MUSKIES STAY PERFECT(4-0)-WHOMP HAMPTON 96-60!! VEGAS IS NEXT!!
Andy Mac Williams,
Xavier (#15 in both AP and Coaches' Top 25s this week) played less than a stellar first half against the Hampton Pirates (MEAC) late Monday night at Cintas-still led at the break 43-31 (Are we getting jaded-not celebrating a 12 point halftime lead?) and then blitzed to a 96-60 walk-over victory. The Muskies haven't lost a non-conference home game in almost five full seasons(December 22nd,2012 to Wofford). The steak is now a robust 33 games. Not bad!! The current active home floor non-conference streak in NCAA Division 1 defies logic though. Duke hasn't lost at Cameron Indoor to a non-ACC foe since 2001(St. Johns when they were still known as the Redmen). Coach K's Blue Devils have won 136 in a row.
XU was never in danger against hard working Hampton. The Pirate's zone looks seemed to frustrate the attacking Muskies leading to some bad driving decisions. Maybe there was an afterglow affect from Xavier's dramatic road win at Wisconsin? XU just seemed out of sorts and outhustled before the half. Second half-completely different story!! XU just steadily pulled away juicing up the halfcourt defensive ball pressure-running more and making shots.
Trevon Bluiett steadied things with a typical efficient stat line (27 minutes-21 points-7-9FG-5-6FTS-4 rebounds-3 assists). Tre won Big East Player of the Week for his late game heroics at Wisconsin. J.P. Macura had a strange evening. He was tagged with 3 first half fouls(including a technical) and made just 2 free throws(6 rebounds and 3 assists also).
Naji Marshall started in place of Macura to open the second half. J.P. did not play until 9 minutes in. Marshall prospered ((12 points-7 rebounds). He attacks the basket as aggressively as any Muskie in my memory and he makes his acrobatic strange angle speed lay-ups. The coaches were pleased with bench production(subs scored 46 points-bench minutes are way up over last season to 40% of minutes played).
Sean O'Mara built on his strong performance at Wisconsin. He looked like the NCAA BIG SEAN of last March(11 points in 13 minutes-3-3FG-5-5FTs-5 rebounds-2 blocks). The three headed Muskie Center Monster(Tyrique Jones,Karem Kanter and O'Mara) did strong work(35 points-13 boards-4 blocks). Now the trick is to post those collective numbers against either Arizona State or Kansas State(Friday in Las Vegas) and Top 25 Baylor at Cintas next Tuesday(6:30-FS1).
PG Paul Scruggs played hard and productively(6 points-3 rebounds-3 assists). PG starter Quentin Gooden called his own number more frequently and got to the rim impressively(dunks-power lay-ups) for 10 points and 5 assists. Kanter showed progress as the third BIG(15 points-4 rebounds). He can shoot it and he draws fouls well(7-10 FTS).
NOW BACK-TO-BACK IN LAS VEGAS!!
TEAM 96 departed for Sin City early Tuesday morning. They play George Washington(2-2)(Atlantic 10) in the Continental Tire Invitational Semis Thanksgiving afternoon(Thursday) at 5PM-EST with FS1 televising. The other side of the bracket features Arizona State(4-0)(PAC12) against Kansas State(4-0)(BIG 12). that game is on FS1 also at 7:30 EST. The winners play Friday at 5:30 EST on Big FOX-WXIX Channel 19. The losers meet Friday at 8PM-EST on FS1. XU's already played and won that first road game in Madison against Wisconsin. Back to back games presents another challenge. The bench is primed to eat up big minutes though.
The Muskies and Colonials played frequently in A-10 days(twice and sometimes-three times/season) from 1995-2013. GW always pushed the ball under coaches Mike Jarvis and Carl Hobbs. GW still has a strong international flavor on their roster(Remember 7 footers Yinka Dare and Alexander Khoul). 5-3 PG Shawna Rogers was a very unique player. The current band of Colonials is struggling though(at 2-2). GW went 28-10 in 2015-2016 and won the NIT with Mike Longergan(from Vermont) coaching. They beat Florida in the Round of 8 at Gainesville then knocked off San Diego State and Valparaiso at MSG. Longergan was fired right before last season though amid charges of player abuse. I wondered why players like Kethan Savage and Paul Jorgenson transferred out. Now we know why!!!
