10 points-4 rebounds in 21 minutes).
Friday's Semi-Final against Creighton was played at a high level throughout. I expected XU to be leg weary playing their third game in three days. The Muskies came out throwing darts though and looking sharp for the first 15 minutes. X chased CU off the three point arc and dominated inside. The lead swelled to 9 points.Creighton closed it to 37-31 at the half though as Xavier seemed to be running out of bounce.CU's three point shooting saved them(13-20-65%).
Xavier took a 65-64 lead into the final media time-out with about 4 minutes remaining.Blue Jay PG Tyler Clement turned the tables with a rare three pointer just after play resumed. XU didn't guard him on purpose. He just made a freakish shot(for him). Same with Marcus Foster's deep three to give Creighton a 75-72 lead with 6.6 seconds to play. What an effort!!
X could have mailed it in after beating Butler. The excuses were there(fatigue-short bench-NCAA bid secure). Instead Bluiett salted away a berth on the Big East All Tournament team with another strong game(18 points). Macura almost shot XU into overtime(22 points-6 made threes). O'Mara completed the best stretch of games in his career(6 points-4 assists-2blocks-2 rebounds in 20 minutes). Tyrique Jones made the best hustle play of the year late. He was knocked down under one basket-got up and sprinted the floor to come from behind the play and steal a Creighton pass.
Despite the absence of Edmond Sumner and Myles Davis somehow someway the players and coaches have managed to pull their NCAA bacon out of the fire! Xavier is playing its best basketball at just the right time-on the eve of the NCAA Tournament. It may not translate into a March Madness Run ,but don't rule anything out.
RANDOM BIG EAST THOUGHTS:
The 10 team league garnered 7 NCAA bids. Over four years of the New Big East that's 22 total NCAA tickets. MSG was sold-out for the Semis and the Final. Next year-watch the Quarters sell-out also.There were two GREAT GAMES Friday. Villanova rallied late to take Seton Hall 55-53 then Creighton nipped Xavier 75-72. The crowd at MSG was awesome. XU is 6-4 in Big East Tourney games. Butler is 0-4.
Villanova was awarded the #1 overall NCAA seed. For their good works the Wildcats earned a trip into the teeth of a blizzard at Buffalo. If VU wins three times, they will probably have to play Duke in the Elite 8 at Madison Square Garden. Somehow, the Dukies were rated as the 4th best two seed? They get to play at Cameron Indoor Stadium North(MSG) where they haven't lost since Moby Dick was a minnow.
I'll post a scouting report on Maryland later in the week. PG Melo Trimble is their "name" player and First Team Big Ten. They play 3 Freshmen big minutes. Coach Mark Turgeon uses at least 9 guys. Xavier played Maryland in the second round of the NCAAs in 2003 at Nashville. The Muskies were a #3 seed and Maryland was a #6. It was David West's final college game. Maryland won 77-64.