Xavier Team 96-Take Two!!
By Andy Mac Williams, 10/16/2017

Xavier's Preseason Practices are demanding (physically and mentally) and detailed. Duration:2 to 2 and a half hours. Every drill is scripted timed and scored. Every activity is a competition. The pace of practice this season seems faster than ever with more material being introduced more quickly and earlier. It's a function of having heavy experience(3 Seniors and 1 Grad Transfer with 6 rotational players back from last season's NCAA Elite 8 Team 95) plus 3 advanced PT competitive Freshmen(Paul Scruggs,Naji Marshall and Elias Harden) Chris Mack's coaching and support staff has worked together for three complete seasons now. They know their roles and maximize the time on the floor.

Practice minutes are divided about equally between defense and offense. Full court 5 on 5 scrimmages do take place,but not that often. XU played a bunch of zone defense especially in March last season,but the amoeba-like sloughing morphing packline "D" is still the staple. Witness the 18 foot arc mapped out with tape adorning each end of the practice court. On-the-ball defense is a higher priority than ever.

Lead guards Quentin Gooden and Paul Scruggs are bigger downhill players who can also move their feet well and slide laterally. The goal is to stop the ball higher this season both in the halfcourt and in transition and then throw the enemy PG into survival mode. Bigger defenders playing more physical defense hinder vision and promote turnovers of the live ball variety which lead to fastbreak opportunities.

Scruggs plays sticky dogged man defense. He chases well. As Coach Mack says: "Good defenders don't get screened." Scruggs and Gooden qualify. They anticipate the screen-see it and avoid it. Defense at the high D-1 level demands constant communication.

Talking is a top priority and a point of emphasis in every defensive drill. If the Muskies are to make the Top 40 in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency ratings and limit the opposition to one point or less/possession,(as they did during the Big East and NCAA Tournaments last season),they've gotta talk more and talk louder. Details-details!! They rehearse time-out procedures-bringing out the stools-organizing the huddle. The 5 players in the game have specific seats across from Coach Mack. Every day they review out of bounds plays(baseline and different entry points along the sideline). Player positioning for free throws is examined closely. Who has the shooter? Who's down low and on which side? There are special plans in the lane for great offensive rebounders like Angel Delgado(Seton Hall) and Ethan Happ(Wisconsin).

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS:

The Center position(5 man) seems to be a three-headed monster as expected. Sean O'Mara blossomed late last season into a dependable post scorer rebounder and defender. Tyrique Jones seems ticketed for more minutes. He's stronger now and more schooled in the packline defense. Tyrique is a vocal leader also and more than happy to bang bodies in the paint. He's an amazing dunker in traffic.

Karem Kanter can float out and shoot a lethal lefty jumper. He's able to play some Power Forward paired with another BIG. Kaiser Gates could start at PF. He's much stronger after a healthy summer plus he's retained his speed and polished his long range shooting.

Gooden and Scruggs are not competing for one position. I expect them to play a lot together. Both are terrific at getting to the rim and breaking down defenses. The kick-out chances to perimeter shooters(Bluiett,Macura,Gates,Harden) should be plentiful.

Mack teams have functioned better with under 25 three point attempts/game(fewer long shots-higher percentages). This group may launch a few more threes. It's the general trend in basketball(Thank you,Golden State Warriors!!). 40% of shots from outside the arc like Creighton,Villanova,Marquette is not going to happen. The BIGS are too good. Fastbreak buckets should be more plentiful.

This team should get a ton of three throw tries(Maybe more FTS made than the enemy even attempts??).The Skip Prosser bench mark for sustained success!! Mack has a formula for March success. It works(10-7 NCAA record-7 NCAA bids-3 Sweet 16s and 1 Elite 8) and it does not include a blizzard of threes. How many NCAA games have Marquette and Creighton won over the last four seasons?? Answer is (1). Xavier has (6) count 'em (6) in that same span. We'll leave Villanova out of this argument.

J.P. NOT GETTING ENOUGH LOVE!!!

I describe Macura as Dennis the Menace meets Eddie Haskel(Leave it to Beaver!!) meets the Tasmanian Devil. He's improved every year. Last season he was amazing in March-playing huge minutes-impacting every column of the box score-working a deadly two man game with Trevon Bluiett-making the zones go as the chaser up top-subbing for Quentin at PG. He's fearless and creative and the bad guys hate to play against him. J.P. has shined in all three Shootouts vs UC. Maybe at Cintas against the Borecats on 12-2 they'll call a charge when that Moose Cumberland runs Macura over. He's been one of the few bright lights in 3 losses at Villanova. 14.4 PPG-4.4 rebounds-3 assists-led the team in steals-35 minutes/ game.

We hear about Carrington and Cartwright and Marcus Foster etc etc, Great players in the Big East!! J.P. is the best all court player of the bunch and the most irritating. Less may be more for Macura though with more Muskie depth. Give me 32 minutes/game-15PPG-80%FTs-better three point shooting and you get First Team BIG EAST and a 4th straight NCAA trip.

J.P. may be abandoning the undershirt this season to showcase the guns he's sculpted in the weight room. Macura was asked on a recent Big East podcast what player was the toughest to guard in the conference. He refused to answer stating he did not want to give the bad guys any credit.

AROUND THE BIG EAST:

This is YEAR 5 for the NEW BE. It's working!! The conference has produced a total of 22 NCAA Tourney bids with a high of 7 last season. The composite NCAA record is 22-21 with 1 NCAA Title(Villanova 2016)-1 Elite 8(Xavier 2017) and 2 Sweet 16s(Xavier 2015-Butler 2017). Xavier Villanova and Providence have made the NCAAs all four years. GOOD NEWS: Villanova RS Junior Guard Phil Booth has been practicing. He miised most of ladt season with a balky knee after making the Final 4 All Tournament Team in 2016(20 points vs UNC in the National Championship Game).

BAD NEWS:

PC Friar BIg Man Emmitt Holt is sidelined with an abdominal problem and may not play until second semester if at all. The IU transfer was a rock for PC inside.6-9 Soph Kalif Young is the next man up with 6-9 Frosh Nate Watson moving up in the rotation.

It's YEAR 3 for the Gavitt Games(Big East vs Big Ten). The record so far is dead even(8-8).XU plays at Wisconsin in Game 3 of the regular season(Thursday November 16th-8:30PM-Fox Sports 1).

The Muskies won at Michigan two seasons back. The contract reads that each Big East team gets 6 games total over 8 seasons with 3 home and 3 road. My math tells me that three Big Ten teams TBD will have to visit Cintas over the next 5 seasons. Ohio State will help UC open the resoled Shoe next November. How about Archie Miller and Indiana? XU has played the Hoosiers in Indianapolis, Bloomington and even Schaumberg, Illinois. It's about time they bussed over to SW Ohio.




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