Assistant Maurice Joseph became interim boss-went 20-15 and made the CBI.Now he has the job permanently. Defections continued(Jorgenson to Butler-Frosh BIG Kevin Marfo left school). 6-9 Tyler Cavanaugh graduated(18PPG-9 REB). It's been a tough start. Losing at Florida State was expected(87-67). But Hampton outrebounded GW in DC Saturday and the Colonials barely hung on to win 65-57.
Monday Rider pulled the upset at GW 67-65 in a wild one(13 ties-13 lead changes). George Washington missed a potential game winning three at the buzzer. We all know what XU did to Rider and Hampton at Cintas.
It's a neutral court in Vegas Thanksgiving night at Orleans Arena,but the Muskies will be favored by double digits for sure. GW has seemingly solid talent with Senior BIG Yuta Watanabe(Japan) at 6-9(13.5PPG-9 REBS)-Soph BIG Arnato Toro(Puerto Rico) and Harvard transfer Patrick Steeves(6-8-13PPG). Soph Jair Bolden is now the starting PG replacing graduated Jaren Sina(Seton Hall transfer).
GW has shot it poorly from three point range. They're barely breaking even on the glass despite a weak schedule. Their bench depth is near zero and they're a man-to-man defensive team so they will not be comfortable hiding behind a zone. I guess that's what happens when you live and die in the transfer market?? Xavier barring a total collapse should advance to Friday's Championship Game. Stranger things(upsets) have happened,but this veteran Senior dominated Muskie TEAM 96 has been able to start games quickly and focus on the job at hand.
QUICK LOOK AT K-STATE AND ASU:
The BIG 12 Kansas State Wildcats are 4-0 with 4 blow-out home wins in Manhattan(American,UMKC(Kangaroos),UC Irvine(Anteaters) and Northern Arizona(Lumberjacks). Nice knicknames-marginal D-1 basketball programs. So K-State is basically untested,but talented. Coach Bruce Weber's been around a long time(6 years K-State-9 years at Illinois after replacing Bill Self).
KSU sneaked into the NCAA First Four last March-beat Wake Forest in Dayton then lost badly to the UC Bearcats. They're picked in the middle of the strong BIG 12 after losing 6-7 Wesley Iwundu to the NBA and graduating 6-9 D.J. Johnson. 6-10 Dean Wade is a moose inside(13PPG)(20 points twice last season versus Kansas). Junior guards Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes play big back court minutes. Xavier Sneed is a talented 6-5 small forward. Brown, Stokes and Sneed all average about 11PPG.
Weber plays 9 guys so there is quality depth and BIG 12 size. K-State defends well(51PPG) but consider their opponents so far. Three point shooting has been a plus. Kansas State has decent talent. Playing Xavier may be a shock to the system though considering their cupcake schedule. Wildcat fans always travel well(to escape Manhattan??) so they could enjoy a decent crowd edge and some home court advantage.
XU owes K-State one considering that amazing 101-96 double overtime loss the Wildcats hung on the Muskies in the 2010 NCAA Sweet 16 in Salt Lake. It was Chris Mack's first team. Jordan Crawford and Tu Holloway almost shot Xavier into an Elite 8 game against Gordon Hayward and the Butler Bulldogs. K-State was coached by the ultimate bully-Frank Martin. It was "Fear the Beard" and Jacob Pullen for KSU.
Arizona State is 4-0 also with all 4 wins in Tempe. They did beat San Diego State though(90-68). This is Bobby Hurley's third Sun Devil team and he's looking to crack the upper reaches of the PAC12. It's run and gun time at ASU(averaging 95PPG). They start 3 guards and sometimes play 4 small. Rebounding has been a yearly problem for Hurley(worst in the PAC). RS Frosh Romello White is helping big time on the glass(10.7 rebounds/game) as is JUCO transfer De'Quan Lake(7.8 boards). Bookend guards Tra Holder and Shannon Evans are averaging 22.3 and 20.3 PPG.
The team is shooting 54% from the floor. Ball handling has been super(Team assist to turnover ratio is almost 2 to 1). 6-5 Senior wing Kodi Justice is the PAC's top returning long range shooter. ASU really hasn't played anybody(San Diego State is fading fast without retired coach Steve Fischer). Hurley has a thin bench but great shooting often makes up for a litany of other sins and shortcomings.
Xavier would be favored over Arizona State but their veteran guards could rain in a boat load of threes and pull the upset. Both K-State and ASU could extend and defeat Xavier. They present different challenges-interesting match-ups but very winnable games for Xavier TEAM 96.