XAVIER TEAM 96-Final Dress Rehearsal!!
Andy Mac Williams,
The Muskies easily powered past Division III Thomas More College 78-38 in their lone public exhibition game Saturday afternoon at Cintas. A record exhibition game crowd (10,224) just short of capacity got a long look at four newcomers (Grad Transfer Kerem Canter and Freshmen Naji Marshall, Paul Scruggs and Elias Harden). Marshall actually started(for Trevon Bluiett who's recovering from a shoulder problem). Bluiett took the floor before the game and shot it well. He should be available for the regular season opener Friday November 10th against Morehead State of the OVC (7PM-Fox Sports 1). J.P. Macura was the lone Senior starter(Wing). Junior Kaiser Gates opened at Power Forward with Sophomores Quentin Gooden(PG) and Tyrique Jones (Center).
The four other scholarship players all played double digit minutes (Frosh Guard Paul Scruggs-25 minutes) (Frosh Wing Elias Harden-23 minutes)(Grad transfer Kerem Kanter-19 minutes) (Senior Center Sean O'Mara-18 minutes). Macura (returning starter-1000 plus point scorer) played just 12 minutes and posted 10 points. He keyed an 11-0 second half start(first four minute war) with XU pushing the pace and attacking the basket. That spurt fleshed out the Muskie lead to 55-17 and J.P. sat out the rest of the game protecting a sore ankle.
Xavier could have shot it a lot more efficiently from "three"(only 8 for 28-31%) ,but Bliuett did not play at all and Macura only attempted two three pointers. The Muskies had a field day inside the arc and in transition(21-35 60% from two). X started both halves quickly 8-0 and 11-0. Coach Mack employed the packline defense exclusively(no zone). With the added depth,Xavier seemed to push the ball more quickly-moving more straight line North-South. No walking the ball up court. No waiting for a guard to dribble it over half court.
As expected, XU owned the glass(51-30 rebounding edge). Despite playing fast,the Muskies turned it over only 8 times. Marshall cramped up after playing an active 25 minutes(leading scorer with 16 points on 6-10 shooting plus 9 rebounds). The comparisons to James Posey are hard to resist. Naji's all court all-out effort is tough to ignore. Is he a small forward or is he a shooting guard?? In reality he's an all court hybrid rover looking to disrupt defensively and dissect offensively. Gates played confidently(13 points-8 rebounds). He didn't hesitate to launch from long range(2-7 from three).
Kanter cleared the defensive glass(10 rebounds) and scored 9. The center spot looks like a three headed monster at the moment with Tyrique Jones(7 points-9 rebounds) playing the best and Sean O'Mara struggling a bit early as he has in three previous seasons. Kanter is flexible enough to play some power forward. Coach Mack indicated if the BIG GUYS are playing well enough he'll find ways to get them on the floor two at a time.
Mack described O'Mara as playing with a rain cloud over his head and looking nervous. Sean has been good in practice. Mack wants to see more consistent effort(more motor). He's not inclined to wait for BIG SEAN to ease into the season. A re-emergence of Sean's NCAA form (10.5 PPG-5 rebounds/game in 21 minutes/game) sooner rather than later would be a good idea. Tyrique Jones is dominating and powerful in bursts(vs FSU and Creighton last season). Mack wants extended motor time past 2 to 3 minutes-no walking up the floor and posting up away from the ball side.
Quentin Gooden (9 points-4 assists-4 rebounds) looked bouncy and active at the PG. He and Paul Scruggs (4 points-6 assists) seemed uncomfortable playing together at first but their PG 1 and 1A act smoothed out in the second half. They haven't played side by side that much full court in practice. Open gyms are a poor substitute. Their relationship will grow with experience.
The Muskies are going to play faster with more functional depth. Their ability to pressure the ball and hedge on the wings is ramped up. This group's ceiling defensively is much higher than last year. Zones will be a nice change-up eventually-not a fall back necessity because of a thin roster.
Progress was made over the Ohio State scrimmage. Plug Bluiett and Macura into the equation for 30 minutes plus each and smooth out the rotation in the two home games against Morehead State (November 10th) and Rider (November 13th) and the Muskies should be ready to play Wisconsin (BIG 10) Thursday, November 16th (8:30PM-Fox Sports 1) in the Gavitt Games at the Kohl Center in Madison.